As we made our way through Vietnam from north to south, the last stop on our Vietnam itinerary was Ho Chi Minh, the country’s largest city formerly known as Saigon. And both names are still used today. We spent five days exploring this historically and culturally significant city, and suggest you take your time, as there is so much ground to cover.
It is a fascinating place steeped in history and reminders of colonial periods and the Vietnam War. Those interested in history will be able to learn more while visiting Ho Chi Minh City attractions. Those hungry for local fare will be delighted with the street food options and hip cafes. And all travelers alike will satisfy their curiosity about Vietnamese culture with our list of top places to visit in Ho Chi Minh City. Travel and sightseeing around the city are especially convenient because the majority of the places to see are located in district one and the bordering district three. So, position yourself there and start making your way through the list.
The Reunification Palace
Tao Dan Park is a green and beautiful oasis amid the city that leads to the Reunification Palace, also known as the Independence Palace. Constructed in the 60s, the brutalist building went through destruction and repair. It was home to the president of the Republic of Vietnam and the site of the Fall of Saigon in 1975. Today you can tour the opulent meeting rooms and eerie bomb shelter located in the basement. The exhibit is set up to look as it did in the 70s and seems frozen in time. If you are not visiting during peak hours, the atmosphere feels as if you are walking around a building that had just been evacuated moments ago.
Buildings of French Colonial Architecture
Walk down Dong Khoi Street to marvel at some of the city’s most iconic French architecture built during the colonial period. The landmarks that should be added to your itinerary include the Saigon Notre Dame Basilica, the Central Post Office, and the Opera House.
The red Notre Dame Basilica stands out from the mass as it was constructed from brick that was brought from Marseille in France. The beautiful and ornate detail on the façade of the Opera House and its elegant arch supported by sculptures is mesmerizing, but the only way to see the inside is to attend a show. The Central Post Office is another work of art that was constructed by the same French architect who designed the Eiffel Tower – Gustav Eiffel. The post office is still fully operational, so grab a postcard and mail it to your loved ones once you are done admiring French-influenced architecture.
War Remnants Museum
This museum points out the destruction caused to Vietnam’s land and its people during the Vietnam War. The museum gives a voice to stories told by Vietnamese civilians that are paired with graphic photography. But apart from the Vietnamese government’s perspective on the US involvement, there is also documentation of the French colonial period and conflicts with China. Dedicate about two hours of your time to cover all of the exhibits and the outdoor display of American tanks, helicopters, and weapons. For us, it was sad having been raised during this conflict, knowing that so many young American men lost their lives in this far away land.
To decompress after an overwhelming and emotional visit to the War Remnants Museum, take a stroll through Tao Dan Park down to the colorful Nguyen Hue Walking Street. The strip is the largest in the city and is completely free from traffic. It runs from the People’s Committee building to the river and boasts gardens, a large fountain, and cool cafes. Though to spot these cafes, you’ll have to look up as they are located in an apartment building, where each balcony is an individual cell trying to outshine its neighbor. Aside from this being the perfect place to sample Vietnamese coffee culture, the unique concept is incredibly picturesque and will delight any aspiring street photographer.
Come nighttime, the streets get busier, and the city turns into a neon wonderland. The best way to take in the atmosphere is by visiting a rooftop bar and enjoying the views or joining the fun at a karaoke bar. Karaoke is a popular pastime for Ho Chi Minh locals and a flourishing activity all over Vietnam. So much so that it is considered an important aspect of Vietnamese culture. Ho Chi Minh’s karaoke venues resemble VIP party lounges with disco balls, chandeliers, and plush couches. Very aptly named, King Karaoke Lounge sets a high standard where you get treated, you guessed it – like kings!
Ben Thanh Market
If you think that Ho Chi Minh’s chaos is concentrated on its streets – though the traffic is chaotic, indeed – you just haven’t been to Ben Thanh market yet. This market is the oldest in the city, and it’s overflowing with shops, people, and everything imaginable. From trinkets to tailor-made clothing. So, secure your belongings, pull up your socks, and prepare to get your haggling on. Arrive during the afternoon for shopping and stay until the evening when even more street food stalls open to feed the growing crowd.
Jade Emperor Pagoda
One of the most beautiful temples in Ho Chi Minh City is the Jade Emperor Pagoda, also known as the Tortoise Pagoda. Wander around and take in the grandeur built to honor gods. Admire the woodcarvings, tile work, and statues of Buddhist and Taoist religious figures. Become intoxicated by fragrant wisps of incense and serenity. The tortoise pond in front of the temple is what gives it its second name, and feeding them is considered good luck.
Mekong River Delta
One of the best day trips to embark on during your stay in Ho Chi Minh City is to the Mekong Delta, which is only 1.5 hours away. It is an immensely important agricultural spot where the Mekong River, which passes 6 other countries, finally meets the sea. You can explore the area on a boat tour which will take you through the channels winding around mangroves, and you will get to see the livelihood that depends on the Delta. There are other attractions along the way, like the floating markets and ancient pagodas, so you can make a full-day excursion out of the journey.
Cu Chi Tunnels
Located one hour away, the Cu Chi tunnels are the most interesting place to visit near Ho Chi Minh City. If you have time for just one day trip, make it this one. And by joining a half-day tour as we did with Get Your Guide, you get conveniently picked up and dropped off at your accommodation, saving you plenty of time and guesswork.
The Cu Chi tunnels are a vast network of underground passages that stretch for over 220 kilometers. They connect bunkers where the military used to live during the Vietnam War and hide out after surprise attacks. The narrow tunnels can barely fit a full-grown man, and it’s unimaginable how the Vietnamese lived in such tiny quarters. On the tour, you get to step back in time as you learn about the history through the stories told by your guide, such as the rules that were closely followed to stay hidden from American soldiers. Since the actual entryways to the tunnels are so tiny, there is a bigger one specifically created for tourists to be able to squeeze through and crawl inside the tunnels to experience it for themselves. We recommend doing this tour before the midday heat arrives to avoid discomfort because the deeper you crawl into the tunnels, the more humid it gets.
Are you planning a trip to Vietnam? Check out our Vietnam itinerary and travel guides on Hanoi and Hoi An Lantern Festival.