Ho Chi Minh City Travel Guide
Ho Chi Minh City—aka Saigon—is Vietnam’s most populous city.  Located in the country’s south, it’s a sprawling hub of commerce and culture that draws millions of tourists from around the world.
Ho Chi Minh City – Video Travel Guide
After reading this Ho Chi Minh City travel guide, you will be equipped with everything you need to know to make the most of your visit.
Why Visit Ho Chi Minh City?
As it is still known by many of the locals, Saigon is a city constantly in motion.
Each year, millions of travelers are attracted (and overwhelmed) by its lively spirit, humming vitality, and breakneck pace.
One of Ho Chi Minh City’s principal virtues is the variety of experiences that it offers.
It truly has something for everyone, from luxurious accommodations and 5-star restaurants to budget hostels and low-cost food stalls.
Saigon River | Ho Chi Minh City
Those interested in art and history will encounter a fine selection of galleries, museums, and colonial architecture.
Meanwhile, food lovers will be enchanted by the unique blend of street food and first-rate restaurants, and the staggering array of trendy cafes.
If nightlife is your thing, Saigon has everything you could want (and then some): rooftop bars, dance clubs, speakeasy-style lounges, and of course, the famed backpacker mecca of Bui Vien.
Combine all of that with the hospitality and generosity of the local population, and the question becomes: Why not visit Ho Chi Minh City?
Best Time to Visit
Ho Chi Minh City has two seasons: wet and dry. The wet season runs from May to October.
During this period, it rains a lot. September, for instance, sees more than 300 mm of precipitation on average. 
Unless you like getting rained on while vacationing, it’s best to visit during one of the drier months.
The dry season begins in late November/early December and continues through April, with February being the driest month of the year.
The average humidity is also lowest in February. In terms of weather, this is HCMC at its most pleasant.
A Further Consideration: Tet, Vietnam’s most prominent national holiday, occurs in January or February.
This Lunar New Year celebration lasts a week.
Most Vietnamese return to their hometowns for the duration of the holiday. Moreover, a lot of stores and businesses are closed.
Lion Dance Chinese New Year Tet, Saigon
While Saigon is far from a ghost town during Tet, it certainly lacks its characteristic vim and vigor.
Accommodations may also be more expensive. So be sure to check which date Tet falls on before booking your trip.
Things to Do in HCMC
Ho Chi Minh City has plenty to keep you busy for the duration of your stay. Here are some sights and activities you shouldn’t miss.
Located in the government quarter of District 1, this striking Catholic cathedral was built by French colonists between 1877 and 1880.
As the name suggests, it was inspired by the world-famous Notre-Dame de Paris.
Architecture buffs will recognize the distinct French Gothic design and neo-Romanesque traits.
Building materials, including its iconic red bricks, were imported from France during construction.
The cathedral’s facade features twin bell towers topped with iron steeples.
Inside, rows upon rows of wooden pews are flanked on either side by towering white arches.
Notre-Dame Cathedral | Saigon Travel Guide
A giant granite statue of the Virgin Mary was set up in front of the church in 1959. In 2005, the statue was said to have shed a single tear, staining the Virgin’s face.
This modern-day “miracle” caused quite a stir at the time, bringing traffic to a standstill and attracting thousands of Vietnamese from around the country.
Notre-Dame Cathedral is a brief walk from the Central Post Office and Independence Palace.
Note: The church’s interior has been closed to the public since 2017 due to renovations.
Also located in District 1, Ben Thanh Market is where you go if you want an authentic Vietnamese shopping experience.
It’s a massive bazaar-style market with both indoor and outdoor sections.
In and around the market, you’ll see vendors hawking clothes, electronics, textiles, souvenirs, art, jewelry, hats, produce, shoes, and much, much more.
Be aware that you can negotiate a better price on many items. Don’t be shy about haggling. Vendors expect you to haggle—it’s part of the local culture.
