HO CHI MINH
Ho Chi Minh (formerly known as Saigon) is a complex city with so much to unpack it's difficult to do it with only 10 recommendations. One of my favorite cities in the world, it's rich history combined with some of the best street food you'll ever have, make it a top destination for the adventurous traveller. It's a place you have to stop while in Southeast Asia.
Having lived here for over a year, here is an unabridged list of my top 10 favorite things to do in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam.
FOR A LIST OF MY FAVORITE STREET FOOD SPOTS AND RESTAURANTS, CLICK HERE
1. VIETNAM WAR MUSEUM
I think its fitting to start with some history, because it provides much needed context for how the Vietnamese behave. As an American, I made a conscious effort to learn more about the Vietnam conflict specifically from an American perspective because I knew once I was there... the narrative would be drastically different.
One of the highlights of the museum was the photography exhibit that featured numerous shots from prominent journalists during the war. As the saying goes, "a picture tells a thousand words" and seeing the war captured and explained from the perspective of these war correspondents really brings it into a new light. Be prepared to witness some pretty disturbing images, particularly those of agent orange victims...
Price: 40,000VD (about $2.00 USD)
Hours: Daily 7:30AM–12PM, 1:30–5PM (they break for lunch)
Address: 28 Võ Văn Tần, 6, Quận 3, Hồ Chí Minh, Vietnam
2. TURTLE LAKE (Hồ Con Rùa)
I made a big deal about this place in my video on Ho Chi Minh and a lot of people thought it wasn't that interesting despite, or maybe because of, the buildup. I'm going to chalk that up to not having enough time to explain just how awesome this place is, which hopefully now I do!
Turtle lake is right across the street from the Reunification Palace on the edge of the Da Kao district. During the day it's pretty bland, just a lake in the center of a roundabout with a few people milling about. At night however, this completely changes. Seemingly out of nowhere, dozens of families arrive pushing street food carts no bigger than a wheelbarrow. They begin to set up shop around the lake serving Vietnamese specialties like banh khot (fried crab cakes) and bot chien (egg and meat scramble). A fountain/light show also begins around 8pm, and couples sit and chat about the day.
Hours: People start showing up around 8:00pm but you can go any time after the sun goes down.
Address: phường 6, District 3, Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam
3. BINH TAY MARKET
Most people will tell you to go to Benh Thanh market but I actually recommend this one instead. Located in phường 1, this is a 100% local market that doesn't give two sh*ts if you're a tourist or not. There seems to be no rhyme or reason to how it's organized and yet everything is moving with purpose.
Fish, meat, produce, clothes, toys, exotic fruit, there's really nothing this market doesn't sell. The best part is that every time you think you've seen the entirety of the market, you turn the corner and bam, you find another alleyway packed with shops and fresh food. It really never ends! This is a great spot for an authentic Vietnamese lunch, (you can watch my experience at the market in my video here), and get a feel for what local life is like in Ho Chi Minh.
Hours: Daily 6:00am - 7:30pm
Address: Bình Tây, phường 1, Quận 6, Hồ Chí Minh, Vietnam
4. SAIGON CATHEDRAL
Whether you're religious or not, this is another chance to get a taste of local life. The architecture of the Cathedral is beautiful and anyone is welcome to walk in and observe mass. The real reason I come here though isn't to listen to the preacher (which is pretty interesting by itself). No, I come here because outside there's a wonderfully small, makeshift market that sets up around 8:00pm.
Leave it to Ho Chi Minh to have markets everywhere (not that I'm complaining!). This modest little market serves a variety of food, snacks, and even some homemade art pieces. Because of it's size, the market is pretty intimate so if you're not comfortable with standing out, maybe skip this one. That being said, the people are extremely friendly and very welcoming of visitors (you can take a look at the church in my video here)
Hours: All Day (the market sets up around 8:00pm)
Address: 01 Tôn Thất Tùng, Phạm Ngũ Lão, Quận 1, Hồ Chí Minh, Vietnam
It may not be obvious, but Ho Chi Minh has some of the best Nightlife in Southeast Asia (bold statement, I know). The people have a sense of urgency that makes every night the only night. Unlike some other Asian cities, you'll find that 99% of people you meet are locals, and there very few foreigners. Which is a good thing in my opinion. Assuming you avoid Bui Vien.
Out of my entire stay in Ho Chi Minh, my favorite bar was hands down a place called Acoustic Bar. It's claim to fame is good local live music (although the drinks can get expensive). Always packed, this bar is a great place to get a taste of vietnamese artists playing a variety of music.
