That’s it: we live in Vietnam now! We’ve said goodbye to Hong Kong for a whole new adventure. We don’t know how long we’re gonna stay in Saigon nor what’s gonna happen, but we’re super grateful for the opportunity, and excited about exploring something new again. It’s been only a month, so the article is very “fresh” and will be regularly updated -stay tuned!
According to Transport Department, statistic reported that Saigon is home to 7.4 millions registered motorbikes. Before getting to Ho Chi Minh, that’s the only image I had from the city. Travellers always talk about the crazy traffic, busy streets, and the struggle to cross a road in Saigon. Apart from that and the excitement of eating Vietnamese food, I didn’t know much about that place. Since we arrived, I’ve had the nice surprise to discover some really nice and quiet neighbourhoods of the city where you can actually walk -and even sometimes push a stroller (we’ll talk about traveling to Ho Chi Minh with kids in another post).
Ho Chi Minh is much more than a city full of motorbikes -even though YES, they are everywhere! There’s a lot to discover (mainly food related discoveries ;)) and to explore, such as traditional markets, street food, history, arty cafes, river cruises and arts and crafts shops. So let’s scroll down and discover what to do in Ho Chi Minh!
Things to know before going to Ho Chi Minh
Ho Chi Minh or Saigon ? Adopted in 1976, Ho Chi Minh is the current official name, which commemorates the first leader of North Vietnam. Saigon on the other hand, is the city’s former name. Today, both are used, they are simply alternate ways of referring to the city.
Situation : Located in southeast Vietnam, HCMC surrounds the Saigon River.
Airport : Tân Sơn Nhất International Airport (SGN) is the busiest airport in Vietnam. Know that, if you have a stop in SGN from intl to national, you will need to get your luggages, walk 5 min to the other terminal and check-in again to your next flight. So do plan some time to be sure not having to rush in between.
Transports : There’s no good public transport yet, although the Metro is supposed to be ready by 2021. Best way to get around is either to rent a bike, or to use taxis -don’t get any taxi though : Vinasun and Mai Linh are the ones with meter and honest drivers for sure. Other really useful option is to download the App. Grab, which is like Uber here. You can chose either to ride in a car or a bike.
Visa : French passports get a 14 days tourist visa on arrival for free. Check with your embassy if you need to prepare some papers and cash.
Language : It’s good to get a Sim card or a WiFi somehow to be able to communicate with Google translate or Maps if needed. People don’t always speak English.
Weather : Saigon can get (very) humid depending on the season, prepare some light clothes that dry fast, and also shoes that won’t be ruined if they get wet.
10 things to do in Saigon
Don’t be shy and treat yourself with some good STREET FOOD !
Explore a local market and enjoy the explosion of colours, flavours and scents.
Discover the old Central Post Office as well as the Notre-Dame Cathedral in front of it.
Visit the War Remnants Museum -prepare for a very, very tough exhibition.
Stop by Tan Dinh Church, a very photogenic 150-years-old bright pink church.
Browse some lovely local boutiques and bring back some souvenirs from Saigon Kitsch and/or Sunday in Saigon.
Dive into the city’s madness and get a ride on a motorbike -or even better, drive it yourself!
Offer yourself a peaceful break by the Saigon River with a lunch at The Deck.
Escape from the bustling city for an hour or more with an afternoon in a luxurious spa.
Get on a romantic cruise and discover the city by night with Bonsai Cruise.
Itinerary of a 2 days trip in Ho Chi Minh
Spending two days in Ho Chi Minh is a good way to discover more about Vietnam’s history -and to eat some delicious local dishes of course (as you can tell, my priorities when traveling haven’t changed a bit).