With that said, certain goods do have fixed prices.
If a seller refuses to bargain with you, it’s best not to push the envelope.
The market is usually mobbed during the day, and it can get stuffy inside. It’s good to go in the morning while the weather is still relatively cool.
Ben Thanh Market | Things to do in HCMC
You can also go at night, although your shopping will be limited to the outdoor stalls, as the indoor market closes at sundown.
The eateries around Ben Thanh Market are open late and serve a wide variety of authentic Vietnamese food.
It’s an excellent spot for a late—and reasonable—dinner.
If you’re up for a day trip, you should strongly consider visiting Cu Chi and taking a guided tour of its war-era tunnel system.
The first tunnels were built by Vietnamese resistance fighters during the First Indochina War.
In the 1960s, they were greatly expanded by the National Liberation Front or Viet Kong.
At the height of the Vietnam War, Cu Chi’s complex of tunnels held enormous strategic importance.
Accessible by numerous trap doors, the tunnel network included command centers, ammunition dumps, booby traps, supply routes, and even field hospitals.
Cu Chi Tunnels | Things to do in HCMC
Although much of the tunnel network was destroyed by American bombs, a few modified sections are open to the public.
Warning: The tunnels are extremely narrow and cramped. Do not go into them if you’re claustrophobic or prone to panic attacks.
Food is served during the tour, so don’t worry about packing a lunch.
Afterward, you’ll have the option of visiting the nearby gun range, where you can pay to fire shots from an AK47 rifle or M60 machine gun.
The shell casings make for a neat souvenir.
Technically a rural district of Saigon, Cu Chi is more than an hour north of the city by car. The easiest way to reach it is on a tour bus.
Visit one of the travel agencies on Pham Ngu Lao Street for departure times and other details.
Public transportation is one alternative. It will cost you almost nothing, but you’ll have to transfer buses several times.
Be prepared to ask the locals for assistance—you’re going to need it.
Another option is to hire xe om or motorbike taxi. Doing so will significantly cut down on your travel time.
Finding a driver is easy. Simply walk around and wait to be offered a ride. It shouldn’t take more than a few minutes.
The Central Post Office is right across the street from Notre-Dame Cathedral. Like that iconic church, it was erected by the French near the end of the 19th century.
The post office is impossible to miss. Thanks to its bright yellow and green exterior (not to mention all the tourists walking in and out).
Central Post Office | HCMC Travel Guide
The spacious interior features elaborately painted maps of Vietnam, a high arched ceiling, ornate tiled floors, and old-fashioned phone booths.
Postcards and souvenirs are for sale inside. And in case you were wondering, yes, it still functions as a post office.
Tourists often make the Central Post Office their next stop after visiting Notre-Dame Cathedral.
Also called Reunification Palace, this government building served as the residence for two South Vietnamese presidents during the Vietnam War.
On April 30, 1975, the palace gained international attention when a North Vietnamese tank was photographed smashing through its front gates.
The dramatic images became synonymous with the end of the war and the reunification of Vietnam.
Independence Palace was built in the 1960s, but it was not the first to occupy that site.
In 1868, French colonists constructed a residence for the governor-general of Cochinchina. This residence became known as Norodom Palace.
Following France’s withdrawal from Vietnam, South Vietnamese President Ngo Dinh Diem moved into Norodom Palace.
In 1962, however, it was bombed by rebellious South Vietnamese air force pilots.
As a result, Norodom Palace was demolished, and the present-day Independence Palace took its place.
Independence Palace | HCMC Travel Guide
Today, Independence Palace is a carefully preserved relic.
You can roam the corridors for a small fee, peek inside the abandoned conference rooms and living quarters, and even explore the underground war rooms.
All the original furnishings and equipment remain intact, lending the palace a ghostly ambiance.
The War Remnants Museum serves, above all, to expose the horror of the Vietnam War. Its primary focus is American war crimes and their victims.
