What to Do in Ho Chi Minh City for a Transformational Trip

The best sights, museums, food, and tours for your Ho Chi Minh City itinerary

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Wondering what to do in Ho Chi Minh City? Use this guide to find transformational activities and tours in Ho Chi Minh City to suit your tastes and travel style. We also include our ideal itinerary for 2 or 3 days.

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During the past several years, we have visited Ho Chi Minh City more times than we can count. Seriously. We don’t know how many it is now. During those visits, we’ve had a chance to explore different neighbourhoods, see the most and least touristy sights, take a few great tours, eat at a huge range of restaurants, and really get a feel for the city.

But we also remember what it was like the first time we touched down in Saigon, as it’s still locally known.

woman driving a scooter in crowded saigon
There are a lot of scooters in Saigon – you might want to bring a mask.

There was a huge sense of overwhelm and awe. Millions of people and scooters everywhere! No sidewalks and no crossing lights! Unbearable heat and torrential rain, sometimes at the same time!

Saigon is not like any city we’d seen before and we had to re-learn a lot of what we thought we knew about travel before we could really start to enjoy it.

This guide is your shortcut to skipping some of the overwhelm and finding the Saigon that we know and love today.

It will help you to:

  • Plan a transformational itinerary that works with your interests and travel style
  • Decide how long you need in the city
  • Skip the overwhelm and dive right into this amazing city
  • Figure out where to go next

So, read on for your guide to…

What to do in Ho Chi Minh City

Need more Vietnam tips?
Plan your trip with our amazing Vietnam itineraries, get your visa with our quick and easy guide to Vietnam visas, and check out the best transformational activities in Vietnam.

The Story of Ho Chi Minh City

The biggest city in Vietnam, Ho Chi Minh City has an official population of around 13 million people and is one of the most densely populated cities in the world.

But, of course, it hasn’t always been like that.

There have been settlements in the Saigon area as far back as the 4th Century, and until the 17th Century, Saigon was originally a part of the Kingdom of Cambodia, and was then a small fishing port known as Prek Nokor, meaning forest city.

Waves of Vietnamese migrants populated the city and eventually, Vietnamese nobles took the area from Cambodia, which was too weak at the time to object.

notre dame cathedral saigon with tourists ho chi minh city
The French influence can be seen at Notre Dame Cathedral in Ho Chi Minh City.

Living with the French

In the mid-1800s, the French colonized Saigon, bringing some the distinctive architecture you can see there today. In the mid-1950s, a power struggle among the French, Ho Chi Minh, and Vietnamese emperor class resulted in the division of Vietnam into the communist north and the capitalist south.

The American War

Of course, these factions did not play nicely together and Saigon was embroiled in the Vietnam war from the late 60s to the early 70s. Despite the south having support from American and other foreign forces, the northern Viet Cong were victorious in 1975, when they captured Saigon, effectively ending the war.

As the Viet Cong moved in, foreigners and southern Vietnamese scrambled to leave, leading to a wave of migration that established Vietnamese populations all over the world.

What was then known as Saigon was combined with other neighbouring areas to form the new Ho Chi Minh City – named for the famous communist leader Ho Chi Minh.

ho chi minh statue from behind
The Ho Chi Minh statue looking along a central street in his city.

However, the name Saigon, usually referring to the central areas of the city, is still more commonly used by locals.

The Era of Tourism

In the 80s, when the Vietnamese government started to open up the country, Ho Chi Minh City began growing at a furious pace and still continues on that trajectory today. The population has far outstretched the city’s infrastructure, leading to high population density, treacherous traffic, pollution, and flooding.

It has also responsible for turning Saigon into the vibrant, culturally diverse metropolis that you’ll find in Ho Chi Minh City today.

Where to Stay in Ho Chi Minh City

A Quick Guide to Saigon Neighbourhoods

Before deciding what to do in Ho Chi Minh City, it pays to have an understanding of how the city is laid out. Saigon is huge and traffic is crazy, so you’ll need to plan activities by their location to make the best use of your time.

Saigon is divided into large areas that are known simply by their district number. From booking hotels, to seeing attractions, to finding restaurants, the district number is used to give you a general idea of the location. So, before making plans for you Ho Chi Minh City itinerary, you’ll need know what each district is like.

District 1 – Tourist & Commercial Centre

Smack dab in the centre of Ho Chi Minh City, District 1 contains almost everything a first-time tourist will want to see or do. It is also the hub for most hotels and tourist restaurants in the city. However, District 1 is huge – it can take 20 minutes or more to get from one end to the other on a motorbike, and much long on foot or in a car.

