Ho Chi Minh City, also known as Saigon, is one of Vietnam’s most popular travel destinations. Particularly significance for its role in the Vietnam War and the impact of French Colonialism, the complex city offers much more than just conflict history. Here’s a look at the gastronomical and cultural offerings you can experience in Vietnam’s largest city.
8 AM – INDEPENDENCE PALACE
106 NGUYEN DU, WARD BEN NGHE, DISTRICT 1, HO CHI MINH CITY, VIETNAM
An excellent place to start your exploration of Ho Chi Minh City and the history of Vietnam, during the time of the Vietnam War, Independence Palace (also known as Reunification Palace) was the home and office of the South Vietnam president. In 1975, the war symbolically ended with a North Vietnam tanker crashing through the front gate of the palace walls. Today, it is a museum to remember the jarring battle for freedom from communism.
10 AM – NOTRE-DAME DE SAIGON
BEN NGHE, DISTRICT 1, HO CHI MINH CITY, VIETNAM
Located on Paris Square, Notre-Dame de Saigon is the Catholic center of Ho Chi Minh. Finished by the French in 1880, this cathedral is especially impressive as all of the building materials came from France. The outside wall maintains its stunning red color from bricks imported from Marseille.
11 AM – CENTRAL POST OFFICE
2 CONG XA PARIS, WARD BEN NGHE, DISTRICT 1, HO CHI MINH CITY, VIETNAM
Located directly across from Notre-Dame, the Central Post Office has become a must-visit for any traveler passing through Ho Chi Minh City. Finished in 1891, the Gothic style building is still used as an actual post office today, although it’s largely filled with tourist shops and travel brokers. The interior sports beautiful map paintings and architecture unlike anywhere else in Vietnam.
12 PM – DIAMOND PLAZA & PARKSON PLAZA
34 LE DUAN, WARD BEN NGHE, DISTRICT 1, HO CHI MINH CITY, VIETNAM
For a contemporary shopping experience, Diamond and Parkson Plaza is where you can drop some coin. You’ll find trendy international brands, as well as some lesser-known Vietnamese ones. If you frequent malls in western countries, you won’t find anything particularly interesting about either, but it does provide a stark contrast to the traditional Vietnamese shopping experience.
1 PM – BEN THANH MARKET
LE LOI, HAM NGHI, TRAN HUNG DAO AVENUES AND LE LAI STREET HO CHI MINH CITY, VIETNAM
One of the most authentic markets in Vietnam, Thanh is not the best deal in town when it comes to buying souvenirs, but it can be if you negotiate right. Vendors are aggressive but respectful and most speak passable English. A great spot to pickup a gift or two.
3 PM - PHO 2000
1-3D PHAN CHU TRINH, DISTRICT 1, HO CHI MINH CITY, VIETNAM
Pho shops are a dime a dozen in Vietnam, but this is one of the standouts. Just a short walk from Ben Thanh Market, it’s actually where President Bill Clinton tried his first bowl of the delectable, traditional soup. Be sure to also order their delicious fresh spring rolls.
4 PM – SAIGON ZOO AND BOTANICAL GARDENS
2B NGUYEN BINH KHEIM STREET, WARD BEN NEGHE, DISTRICT 1, HO CHI MINH CITY, VIETNAM
A testament to French colonialism, this garden was one of the first things created by the settlers and it still stands to this day. Opened by a French botanist named JB Louis Pierre in 1865, you’ll find 260 plant species and over 550 animals in the zoo.
5:30 PM – BITEXCO FINANCIAL TOWER
36 HO TUNG MAU, WARD BEN NEGHE, DISTRICT 1, HO CHI MINH CITY, VIETNAM
There’s nothing like a great sunset to wrap up the day, and we recommend heading up to the sky deck at Bitexco Financial Tower, the tallest building in Ho Chi Minh City (and the third tallest in Vietnam). Grab dinner and a drink at one of the restaurants occupying the upper levels of this stunning building.