The notorious My Lai massacre, for example, is presented in meticulous and horrifying detail, complete with photos and eyewitness testimony.
The US military’s reliance on chemical warfare receives extensive coverage. So too does the carpet bombing of Cu Chi.
Outside, American tanks, bombs, and artillery shells are exhibited. The museum, while biased, is a powerful testament to the horrors of modern warfare.
It makes for a sobering experience.
War Remnants Museum | HCMC
Like most Ho Chi Minh City tourist spots, the War Remnants Museum is in District 1.
You can reach it on foot from the Notre-Dame Cathedral, Central Post Office, and Independence Palace.
Bui Vien is HCMC at its most raucous. Located in the Pham Ngu Lao section of District 1, it’s trendy among backpackers and other young travelers.
During the day, Bui Vien is a relatively quiet street where you can grab a quick lunch (American and other Western food is available here) or catch your breath over a bottle of beer.
By 9 pm, however, it’s teeming with a mix of locals, expats, and tourists looking to have a good time.
The party rages all night and into the early morning. During peak hours, the road is usually closed to traffic.
Nightlife Area | Bui Vien Street | HCMC
Bui Vien isn’t for everyone. But if you like dancing, drinking, and meeting new people, consider adding it to your itinerary.
At the very least, you’ll leave with a story or two to tell your friends.
Tip: Avoid paying for drinks with large denomination bills. Otherwise, you could find yourself waiting around for change that isn’t coming.
Apart from the places described above, you may want to carve out some time for the following.
Ho Chi Minh Museum: An interesting museum in District 4 dedicated to modern Vietnam’s founding father.
Jade Emperor Pagoda: A majestic Taoist temple located in District 1. Note: You have to be wearing pants to get in.
Fine Arts Museum: A charming French colonial structure housing an impressive array of art. The works on display span from the 4th century to modern times.
Bitexco Financial Tower: This sleek, ultramodern skyscraper soars over the rest of the city. Its curious lotus-inspired shape makes it a sight to behold.
Vung Tau: A quaint coastal town and sanctuary from the commotion of the city. It has two large beaches and a good selection of restaurants.
A couple of hours south of Saigon, Vung Tau can be reached by tour bus, ferry, or speed boat.
Where To Stay
As a tourist, you’ll want to stay in or around District 1. It’s the heart of the city and, as you can see, most of the major attractions are located here.
Nguyen Hue Walking Street – Aerial view
District 1 has numerous accommodations from which to choose.
Whether you’re traveling first-class or backpacking on a shoestring budget, you’ll have no problem finding a suitable place to stay.
Looking for something on the luxurious side? Consider booking one of the 5-star hotels near Nguyen Hue Street, aka “the walking street.”
Adjacent to the Saigon River, Nguyen Hue features a tree-lined promenade enveloped by
- Colonial government buildings
- Upscale cafes, and
- Deluxe shopping centers
Premier accommodations around Nguyen Hue include:
Sheraton Saigon Hotel & Towers
The Reverie Saigon
Renaissance Riverside Hotel Saigon
Le Méridien Saigon
At the other end of the spectrum is Pham Ngu Lao. This warren of side streets and alleys offers an abundance of cheap accommodations.
Shared hostels are exceptionally affordable (you can spend less than $15 per night). When backpackers come through Ho Chi Minh City, Pham Ngu Lao is where they stay.
In addition to all the economy hotels and hostels, you’ll find lots of bars, restaurants, visa service companies, convenience stores, and travel agencies.
Most cheap bus tours also depart from Pham Ngu Lao.
A lot of businesses in this area rent out motorbikes to tourists.
A motorbike license isn’t required, but keep in mind that the company won’t be held responsible if you have an accident.
Moreover, travel insurance may not cover the resulting medical expenses.
Unless you have experience driving a motorbike in heavy traffic, it’s probably best to stick with buses and taxis.
