First Time in Ho Chi Minh City – What to Do

Saigon Survival Guide

If this is your first time in Ho Chi Minh City, knowing exactly what to do can be a challenge as this large city is filled with unique landmarks. Also called Saigon, it’s widely known as Vietnam’s business and financial hub, as well as a popular tourist destination. Travellers love its fascinating culture, classic French architecture, and sleek skyscrapers, as well as ornate temples and pagodas. You can also find plenty of rooftop bars and fantastic restaurants serving cuisine from all over the world. Check out our Ho Chi Minh survival guide to plan out your first few days of sightseeing in this vibrant city.

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Ho Chi Minh at a Glance

Ho Chi Minh is divided into several neighbourhoods, commonly known as districts. The city centre is located in District 1, where you can visit some of its most popular landmarks. Backpackers can find affordable accommodation, restaurants, and bars at Pham Ngu Lao Street. Meanwhile, District 2 houses the city’s expat community, so expect plenty of high-quality apartments, villas, and houses if you’re staying in this neighbourhood.

  • The most modern city in Vietnam but still has a lot of history
  • Nice mix of modern and historical landmarks
  • Excellent for shopping
  • Good range of restaurants suitable for all budgets
  • Congested traffic – so many scooters!
  • More expensive than most cities in Vietnam
  • Pickpockets are known in touristy areas

Things You Can Do in Ho Chi Minh

Ho Chi Minh may be known for its war museums (such as Chu Chi Tunnels), but the city area has plenty of fascinating historical sites which are suitable for all ages. The Notre Dame Cathedral and Saigon Central Post Office are prime examples of French colonial architecture, both of which require no entrance fee. There are also Buddhist temples and traditional markets that have been operating for hundreds of years.

  • Notre Dame Cathedral

    Notre Dame Cathedral

    In a quiet corner of bustling downtown Ho Chi Minh City stands Notre Dame Cathedral, the one remaining stronghold of Read More»

  • Reunification Palace

    Reunification Palace

    The iconic Reunification Palace made its name in global history when in 1975 a North Vietnamese Army tank crashed Read More»

  • Central Post Office in Ho Chi Minh City

    Central Post Office

    The Central Post Office in Ho Chi Minh is a beautifully preserved remnant of French colonial times and perhaps the Read More»

Best Places to Shop in Ho Chi Minh

Shopping in Ho Chi Minh is a mix of swanky malls housing international fashion brands to traditional markets selling authentic handicrafts and street food. Bargaining is a must-do when you’re shopping at Bin Tay and Ben Thanh Market, as initial prices stated by vendors are much higher than the goods are actually worth.

  • Ben Thanh Market

    Ben Thanh Market

    Situated in downtown Ho Chi Minh City, bustling Ben Thanh Market in District 1 is a great place to buy local Read More»

  • Binh Tay Market (Cholon Chinatown Market)

    Binh Tay Market, constructed by the French in the 1880s, is located in the centre of Vietnam’s largest Chinatown Read More»

  • Vincom Center

    Vincom Center

    With more than 250 shops, Vincom Center is Ho Chi Minh City’s biggest shopping mall – so big in fact, that they have Read More»

Best Places to Go at Night in Ho Chi Minh

Nightlife in Ho Chi Minh means very different things depending where you are in the city. Downtown in District 1, rooftop bars, high rolling casinos and smooth jazz bands are the choice forms of nightlife entertainment in Saigon. But move a few kilometres west into District 3 and the backpacker street of Pham Ngu Lao, with its street bars, cheap eats and good time vibe, is certainly the place to be when night falls.

  • Saigon Saigon Rooftop Bar at Caravelle Hotel

    Saigon Saigon Rooftop Bar

    Saigon Saigon Rooftop Bar on the ninth floor of the Caravelle Hotel will be forever immortalised for its role in the Read More»

  • Opera House

    Opera House

    The Opera House in Ho Chi Minh is an elegant, colonial building at the intersection of Le Loi and Dong Khoi Street in Read More»

  • Vietnamese Street Vendor

    Pham Ngu Lao Street

    The Pham Ngu Lao area of District 1 is where most backpacking travelers first land in Ho Chi Minh City. It’s a similar Read More»

Great Restaurants We Like in Ho Chi Minh

Restaurants in Ho Chi Minh cater to just about any regional cuisine, from French, American and Russian, to Thai, Chinese, and, of course, Vietnamese. You can find affordable street food and snack stalls at Pham Ngu Lao and local markets such as Bin Tay and Ben Thanh. Affluent travellers can enjoy pleasant ambiance, stunning views and diligent service at fine-dining restaurants that are mostly located in District 1.

  • The Refinery Bar and Restaurant

    The Refinery Saigon

    The Refinery Bar and Restaurant is currently one of the most popular establishments in Ho Chi Minh thanks to colonial Read More»

  • Quan An Ngon Restaurant

    Quan An Ngon Restaurant

    Rising in levels like a manor from a medieval fairytale, Quan An Ngon is one of the most popular restaurants in Ho Chi Read More»

  • Camargue Saigon

    A long-time favourite amongst Ho Chi Minh’s expat community, Camargue is a refined French restaurant within the Read More»

Hotels in Ho Chi Minh We Recommend to Our Friends

As Ho Chi Minh is one of Vietnam’s most popular tourist destinations, it offers a diverse collection of accommodation options. Some the city’s five-star hotels are located in the city centre, and have been featured in many novels and movies. But if you’re travelling on a modest budget, there are plenty of hostels and backpacker inns in Pham Ngu Lao Street.

Caravelle Saigon

Caravelle Hotel enjoys a superb location in the heart of Ho Chi Minh City with an outstanding dining, shopping, nightlife Read More...

The Nguyens Café NHC

With a stay at The Nguyens Café NHC in Ho Chi Minh City, you'll be within a 5-minute drive of Saigon Square and Ben Thanh Read More...

Hôtel des Arts Saigon - MGallery Collection

With a stay at Hôtel des Arts Saigon - MGallery Collection, you'll be centrally located in Ho Chi Minh City, steps from Diamond Read More...


Best Hotels in Ho Chi Minh

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