Ho Chi Minh City is the type of place that immediately draws you in on your visit to Vietnam! Otherwise known as Saigon, the overload of senses that comes with this crazy city isn’t for everyone. However, if you approach the madness with an open mind it will be hard not to fall in love with it. Here are some tips for your first visit to Ho Chi Minh City, the best things to do, and what to know about the infamous Bui Vien Street.
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Our First Impression of Ho Chi Minh City
The first time we visited Ho Chi Minh City was back in 2011. Motorbikes swarmed our taxi as we weaved through the many districts en route to our hotel.
The sights and sounds immediately overwhelmed us, and the smells of street food wafted through the air. To be honest, it was slightly intimidating! Yet, after a few days we learned to enjoy the craziness of Ho Chi Minh City.
15 Tips for Ho Chi Minh City Vietnam
1. How to Get to Ho Chi Minh City
Unless you’re already in Vietnam then you’ll be arriving by flight. That is because to obtain a visa on arrival (which most people do) you have to fly into one of the international airports.
Tan Son Nhat International Airport has flights from all over the world, and most major cities in Asia. The landing over Ho Chi Minh City is amazing, and a window seat will give you a bird’s eye view of Vietnam’s 2nd largest city.
From Tan Son Nhat Airport, you can take an airport shuttle or jump in a taxi for a bit more money. We always recommend using Grab taxi when traveling in Southeast Asia. The cheapest way would be to take a public bus but it’s definitely worth the money for the other options.
If you are already in Vietnam check out 12Go. We use this website when traveling in Asia to compare buses, flights, trains, and transfers to get you to Ho Chi Minh City.
2. Best Time to Go
The best time to visit Ho Chi Minh is at the beginning of the year during the dry season. Ideally, December to March would be great months outside of the rainy season.
Although the temperates stay moderate throughout the year in this part of Southeast Asia, at this time you will find the least rain. Just make sure you’re ready for the heat if you visit in April!
3. Getting Around Ho Chi Minh City
Know that everything is within walking distance in District one. Nevertheless, when traveling around Ho Chi Minh City it’s fun to grab one of the motorbike taxis!
All around the city, you will see drivers in green jackets and helmets with the word “Grab” on the side. This is the Vietnamese version of Uber.
You can download the app before arriving and you’ll be able to order a bike anywhere in the city. If you’re more than one person of course a normal taxi will also work.
→ 11 Useful Tips for Grab Food Delivery & Taxi in Southeast Asia
4. Stay In District One
Vietnam’s southern city is so huge that it’s broken into different districts. The most popular for travelers’ first visit to the city is by far district one. It features everything from the wild Bui Vien Street to upscale five-star hotels, and some of the best food markets.
While it’s fun to explore other districts in Saigon, district one has more than enough to keep you running around for days! If you’re considering spending a few weeks in the city you could look into other areas. Yet, for short stays, you’re better off in the city center.
Best Hotels in Ho Chi Minh City
Ultra Luxury – Park Hyatt Saigon – In the upscale part of the city sits the beautiful Park Hyatt, which acts as a retreat from the buzz of Saigon. Swim in the outdoor pool, relax in your upscale room, and enjoy the special touches that come with a luxury resort.
Fun Vacation – Fusion Suites Saigon – This hotel has a contemporary style and is completely unique to other places you will find in the city!
Boutique Hotel – Chez Mimosa Petite – Bright and fun rooms that are great for travelers on a budget. Located close to the Fine Arts Museum the hotel offers free bikes to explore Ho Chi Minh City.
Budget Travel – City Backpackers Hostel – Fun hostel to meet other travelers. Also, it’s just a quick walk away from Bui Vien Street in the popular party area!
5. Grab a SIM Card When You Arrive
The prices for a SIM card in Vietnam are so low that you really can’t afford not to have internet. We got one month of unlimited internet and cell phone calling for $8 USD. Yes, just $8! The first thing you should do when you land at the airport in Ho Chi Minh City is grab a SIM Card.
Believe it or not, even as bloggers we love to disconnect while traveling. Yet, to be able to call a grab taxi, check directions, and look up reviews for the best restaurants, it’s almost silly not to have one at this price. SIM cards can be purchased at any mini-mart or Saigon tourism office.
6. Pull Up A Stool
If you’ve been to Vietnam before you should be more than familiar with the small squat stools. However, if this is your first time in Saigon then you’re in for a new experience!
Often bright red colored, these small stools flood from the bars and restaurants leading into the streets. One of the best things to do in Ho Chi Minh City is to pull up a stool, grab a cold beer or noodle soup, and watch the motorbikes fly past.
7. Try Delicious Saigon Street Food
The street food in Ho Chi Minh City Vietnam is some of the best in the world! Simply walking through the streets you’ll see carts on the side of the road, down small alleyways, and in large food halls. If you want to try their famous sandwich, one of our favorite spots is called Banh Mi Huynh Hoa.
The best food stands will typically only have one menu item so it won’t be too hard to decide what to get. Ever thought about trying snails or chicken feet? Well, the good news is there’s something for everyone in Ho Chi Minh City!
→ Best Food in Vietnam: 34 Delicious Dishes to Try On Your First Visit
8. Drink Bia Saigon
You have two options when ordering the popular Beer Saigon, red or green. Green Saigon is a lighter pale lager, while the red has a slightly higher alcohol content and hoppy aftertaste.
Honestly, they taste pretty similar and both are delicious! Expect to pay 15,000-20,000 Vietnamese Dong per beer out at bars and restaurants, which is less than one U.S. dollar.
