Ho Chi Minh City Tourism Information
Ho Chi Minh City, also known as Saigon, its former name, is an industrious and dense metropolis, the largest city in Vietnam and the business capital of the country. It has a much more capitalist feeling than it's neighbour city, Hanoi, with many more commercial streets and businesses. It also is centre to many Universities and learning institutions, making the city appealing to many younger people, thus Ho Chi Minh City a good place for nightlife. However, it is crowded and noisy, with high pollution levels and disorganised traffic. Yet, don't let that put you off, it is also exciting, a historic city with lots to see.
It's buildings, although overshadowed by modern and Asiatic influences, a little of Ho Chi Minh City's French colonial charm still remains, as it was ruled for over 60 years by the French. Being evident in the graceful architecture, wide boulevards, and a sidewalk cafe society. However, It is not for the attractions that travellers visit Ho Chi Minh City, but for the vibrancy of its street life, and its proximity to the Mekong Delta and from there travel to some of the resorts and other cities along the coast.
Ho Chi Minh City is in the tropics, and very close to the sea, so its climate is warm to hot all year, with temperatures averaging between 25°C) and 38°C all year round. Temperatures are slightly cooler between December and March, which is also the dry season. Rains begin in May and become heavy between June and August, but the showers are sudden and short, with the sun usually reappearing fairly quickly. There is a danger of typhoons from July to November.
The best time to visit is in the cool, dry season, between December and February.
Ho Chi Minh City is well know for it's crazy, chaotic and congested traffic problems! It's also the city in which most bikes you will ever see, since it's the easiest way to travel around the streets and navigate the intense traffic all day. When arriving for the first time, expect locals offering you rides by bike and car. It's very popular to hire rides via the Apps also like Grab. But to avoid being scammed only take these apps which offer a better service and real time information.
When arriving into the airport at Ho Chi Minh City, Tan Son Nhat Airport is the international airport, located 45 minutes ride to the city center. There are in several public buses going from the airport to Ho Chi Minh for the cheapest option. You can take the Yellow Airport Bus 109, Airport Bus 49 or public Bus 152. The airport busses (109,49) cost only 20,000 VND to 40,000 VND to the center of Ho Chi Minh. Bus 109 is slightly cheaper than 49 but has fewer stops. The public bus 152, costs only 10.000 VND, but it's not very suitable if you have much luggage.
If you prefer to go by car, a normal taxi will cost around 150-200K to the city centre and take 30-45 min. Be aware that many taxi drivers will try to charge you more or will tell you that there are no pubic buses. (to avoid this, use Apps better).
Once in the city, you will soon notice this city has some of the world's most chaotic traffic, much of which consists of bicycles and motorcycles. It is a good option to rent a bike, which cost around 150K-200K for a whole day. Taking the busses in Ho Chi Minh City is very cheap, but requires a lot of patience and time. However, there is a good route network to travel around the whole city. For more information on the routes and timetables please check the following official website for Ho Chi Minh City Transport.
At the moment there is no MRT (metro) working in the city. But this is gonna change when the first line is inaugurated in a few years to come. Below you can check for the most important bus routes via a map for download:
✔️Tip: Taking tours around and out of Ho Chi Minh City is the best option when travelling. They provide English speaking guides and transportation which will make you see much more of the sites. You will find many tour option and agencies. Many hotels also associate with agencies and can organise pick ups from the reception lobby.
One tour company which is worth looking at is The Sinh Tourist. Tours depart from outside the office and prices are quite competitive and they have multiple tours available.
Ho Chi Minh City is located on the Saigon River on the edge of the Mekong Delta. Saigon became the capital of the Republic of South Vietnam and was the American headquarters during the Vietnam War. Two years later the Communist north took control of the country, the city's name was changed to Ho Chi Minh City, and recession and poverty unfortunately grew.
