Things To Do In Saigon: Tips From Someone Who Lived There

When I first moved to Vietnam, I wanted to write a blog post after a few weeks showcasing what Saigon (otherwise known as Ho Chi Minh City, or HCMC) has to offer. For better or worse, I never got around to it. I think I felt like there was always something left to discover that I’d want to add after the fact. Luckily, now that I’ve moved away, there’s no reason to procrastinate any longer, and here it is!

Saigon is Vietnam’s largest city and center for finance. Its city center is modern and cosmopolitan, making it an ideal place for expats and foreign visitors alike. Due to its location in the south of the country, the weather is hot all year long. As Vietnam’s tourism industry booms, more and more people are spending at least a few days in Saigon. If you’re going to be one of them, read on to see what you should do during your visit!

1. A Cathedral and a Post Office

First on my list are two icons of Saigon: the Notre Dame Cathedral and the Central Post Office. These two famous buildings are located in the heart of District 1 within walking distance of everything else on this list.

The Notre Dame Cathedral
Nhà thờ Đức Bà Sài Gòn

Start by admiring this church named after the original in France. However, know that the structure has been covered by scaffolding for the entirety of the time I lived there (from March to December of 2019), and it didn’t look like that construction work would wrap up anytime soon. The front of the church wasn’t obstructed, though.

The Central Post Office
Bưu Điện Trung Tâm Thành Phố

After seeing the church, head on over to the Central Post Office next door. This iconic structure houses intricate decor as well as an iconic portrait of Ho Chi Minh. It’s also filled with various souvenir vendors.

Here’s a tip: go around sundown to experience the post office without the sea of tourists. The tiled floor is beautiful, and you won’t be able to see it if there are a ton of people inside.

Nguyễn Văn Bình Street
Đường Nguyễn Văn Bình

The last attraction on this block is Nguyễn Văn Bình Street, located right next to both the cathedral and the post office. This pedestrian-only walkway is lined on both sides with bookstores and cafes. While most of the books are in Vietnamese, it’s still a quaint area worth exploring for a few minutes.

Nguyễn Văn Bình Street
A cafe and bookstore on Nguyễn Văn Bình Street

2. THe Opera House

Nhà hát Thành phố Hồ Chí Minh

Another interesting architectural attraction is the Municipal Theatre of Ho Chi Minh City, also known as the city’s opera house. It’s a stunning example of the kind of building styles that were brought from France during the colonial period. Although the exterior is beautiful, I would’ve loved to see a concert there. Unfortunately, I never got around to it. If you’ve been inside, leave a comment and let me know what it was like!

3. City Hall & Nguyễn Huệ Walking Street

UBND Thành phố Hồ Chí Minh

City Hall (officially known as the People’s Committee of Ho Chi Minh City) is probably my favorite historical building in Saigon. I recommend visiting both during the day and after sunset; it’s even more spectacular lit up after dark.

Ho Chi Minh City Hall is located at one end of Nguyễn Huệ Walking Street (Phố đi bộ Nguyễn Huệ). Nguyễn Huệ is also beautiful at night. It’s got a statue of Ho Chi Minh, a lotus fountain, and tons of shops and vendors on both sides of the street. If you walk down to the other end of Nguyễn Huệ opposite City Hall, you’ll find yourself on the banks of the Saigon River.

4. See The City From Above

The skyline of Ho Chi Minh City may not be as grand as some larger cities, but it’s definitely growing and becoming an important part of the city’s identity. Here are two ways to enjoy the view.

The Saigon Skydeck at Bitexco Financial Tower

Bitexco Tower is perhaps Ho Chi Minh City’s most recognizable building, and it offers a 360-degree view of the urban surroundings. Since the tower was completed in 2010, you shouldn’t have to worry about really long lines or crowds here. However, it’s always better to go on a weekday afternoon than a weekend if you can. Entrance costs 200,000 VND (as of December 2019), or approx. 9 USD.