For tourist purposes, District 1 can be divided into two main sections.

City Centre

The city centre area of District 1 is the commercial and financial hub. It’s where you’ll find the most upscale hotels, high-end shopping, trendy coffee shops, and fine dining. In District 1, you’ll see lots of tourists but will also rub shoulders with the well-to-do Vietnamese locals.

To see this on a map, search for The Old Compass Cafe, which is in the heart of this area of District 1.

If you stay in District 1, you’ll be within easy walking distance of most Ho Chi Minh City attractions.

We’ve only stayed in District 1 once, and though it was convenient location, we felt it lacked a bit of the exotic charm of the other districts.

Backpacker Street

Just southwest of the city centre, there is a large area which houses most of the mid-range and budget hotels in Saigon. This is the Backpacker District where most tourists stay when they come to the city. You’ll find hundreds of options for accommodation here, plus more restaurants and bars than you could try in a year.

To view this area on a map, search for Bui Vien and September 23rd Park. Most of the hotels are in the wedge-shaped area between.

havana club on bui vien street in ho chi minh city
In the past few years, Bui Vien street has turned into a club and party district at night.

At night, Bui Vien Street is closed off to traffic and becomes a heaving party district, with all the bars blaring music and scantily dressed girls waving you inside their places of employment.

Yes, it is as yucky as it sounds. It’s easy to avoid by choosing a hotel on one of the quiet back alleys a short walk away from Bui Vien.

We’ve stayed in this area too many times to count. It’s still our favourite because there so much life, both local and tourist, to observe and enjoy.

District 2 – Expat Living

In this district, especially around the Thao Dien area, you’ll find many of Saigon’s expats from around the world. If you’re planning a longer stay in Ho Chi Minh City, an Airbnb in District 2 might be a good choice.

The district has plenty of Western and Vietnamese restaurants, most of them in the mid-range to upscale market. There are also lots of low-key bars that are good for a quiet evening out. And if you’re in the mood for a movie, head to the Vincom Mall where you can catch a flick in a modern cinema for about $4.

We’ve only stayed in District 2 once, in an Airbnb in a shared apartment. It gave us a window into the life of an expat in Ho Chi Minh City, but we’d only recommend it for longer stays in the city.

Binh Thanh District – Local Culture

Not to be confused with Ben Thanh (which is an area of District 1), Binh Thanh is the place to go if you’ve had it with tourists and want to immerse yourself in the local culture of the city.

There aren’t many traditional tourist attractions in this district, but you’ll find plenty of hole-in-the-wall restaurants, street food, local parks, and markets to entertain and educate you.

Our Hotel Picks for Ho Chi Minh City

fusion suites saigon ho chi minh city hotels
Fusion Suites in Saigon provides gorgeous views and spa treatments included!

If you’ve read the section above about Saigon neighbourhoods, you’ll know that we recommend staying in District 1.

If you’re looking for budget or mid-range accommodation, you’ll find the biggest selection in the “backpacker area” near Bui Vien Street.

For upscale accommodation, the city centre and various areas alongside the river are your best bet. For a longer-term Airbnb, you’ll find the best selection in District 2.

Here are some quick recommendations for you:

  • Hostel: Vy Da Backpackers 2, 8.8, comfy beds in perfect location with rooftop garden, from $4
  • Budget: Nest Hotel, 8.8, extra comfy beds in clean stylish rooms in ideal location, from $19
  • Budget: The Art – G9 Homestay, 9.4, stylish rooms with kitchenettes in local neighbourhood, from $28
  • Boutique: Christina’s Saigon, 9.4, spotless fashionable apartments & suites in quiet location, from $56
  • Luxury: Fusion Suites Saigon, 9.1, modern high-end rooms and on-site spa, from $141
Need more hotel ideas?
Our comprehensive guide to where to stay in Ho Chi Minh City is the answer!

Practical Travel Advice for Saigon

How to Get Around

As you can see from the map, Saigon is a sprawling metropolis. What you won’t see on the map is the snarl of cars and motorbikes on the roads, making driving painfully slow and walking across the street a life-threatening challenge.

While you can walk between most attractions in District 1, be aware that it takes about twice as long to walk anywhere as it would in a typical Western City. Add to that the almost-constant oppressive heat and humidity of Ho Chi Minh City, and you’ll want to have another form of transport!

