An independent travel guide to Ho Chi Minh City with candid reviews and recommendations. No sponsored content, no advertorial.

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Ho Chi Minh City

Ho Chi Minh City

Last updated 03 Sep 2015

Our recommendations for the best things to do during a stay in Ho Chi Minh City aka. Saigon. We think it's one of Asia's least recognised, culinary capitals. And the sheer energy of the place will sweep you up.


The past

While the Vietnamese prefer looking forward, there’s no denying the turmoil of Saigon’s past. The War Remnants Museum, (formerly the American War Crimes Museum) is a confronting place to begin your journey through Vietnam’s decades at the front line of the Cold War. Be warned, several exhibits are deeply disturbing. 

The former Presidential Palace is less confronting but still a must for budding historians. It was here that Ho Chi Minh’s struggle for a united Vietnam ended on 30 April 1975.

architecture,colonial,French,Ho Chi Minh City,museums,people,Saigon,streets,Vietnam
Photo: Mark BowyerWar Remnants Museum, Saigon

There are plenty of other war era historic sites around town but most of them are unmarked and unrecognised. It's worth taking a stroll along central Dong Khoi St - Rue Catinat during French times and Tu Do during the American war. The shophouses are disappearing but the grandest structures - the Opera House, the Continental Hotel, the Notre Dame Cathedral and the Post Office have all survived Saigon's demolition binge.

Those that want to go deeper into the historical story might enjoy Tim Doling's walking tour or Sophie's Art Tour.

Check out our list of things to see and do in Saigon here.

Chinatown

Cholon,Saigon,Vietnam
Photo: Mark BowyerCholon - Saigon's Chinatown

This place makes the madness of downtown Saigon look subdued. But it’s home to the city’s nicest pagodas and they provide a perfect balance to the hyperactivity outside. This is where Saigon’s huge Chinese community lives and it’s a great place to spend at least a half day.


Food glorious food


There’s nowhere better in the world to savour Vietnamese cuisine than Saigon. So make a plan and make sure you take the opportunity to sample not only the delicious local offerings but the great regional fare that’s plentifully available here from north and central Vietnam.

food,Ngon Restaurant,Saigon,Vietnam
Photo: Mark BowyerFresh salads are part of the magic of Saigonese cuisine.

Saigon’s proximity to the lush Mekong Delta has blessed it with some of the best fresh produce in Asia.

For the more adventurous, Saigon also offers outstanding street food where you’ll rub shoulders with everyone from Vietnam’s young, rich and hip to dour Party cadres. It’s a very egalitarian experience.

And when you need the familiar flavours of home, or you want to experiment with Korean, Japanese, Chinese or Indian done Saigon style, there are plenty of options as well.

Check out out list of Saigon eating recommendations here.



Meet the people


architecture,colonial,French,Ho Chi Minh City,museums,people,Saigon,streets,Vietnam
Photo: Mark BowyerA friendly smile, Saigon

Saigon’s youthful and friendly hyperactivity is one of its most captivating qualities. Make sure you take the chance to chat with the locals while you’re here. Whether it’s your tour guide, your cyclo driver, a waiter in a restaurant or a seller in a shop, you’ll be amazed at how keen the Saigonese are to interact and have a laugh. English may not be their first language but that rarely gets in the way. And a remarkable number of Saigonese are perfectly fluent in English too.

Cool cafes

You’ll need to take a break from the hectic pace of the city. Our favourite Saigon escapes are part of a growing trend of retro cafes that are popping up around town in the city's funky but crumbling old apartment buildings. For more cafe suggestions, click here.


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Antiques,Ho Chi Minh City,Le Cong Kieu St,Saigon,Shopping,Vietnam
Photo: Mark BowyerLe Cong Kieu St - Saigon's "Antique Street"

Shopping

Few escape Saigon without parting with some cash in its boutiques, homeware shops or Ben Thanh Market. Le Cong Kieu St, aka. Antique St, with its collection of mainly reproduction antiques and other miscellany, is also great for browsing.


Get out of town


Benh Duoc,Cu Chi Tunnels,Vietnam
Photo: Mark BowyerCu Chi tunnels outside Saigon

Saigon is a great base for day trips to the Viet Cong tunnel complex at Cu Chi and the bizarre Cao Dai temple at Tay Ninh.  Mekong Delta day trips are also popular for those without time to do a longer journey. If you’re heading to the Delta for a day, we’d recommend Ben Tre in place of the more popular My Tho. My Tho has been managed to death by local tourism officials. It’s a little closer to Saigon but we think the extra 1/2 hour to Ben Tre is well worth it.


And the not so good....



Traffic madness

Saigon’s traffic culture can be a real drag - especially if you’re trying to walk around. Simply crossing the road can be a struggle but cars driving directly at you and motorcycles mounting footpaths and demanding you get out of the way, will wear you down. We assume quite a few travellers get run down too.


Scammers

While bag and camera snatching have long been simmering issues in Saigon, threatening scammers are a more recent and troubling development. They come in the form of intimidating cyclo and xe om drivers, scammers that seek your help for a sick child, or a simple invitation back to meet the family. Whatever, be on your guard but don’t let paranoia spoil your stay.


Farewell to the old Saigon

Saigon’s construction boom is claiming old buildings of character and charm at an alarming rate. Many of the buildings that once earned the city the moniker “Paris of the East” have disappeared and we’re told more demolitions are planned. 


That smoking thing

Even smokers complain about the smoke in Saigon’s bars and restaurants! The are are a handful of restaurants and bars limiting smoking - but it's still way too conspicuous. In some bars, the smoke is stifling. Most local men and many women smoke and most venues lack proper ventilation.

Mark Bowyer
Mark Bowyer is the founder and publisher of Rusty Compass.
Twitter: @rustycompass