Today, Ho Chi Minh City has a cosmopolitan atmosphere and, having actively welcomed capitalism, its citizens are clearly business-minded. Although relatively modern, it has still managed to hold onto its historical character, and fine restaurants, chic hotels and bars line the sidewalks. The buzzing of motorbikes and scooters merges with the calls of street vendors and the urgent business of stall owners, selling a range of delectable street food and exotic delicacies.
Below you can read more on the most important highlights to see and do whilst visiting in Ho Chi Minh City:
- Ben Thanh Market: Located in the heart of Ho Chi Minh City's, this market is one of the destination's best known landmarks. It is often hot, crowded and frantic, but it's a great place to buy local handicrafts, branded goods and souvenirs. A wet market at the back sells every kind of food imaginable. It is rumoured that buyers will be given their purchases in differently coloured bags according to their bargaining ability, as a sign to other vendors. The market is open daily from 7am to 6pm, but an outdoor night market and food stalls surround the area are open until much later.
- Notre Dame Catedral: Constructed in 1863, the Notre-Dame Cathedral is the biggest church built by the French in Vietnam. Unfortunately, the Cathedral is now closed for tourists, as it is under major construction, expected to last until June 2020. However, regular Masses are still held as usual.
- Central Post Office: Just walk across the street from the Notre-Dame Cathedral you will find the Central Post Office. Built in the late 19th century, this Central Post Office building is a beautifully preserved remnant of French colonial times and supposedly designed by Gustave Eiffel, the designer of the Eiffel Tower in Paris. Just wander around to admire this beautiful colonial architecture, or buy postcards and other souvenirs which are found on the side of the entrance to the building.
- Cholon: is the Chinese district, is comprised of a dense network of vibrant streets and alleyways. It was first settled by the Chinese Hoa merchants at the end of the 18th century, and is now the home of Vietnam's biggest ethnic minority community. Cholon diverges from the conventional 'Chinatown' set up that exists in many prominent cities the world over, largely due to its impressive expanse. When visitors enter Cholon, Mandarin signposts lead into a fascinating labyrinth of temples, restaurants, exotic stores, medicine shops and markets. The best place to experience the bustle of trade is at the crowded Binh Tay Market.
There are several temples of interest in Cholon, including the Quan Am Pagoda with its ornate exterior, Phuoc An Hoi Quan Temple, its roof exquisitely ornamented with dragons and sea monsters, and the Thien Hau Pagoda dedicated to the goddess of the sea.
- Pham Ngu Lao: Located in District One, this area of Ho Chi Minh City is known as South Vietnam's backpacker district. Stretching along the streets of De Tham, Pham Ngu Lao and Bui Vien. The area is often compared to the more famous Khao San road of Bangkok, and is a similar amalgamation of bars, guesthouses, restaurants, souvenir shops and small travel agencies. Known also to be an expat playground, these bars stay open later than most in the city. The prominent Go2 Bar is the most popular among tourists. Day trips to the Mekong Delta or the Cu Chi tunnels are easily organised in any of the travel agencies as well as transport to most of Vietnam, with staff speaking here a good level of english.
- The War Remnants Museum: This disturbing museum highlights the horrors of modern combat, and especially portrays the suffering inflicted on the Vietnamese people during the Vietnam War. Its former name, the Museum of American War Crimes, was altered so as not to cause offence to American visitors, but the museum's displays still give an anti-American perspective.The museum houses a collection of weapons, machinery, artefacts and horrific photographs illustrating the devastating effects of napalm, Agent Orange and other weapons of mass destruction.One room is dedicated to biological warfare, including the effects of the defoliant sprays that were dumped over the country. Another room looks at worldwide demonstrations for peace and international opposition to the war. In the courtyard there are tanks, helicopters, planes and bombs on display.
Another area to visit is the Tiger cages where prisoners were kept captive in inclosed spiked wired cells. One can also see the guillotine artefact and other instruments used for torture. Note, there is a lot of disturbing images and literature which are not suitable for sensitive visitors nor children. Visiting the museum costs 40.000 VND, it comprises 3 floors of exhibitions and galleries. With a shop and a cafe also. Dedicate a whole morning or afternoon at the museum to explore it.