Bitexco Tower

Another option to go up is by visiting the tower’s bar, EON51. I did this once and I honestly recommend just paying the fee for the observation deck instead. That’s because the bar tends to be crowded and it’s not easy to see the whole city with so many people seated next to the windows. You also won’t really save much money this way since drinks are pretty pricey up there.

An alternative to the Saigon Skydeck is Landmark 81. It’s further away from the city center, but since it’s much newer than Bitexco Tower and about 30 floors taller, entrance to the observation deck is more expensive.

Landmark 81 (upper right) as seen from the Saigon Skydeck

My Favorite Rooftop Bar

Ho Chi Minh City naturally has a bunch of rooftop bars, so choosing one might be a challenge. My personal favorite is AIR Saigon (formerly known as Air 360 Sky Lounge), which offers unobstructed views of the city’s tallest and most famous skyscrapers.

One of the many views from AIR Saigon. The cover photo for this blog post was also taken from the same rooftop bar.

AIR also has delicious, creative cocktails at reasonable prices. It’s located on the 22nd floor of Bến Thành Tower in District 1.

5. Vietnam History Museum

The Vietnam History Museum is perfect for anyone interested in learning more about the country. Acquaint yourself with ancient Vietnamese history as well as ethnic minorities as you admire the beautiful artifacts and artwork on display. Note that this museum doesn’t focus explicitly on the Vietnam War. Another museum in the city center is dedicated solely to that.

Next to the history museum is the Saigon Zoo And Botanical Garden. The gardens are really nice, but I always feel a bit iffy about patronizing a zoo, so I only went once and never had a strong urge to go back.

6. Bùi Viên (Backpacker Street)

When you hear ‘Saigon,’ do you picture backpackers drinking and bars blasting music seven nights a week? If the answer is yes, you’re probably thinking of Bùi Viên, one of Asia’s busiest and loudest bar streets. To experience it in full force, go for a drink after dark on a Friday or Saturday night.

I have mixed feelings about Bùi Viên (as I assume most expats in HCMC do). Although it can be fun, it can also be overwhelming. I personally found myself visiting its cafes and restaurants during the day more often than going to the bars at night. If you’d like to see it without so much commotion, I recommend you do the same.

7. The War Remnants Museum

Bảo tàng Chứng tích Chiến tranh

This is such an important museum to visit because it tells the story of the Vietnam War from a different perspective than you’re probably used to (if you’re from America or Europe). Come with an open mind and a willingness to read and learn about the impacts the war had, especially in the south of Vietnam.

A major focus of the museum is the lasting impact and terrible suffering caused by the use of Agent Orange as an herbicide during the war. Parts of the museum have graphic content, so it may not be the best to bring really young kids. However, I think the exhibit on Agent Orange is really important for most people to see.

I suspect that most American public high schools don’t teach their students about the human impact of spraying such toxic chemicals (I never learned about it during my history classes). If you’re also hearing about it for the first time, I highly recommend visiting the museum to get a fuller picture of the impact of the Vietnam War.

8. Bến Thành Market

Chợ Bến Thành

This huge market is fairly standard, but it’s the perfect place to pick up a souvenir or two. The bright blue and red neon lights are impossible to miss at night.

The surrounding blocks are also filled with street vendors and cafes, and one particular eatery worth noting is the Bến Thành Street Food Market. This large food court has international options and classic Vietnamese dishes (admittedly at inflated prices), but I always enjoyed grabbing a casual dinner here. To learn more about food options in Saigon, check out point number 12 below.

Pork and rice from my favorite stall in Bến Thành Street Food Market

9. Independence Palace

Dinh Độc Lập

If you’ve had your fill of colonial architecture, head straight to the Independence Palace. It was built in the 1960s and its lavish interior has an undeniable retro vibe. I felt like I was touring a James Bond movie set as we wandered through the ornate meeting rooms and secret passageways in the basement. This building served as the home of the president of South Vietnam before reunification in 1975.

10. The Famous Pink Church

Nhà thờ Tân Định

You may have seen the Tân Định Church on Instagram, and its striking pink facade really is one-of-a-kind. Just be warned that literal busloads of tourists get off here to take pictures in front of the iconic structure.