Enter Grab. Grab is a ride-hailing app similar to Uber but with the bonus of allowing you to hail cars or motorbikes to drive you around. Cars are more comfortable but can take 10 times longer to get places because of the city’s traffic.

scooter traffic in saigon
The best way to see Saigon is by scooter. Don’t worry, you can order a Grab so you won’t have to drive!

If there are only one or two of you, hail a couple of Grab bikes instead. Depending on your driver, the ride can be exciting / scary, so make sure you’re feeling brave! But, the cost for a ride clear across District 1 is usually under a dollar, so it sure beats walking.

How Many Days Do You Need in Saigon?

How many days should you stay in Ho Chi Minh City? The answer depends on your travel style and what you like to do.

If you thrive on the buzz of a big, busy city, are looking for nightlife, or want to explore an endless array of trendy cafes, rooftop bars, and incredible restaurants, then you’ll want to spend at least 3 days in Ho Chi Minh City.

On the other hand, if you’re looking for interesting culture experiences or want to get out in nature, then you can cut your trip to Ho Chi Minh City a little shorter, to leave more time for Vietnam’s other attractions.

For me, Saigon is a little too much of a big noisy city and there’s not a lot (beside the food) to hold my attention here. I prefer to get in and out as quickly as possible!

When’s the Best Time to Visit?

We have been to Ho Chi Minh City at all times of year and there really is no bad time to visit. Since this isn’t a city you’ll want to spend too much time walking around, and most of the attractions are indoors, the weather doesn’t affect your visit as much as it might in a more outdoor-focussed city.

What’s the weather like?

Saigon has two distinct kinds of weather: hot and dry or hot and wet. When you’re planning your itinerary, no matter what time of year you travel, it’s vital that you make allowances for the energy-sapping qualities of all this hot weather. Typical tourists find that they have less energy during the day and need to plan more time to rest and recharge.

The dry season in Saigon runs from November to April, and you’re almost guaranteed endless sunny days. In winter, you might also get some (relatively) cool weather, with temperatures peaking in the high 20s. Spring during the dry season can be painfully hot.

Rainy season, from May to early November, and brings some relief from the endless heat of spring. Usually, rain comes in violent downpours that last only an hour or so. Later in the season, the rain can be more constant and some city streets may become flooded and impassible.

High season in Saigon

The most popular tourists season in Saigon is from December to February, during the Christmas, New Year’s and Tet seasons. There is a vibrant, festival atmosphere in the city during these months, with decorations and celebrations everywhere.

Prices for accommodation do rise during high season and you’ll have to book ahead to secure the best properties.

Your Ho Chi Minh Itinerary

Here’s our recommended itinerary for your 2 or 3-day stay in Saigon. The sections below will give you details on all our suggested activities, plus some more you can fit in if you have time.

alley in saigon with aqua and yellow buildings
Saigon has an endless choice of alleyways to wander down.

2 Days in Saigon

Day 1

  • Morning: Free or Self-Guided Walking Tour
  • Afternoon: War Remnants Museum
  • Evening: Street Food Tour

Day 2

  • Morning: Cafe Apartments
  • Afternoon: Markets and Shopping
  • Evening: AO Show & Rooftop Bar

3 Days in Saigon

Day 3

Our 3 Favourite Things to do in Ho Chi Minh City

Delight Your Taste Buds on a Food Tour

3 hours, $35–$45, book ahead

bowls of noodle soup in ho chi minh city
We love Vietnamese food so naturally highly recommend eating local bowls of noodle soup.

A food tour is an ideal introduction to Vietnamese culture and the culinary delights you’ll find in the country. Saigon is so huge and spread out that finding the best food stalls and sampling the local favourites would be almost impossible on your own.

On a food tour, local experts will take you to their favourite foodie spots and teach you about how each food relates to Vietnamese culture. Plus, you’ll stuff your face with so much yum!

Try an evening food tour by motorbike, or a private street food walking tour. And if you’re vegan, hop on a plant-based food tour run by an all-female team!

Take a Free Walking Tour

9am or 2pm, 3 hours, by donation

Though Ho Chi Minh City is not very walkable — think 7 lanes of traffic squeezed into roads only 4 lanes wide — many of the main sights, like the War Remnants Museum, the Central Post Office, and Ben Thanh market are all close together.

So while you might find walking around on your own more of an adventure than you bargained for, a walking tour makes perfect sense.

