Table of Contents
- 1 My Favorite 26 Things to do Saigon (Ho Chi Minh) – Understand
- 2 My Favorite 26 Things to do Saigon (Ho Chi Minh) – Get Around
- 3 My Favorite 26 Things to do Saigon (Ho Chi Minh) – Safety
- 4 My Favorite 26 Things to do Saigon (Ho Chi Minh) – Connectivity
- 5 My Favorite 26 Things to do Saigon (Ho Chi Minh) – Pollution
- 6 My Favorite 26 Things to do Saigon (Ho Chi Minh) – Sights
- 7 My Favorite 26 Things to do Saigon (Ho Chi Minh) – Eat & Drink
- 8 My Favorite 26 Things to do Saigon (Ho Chi Minh) – Co-Working
- 9 My Favorite 26 Things to do Saigon (Ho Chi Minh) – Where to Stay
My Favorite 26 Things to do Saigon (Ho Chi Minh) – Understand
Ho Chi Minh is the former capital of the Republic of Vietnam (which fell in 1976) but is still the largest city in Vietnam. The city is more spread out than Hanoi and even the city center has a number of green spaces that haven’t succumbed to the manic traffic.
Saigon is a food destination, with a great mix of westernized and Vietnamese restaurants vying for your attention. There are just a few areas with the highest concentration of sights and restaurants, making it easy to decide which to choose.
As with other Vietnamese destinations, the price level is usually much lower than in the US. Expect to pay about half for similar quality Vietnamese food and lodging and if you are ready to go more local, expect a much smaller fraction of what you pay at home. Having meals for $1 is NOT a big downgrade here and still gets you some delicious options.
The weather in Saigon does not change much in temperature because of its closeness to the equator. Expect warm afternoons and balmy nights. It generally does not get as hot as Hanoi or Taipei in summer. May – October can see a LOT of rain but December – April is often sunny, with perfectly blue skies.
Vietnamese are friendly people but not overly so. The level of English is basic but especially near tourist centers, it’s pretty decent. You will not have to worry about ordering things but a basic conversation with any local will be rare.
My Favorite 26 Things to do Saigon (Ho Chi Minh) – Get Around
The motorcycle addiction of the Vietnamese is legendary and it is even worse than Hanoi. There is more space in Saigon but also much more noisy traffic. Downtown Saigon (District 1) is generally walkable, though you have to fend off multitudes of motorcycles (who use sidewalks as much as roads) at any point.
Traffic signs and lights are generally ignored but there is a system of mutual respect that makes driving safer than it sounds.
I limited walking to short trips (because of the heat and the manic traffic even on sidewalks) and used GrabCar and Uber. Both often have similar prices and almost all rides are under $2. The cars are brand new and while drivers usually speak no English, they know how to use their GPS well.
Despite the manic-looking traffic, the good news of all this rule-busting is that traffic almost always moves – often slowly but traffic is clearly on the move.
My Favorite 26 Things to do Saigon (Ho Chi Minh) – Safety
Saigon is a safe city (if you do not account for the traffic issues). Crime is low and you will need to behave pretty dumbly to get in trouble (likely more with police than with anything criminal). There is organized crime here but you won’t have to worry about that.
My Favorite 26 Things to do Saigon (Ho Chi Minh) – Connectivity
T-Mobile Simple Choice plans DO NOT cover Vietnam. Skyroam does have coverage though and I recommend it for shorter visits. Buying SIM cards here is easy and cost-efficient. Local WiFi connections are OK in speed. Speedtest will often show speedy connections but VPN connections to the US seem pretty slow. However, most coffee shops and co-working spaces have WiFi that is fast enough to do most Internet work.
My Favorite 26 Things to do Saigon (Ho Chi Minh) – Pollution
As with other urban centers in Vietnam, the traffic is manic and the resulting pollution is pretty bad. You won’t see the large diesel plumes (as for instance in Bogota) but the millions of motorbikes choke the air.
There isn’t much of a breeze to speak of and there seems to be no real public transport (even minibuses are rather rare). There are plenty of asthma cases around and after a few days, you will see why!
My Favorite 26 Things to do Saigon (Ho Chi Minh) – Sights
Given its French colonial history, the city center of Saigon features a number of real sights. They are all in District 1 and are walkable.
Nhà Thờ Đức Bà Sài Gòn (Saigon Notre Dame Cathedral)
Renovations are still going on at this unmistakably French landmark in the middle of Saigon. It sits in a pretty square and is worth strolling by.
Dinh Độc Lập/Dinh Thộng Nhật (The Independence Palace/Reunification Palace)
This museum outlines the memory of Vietnam’s struggle about communism and the separation and later reunification of the country. Come early or late to avoid the ‘bus crowds’. The museum sits inside a huge green oasis in the middle of District 1. It seems to be accessible without actually going into the museum but I haven’t tested it yet.
The riverfront area is a great place to walk or jog in the daytime or watch the sunset with a beer in hand. You can take a river tour at night, too.
Further out is TajmaSago – a Vietnamese take on the Taj Mahal. It is a hotel and restaurant but worth it as a stand-alone sight. The exterior architecture is fantastic and the interior design matches the exterior perfectly.
The Park Hyatt is a fine piece of architecture and as you would expect, also renovated to the latest standard. It is worth strolling by and if it’s late, stop by the hotel bar and marvel at the design and drinks.