9. Explore Ben Thanh Market
When traveling to Ho Chi Minh City it’s hard not to constantly have shopping and food on your mind. Cheap goods and delicious food are sold from every street corner, making it outrageously accessible to get whatever you need. With that said, it only makes sense to go to the largest market!
You should know that Ben Thanh Market is the most touristy in Ho Chi Minh City. With that, comes higher prices for clothing and trinkets than at the more local markets.
We always find it fun to walk through the stalls in the early morning and see what’s going on. There’s also some great food stands inside serving delicious local food and Vietnamese coffee.
→ Ben Thanh Market: Tourist Trap or Worth Seeing in Ho Chi Minh?
10. Visit The War Remnants Museum
Wherever you travel to Ho Chi Minh city from, seeing the Vietnam War museum is absolutely essential. It’s especially important if you’re hailing from the United States like us to see the devastating effects the war had on this country.
The War Remnants Museum displays old military weapons and history from both sides of the American and Vietnam conflict. In addition, you’ll also see artifacts from the first Indochina war and French colonization. It’s all very surreal to see, and hard to believe that these years of war were not that long ago.
If you have time the Independence Palace is also worth seeing on your trip. Also known as Reunification Palace, the building signifies north and south Vietnam coming back together at the end of the Vietnam war.
11. Stop Into the Saigon Central Post Office
Built in the late 19th century (when Vietnam was under French rule), this beautiful building still acts today as a working post office. You might even recognize the name of the architect who built this masterpiece over 100 years ago!
Gustave Eiffel is also responsible for the Eiffel Tower and Statue of Liberty among other famous works. So even if you’re not mailing a postcard out, the Central Post Office one of the best places to stop on your Saigon travels.
12. Take in the Views From the Bitexco Financial Tower
Ready to to get an amazing view from the 2nd tallest building in Ho Chi Minh City Vietnam? Book your ticket in advance to get a special experience high above on their observation deck. Gaze out over the different districts, the Saigon River, and buildings that extend far into the horizon.
13. Learn How to Cross the Street
One thing that we can’t stress enough is that your first time crossing the street may be slightly terrifying. Stop lights don’t really matter in this chaotic city, and a sea of bikes are constantly moving throughout every street.
The best thing you can do is find a local and try to mimic their movements. Just don’t freak out when they walk directly into heavy traffic, and the bikes move swiftly around them!
→ Traveling Vietnam by Motorbike Q&A: Riding From Saigon to Hanoi
14. Don’t Miss the Notre Dame Cathedral
Located near the Central Post Office, this unique church is another one of the many great things to do in Ho Chi Minh City. It was built just after the French conquest of Vietnam as they looked to establish Roman Catholicism in the area.
All of the original materials used to build the Basilica were imported from France, but many were replaced after the American War. It has a long history and it’s incredible to see the 190 foot tall structure up close!
15. Party on Bui Vien Street
If you mix Times Square in New York with Khao San Road in Bangkok, then MAYBE you can slightly understand the craziness of Bui Vien Street. As you enter, you’ll see everything from fire breathers to nitrous balloons, as carts of dried squid and other various street food roll by.
Strange enough, if you walk down Bui Vien Street during the day it would be hard to believe the insanity that takes place when the sun goes down. Known as the “backpacker street” for the live music and cheap prices, a visit to the city centre isn’t complete without experiencing this wild party zone.
Day Trip to the Củ Chi Tunnels
For history buffs, Ho Chi Minh City certainly has plenty to see and do. We highly recommend visiting the Museum of Vietnamese History among others.
However, know that no museum will be as interesting as the Cu Chi Tunnels. The labyrinth of tunnels were used for hiding, supply, and communication during the Vietnam War.
The underground system was extremely important for the Viet Cong fighters in the war with America. Definitely take a guided Cu Chi Tunnels tour from the city if you have the time.
Continue on to Mui Ne, Phu Quoc, or Cambodia
Looking for where to go after Ho Chi Minh City? Well, the beaches are not far away! The soft sands of Mui Ne are only a few hours drive, and Phu Quoc Island is a one hour flight. Cambodia is just a short trip across the border as well, so your options are endless after visiting Saigon.
Check out all our Vietnam articles to help plan your trip! We cover everything from the best Vietnamese food to 50 travel tips & how to get around. You can also find our Northern Vietnam and Southern itineraries as well as an amazing 1 month route!
Popular Destinations: Hanoi – Ha Long Bay – Ha Giang – Tam Coc – Phong Nha-Ke Bang – Da Nang – Hoi An – Da Lat
Have any questions about this article or want to share your own tips for Ho Chi Minh City Vietnam? Please comment below!
Brigitte & Jake
Where in the world are we? Follow our daily adventures on Instagram @nothingfamiliar!
Vietnam Travel Planning
Transportation: 12Go is what we use to book ferries, trains, buses, and transfers while traveling through Vietnam!
Flights: For cheap flight deals check out Skyscanner and Kayak. That’s how we found flights from Ho Chi Minh City to Phu Quoc for $20 USD and Vietnam to Thailand for less than $50!
Accommodation: Compare multiple sites for hotels such as Booking.com and Agoda. Also, Hostelworld should be your go-to source if you’re traveling on a budget.
Tours: Get Your Guide is an amazing place to find fun activities all over Vietnam! There is everything from a Hanoi Cooking Class and market tour to a Mekong Delta Pagoda & rowing boat trip, and even the Phu Quoc Cable Car Ride with three island snorkeling tour!
Travel Insurance: Never travel abroad without insurance. We’ve been using SafetyWing for the last few years and they are always there when we need them.
Packing Lists: Find all the inspiration you need with our Amazon packing lists. Including our electronics and camera gear, must-have medical items, and long flight essentials!
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