Not only will your guide help you cross the street without being run down by a scooter, they will show you the most interesting spots in the city, help you understand the history and cultural context of what you’re seeing, and be able to give you tips for what else to see, do, and eat during the rest of your time in Ho Chi Minh City.

You’ll get more than your money’s worth, especially if you opt for a free walking tour!

Try Saigon Free Day Tours, who will show your around the main sights, or tailor a tour just for you. While the tours are free, be prepared to give your guide a generous tip at the end to thank them for their time and knowledge.

Have Your Heart Broken at the War Remnants Museum

Open 7:30am–6pm daily, 1–2 hours, 40K VND ($2)

huey helicopter at the war remnants museum saigon ho chi minh city
Outside the War Remnants Museum you’ll see the machinery of war. Inside you’ll see the damage war does to individuals.

There are certain places around the world (think Auschwitz or Cambodia’s Killing Fields) that are must-see places, despite being very difficult to handle. The War Remnants Museum in Ho Chi Minh City is one of these.

It tells the story of the Vietnam War from a far different perspective than the American war movies takes. Instead of tales of heroic soldiers, the museum shows the impact of the war on the normal people who lived through it. Needless to say, it is a gut-wrenching journey into the devastation war can cause.

Don’t miss it.

Best Activities & Tours

If you want to see Saigon from a local’s perspective, the best way to do that is on a tour. Tours are very inexpensive in Vietnam, so even if you’re on a budget, it’s well worth the money for the depth of experiences you’ll get.

Get Your Motor Running on a Saigon City Motorbike Tour

8am or 2:30pm, 3.5 hours, $27, book ahead

You may have heard that the traffic in Saigon is insane – and that is totally true. Don’t worry though, on this tour you won’t be driving your own motorbike, but you’ll get to ride on the back of a bike driven by a local student and guide.

On this tour, you’ll get away from the typical tourist haunts in the city centre and visit a Saigon wet market, see some of the most beautiful architecture in the city, and visit important cultural and historical sights.

Get the details & book

Take it Slow on a Cyclos and Markets Tour

8am, 3 hours, $36, book now

For an eco-friendly tour of Ho Chi Minh City’s main attractions, try an old-fashioned cyclo ride. In case you don’t know, a cyclo is a traditional 3-wheeled cycle with a carriage at the front for a passenger.

This tour will take you around to the city’s biggest sights plus a few off-the-beaten-track spots, like the bird park, pet street, and art street – all in the comfort of your own cyclo!

Get the details & book

Ignite Your Appetite at a Cooking Class

9:30am, 2pm, 6:30pm, 3 hours, $33, book now

While we love food tours, learning to cook the local specialities yourself is even better. A cooking class in Ho Chi Minh City will introduce you to the most beloved local foods, help you understand the culture better through it’s meal-time traditions, and give you a a new skill to take home with you.

We love the sound of Lua Le’s cooking school, where the emphasis is on home-style dishes and the social aspects of cooking and eating together. Contact the school for a vegan / vegetarian option.

Get details & book

Best Markets in Saigon

Ben Thanh Market

graffiti at ben thanh market ho chi minh city saigon
Don’t get confused – Ben Thanh Street Food Market is behind the main market.

One of the biggest tourists attractions in Ho Chi Minh City, Ben Thanh Market is better as a touristy experience than it is for getting your shopping done. There are so many stalls selling such a range of clothing, home goods, souvenirs, food, and other items, it’s a little overwhelming.

As you pass through the narrow aisles, stall-holders call out “hello miss”, “want to buy something?”, and “what are you looking for?”. To truly enjoy the experience, remember that every person who calls out to you is a human being, with their own personal story.

At the very least, smile and respond “no thanks” as you pass by. For a deeper experience, stop and chat to a few sellers and see what you can learn about life as a marketeer in Saigon.

When buying, remember to bargain – prices are inflated for tourists, so you should be able to get 30–50% off the original price.

Binh Tay Market

The cultural heart of Chinatown, Binh Tay Market (also known as Cholon Chinatown Market), is where the locals go to shop. Much of the market is dedicated to wholesale, so don’t be surprised if you are not able to buy some of the things you see. You will still experience pressure to buy from the stall holders though, so don’t expect a quiet wander around the market.

For street food lovers, the food court at Binh Tay Market might be more enticing than the goods inside. There’s a wide array for Vietnamese and Chinese-influenced food on offer, all prepared for locals and at local prices. There will be plenty of things to eat that you don’t recognize, so be brave and dive in!

