If you’d ask me to describe Saigon with only one word, I’d answer “Change“.
When I first visited the city back in 2009, I saw few cars on the roads but plenty of Cyclo’s (3-wheeled bicycle taxis) and motorbikes.
But since then the city has changed. A lot. Modern condo buildings are popping up at an astonishing rate and more people can afford to buy cars. Cyclo’s have almost disappeared and the new subway is scheduled to be opened in a few years.
But despite all the rapid changes, old Saigon is still alive and well. In the city center you’ll still find the colonial buildings mixed in with the traditional Vietnamese houses. You’ll also see the sleepy mom and pop noodle shops, that seems to have been around forever, rub shoulders with modern chain restaurants like McDonalds.
In addition to all that, Saigon has a vibrant nightlife and several good museums. Furthermore, the city has not yet been overwhelmed with mass tourism, and at times it feels like you’re the only foreigner in town.
I moved to Saigon in April of 2016, and by now I have explored the city really well. Therefore I have decided to put together a guide covering the 5 best things to do in Ho Chi Minh City, plus tips about nightlife and the best accommodations.
Let’s dive right in!
The 5 Best Things To Do In Ho Chi Minh City
All sights in this guide are located in or around District 1. And since the city center is fairly walkable, you’ll have no problems visit them all on foot. Just be careful when crossing the streets. For those who wish more comfort, Uber and Grab works very well in Saigon, and offers a great alternative to walking.
Located in a lush park just a stone’s throw away from city center, the Independence Palace is Saigon’s most famous landmark. The building used to be the center of power in the former South Vietnamese republic where it served as the president’s home and office, but after the fall of Saigon, the building was turned into a museum.
Today you can stroll through the buildings many state rooms and living quarters, and climb down into the old underground bunker. In addition, you’ll be able to view some old military relics in the surrounding park, for example the tanks that broke through the gate in 1975, ultimately ending the decade old conflict.
War Remnants Museum
The War Remnants Museum is Saigon’s most famous museum. It features exhibitions detailing Vietnam’s violent past, in particular the bloody conflicts with the French and the Americans. What makes this museum unique is that the stories are told from the Vietnamese perspective, thus a lot of the exhibitions will be new to people who grew up in the west. If you only visit one museum, this should be the one!
Bui Vien Street
Bui Vien street is Saigon’s answer to Bangkok’s Khao San road. Here you’ll find a myriad of cheap hostels, tasty restaurants, shady massage parlors and 50 cent beer. The area has improved a lot in recent years and the government has plans to clean it up further. Since early 2017 traffic is no longer allowed after 7pm.
One block north of Bui Vien is Taka Plaza, a newly developed underground mall. The mall has an excellent food court serving world cuisine at affordable prices, and a small market. Above the mall is Central Park, a popular hangout for local teenagers. In the park you’ll find some good beer gardens and bars playing live music.
Nguyen Hue Street
Nguyen Hue is a wide walking street in District 1. The street and it’s surrounding area is known for it’s many imposing colonial buildings, for example the People’s Committee building, the Rex Hotel, the Opera House and Hotel Continental. Nguyen Hue is most busy on the weekends when it’s packed with teenagers, street performers and food vendors.
Nguyen Hue has plenty of places where you can escape the heat and enjoy some cool refreshments. My favorite places are:
- Cafe Apartment at 42 Nguyen Hue, a building with colorful independent cafes offering great views and coffee.
- The rooftop bar at Rex Hotel, famous for the “Five O’clock Follies” (the American press conferences during the Vietnam war).
Ben Thanh Market
Ben Thanh market is a large indoor market in District 1. It’s one of the oldest surviving buildings in Saigon and an important landmark for locals and tourists alike. The market has a mix of both locally produced products and the usual souvenirs. Haggling is required!
In the surrounding area you’ll find plenty of agents selling tours to the Cu Chi tunnels and other destinations in Vietnam. Here you’ll also find some great restaurants for example RuNam Bistro (Great Brunch place) and Bep Me In (Great local food).
Nightlife In Ho Chi Minh City
While not as known as other party hotspots like Bangkok or Jakarta, the Saigon nightlife is surprisingly good. No matter if you’re a backpacker on a budget, a business traveler looking for a chilled lounge, or a night club pro who wants to party all night, Saigon has something for you.
Most visitors will eventually end up having some drinks on Bui Vien street. Go2 bar, Miss Saigon, Crazy Buffalo and Sahara are all well established and good places. However, for a different experience, try one of the many beer bars with red plastic chairs in front of them. Those are popular with the locals and offers a great opportunity to make some new Vietnamese friends.
The more upscale places are concentrated in the area around Nguyen Hue and Japan town. Xu Bar, Blanchy’s and Qui are some of the most popular spots. Qui can get very crowded and if you plan to go here, it may be a good idea to reserve a table beforehand.
Finally, if you’re a craft beer fan, Saigon will not disappoint. In fact, Saigon is one of the best cities in South East Asia when it comes to craft beer. If you wish to sample some excellent brew, head over to Bia Craft, Heart of Darkness, Pasteur Street Brewing Company, Malt or East West Brewing Co.
The hottest club in Saigon is Envy. It’s a Vegas style club that’s always packed on the weekends. Other popular clubs are Xoxo, Glow Skybar and Play.
Since the above clubs are a bit pricey, budget minded visitors may want to try out Lush and Apocalypse Now instead. Lush is especially good on Tuesdays when they have their ladies night, and Apocalypse is popular with the late night crew since they’re open later than most other places.
Where to Stay In Ho Chi Minh City
Most travelers will be staying in one of two locations:
- Budget minded travelers will likely be staying on Bui Vien street, which has many hostels and less expensive hotels.
- Other travelers who wish to spend more on their accommodations, will likely be staying around Nguyen Hue.
Best Budget Hotel
Sunny Guest House gives the most bang for one’s buck. It’s a clean, modern and affordable 2 star hotel located within walking distance to Bui Vien street, Taka Plaza and Ben Thanh market.
Best Midrange Hotel
The best mid range hotel in Saigon is Silverland Jolie Hotel & Spa. Silverland is centrally located in district 1 and within walking distance to most of the sights. The hotel also have an outdoor pool, fitness center and full-service spa.
Best Luxury Hotel
If you want 5-star luxury you should stay at Le Meridien Saigon. Le Meridien is located right on the riverfront in District 1, and has all the amenities you can expect from a 5 star hotel. This hotel is popular with tourists and business travelers alike.
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