Of course, there’s no compulsion to stay in District 1. You can locate good accommodations in any of Saigon’s many districts.
Just note that the farther you stray from the city center, the more you’ll have to figure things out for yourself.
(Exceptions are Districts 2 and 7, where many expats reside.)
Tip: Don’t stay near the airport. The area is not conducive to walking.
Also, depending on traffic, it can take up to an hour to reach District 1 by car or motorbike.
Here’s a handy map showing Saigon’s districts:
Map showing Saigon districts
Getting Around the City
For the most part, you’ll be traveling around Saigon on foot. Many of the top tourist spots are within walking distance of each other.
Furthermore, you can always duck into an air-conditioned cafe to get a break from the heat.
The number of coffee shops and restaurants in Saigon is astounding.
But what if you’re tired of walking or want to visit another district? You have a few options.
Vinasun taxi cabs are all over the place.
The cars are white with a green and red logo.
Many drivers do not speak English, so you may have to show them your destination using your phone.
Cabs are relatively expensive but still very reasonable by Western standards.
Before ridesharing came to Vietnam, this was a popular way for tourists to get around.
Drivers tend to park their bikes on the sidewalk and offer rides to people passing on foot.
They know the city like the back of their hand, including all the shortcuts.
Xe om will cost you much less than a cab. That said, be sure to negotiate a price before getting on.
This is the most convenient option.
It’s a good idea to install the Grab app on your smartphone before you arrive.
Grab is the largest ridesharing company in Southeast Asia. 
It’s like Uber, only much cheaper.
You can travel across the city on the back of a Grab bike for less than $5.
Booking taxi via cab application
Drivers are easily identified by their bright green jackets.
You can also order a car through Grab, but it will cost you more.
Once a fixture in Saigon, rickshaws are now a tourist attraction.
They can be found wherever there are a lot of foreigners walking around.
The drivers are laid-back and friendly, and the fares are negligible.
Take a load off with this charming, old-world method of transport.
Travel by Vietnamese rickshaw
Saigon, while considerably “Westernized,” can be disorienting and overwhelming—even for seasoned travelers. Bear the following in mind when planning your trip.
One of the first things you’ll notice about HCMC is the madness of its streets, which are constantly flooded with traffic.
The traffic laws in Vietnam are largely unenforced.
Thus, people on motorbikes drive wherever and however they please.
You’ll see them on the wrong side of the road, on the sidewalks, cruising through red lights, etc.
Due to the sheer volume of traffic, crosswalks are more or less useless. If you want to cross the street, you’ll have to walk out into the sea of oncoming traffic.
The motorbikes will slow down and weave around you (I promise).
It’s unnerving, to say the least, but unless you want to spend your whole vacation on a single block of the city, you’ll have to grin and bear it.
Saigon is an international city.
In addition to all the tourists, it has a substantial expat population.
The locals are used to seeing and living among foreigners.
However, it’s not like visiting Europe.
Asian People Cheering
Outside of Saigon’s most touristy areas, you shouldn’t expect to be able to communicate in English.
For instance, most Vietnamese will not be able to give you directions you can understand.
Expect to rely on a map—digital or otherwise—to find your way around.
When in doubt, hail a cab or order a Grab bike. They’ll take you where you need to go.
Most restaurants have English menus.
Sometimes they’re poorly (and amusingly) translated, but you’ll nonetheless have a good idea of what you’re ordering.
Vietnamese people are easygoing and hospitable, especially when they’re drinking.
Many of them enjoy talking to foreigners.
Don’t be surprised if a local buy you a beer or invites you to join their party.
In either case, you should definitely accept.
As with any other trip abroad, it’s good to take some time to learn common Vietnamese words and phrases.
Along with making your experience a little smoother, it shows respect for the people and culture. You’ll find that the locals appreciate the effort. Here’s a video to get you started:
Phrases for daily conversations in Vietnamese; Video courtesy: VietnamesePod101.com
In Vietnam, cash is still king.