Dan Sinh Market (War Surplus Market)

For something a little different in your market shopping trip, visit Dan Sinh, the War Surplus Market. Here, alongside industrial supplies purchased by local business owners, you’ll find every imaginable knick-knack related to the American War. Rusty dog tags, clunky military boots, army green jackets, lighters, canteens, hammocks and oh so much more.

Almost none of it is original, and everything comes at an inflated price, so be sure you know what you’re getting and what you’re willing to pay before you start to bargain!

Museums & Attractions

The Reunification Palace / Independence Palace

7:30am–11:30am & 1pm–5pm daily, 1–2 hours, 40K VND ($2 USD)

independence palace saigon ho chi minh city
The Independence Palace is one of the most impressive buildings in Ho Chi Minh City.

An outstanding 1960s modernist building, The Reunification Palace is the place where the Vietnam War ended, with a tank smashing through the front gate and a soldier unfurling a Viet Cong flag on the balcony. Before that fateful day, it had been used as the presidential residence, and was decked out in the latest 60s finery. Going inside is like stepping into a Bond film, one where the baddie and his henchmen have very expensive taste. This is a Ho Chi Minh City landmark not to be missed by architecture buffs!

Central Post Office

Open 7am–7pm weekdays, 7am–6pm Saturday, 8am–6pm Sunday, 30 minutes, free

Stuffed animals for sale in front of a portrait of Ho Chi Minh
Commerce meets Communism at the Saigon Central Post Office.

Though it’s one of the main stops on any tour of Saigon, the Central Post Office isn’t tremendously exciting. Sure, the 1800s colonial architecture is impressive and the portrait of Ho Chi Minh framed by a leading line of archways is striking.

But after a few minutes inside, you might find the most diverting part of your visit is to stand back and watch as tourist after tourist tries to take just the right selfie for Instagram.

There’s a small market inside as well but if you’re looking for bargains, you won’t find them here.

By the way, it is still a working post office, so at least you can mail a few postcards home during your visit.

Notre Dame Cathedral

Closed for renovation, 10 minutes, free

notre dame cathedral in ho chi minh city
Notre Dame Cathedral is one of the most popular attractions in Saigon.

Right next to the Central Post Office, the Saigon Notre-Dame Cathedral Basilica was built in the same period by French colonists. Despite the French having long ago been run out of town, the Cathedral still operates and many Catholic Vietnamese attend mass each Sunday.

The red brick landmark seems to be perpetually under construction and is closed to visitors while the work continues. The outside, though picturesque, won’t take more than a few minutes to look around.

Jade Emperor Pagoda

Open 5am–6pm daily, 30 minutes, free

Unlike the post office and cathedral, the Jade Emperor Pagoda is a little trek out of the centre of town and we only recommend visiting if you’re a die-hard Buddhism or pagoda nut.

While the interior is interesting, it is rather small and cluttered. The pond outside is overflowing with turtles, most in a sad state, which doesn’t seem very kind considering the Buddhist tradition to us – but whatever.

Plenty of locals go to pray to the Jade Emperor for fertility or help with their love lives. Meanwhile, tourists snap photos and talk too loudly.

Museum of Vietnamese History

For most of us, our knowledge of Vietnamese history starts and ends with the Vietnam war. A rainy afternoon in the Museum of Vietnamese History will take care of that!

It covers thousands of years of history, and can be a bit confusing and overwhelming for the Vietnam history novice – hire a guide to show you around to get a better sense of the most important milestones in the history of this country.

Unusual Things to do in Saigon

Apartment Cafes & Boutiques

Hours vary, 1–3 hours, free to browse

exterior of cafe apartment building saigon
When you see this building, you have found the quirky and quixotic Cafe Apartment.

In Saigon, you will not find the trendiest cafes and boutiques at street level. Many of the best are hidden away inside Saigon’s old, run-down apartment buildings, which are perpetually under threat of being torn down and redeveloped.

For the cutest cafes you’ve ever seen, head to the now-famous Cafe Apartments at No. 42 on Nguyen Hue Walking Street. To enter, walk down an unlikely looking alley and either mount the dingy staircase or pay for a ride up in an untrustworthy-looking elevator.