7 PM – HO CHI MINH SQUARE & PEOPLE’S COMMITTEE BUILDING
DL NGUYEN HUE HO CHI MINH CITY, VIETNAM
Ho Chi Minh Square is one of the city’s primary gathering spots and it’s especially beautiful at night when the fountains put on a show. Stroll around the square and people watch on your way to the People’s Committee Building, also known as the Ho Chi Minh City Hall.
8 AM – THE WAR REMNANTS MUSEUM
28 VO VAN TAN, 6, 3, HO CHI MINH CITY, VIETNAM
A harsh look at the realities of war, the War Remnants Museum is a must-visit to see a side of the conflict often shielded from Western audiences. Although it can be a bit one-sided at times, the exhibits provide much needed insight beyond typical media depictions. Please note this is very graphic and not suitable for children.
9:30 AM – HO CHI MINH CITY MUSEUM
65 LY TU TRONG, WARD BEN NGHE, DISTRICT 1, HO CHI MINH CITY, VIETNAM
Built in 1885, the HCMC Museum is a beautiful Baroque building that tells the history of the city. Relatively small compared to other museums, it will give you a good overview of how Ho Chi Minh came to be.
11 AM – MUSEUM OF VIETNAMESE HISTORY
2 NGUYEN BINH KHIEM ST. WARD BEN NGHE, DISTRICT 1, HO CHI MINH CITY, VIETNAM
From the stone age through modern day, the Museum of Vietnamese History offers detailed exploration of Vietnam’s past through cultural and prehistoric artifacts. Of special note are the Cham sculptures and Buddhist collections.
1 PM – THICH QUANG DUC MEMORIAL
CACH MANG THANG TAM & NGUYEN DINH CHIEU ST. DISTRICT 3, HO CHI MINH CITY, VIETNAM
Thich Quang Duc was a monk and activist that set himself on fire in 1963 to protest the oppressive treatment of Buddhists. Known as self-immolation, images of his death spread across the world, pressuring the government to cede their religious restrictions. Although other sites are perhaps more well known, this memorial is a great place to reflect on the plight the Buddhist faced.
2 PM – COFFEE TRUNG-NGUYEN
80 DONG KHOI ST. WARD BEN NGHE, DISTRICT 1, HO CHI MINH CITY, VIETNAM
Vietnam has long been known for their coffee. And while it might be blasphemy to compare this local staple to a certain American franchise, this is the most notable and wide reaching Asian brand. You can also try the world famous Kopi Luwak here, but be warned, the beans are much stronger than back West.
5 PM – GOLDEN DRAGON WATER PUPPET SHOW
55 B NGUYEN THI MINH KHAI ST. WARD BEN NGHE, DISTRICT 1, HO CHI MINH CITY, VIETNAM
For generations, water puppets have been an important part of Vietnam’s culture, used to entertain and educate children and also preserve history through art. Don’t let the language barrier stop you, as the stories are relatively self-explanatory thanks to amazing imagery and puppetry.
7 PM - PHAM NGU LAO STREET
HO CHI MINH CITY, VIETNAM
End your trip on the famous backpacker street. Phạm Ngũ Lão Street has evolved into an attractive tourist area with excellent restaurants and bars. Although the street food can be a bit pricy, the nightlife doesn’t get any better.
DON’T MISS: CU CHI TUNNELS & LACQUERWARE FACTORY TOUR
No exploration of Ho Chi Minh and Vietnam is complete without a trip to the Cu Chi Tunnels. Unfortunately, they are located about two hours from Ho Chi Minh, which means you’ll have to dedicate at least a half day to see them. There are many reputable tour operators to choose from, but we recommend picking a company that provides transportation and lunch.
WHERE TO STAY: GRAND HOTEL SAIGON
DONG KHOI, WARD BEN NGHE, DISTRICT 1, HO CHI MINH CITY, VIETNAM
Just a short walk from the Saigon River and historical downtown area, this legendary property has been a staple in Ho Chi Minh since 1930. Fully renovated in 1997, you’ll be hard pressed to find another hotel that combines the charm, location, and value from the Grand Hotel Saigon. Ask to stay in the ancient wing for beautiful views overlooking the city.