Where to stay in Saigon? The best areas for travellers - review by Rusty Compass
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Where to stay in Saigon? The best areas for travellers

| 12 Nov 2023
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Where to stay in Saigon? The best areas for travellers

12 Nov 2023

A guide to the best areas to stay in Saigon in 2023, including District 1, the backpacker district, Chinatown and the booming expat area of District 2.

Note: The information provided in this review was correct at time of publishing but may change. For final clarification please check with the relevant service

Staying in District 1, Saigon

Saigon’s downtown District 1 is where most travellers choose to stay. It’s right by the city’s major museums and attractions, dining and nightlife. There’s a good selection of International 5 star names - Park Hyatt, InterContinental, Renaissance, Le Meridien and others. There’s also a good selection of 3 star traveller options.

The city’s famous colonial-era hotels are all located along Dong Khoi St in the heart of town too - starting with the Majestic on the riverfront, the Grand Hotel a block up and then The Continental on Lam Son Square.

The Caravelle, inaugurated right after independence in 1959, is right opposite the Continental as well. The Caravelle had a renovation in the 1990s that stripped out most of its heritage character.

Saigon's historic heart - Continental Hotel, Opera House and Caravelle Hotel
Photo: Mark Bowyer Saigon's historic heart - Continental Hotel, Opera House and Caravelle Hotel


Saigon's District 1 precinct was smashed during COVID and it hasn't bounced back yet. Lots of restaurants have closed. Many major construction projects are frozen. A few major hotels have also been frozen.

The worst of the Ho Chi Minh City Metro construction, that's created chaos in the city for years, is now completed. The Metro itself isn't running yet. We won't predict when it might finally get started but it's getting close.

District 1 is still the best place for most travellers to be - especially those only staying a few nights. Other districts, especially nearby Binh Thanh, and the expat haven of Thao Dien / District 2, are also worth considering.

For those in Saigon for a short stay, keep in mind that traffic snarls mean that getting into town, even small distances, can take forever. You don't want to spend your time in traffic. For more Saigon travel tips check out our Ho Chi Minh travel guide here.


Staying in Saigon’s backpacker district aka. Bui Vien area

On the fringe of District 1, the area around Bui Vien and Pham Ngo Lao streets has become a fully fledged backpacker ghetto - with all the seediness you might expect. This is the best area to meet other travellers, book cheap tours and eat and drink at backpacker-style restaurants and bars. But this is a pale imitation of the real Saigon - with a heavy layer of sleaze and petty crime.

Bui Vien St - Saigon's bacpacker district
Photo: Mark Bowyer Bui Vien St - Saigon's bacpacker district

The backpacker area is where most budget and mid-priced accommodation is located so the area does attract a broad mix of travellers. A surprising number of young Vietnamese also hang out here at night too.

Staying in Saigon's expat area - District 2 aka Thao Dien

Once a stuffy enclave of overpaid expats, District 2 has been transformed. There’s now excellent eating, some nightlife, shopping and galleries.

The pandemic gave District 2 a big boost. Many restaurants relocated from downtown to be closer to this affluent residential precinct. District 2's international dining scene has probably surpassed that of District 1 - the city centre.

District 2 isl around 20 minutes from downtown across the Saigon River. You can get to District 2 by car or by boat from the Saigon River.

Cool cafes, District 2 Saigon
Photo: Mark Bowyer Cool cafes, District 2 Saigon


District 2 is a more mellow experience compared to the intensity of downtown Saigon. The river setting is pleasant. It can hardly be called authentic Vietnam, but we're not sure downtown Saigon is either.

The argument for basing yourself in District 2 is getting stronger as it now seriously rivals District 1 as an international culinary centre.


Staying in Cholon and everywhere else

Saigon’s Chinatown district, Cholon, is even more frenetic than the city centre. It has its own set of interesting attractions and dining options, and an old world feel that is increasingly disappearing downtown. Depending on traffic, it will take around 15 - 20 minutes to get from Cholon to downtown Saigon.

Cholon still feels like authentic Saigon. It has a unique vibe.

Airbnb in Saigon

Airbnb has taken off in a big way in Saigon. Many of the apartments in the many new towers that dot the city are listed on Airbnb. Before COVID, many cool old retro apartments were also listed. There are fewer of these now.

Apartments in District 4 (right by District 1), Binh Thanh and District 2 can be a good base for Airbnb stays. 

Check carefully, there are quite a few dubious Airbnb operatives around town. Airbnb doesn't do enough to keep its community safe either.

Check out our handpicked and independent list of the best places to stay in Saigon.


Mark Bowyer
Mark Bowyer is the founder and publisher of Rusty Compass.
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