Then wander from floor to floor, popping your head inside anywhere you see a sign for a cafe or boutique. We recommend the third-floor donut shop Dosh, for excellent views, amazing drinks, and the most Instagrammable donuts you’ve ever seen.

dosh donuts ho chi minh city saigon
Photo from Dosh Donuts tasty Instagram feed.

If you’re into fashion, don’t miss the boutique shopping at two of Saigon’s most popular fashion apartments. There you’ll find clothing created by independent designers who are on the cutting edge of Saigon’s fashion scene.

  • Ton That Thiep apartment is at 42 Ton That Thiep, Ben Nghe Ward
  • Ly Tu Trong apartment is at 26 Ly Tu Trong, Ben Nghe Ward.

Museum of Traditional Medicine

Daily 8:30am–5pm, 1 hour, 120K VNK (6 USD)

Want to explore thousands of years of medical history? The 3,000+ artifacts at Saigon’s Museum of Traditional Medicine date all the way back to the stone age. You’ll find organized explanations in English and the whole thing is housed in a gorgeous traditional wooden house. To top it all off, there’s a Cham tower where you can view several Cham linga.

Craft Beer Crawl

Hours vary, 3 hours, prices vary

pint craft beer ho chi minh city pasteur street brewing saigon
A visit to Pasteur Street Brewing – one of the original Saigon craft beer breweries – is a must.

Did you know that Ho Chi Minh City has Asia’s best craft beer scene? The boom began a few years ago, when some enterprising expats decided they were sick of drinking Bia Saigon and 333. It didn’t take long until new breweries were popping up everywhere, and now, you can easily spend a whole evening going from brewery to brew pubs around the city.

Don’t miss Pasteur Street Brewing, which started it all, Winking Seal, which might be the friendliest of the lot, and Heart of Darkness, which has the most amazing bottle labels. Of course, all of them provide top-notch beers for every palette!

Want more beer?
Check out our complete guide to craft beer and breweries in Saigon.

Things to do in Ho Chi Minh at Night

ho chi minh city skyscape at night
At night Saigon transforms into a glittering city with so many stories being told.

Get High as the Clouds

Open 9:30am–8:45pm daily, 1 hour, $10, book ahead

It’s hard to get a sense of the expanse of Ho Chi Minh City from the ground. Buildings rise high out of narrow streets and the noise and chaos pulls your attention to the minutiae of every day life. See the city from above gives you a big picture view and you get a sense of the millions of lives playing out below you, one story at a time.

One of the most popular spots to inspire rooftop awe is the Saigon Skydeck at the Bitexco Tower, which was, until recently, Saigon’s tallest building. The Skydeck gives you a 360 degree view of Saigon, for a 200,000 VND ($10) entrance fee. You can also skip the Skydeck and go to the 50th floor restaurant and bar. There’s no fee for entry but you’ll have to order some drinks of course.

bitexco tower saigon city from the water
Change your perspective of Ho Chi Minh City by climbing into the clouds so you can look down on the crowds.

You can also get high at the newest tallest building, the Landmark 81, which is even taller than the famous Petronas Towers in Kuala Lumpur. This building contains a high-end shopping mall, state-of-the-art cinemas, Vietnam’s most luxurious hotel, plus an 80th floor deck for viewing, equipped with telescopes and touchscreen information.

Shout from the Rooftops

1–2 hours, prices vary $10–$50

If you prefer a more alcoholic rooftop experience, go for cocktails at one of Saigon’s many rooftop bars. The Hotel Des Art Social Club is an oasis in the sky, complete with breathtaking infinity pool.

Watch the sunset with a signature cocktail at Skyloft by Glow, where the chill vibes turn clubby as the evening draws in. For a more elegant experience, try the Rooftop Garden at the Rex Hotel, which is open all day and is the perfect place to connect to your inner 1960s film star.

AO Show at the Saigon Opera House

6pm most days, 1.5 hours, from $30, book ahead

For a touristy but fun experience that is family-friendly, check out the AO Show at the Saigon Opera House. This is two events in one. First, you’ll get to see the design and architecture of one of Ho Chi Minh City’s most recognizable landmarks, the French Gothic opera house.

Second, you’ll experience the delights of the AO Show, where talented young Vietnamese people tell the varied stories of life in Vietnam through song, dance, and acrobatics.

We saw the AO show in Hoi An and were pleasantly surprised by how enjoyable it was!

Tickets can sell out quickly at busy times of year so book ahead if this is a must-see attraction for you.