Here’s a tip: the church isn’t extremely photogenic from ground level. Across the street is a Cộng Cafe with multiple upper levels of balcony seating. Buy a Vietnamese coffee or an espresso and go up for the best photo angle. I took the photo above from the third (or fourth?) floor of this coffee shop.

11. Day Trip Ideas

I’m sad to say that I didn’t take advantage of all Saigon had to offer in terms of day trips. Nonetheless, here are two I went on that I recommend.

The Củ Chi Tunnels

This popular attraction located in the northern district of Củ Chi is a great way to learn more about the Vietnam War. A guide will bring you through some of the tunnels and explain how they were used during combat. The tunnels are fairly small, so people who are claustrophobic may choose to skip this day trip.

See The Mekong Delta

I did a private day tour of the Mekong Delta when my parents came to visit, and it exceeded my expectations. For most of my time in Vietnam, I was under the impression that visiting the Mekong River was a multi-day commitment, and that simply isn’t the case. To read more about what we saw and did, check out my full review here.

12. The Expat’s Guide To Eating In Saigon

To be perfectly honest, daily life as an expat in Ho Chi Minh City isn’t defined by the sites and attractions listed above. On the contrary, Saigon was such a fun place to live long-term because of its infinite number of delicious food choices for very low prices. If you’re curious about what culinary delights await you, check out my “Expat’s Guide To Eating In Saigon”!

How Long Should You Stay in Saigon?

To wrap up this post, I’d like to answer a common question: how long should you spend in Ho Chi Minh City? My answer to that is roughly three days. Even if the list above sounds long, most of the points of interest mentioned above can be seen in an hour or two. If you want to go at a leisurely pace, four days is fine, but I honestly recommend moving on to a different part of Vietnam after that.

What else is worth seeing outside of Saigon? Well, if you’re planning a trip and still need ideas, check out some of my other Vietnam posts! In my nine months of living there teaching English, I managed to see quite a few different parts of the country. If you’re headed to Ho Chi Minh City for the first time, let me know if you have any questions in the comments section below! Thanks for reading and have an amazing time in Saigon!

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This Post Has 19 Comments

  1. backpackandsnorkel

    We are currently planning a trip to Vietnam and your write-up is super helpful. Maybe one totally different question: My wife saw videos of the traffic and read that crossing the busy streets with all the scooters and cars and trucks and motor cycles is an adventure in itself and now she is scared. I told her that all people that I know who were in Vietnam are still alive but that does not make her feel any better. Do you have any advice?

    1. This is such a good question. I would say that you definitely need to be alert and aware whenever walking around in the city. That includes sidewalks and alleyways, because at times the motorbikes will treat them as an extra lane of traffic. With that said, walking is generally not too overwhelming, but crossing the street is definitely the most daunting aspect of getting around on foot. I would say that it is a good idea to cross the street slowly but steadily. NEVER dart across the street or run. Motorbike traffic will weave around pedestrians, but if someone is running they won’t have the time to react and this is the highest risk of an accident. Most major intersections and busy roads will have walk signals and pedestrian crossings. In the worst case scenario, if it just seems impossible to cross without a break in traffic, wait for a local and walk in a group. I hope this helps, but in all my nine months of living there, I never witnessed a motorbike hit a person. You guys got this!

  2. Chantelle Kincy

    What is the best time of year to go? Its hot and humid, correct? It looks gorgeous though! This is such good information! Can’t wait to read after South America

    1. It is hot and humid basically all year. The winter months can be slightly cooler but it’s warm enough to wear tee-shirts and shorts all year long. Summer had the most rain, but even during rainy season, it tends to rain for less than an hour in the late afternoon or evening. A full day of rain is pretty rare.

  3. Ada

    Your photos are amazing! I’ve never been to Asia before and you just might have convinced me to check out Vietnam. Thank you for this in-depth post!

  4. Mayuri Patel

    I am not fan of Big crowded cities, But Ho chi minh is in my list due to that skyline views! I also want to explore chu chi tunnels and love those historical buildings.Loved your post and saved for reference to plan my trip.

