We’ve written about things to do in Ho Chi Minh City for both The Australian and Qantas Magazine, and we thought it was about time we wrote about the top things to do in Ho Chi Minh City on our own site.
Ho Chi Minh is one of our favourite cities in the world. Yes, it’s fast paced – just like most big cities – but there’s also an underlying relaxed vibe that can be felt strolling through its many parks or sipping a café sua da on a café’s terrace.
Take a tour to explore the city’s secret spots
We’re not all that big on taking tours, but there are two in Ho Chi Minh that shouldn’t be missed. The Vespa Adventures tour will take you to some of the best sites in the city, zooming around on the back of a vintage Vespa. We started the morning at Tao Dan Park where elderly men gather with their caged birds, socialising with coffee as their birds tweeted to one another.
However, my favourite stop with the Temple of 10,000 Buddas where no less than 10,000 buddas of all sizes line this golden temple. It is truly majestical and a spiritual place of beauty. You can read more about our tour here, and watch our video.
The Saigon Street Eats tour is another standout adventure. Go to some of the best foodie haunts in the city with experts who know where to get good food. Vietnamese food is some of the best in the world and on this culinary journey you can try pho bo, food stall treats and market food snacks.
By the time you’re sampling desserts in a picturesque park at the end of the tour you’re feeling mighty stuffed but content. You can read more about the Saigon Street Eats tour here.
What you need to know: Head over to the links above to read more about the tours.
Eat from the best street food stalls
Speaking of food, we did have some favourite street food stalls in Ho Chi Minh. We’d eat at some of these daily, because the food was just as good (if not better) than that in the restaurants, only for a fraction of the price.
One of our favourite places to grab a banh mi was Banh Mi Hong Hoa. If you haven’t had a banh mi before, it is the ultimate sandwich, often filled with pate and fresh herbs inside a mini baguette. Bánh Mì Hồng Hoa does some of the best in the city. Just make sure you get there soon after it opens at 3:30pm, otherwise they might sell out…
What you need to know: Bánh Mì Hồng Hoa is located at 62 Nguyen Van Trang and it is open from 3:30pm to midnight.
Pho Quynh in District 1 is another street food place we’d recommend to get your pho fix. It’s fresh and delicious and if you want to eat it like the Vietnamese do then pop in at breakfast time to slurp it down.
What you need to know: Pho Quynh is located at 323 Pham Ngu Lao and it is open 24 hours.
Take an art class
I thought I’d explore my creative side when we were living in Ho Chi Minh for a few months, and so I invested in an art class at Grado Art Studio. The studio is run by Ignacio who is a Spanish artist. He really knows his stuff and teaches both adults and children.
Ignacio has a great eye and he can really offer advice that will help turn your work from something that’s so-so into a masterpiece.
You can do a single three or two-hour session if you don’t have much time, although I chose to go in five times to complete the art work below.
What you need to know: A three-hour class costs VD660,000 (AUS$40) and the studio is located in District 2 at 70 Nguyen Van Huong, Thao Dien.
Visit the city’s trendy hidden spots
From the outside it looks like an abandoned building but if you are brave enough to venture inside you will find a hipster hotspot at this address. 14 Tan That Dam St is a maze of trendy stores, cafes and bars, housed next to old and shabby apartments where families still live.
It’s a creative and eclectic space, mainly featuring young small business owners’ ventures and it’s exciting to wander through the maze, up and down the dark stairwells, to discover all the unique places this spot has to offer.
What you need to know: 14 Tan That Dam St is at that address and opening hours depend on the different places.
Shop at 3A Station
3A Station is another hidden gem in Ho Chi Minh. Formerly a factory space, the area has been converted into boutique shops, cafes and art galleries.
A little hub of creativity, the walls are decorated in trendy street art and the art galleries feature modern art. Sometimes artists are working on pieces in the open air, or musicians are performing in the space.
A few favourites of ours were the cupcakes served out of the side of VW van, and the Kujuz 3son Café which is adorned in old French-style shutters.
What you need to know: 3A Station is located at 3A Ton Duc Thanh, Ben Nghe, District 1 and is open from 9am – 9pm.
Stroll through one of the many parks
One of the things that makes Ho Chi Minh so different from other large Asian cities is the amount of greenspaces to be found. Harking back to the French days, the large boulevards and huge parks make the city feel almost European in parts.