Bui Vien Street

8pm til late, 1 hours, free to wander

bui vien walking street in saigon
Bui Vien Walking Street, also known as backpacker street, is where you’ll find lots of bars and restaurants aimed at the tourist crowd.

To experience the tackier side of Ho Chi Minh nightlife, head down to Bui Vien street (aka Backpacker Street, aka ) after dark. In the evening, the busy thoroughfare is closed off to most traffic, and the bars that line the street compete to see who can play louder club music and who has more scantily clad waitresses.

It is every bit as bad as it sounds, but makes for an interesting spectacle nonetheless.

Mindful & Wellness Activities

Treat Yourself to a Treatment

All day, 1–2 hours, prices vary

There seem to be almost as many spas in Ho Chi Minh City as there are motorbikes, but it can be very hard to find a good one. The cheap places tend to be staffed by women who have little or no training and your massage will be disappointing at best. Some even still offer “extras” that should be avoided at all costs.

There are plenty of excellent spas in the city too. But it can be tough to find them! Try the traditional Vietnamese services at My Spa, where the masseuse are skilled practitioners and the products are all organic. Head to Cat Moc Spa for a full range of beauty and aesthetic treatments, or the highly rated Saigon Heritage Spa for some of the best massages in the city.

If you’re looking for something in the alternative medicine realm, like reflexology, acupuncture, or reiki, check out the range of treatments at Mandala Wellness. We know the owners well and can attest to their integrity and caring natures.

Unwind at a Yoga Class

All day, 1–2 hours, prices vary

In the past few years, the yoga scene has exploded in Vietnam. While a few years ago, there were only a handful of yoga studios around the country and locals didn’t really know much about the practice, now, almost every Vietnamese woman we talk to says she practices yoga. This rapid expansion has led to lots of options, both good and bad, for doing yoga in Saigon.

For a well rounded selection of classes, in many styles and for all levels, head out to the Yoga Pod in District 2. They have well trained teachers and you’ll get a quality yoga class there. In District 1, there’s Yoga Living, which is a good place to sweat out your stresses, though the quality of the teaching staff ranges quite a bit and classes hold up to 50 people.

A Final Note About Your Saigon Itinerary

We always have a great time when we visit Ho Chi Minh City but, especially on your first visit, it can be crazy overwhelming! There is so much of everything: noise, traffic, music, people, smog…

Because of that, spending time here can be more exhausting than travel in a more laid-back region. Make sure that, when you’re planning your Ho Chi Minh itinerary, you remember to leave extra time for relaxing and recharging – you’ll need it! You may miss out on a few extra experiences but we guarantee you’ll enjoy the ones you do get to a whole lot more!

More Saigon Travel Tips

Books to Read in Saigon

There’s nothing quite like a good novel or non-fiction book to help you understand the heart and soul of a city like Ho Chi Minh. Here are a few great books we suggest you read before or while you’re in Vietnam.

The Quiet American

by Graham Greene

graham green the quiet american book cover

One of the most well-known books set in Vietnam, The Quiet American takes place in 1950s Saigon and tells the story of a young man who wants to help end the conflict in Vietnam between French colonists and the Viet Minh.

It’s an atmospheric tale that will give you more insight into the history of the city and Vietnam as a whole.

Start reading

The Sympathizer

by Viet Thanh Nguyen

viet thanh nguyen the sympathizer book cover

Winner of the 2016 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, this thriller actually takes place in Los Angeles just after the Vietnam War.

It’s an examination of the impact the war had on countless Vietnamese immigrants and shows how every war has two distinct side, each believing they are in the right.

Reading The Sympathizer will give you a great understanding of what Saigonese families suffered in the aftermath of war.

Start reading

Saigon: An Epic Novel of Vietnam

by Anthony Grey

anthony grey saigon book cover

Taking place over 5 decades, this novel begins in Saigon in 1925 and follows Joseph Sherman as he returns to the country, first as a tourist, then as a soldier, and finally as a reporter.

He becomes embroiled in the turbulent world of Saigon’s most influential families and witnesses the biggest turning points in Vietnam’s 20th Century history. This one will give you a deeper understand of what led to the Vietnam War and how politics turned the world upside down for millions of Vietnamese people.

Start reading

(Related: If you are a reader, check out this book-lovers guide to Ho Chi Minh City.)

Day Trips from Ho Chi Minh City

Mekong Delta Speed Boat Tour

8 hours, 4.7/5 stars, $109, book ahead

mekong delta tour
It’s worth getting out on a Mekong Delta tour just to see this view.