- Bitexco Financial Tower: was the highest building in Ho Chi Minh City, at 258 meters tall, inaugurated in 2010. But in 2011 it was surpassed by the Keangnam Hanoi Landmark Tower. You can get a 360-degree view of the city from the Saigon Skydeck, located on the 49th floor of the tower. Entrance fee for adult is 200,000 VND.
- Independence Palace: (also known as Reunification Palace): Located in the heart of Ho Chi Minh City, it is one of the most important landmarks in Ho Chi Minh City. The palace was the site of the end of the Vietnam War during the Fall of Saigon on April 30, 1975. Currently, the palace is largely turned into a museum, but sometimes it is also still used for government official meetings. Entrance fee for adult is 20,000 VND.
- Opera House: Located in the upscale shopping street, Đồng Khởi, the Opera House is another beautiful French colonial landmark in Ho Chi Minh City. Aside from the architecture, enjoy some great classical music concerts. You can purchase a ticket to watch a concert, and explore the inside of the building.
- Ngoc Hoang Pagoda: Built in 1909 in honour of the supreme Taoist god (the Jade Emperor or King of Heaven, Ngoc Hoang), this is one of the most atmospheric temples in Ho Chi Minh City. Inside the main building are two especially fierce and menacing Taoist figures. Upstairs is a hall to Quan Am, the Goddess of Mercy. The multifaith nature of the temple is echoed in the shrine's alternative name Phuoc Hai Tu (福海寺; Sea of Blessing Temple), whose message is clearly Buddhist. Entrance to the temple is free.
It's very easy to take tours around Ho Chi Minh City, thanks to many travel agencies offering competitive prices and all inclusive tours which can provide some very interesting trips out of the city and get to explore more of the countryside. Tours are also interesting if you want to continue learning from the troubled history of Vietnam during the war and get to experience what it was like to live in those days. Below are the two most important tours which you can combine together or take on separate days: (Costs ranges around $35 for the two (tours) together).
- Cu Chi Tunnels: These tunnels are a system of an underground network of tunnels dug in the 1940s by the Vietnamese as a place to hide during the fight against the French. The network was later expanded and used in the American War. Today the system is more than 150 miles (250km) long. It is comprised of winding tunnels and unlit offshoots, secret trap doors connecting narrow routes to hidden shelters, local rivers and tunnels reaching to the Cambodian border. It was once a sprawling city of improvised hospitals, living quarters, kitchens and fresh water wells, with some tunnels barely large enough to wriggle through. The plan was to launch surprise assaults on the enemy, and then disappear; this strategy was so successful that the superior firepower of the French and American armies was insufficient in the face of continuous ambushes in which the assailants seemed to vanish into thin air.Today many of the tunnels have been enlarged to allow visitors the dirty and claustrophobic experience of crawling through a 100 m portion of the underground network, past secret trapdoors and booby traps laid against invasion. Cu Chi Tunnels have two main sites, Ben Dinh and Ben Duoc.
They are different in that one was constructed specifically for tourists (Ben Dinh) and the other was actually used in war (Ben Duoc).
At the tour you can also experience how to fire a gun or a machine guy if you wish paying the extra charge. Tours here last for around 3 hours (not suitable for small children) and cost around $30, depending on tour agency. The groups vary in size, but you can expect a large group of about 30-40 people normally.
Cu Chi Tunnels Photo Gallery ▼
- Mekong Delta: The delta is a vast network of waterways formed by the Mekong River. It is surrounded by a fertile patchwork of endless green rice paddies, orchards and swamplands, where most of the country's rice is grown. Not only does the Mekong River irrigate what is known as 'the rice bowl of Vietnam', it also serves as a vital form of transport. A unique way of life has evolved among the villagers that have lived on or beside the river for centuries. The best way to experience the delta is by boat, joining the rowing boats and fishermen, rickety houseboats, ferries and traditional sampans on the brown water. On the banks are small villages, vegetable gardens, fish farms and stilted houses. There are several towns in the region from where visitors can arrange boat trips, if not already on an organised tour, which can include horse-truck riding, canal boats and visiting the Coconut Candy Factory, amongst other activities.