Day 1 : History, fresh street food, market & night cruise
DISTRICT 1 + 3
Start the day with CHOCOLATE in Maison Marou, a famous mouthwatering chocolate factory / gourmet cafe. Try the éclair au chocolat… you won’t regret it. :) -167-169, Calmette, Phường Nguyễn Thái Bình, Quận 1
Walk by the Reunification Palace, known as the site of the end of Vietnam War during the fall of Saigon on April 1975. Then head to the War Remnants Museum for a tough yet very interesting visit. The museum is not advised for young kids as some/most images are shocking, but there is a big room for them to play with toys, teddy bears, books and even outfits to dress up. -28 Võ Văn Tần, Phường 6, Quận 3
Try to change your mind after that, with some REAL good street food at Baba’s Bun Thit. Founded by a Vietnamese-French couple, this restaurant is committed to serve only fresh ingredients, with no additives sugars or glutamate. Street food as it should always be : simple and healthy. The chef uses a traditional grandmother’s Bun thit recipe (cold rice-vermicelli noodle topped with grilled pork, fresh herbs, fresh salad, bean sprouts, peanuts and fish sauce) , and the result is DELICIOUS! Perfect option for a “clean” street food. -175C Cô Giang, Phường Cô Giang, Quận 1
Head to Tan Dinh Market to browse in the stalls : dried fruits, cooking ingredients, ceramics, Vietnamese coffee, fabrics… it’s all very local, and less tourist-oriented than Ben Thanh Market -so you won’t find as much souvenirs but you won’t see many tourists neither. Before leaving the district, don’t miss the beautiful 150-years old pink church across the road, Tan Ding Church. -48 Mã Lộ, Tân Định, Quận 1
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Day 2 : Landmarks, creative shops, cafes & cocktails by the river
Start the day with some architecture from the French colonial times : discover Saigon Central Post Office and the Notre-Dame Cathedral across the road, both built in the late 1880s. -Số 125 Công xã Paris, Bến Nghé, Quận 1
Discover the “apartment malls” you’ll only see in Ho Chi Minh. I call them malls, but they are actually cute boutiques and cafes hidden behind the facade of old apartments buildings. You could easily walk by without seeing them, so don’t forget to look up. The atmosphere is really nice and creative, there are a lot of discoveries to make ! The 42 Nguyen Hue Street is cool (with Poke Saigon as a good lunch option), but there are plenty other shopping centres of that kind in District 1. -42 Nguyen Hue Apartment Mall, Bến Nghé, Quận 1
Hungry? Get a brunch at the trendy Vintage Emporium -photo below. Not hungry ? Get a fresh juice at the Vintage Emporium. And enjoy a break in the air-con ! -95 Nguyễn Văn Thủ, Đa Kao, Quận 1
If you fancy some cool souvenir shopping, don’t leave the city without a stop in Saigon Kitsch (43 Tôn Thất Thiệp, Bến Nghé, Quận 1), Sunday in Saigon for chic Scandinavian inspired decoration (228 Lê Thánh Tôn, Phường Bến Thành, Quận 1) and L’Usine for hipster gifts (Lê Thánh Tôn, Bến Nghé, Quận 1).
Cross the river and head to Thao Dien for a different and quiet part of the city. This district is mainly known by the expat community. It’s certainly not the most authentic neighbourhood in Ho Chi Minh, but I find it nice to explore -as you can actually go from shop to shop by walking distance. There is a big array of boutiques, spas and restaurants. First boutiques to come to my mind: In the Mood for decoration, Green Corner for a eco-conscious living, Metiseko for stunning traditional outfits (same address for the 3: 32 Trần Ngọc Diện, Thảo Điền, Quận 2), D2 Fashion Lifestyle for woman clothes (81 Xuan Thuy Street , District 2, Ho Chi Minh City), Little Anh-Em for kids and babies (37 Thao Dien Street, District 2, Ho Chi Minh City), and so much more to discover. There are plenty of spas around, one we’ve tried and absolutely LOVED is Spa La Sen (04 Xuân Thủy, Thảo Điền, Quận 2).
Explore the tiny but stylish Art Factory, an art space and cafe made with containers. -15 Nguyễn Ư Dĩ, Thảo Điền, Quận 2
Then head to The Deck for cocktails by the river. The decor is absolutely stunning, and makes you forget you’re on a city trip for a minute -you could think you’ve just landed in Bali! The only noise you’ll hear is the wind blowing in the palm trees and the jazzy music in the background. Get a table by the river. -38 Nguyễn Ư Dĩ, St, Quận 2
The food at The Deck is incredible, but if you’re tight on budget, you’ll find cheaper options for dinner in Thao Dien (delicious too!), such as Quan Bui Garden (55A Ngô Quang Huy, Thảo Điền, Quận 2), An Cafe (our cantine! 10 Trần Ngọc Diện, Thảo Điền, Quận 2), or The Boat House (40 Lily, APSC Luxury Villa Compound,, 36 Thảo Điền Road, Thao Dien Ward, Quận 2).