One of our favourite parks was Tao Dan Park which is one of the biggest parks in the city. If you come here in the morning you can see locals jogging and exercising around the footpaths in the area. Come later in the day and you’ll see families picnicking and people busking.
What you need to know: Tao Dan Park is located in the centre of Disctrict 1.
Venture out to District 2
District 2 is the expat area and with it comes fancy restaurants, cute cafes and lovely bars along the riverfront. It’s certainly worth exploring.
Most people head to The Deck, a posh restaurant overlooking the water. We found it a bit over-rated though – the brunch was small and the service was below par.
We liked Snap Café for its simple lunches and outdoor dining space lined with bookcases. It’s a popular place for kids though, because of the playground, so avoid on the weekends if you want to avoid the noise.
Mekong Merchant is also a nice spot for lunch with a glass of wine. You can dine outside under the shade of a huge tree growing in the middle of their courtyard, or inside in the cool air conditioning. The service here is very good and the food tasty.
If you want to experience a truly quirky place, head over to Villa Royale Antiques and Tea Room. Housed in an old colonial mansion, this café is full of antiques collected from around the world. The tea menu is extensive and the cakes are divine. It’s certainly worth whiling away an afternoon here.
What you need to know: The easiest way to get to District 2 is to take a 15-minute taxi ride out there from District 1. There is a train line being put in for commuters but who knows when that will be ready.
Be sobered by the atrocities of the Vietnam War at the War Remnants Museum
A trip to Ho Chi Minh wouldn’t be complete without a visit to the War Remnants Museum. It’s bizarre visiting a museum that shows a war from the other side’s point of view, but it makes you realise war is a terrible and destructive thing, no matter what side of the political line you’re on.
This museum isn’t for younger children, as the photographs are quite graphic and shocking. There are some truly awful sections too, like the deformed foetuses in jars which were the result of Agent Orange.
In the gardens of the museum are old military tanks and planes which are worth exploring. Prepare to leave the museum feeling distressed at the atrocities carried out during the war, but with a new impression of an important chapter in history.
What you need to know: The museum is located at 28 Vo Van Tan, Ward 6, District 3. It costs VD15,000 (AUD0.90c) to enter and the museum is open daily from 7:30am – 12pm and 1:30pm – 5pm.
Explore the Reunification Palace
Another historical place worth visiting in Ho Chi Minh is the Reunification Palace where the end of the Vietnam War took place after the rebels of the south stormed the gates with a tank. A replica of the tank still stands in the gardens today.
The palace itself isn’t super interesting, although you can see where important heads of state stay when they visit Vietnam. There are opulent decorations throughout the building and some unfortunate ornaments such as elephant tusks.
What you need to know: The palace is located at 135 Nam Ky Khoi Nghia, Ben Thanh, Ward 1, District 1. It costs VD30,000 (AUD$1.80) to get in and the opening hours are 7:30am – 11am and 1pm – 4pm.
Sip a cocktail on a rooftop bar
When a day of hard-core sightseeing is over in Ho Chi Minh, it’s time for a drink. There are lots of rooftop bars dotted around the city where you can take in the city lights as you sip on a cocktail.
One of our favourites was OMG Bar which is close to Ben Thanh market. The drinks aren’t as expensive as some of the pricier bars and they play good music (the latest hits.) If you want good conversation, it might be a little loud if you go too late.
If you want somewhere a little more upmarket, GLOW Bar might be the way to go. A place for the Vietnam’s wealthy youth, the drinks here are much more expensive and the crowd a little pretentious. Their motto, ‘Above it all’ says it all really.
Chill Sky Bar has possibly the best views of all of the rooftop bars in the city. It features an indoor lounge area and club and an outdoor deck.
Remember to dress smartly if you’re visiting a rooftop bar, as most of them adhere to dress codes.
What you need to know: OMG Bar is located at Nguyen An Ninh, Ben Thanh, District 1. GLOW Bar is found at President Place, 93 Nguyen Du, District 1. And Chill Sky Bar is at Level 26 AB Tower, 76A Le Lai Street, District 1.
Take your time exploring the best things to do in Ho Chi Minh City
Ho Chi Minh is truly a great city with a lot to offer. If it wasn’t, we wouldn’t have come for a week and ended up staying two months. And if you are looking for a place to stay, make sure you check out this site for hotels in Ho Chi Minh.