Saigon Skydeck at the Bitexco Financial Tower
Saigon’s tallest building features a skydeck. There isn’t so much to see usually, given the polluted and hazy days but it offers a different (and unique) perspective.
Chợ Ben Thành (Ben Thanh Market)
Ben Thanh Market will underwhelm you if you just feasted on the Bangkok night markets but it is still a good place to shop for some souvenirs and street food. There are plenty of touts but I feel the installation of cameras has helped to calm down their behavior a bit.
Bảo tàng Chứng tích Chien tranh (War Remnants Museum)
I have yet to actually visit the museum so this one is still on my list.
Bưu Điện Sài Gòn (Saigon Central Post Office)
This Saigon landmark is right next to the Notre Dame Cathedral and is a lovely example of colonial architecture. It is still a post office (way too pretty, though) that sells all kinds of touristy artifacts now.
This Hindu temple stresses the point of Southern Indian immigration to Southeast Asia. However, the effect of Southern Indian culture on Vietnam is minimal in contrast to, say, Malaysia.
My Favorite 26 Things to do Saigon (Ho Chi Minh) – Eat & Drink
Downtown and beyond
While coffee is a major Vietnamese tradition, the local variant is often rather bland drip coffee. I found the quality of espresso drinks strongly lacking (despite some great-looking venues).
Yes, you will see a lot of MacBooks here. The Internet is fast and the location and design are great. However, I wasn’t happy with the coffee quality or the quality of the food.
L’USINE is a pretty, French-inspired, upscale coffee and bistro creation. The alcohol is pretty cheap here, though, and that’s all I tried – maybe I missed out on something. The design is simply fantastic, though!
Tucked in a little back alley is this small coffee shop. The WiFi is fast and the inside is well cooled down. However, I did not like the milky, bitter espresso drinks and the bad-looking food options. There is a French bakery next door and the staff at Vietnam Coffee Republic let you eat the bakery items inside if you ask nicely.
There are far fewer Cộng Cà Phê outlets here compared to Hanoi and they are much smaller here. Maybe it is because its Viet Cong theme goes down badly with the losers of the Vietnam War. The coconut coffee drink (more a dessert than a coffee) is still very delicious!
Pizza 4P’s has (at least) two locations in town. The chain is prominent all over Vietnam (e.g. it’s also in Hanoi) and features amazing pizza, pasta, and salads. It’s easily US quality and costs about half.
Craft beer for a fraction of the price we pay at home – what could go wrong? Definitely not the setup or beautiful rooftop bar, which is calm even in that super easy neighborhood. However, I wasn’t a fan of any of the beers. Maybe I’m getting too picky?
A craft beer oasis that delivers fantastic, strong beers with great taste for a small price tag. The food seemed overpriced and the pretzels were out on the day of my visit, though… Oh no…
Bui Vien District
The ‘backpacker’ district of Saigon makes ‘Blade Runner’ memories come alive, especially on a rainy day. There is so much neon and so many freewheeling businesses that it’s quite amazing.
This traditional pho place is much too quiet for the neighborhood but $2.50 gets you a huge bowl of beef pho. I liked it.
Den Long wants to deliver street food in a classy atmosphere. I liked the vibe and super-friendly staff but only one of the two dishes I ordered was good. The pomelo salad is top-notch but the fried chicken is a fail.
These two (competing) banh mi places draw long lines of locals but both make a perfect banh mi (lots of cured meats!) for under $1. I’m not a big cured meat fan but reviews are glowing for both.
This isn’t Bangkok and rooftop bars aren’t ‘a thing’ here yet but this is a great place on top of a newly-constructed building.
Yes, the name is uninspiring and the menu and location do not add much trust, but forget about all that and order any smoothie and enjoy the next 15 minutes of smoothie heaven. It’s that good!
A bit further out
This looked a bit like a typical tourist trap but I got a lovely paneer curry with eggplant for a small price tag. I liked it!
This is a great place for artisan food, though it’s a bit small. Ideally, you like eggs to eat here (I do not eat eggs or egg dishes). The WiFi is fast too and it gets a number of students and backpackers taking advantage of the cool spot.
Cục Gạch has developed a reputation for upscale Vietnamese cuisine. Both locations are done in traditional colors with lots of warm spirit. I felt the food was a bit bland (but I had also just arrived from Thailand) but it’s artisan and good.
Cục Gạch is the formal dining restaurant and Cục Gạch Quan is the cafe that offers a set lunch (there are no menus!) It’s a good way to try a few Vietnamese dishes in style but it is an expensive privilege.
Vietnamese pancakes and local dishes are the forte of this place that’s tucked into a small street. The opening hours call for a strict two-hour break between 2PM and 4PM so do not make the mistake that I made and show up in-between those hours (there will be no sympathy from any of the staff).
My Favorite 26 Things to do Saigon (Ho Chi Minh) – Co-Working
Co-working is a bit of a trend here and is seemingly used to monetize empty office spaces or coffee shops that never became cool enough to draw a major audience. I looked at these but never found a great vibe or the coffee I was hoping for.
Regus has a number of locations in town and some of them have a perfect location; this is likely the most efficient option.
My Favorite 26 Things to do Saigon (Ho Chi Minh) – Where to Stay
Saigon is well-equipped with chain hotels. However, just like Hanoi, you either see upscale $200+ properties or $40-$50 a night properties – there isn’t any midmarket.
Park Hyatt Saigon is a great option, but pricey even with Points + Cash.