The best way to party in Vietnam on a budget is to buy a couple beers at a street food stand nearby for about ($0.75 USD) then walk in and order one beer just to be polite ;)
Price: The bars can be expensive, so drinking on the street first is the protocal.
Hours: Acoustic Bar (7:30am - 12:00 am)
Address: 6E Ngo Thoi Nhiem Street, Ward 7, District 3 (6e1 Ngô Thời Nhiệm, P.7, Quận 3), phường 7, Quận 3, Hồ Chí Minh, Vietnam
6. THIEN HAU TEMPLE
This Chinese-style pagoda is a welcome change of pace from the chaos of the city. You walk in and instantly the sounds and smells of the city fade away. The sudden change in pace can make you feel somewhat spiritual even without being religious.
There are also various shrines dedicated to the sea goddess Mazu, and feature some pretty awesome architecture that's unlike anything else you'll find in the city. There's no entrance fee too which is a bonus!
Hours: Unknown, pretty much sunrise to sunset
Address: 710 Nguyen Trai | Cho Lon, District 5, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam
Vietnamese food is some of my favorite in all of Southeast Asia, and the street food in particular is phenomenal. Honestly, if you're eating in a restaurant in Ho Chi Minh, your f*cking up. Street food is almost always better, cheaper, and a more authentic experience all around.
There aren't really any dishes that are "better" than others but one you can't leave vietnam without having is Pho, which is similar to Japanese ramen. The complexity of the broth and the texture of the handmade noodles is insane and can't be missed.
Click here for a map of all my favorite restaurants and street food spots!
8. LOCAL WET MARKET
I'd be willing to bet that Ho Chi Minh City has the largest concentration of wet markets of any city in Southeast Asia. I mean the sheer number of markets you can stumble on in this city is crazy. A great example of local life, go early in the morning and watch mothers negotiating for that night's dinner, or shopkeepers catching a late breakfast at a street food stall.
Because of this I recommend trying to walk places as much as possible, and I have no doubt you can find a market within 30min or so.
Hours: All the wet markets start early, typically 6:00am and tend to shut down before 11:00am.
Address: All over, One particularly awesome one is behind Binh Tay if you go around 7:00am.
9. Củ CHI TUNNELS
This extensive network of underground tunnels criss-crosses the entire region and are what the Viet Cong used to attack American and South Vietnamese bases during the Tet offensive, as well as several other operations throughout the war.
The 75-mile long tunnel complex is open to tourists brave enough to venture out, and you can even eat a meal similar to what someone living in the tunnel might have. If you are at all interested in the Vietnam war, I highly recommend visiting this area, as it will surprise and shock you, even after this description!
Price: 100,000VD entrance fee (~$4.50 USD)
Hours: 7:00am - 6:00pm (The earlier you go, the more tourist groups you'll avoid!)
Address: Ấp Phú Hiệp, Phú Hiệp, Phú Mỹ Hưng, Củ Chi, Hồ Chí Minh 733800, Vietnam
10. BEN THANH MARKET
This is the market I mentioned earlier as being a little over the top. Unfortunately it's become a tourist destination and is always swamped with tour groups trying to take selfies (man, can we collectively agree to stop that?). That being said, If you go at the right time, Ben Thanh is still worth the stop.
What is the right time you ask? Right as it opens, or right as it closes (you can watch my experience with this here). These are the best times to go because the shopkeepers are more preoccupied with getting ready for the day than trying to sell you something. You also get to see the market at a unique time that's totally different than during the day.
Hours: Daily, 6:00am - 6:00pm
Address: 36-34-32-30 Phan Bội Châu, Bến Thành, Quận 1, Hồ Chí Minh, Vietnam
WHERE TO STAY?
The best place to stay in Ho Chi Minh City is in District 1 or District 3.
District 1 (Pham Ngu Lao) is where the party's at. Most of the city's best nightlife is in this district and you'll find that the constant energy and central location make it the ideal location for traveller's wanting to see the "real" Ho Chi Minh. More for budget backpackers and young travellers who don't mind navigating all the chaos around them.
District 3, located a little bit farther from the city center is less crowded and isn't as hectic (comparatively). You'll find that it is easy to get around this city due to Grab and Uber being so cheap, so staying 10min away from the action is easily done. This area is almost entirely local.
If anyone is interested, this is the exact airbnb that I stayed in: