Ho Chi Minh City, formerly Saigon, is a buzzing modern city, but it’s not without its colonial charm as well. It effortlessly blends the old with the new through historical attractions, museums, markets, pavement cafes, food tours and more. There’s no shortage of excitement in this simply yet unique Vietnamese city, but if you’re looking for a little help planning your trip, here’s our 5 day guide for what to see and do in Ho Chi Minh. Follow this guide and then search IHG hotels in Ho Chi Minh to plan your next adventure.
And if you can extend your trip to more than 5 days, spend time in Ho Chi Minh and in Hanoi, the capital city of Vietnam. Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh is just a short flight between the two cities, and both are well worth exploring during your visit in Vietnam.
- Day 1 & 2 — Learning the History
- Day 3 & 4 —Experiencing the Culture
- Day 5 — Trying Out the Shopping & Food
Day 1 and 2 — Learning the history
Day 1: War Remnants Museum, Cu Chi Tunnels
Photo Credit: Tun Tun Win/Flickr
Start your trip off at one of the most important places in the city, the War Remnants Museum. You might be a history buff, but you’ll come out of here with a greater understanding and different perspective on the Vietnam War (Vietnamese perspective). This educational stop also lays good groundwork for the rest of your time in Ho Chi Minh.
*Open every day of the week, including holidays. Plan on staying 1-2 hours.
Spend the rest of your day at the Cu Chi Tunnels. A short trip outside the city, this exhibit is very well done and everyone who has gone says it’s incredible, interesting and worth your time. You’ll learn about the structure, geography, how the Vietnamese survived and lived for long periods of time during the war and if you aren’t claustrophobic, you can even get down inside the tunnels.
*Open Sunday-Saturday, 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. Plan on staying 2-3 hours.
Day 2: Saigon Notre Dame Cathedral, Saigon Central Post Office, Independence Palace
Photo Credit: alphis tay/Flickr
Built between 1863 and 1880 by the French, the Saigon Notre Dame Cathedral is an architectural wonder in Ho Chi Minh. With its giant twin towers, it’s hard to miss this attraction—whose official name is “Basilica of Our Lady of The Immaculate Conception”—sitting in between traffic in the city’s bustling District 1. It’s beautiful on the outside and inside, and if you wish to attend, mass is held on Sundays at 9:30 a.m., in Vietnamese and English.
*Open every day. Plan on staying 1 hour.
Next on your itinerary should be the Saigon Central Post Office, as it’s right next to the cathedral. And while post offices aren’t your typical city attraction, in Ho Chi Minh it is as it’s the largest one in Vietnam and its late-1800’s architecture is worth seeing first-hand. Admire its beauty or send a postcard to your family back home, since it’s a working post office.
*Open 8 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., if you plan to mail something, otherwise it usually stays open later for sightseeing. Plan on staying 30 minutes.
End your day at the Independence Palace. Also known as Reunification Palace, everything is as it was when it was home to the South Vietnam presidents before the fall of Saigon back in 1975. Visitors have said the palace is impressive, the furnishings are beautiful and the underground bunker is an interesting must-see during your visit.
*Open Monday-Friday, 7:30 to 11 a.m. and 1 to 4:30 p.m. Plan on staying 1-2 hours.
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Day 3 and 4 — Experiencing the culture
Day 3: Vinh Nghiem Pagoda, Binh Quoi Village, Ben Thanh Market
Photo Credit: William/Flickr
Start your cultural exploration of Ho Chi Minh at its largest Mahayana pagoda, Vinh Nghiem Pagoda. This top attraction is also a place for locals to practice their Buddhists beliefs and pay homage to Buddha and for locals to see how the pagoda blends Japanese influence with classic Vietnamese architecture. The second floor is open for visitors throughout the year. If you want a quiet, peaceful visit, then go in the morning. If you want to attend and pray with numerous people, visit on the 15th of the month or during the Lunar New Year.
*Open 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Plan on staying 1 hour.
Take a short 15-30 minute drive to Binh Quoi Village for a relaxing afternoon of greenery and colorful flowers. Many locals and tourists venture here when they need a break away from the crowded, noisy city life. Take your camera for some great nature shots, and then enjoy some fun outdoor activities, like taking a rowing boat out on the river or playing traditional folk games.
*Open from 9 a.m. to 11 p.m. Plan on staying 2-3 hours.
A trip to Ho Chi Minh isn’t complete until you’ve stopped by one of its traditional markets, so why not visit the most well-known one? Ben Thanh Market will throw you into Vietnamese culture, and invigorate all your senses. Test your market vendor haggling skills for a couple of souvenirs (be ready to haggle or you’ll pay way too much), and then grab dinner from one of the nightly food stalls.
*Indoor vendor stalls close between 5 and 6 p.m., but that’s when the night market gets busy. Plan on staying 2 hours.
Day 4: Mekong Delta one-day tour
Photo Credit: Chelsea Marie Hicks/Flickr
The Mekong Delta is a maze of rivers, swamps and islands in southern Vietnam. It’s also home to several floating markets, pagodas, villages, farms, workshops, rural bicycle paths and friendly locals. So on your fourth day, visit some of the less traveled parts by boat.
You can take the Mekong Eyes one-day tour, which picks you up from your Saigon hotel (in Districts 1 and 3) at 8 a.m., and then returns you around 5 p.m., where you’ll take a leisurely cruise along the waterways, learn about the region’s traditions, bike through orchards, have a chance to cook a local dish and more. The cost of this tour is $110 U.S. dollars. Or you can take a Mekong Delta Speed Boat Tour and make cultural stops at Cao Dai Temple, a riverside market, local farms, houses, and more. This tour starts at 8 a.m., lasts 7-9 hours and costs about $111 U.S. dollars for adults and $80 for kids 12 and under.
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Day 5 — Trying out the shopping and food
Where to shop
Photo Credit: amrufm/Flickr
Besides Ben Thanh Market, you can also check out An Dong Market, a fashion and craft market, or Bin Tay Market, to find an array of textiles, handicrafts and exotic fruits in Vietnam’s biggest Chinatown. Ho Chi Minh is also well known for its many fashion boutiques, like along Dong Khoi Street. While there, be sure to walk into Khaisilk for Vietnam’s modern fashion using delicate silk fabrics. And if you’re looking for a good tailor, look in District 5 or ask the locals where you can find a quality craftsman.
What and where to eat
Photo Credit: Bex Walton/Flickr
Obviously Vietnamese food is the most eaten here, but you can also find a variety of other good and affordable choices, like Japanese, Korean, Chinese and French. But to taste the local grub, we recommend taking a cooking class at the Vietnam Cookery Center or going on a food tour—the Pho Trail, a four-hour morning walking tour, or an at night Saigon Food Tour to find the best spots for mouthwatering authentic foods. Cooking classes for tourists are available in the morning and afternoon Monday through Friday or in the morning on Saturdays and Sundays and cost $42 (U.S.) per person. The Pho Tour costs $55 per person and starts at 8:30 a.m., while the Saigon Food Tours cost anywhere between $48-72 and times vary based on which tour you choose.
As for the must-try Vietnamese foods, pho, banh mi, op la and bun rieu and bun bo hue are enjoyed by both locals and first-time tourists.