  5. Thanks for sharing this. Vietnam is on my list and the 3 day answer is perfect. Saigon looks amazing and I didn’t realise the other name was Ho Chi Minh City. Some great information on here. The Norte Dame Cathedral and the pink church just look so amazing and it’s nice to see something different than beach photos

  6. Shane Prather

    Such a useful and comprehensive guide! I hadn’t had Vietnam on my radar until now. I didn’t realize it had such sprawling, modern cities. It’s interesting what you learn living in a country rather than just visiting for a short period of time,. Thanks for the insiders guide!

  7. MY RIG Adventures

    I know what you mean, I can tend to procrastinate a blog post until I’ve left that area as well. I always think, “they’ll be more to add.” I think you’ve jam packed a lot in here for people to explore though. It looks like such a happening city!

  8. Aditi Sharma

    It’s always great to read such an informative post as this one written by someone who has lived in the city that the post describes. I’ve yet to visit Vietnam but whenever I do, I’m sure I’ll be spending some time in Ho Chi Minh City. Those dramatic skyline views from Saigon Skydeck and Landmark 81 are absolutely amazing. You’ve really captured the architecture of the city so beautifully through your photographs – the decor of the post office is truly impressive. Ben Thanh Street Food Market definitely sounds like a place we’d like to explore for its mix of international and classic Vietnamese dishes. Thanks for sharing this detailed guide.

  9. dillon leovic

    Wow, such an informative article! You provided great expertise advice and I also really enjoyed all of the pictures!

  10. Maria

    Love this guide! You’re showing so many great places to visit, you really make me want to travel to HCMC now. I generally love the food in Southeast Asia and it looks so good on your photos too. The view from the rooftop bar is amazing, I love going to such places! All in all everything reminds me a bit of Bangkok just without the temples but correct me if I’m wrong haha

  11. Just Heading Out

    I visited Saigon last January, but didn’t really love the city and personally prefer Hanoi. But I think that was mostly because it was Tet so there weren’t many locals and a lot of things were closed. So unfortunately I missed out on a lot of the things you mention here. I did love the post office though, it’s so pretty! And the War Remnants Museum was incredibly impressive. I agree that 3 days is plenty as a tourist in Saigon.

  12. Carol Colborn

    Love love love this comperehensive guide (and the photos) of what’s important to see and do in Saigon. We just did the tunnels when I was there a long time ago. Definitely see the Pink Church, the market, and the Mekong Delta!

  13. AllGudThings

    I have found this post at the right time. We are planing to travel to Vietnam next year and now would love to spend sometime in Saigon too. The city hall, post office, cathedral, view of city from top looks really nice. We would like to do some day trips too. Thanks for sharing.

  14. Ana

    What a comprehensive guide on Saigon! The architecture of The Notre Dame Cathedral reminds me of French Quarter at New Orleans, US. I’m planning to visit Vietnam soon ans thanks for all your trips. Bookmarking your post for my reference and wishing you a great 2020!

  15. Jas

    Awesome tip about visiting Central Post Office after sundown to avoid crowds! I visited northern Vietnam during 2019 spring and although Saigon was on my list, I never got to it. Notre Dame Cathedral and Central Post Office were definitely on my list though and reading about it here is making me want to just book a flight over. The aerial city views are stellar too. I think I’d visit both the observation deck and a bar. I mean, you can’t beat drinks with a view like that!

  16. I am also very attracted to Vietnam, but I did not have much time to visit there. It’s great that you shared your journey. I am intrigued and definitely want to be there! The photos are just wonderful!

  17. Medha Verma

    I was in Vietnam in December 2019 and absolutely loved it. Unfortunately I only had enough time to cover the North but could not make it to Ho Chi Minh City and that was my biggest regret. It does look like the architecture is quite amazing and a real contrast to the cities I visited. It would’ve been a lot warmer to the places I went to, as well. It’s only my list for the next Vietnam trip. I love the Notre Dam Cathedral and the pink church, so pretty!

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