Unless you’re at an expensive restaurant or hotel, paying with a credit or debit card is not an option.
US dollars were once widely accepted in Ho Chi Minh City. That’s no longer the case.
Vietnamese dong (VND)
Today, the only accepted currency is the Vietnamese dong (VND).
There are no coins, only notes. The most common values are: 1,000, 2,000, 5,000, 10,000, 20,000, 50,000, 100,000, 200,000, 500,000.
The exchange rate is constantly in flux, but 100,000 VND is roughly equivalent to $4-5.
Running out of cash isn’t a concern, thanks to the profusion of ATMs throughout the city.
Keep in mind, though, that the transaction fees are high.
Let your bank know you’ll be in Vietnam, so they don’t flag the withdrawals as suspicious.
As an alternative, you could bring enough USD for your whole trip and trade it for VND when you arrive.
Then, before returning home, convert your leftover VND back into USD.
Jewelry shops—not banks—offer the best exchange rates. The most popular is Ha Tam, just opposite Ben Thanh Market.
Tipping is not expected in Saigon. That goes for restaurants, cab rides, nail salons, and anything else you can think of.
If you feel inclined to tip anyway, go right ahead—nobody will be offended.
Vietnamese cuisine is famous around the world. While most dishes contain meat, vegetarian restaurants abound (look for the word chay).
You’re sure to discover something that appeals to your palate, regardless of diet.
The main staples of Vietnamese cuisine are noodles and rice. If you’re familiar with one Vietnamese dish, it’s probably pho—the classic noodle soup.
Traditionally it’s made with beef, but vegetarian versions are also widely available.
Banh mi | sandwich
Pho Bo soup with chopsticks
Bun bo hue | beef noodle
Pho, though, is just one of many Vietnamese noodle dishes. Another popular one is Bun bo Hue, made with thicker rice vermicelli noodles.
If pho is the best-known Vietnamese food, banh mi is a close second. In Saigon, this savory, submarine-style sandwich can be purchased from a street vendor for under $1.
Few people visit without eating at least one.
It can be made in many ways, but banh mi typically consists of pickled vegetables, some kind of pate, and meat or tofu.
Condiments like butter and soy sauce are often added. A fried egg is sometimes included as well.
If you intend to sample HCMC’s vast selection of street food, banh mi should be at the top of your list.
Note that while street food tours are available, you’ll likely find that you can manage just fine on your own.
As for restaurants, the following places are popular among foreigners and Vietnamese alike.
List of Popular Restaurants in Saigon
|Pizza 4P’s: A trendy Italian restaurant less than a block away from Ben Thanh Market. Its kitchen stays open late.|
|01-02 Level 6, Saigon Centre, 65 Le Loi Street, Ben Nghe Ward, District 1, Ho Chi Minh City||+84-28-3622-0500|
|Propaganda: Set in Saigon’s government quarter near Notre-Dame Cathedral and the Central Post Office. The menu is a mix of Western and Vietnamese dishes. It’s usually bustling; you might want to call ahead.|
|21 Han Thuyen, District 1||+84 (028) 3822 9048 / +84 779 662 926|
|Hum: Fine vegetarian dining with locations in Districts 1 and 3. Hum is included on TripAdvisor’s list of the top 25 vegetarian restaurants globally. |
|32 Vo Van Tan Ward 6, District 3, Ho Chi Minh City 700000 Vietnam||+84 89 918 92 29|
|Skewers: A Mediterranean restaurant set in a relatively tranquil area of District 1. It has a diverse menu with an excellent wine list.|
|9A Thai Van Lung, dist.1, HCMC & 52 Pasteur, dist.1, HCMC||028 3822 4798 / 028 3821 4327|
|5KU Station: Alfresco BBQ chain with locations throughout the city. The food is good and cheap (ditto the beer).|
|29 Thăi Văn Lung, Phường Bến Nghé, Quận 1 (2,927.41 km)Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam||+84 90 777 54 87|
Whether these restaurants survive the COVID-19 pandemic remains to be seen. The same goes for the establishments mentioned in the next section.