✔️Tip: Tourists should try to avoid the rainy season, as the tides may be too high for canal travel. There is an impressive range of local dishes on offer and, besides seafood, there are opportunities for adventurous travellers to sample snake, eel and bat.
Mekong Delta Photo Gallery
Nightlife in Ho Chi Minh City gained notoriety during the Vietnam War for its playful and adult bars but a lot has changed recently thanks to Vietnam's tourist boom. Ho Chi Minh City's nightlife has grown and diversified considerably, and while not rivalling the range of entertainment of other Southeast Asian destinations, it's still guaranteed to do the job.
With everything from rooftop bars and lounges to pubs and nightclubs playing all the latest dance hits, travellers looking to let loose on a night out on the town will have plenty of options in this bustling, neon city.
Visitors can start their night off at a rooftop bar or beer garden, from where they can watch the sunset over the busy streets before heading out to District 1. Here the bars and fashionable clubs can be found, particularly on the streets around Dong Khoi and Hai Ba Trung. Travellers can expect to encounter many popular spots for expats and other westerners, where party goers can make use of the bar, dance floor and pool tables.
Karaoke bars, are popular also in the city. They can be found at District 3, where you can also attend one of the nightly live gigs, including local rock bands. It is also an option to hop on one of the many dinner cruises that operate from District 1 and cruise down the Saigon River in style. This is the perfect way to relax and spend a lazy evening. Another option is to take a stroll along the main avenue, close to the colonial Old City Hall.
Travellers should also note that many of Ho Chi Minh City's bars and nightclubs close early, around midnight or when the last customer leaves so anyone looking to keep going until the early hours of the morning will be disappointed.
Travellers in Ho Chi Minh City will at first be overwhelmed with the amount of stalls and roadside vendors that cram the sidewalks and street corners. Best buys include silk clothing and other hand-woven fabrics, bamboo goods, ceramics, boxes and vases made from lacquer ware, while traditional Vietnamese hats can be found just about anywhere. Tailor-made clothing is also popular.
Most of Ho Chi Minh City's shopping can be done from the local markets and street vendors where haggling is expected, especially at the Anh Dong Market in District 5 or the Ben Thanh indoor market in downtown Saigon.
Shoppers looking for something a little more upmarket should head to Dong Khoi Street in District 1, where designer stores, boutiques, antique stores and jewellery stores abound, though bargain hunters will be pleased to know there is a duty-free store on Nguyen Hue Boulevard in District 1, which specialises in duty-free items such as perfumes and colognes. Most shops in Ho Chi Minh City are open daily from 8am to 8pm.
Ho Chi Minh City provides a very reasonable offering in respect of accommodation options. From backpacker budget options, modest hotels to the more advanced luxury hotels and serviced apartments. Prices are in comparison much more reasonable than other major Asian cities (Singapore, Kuala Lumpur or Bangkok). Travellers should look out more for the location of the hotels rather than prices, as it's the area that dictates the prices. The best affordable-quality area to stay around is the Pham Ngu Lao, which offers additionally lots of good options for tourists services, dining and shopping in the heart of the city.
Budget hostels can cost as little as €10-13 per night. Normal hotels offering breakfast and private bathrooms can also be found easily for around €25.
✔️Tip: One recommended Hotel is Viola Hotel, with clean single, double rooms with private bathroom and fridge, good wifi and location in the heart of the entertainment district very near the central market.
Considering the city is more look at as a business destination, Ho Chi Minh City does offer some interesting activities and sights which make selecting the city as your base, as you travel around a good idea. The city itself can be seen easily in 2 to 3 days. With an extra day or two dedicated to tours.
Ho Chi Minh City Photo Slide 📷