A few days in the chaos of Ho Chi Minh City can be completely overwhelming – a speedboat trip on the Mekong will be the perfect antidote.

Along the river, the only sound you’ll hear is the motor from your boat and at the oohs and aah of fellow passengers as you pass impossibly thick tangles of rainforest along the shoreline. Traditional stilt huts along the riverside are an eye-opening reminder that Saigon is home to the very poor as well as the very rich.

When you disembark, you’ll get to meet local villagers who earn their living off the land.

Get details & book

Mekong Delta Non-Touristy Bike & Boat Ride

9 hours, 4.3/5 stars, $40, book ahead

dense rainforest canopy from above the mekong ho chi minh city
The Mekong Delta near Ho Chi Minh City really is the green lungs of the country.

For a slightly more active Mekong Delta adventure, get out on this bike and boat ride from Ho Chi Minh City. You’ll row through narrow jungle-lined canals and then cycle country lanes, with only local farmers and kids cycling to school for company.

Bike to a local market, visit the famous Cao Dai Temple and have lunch at a local restaurant before motoring along the wide Mekong River to get a look a local life.

Get details & book

Cu Chi Tunnels 1/2 Day Guided Tour

6 hours, 8am daily, from $15, book ahead

You’ve probably heard of the Cu Chi Tunnels — but do you really know what they are? On this half-day tour, you’ll explore the tunnels and learn about the people who survived by going underground during the war. You’ll also get to enjoy the peaceful surroundings of rural Vietnam!

Get details & book

Where to go After Saigon

Mekong Delta

Though you can easily take a day tour of the Mekong Delta from Saigon, there is so much to see here, and so much sheer beauty in the endless canals and rice fields, that it makes an excellent destination for a few days.

Can Tho makes a picturesque overnight stop, while Ben Tre and My Tho will give you a chance to boat through the wilds of the delta. Tan Lap Floating Village is an eco-tourism destination that will show you the symbiotic relationship between people and the water in this region.

For a local perspective (and to make planning super-easy), check out this immersive 2-day tour from Ho Chi Minh City.

Mui Ne

fairy stream mui ne vientam
The Fairy Stream in Mui Ne doesn’t have any fairies as far as we could see!

If you’re looking for a good place to break up the journey towards central and northern Vietnam, consider Mui Ne, a stretch of beach resort just a half-day from Ho Chi Minh City. Low– and high–end accommodations line the beach and there are other attractions, like the Mui Ne Sand Dunes, that you won’t want to miss.

Phu Quoc

Phu Quoc makes a great place for a chilled beach escape.

For a full-on beach resort holiday, visit Phu Quoc, a sun-drenched island on Vietnam’s southwest coast. This is where wealthy people from all over Asia come to play and it’s a hot destination for Western tourists too.

Just don’t expect a deserted island experience. Phu Quoc is built up with resorts, casinos, and other tacky tourist attractions. However, it still has some of the best beaches in Vietnam.

Cambodia

cambodia adventure
Don’t miss a visit to Chi Phat eco village on your Cambodia adventure.

As much as we love Vietnam, we may love Cambodia just a tiny bit more. Shhh, don’t tell our Vietnamese friends!

If you’re doing a full Southeast Asia trip, then plan to head to Cambodia from Ho Chi Minh City. There are several ways to get to go. Taking the bus to Cambodia is the cheapest, if not the easiest. Or, you can book an inexpensive tour of the Mekong Delta which will drop you off in Phnom Penh at the end. Now that’s an efficient use of time and cash!

Want to Know Our Vietnam Secrets?

Let Vietnam Transform You

This FREE don’t-miss list gives you access to the 12 best transformational experiences in Vietnam. Don’t miss out!

More Transformational Travel Tips

We have spent so much time in Vietnam that we’ve written enough about it to publish a book. Instead, it’s all on this site for free. You’re welcome!

Try these posts to keep planning your trip.

We hope this guide to what to do in Saigon is a useful starting place when planning your trip to the city. Our goal is to help every reader find the best, most transformational activities at their destination. Let us know by email or Instagram if you have any questions.

♥  Happy transformational travels, Jane & Stephen

Wondering what to do in Ho Chi Minh City? Use this guide to find transformational activities and tours in Saigon to suit your tastes and travel style. We include a full intinerary for 2 or 3 days in the city, too! #vietnam #travel #hochiminhcity #saigon #transform #mindful #myfiveacres
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