For tourists, Saigon has three major nightlife sectors. Each offers a different type of experience.
Dong Khoi Street is located just west of the Saigon River and runs parallel to the Nguyen Hue walking street referenced earlier.
The surrounding area features several chic cocktail lounges, some of which are on the roofs of 5-star hotels.
Many of the bars here are hidden away, so you may have to hunt around a bit before you find one. Be prepared to pay Western prices.
Pham Ngu Lau is the backpacker area that includes Bui Vien Street. If Bui Vien is too obnoxious for your taste, venture down a cross street and park yourself at one of the outdoor restaurants.
They’re populated mainly by expats and tourists, with some Vietnamese mixed in for good measure. Beer is the drink of choice.
Pasteur Street, named after the French chemist, is in the same general area as Dong Khoi Street.
Instead of upmarket martini bars, though, you’ll meet with a series of lowbrow dives catering to Western tastes. Many of them include pool tables, darts, and other bar games.
A little farther north is the Pasteur Street Brewing Co., which offers various locally-brewed craft beers.
On that note, beer lovers will be suitably impressed by BiaCraft. It has several locations, the main one being in District 3.
Are you after a more authentic Vietnamese drinking experience? Head over to Hoang Sa Street, which runs along a canal on the northern edge of District 1.
The places here serve cheap food and beer, sometimes into the early morning.
In general, Ho Chi Minh City is a safe place to visit. Violent crime is relatively rare. 
It’s not uncommon for tourists to have items snatched out of their hands by a passing motorbike.
Thieves may also approach you in the guise of a street vendor. While advertising their goods with one hand, they discreetly pocket your iPhone with the other.
Remain vigilant whenever you’re in public—especially in areas crowded with tourists. Keep a firm grip on your phone and other valuables. A
part from that, there’s not much you have to worry about.
Speaking of phones, SIM cards can be bought at the airport.
Or, if you arrive in Vietnam by bus, you can get one at the border after passing through customs. Just look for a booth with a sign that says “SIM.”
In the event of a medical emergency, Saigon has several hospitals and clinics geared toward foreigners.
Indeed, it has become a popular destination for medical tourists.
The top international hospitals in Saigon are Vinmec Central Park International (Binh Thanh District) and France Vietnam Hospital (District 7).
Should you unexpectedly need dental work, East Rose Dental (District 2) has plenty of experience treating international patients.
That about covers it. You’ve reached the end of our Ho Chi Minh City travel guide.
Now you can arrive in this extraordinary metropolis with a leg up on your fellow travelers. Enjoy your trip.
Ho Chi Minh City is Vietnam’s commercial and cultural center.
People worldwide gravitate to HCMC for its food, culture, history, and tumultuous energy.
It’s a modern city that stays true to its native roots.
Give yourself at least 48 hours to experience what Ho Chi Minh City has to offer.
Two days is enough time to see the big attractions and feel for the local culture. With that said, many people end up staying longer.
All things considered, Ho Chi Minh City is safe for tourists. Violent crime against foreigners is rare.
Property theft is a concern in public spaces. Make sure your money, phone, and other personal belongings are secure at all times.
Compared to Western cities, Ho Chi Minh City is remarkably affordable. It’s possible, for instance, to find hostels that cost less than $20 per night.
You can also save money by eating street food rather than in restaurants. Of course, Ho Chi Minh City also includes its fair share of classy restaurants and hotels.
The best time to visit Ho Chi Minh City is during the dry season, from December to April.
During this time, there is relatively little rainfall. It is also less humid.
Avoid visiting Ho Chi Minh City during the Tet holiday, as many businesses will be closed.