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Ho Chi Minh City Travel Guide – Things to know before visiting

January 16, 2024

Ho Chi Minh City, commonly known as Saigon, is the largest and most vibrant city in Vietnam. With its bustling energy, delicious street food, historic sites, and lively nightlife scene, it’s no wonder HCMC is a popular destination for tourists.

Before you visit this exciting Southeast Asian metropolis, there are some key things you should know to make the most out of your trip. This comprehensive travel guide covers everything from transportation and weather to top attractions and where to stay. Read on for tips and recommendations for an unforgettable vacation in Ho Chi Minh City!

Ho Chi Minh city Independence Palace

Ho Chi Minh city Independence Palace

Things to know before visiting Ho Chi Minh City

1. Where is Ho Chi Minh City?

Ho Chi Minh City, abbreviated as HCMC, is located in southern Vietnam. It’s the biggest and most populated city in the country, situated on the Saigon River near the Mekong Delta region.

HCMC serves as the economic and financial hub of Vietnam. It’s less than 50 km from the South China Sea coast and about 1,760 km south of the Vietnamese capital Hanoi. The city borders Tay Ninh and Binh Duong provinces as well as surrounds Ho Chi Minh City.

2. How to get to Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam?

  • By air – Many international airlines offer direct flights to Tan Son Nhat International Airport (SGN), located just 7 km from the city center. Domestic carriers also connect HCMC to other cities within Vietnam.
  • By train – Several overnight trains run from Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh City daily. The journey takes around 30 hours. There are also international railway connections from Cambodia to Saigon.
  • By bus – Regular buses connect HCMC with most Vietnamese towns and cities. The drives are quite long so most travelers prefer flying.

3. When is the Best Time to Travel to Ho Chi Minh City?

The most ideal time to visit Ho Chi Minh City is during the dry season from December to April. This window offers pleasant weather perfect for sightseeing:

  • December-February – The coolest months with average temperatures of 26°C. Low humidity makes outdoor activities enjoyable. Peak tourism season with higher hotel rates.
  • March-April – Temperatures begin rising toward summer. Lower chance of rain with bearable humidity levels. Shoulder season with good flight/hotel deals.

The wet season lasts from May to November with hot, humid, and rainy conditions. September-November sees heavy monsoons that can disrupt travel plans. While cheaper rates are tempting, weather challenges make this a less optimal travel period.

4. Check Vietnam visa requirements

Unless you hold a Vietnamese passport, you’ll need a visa to enter Vietnam. Here are the main options:

  • Visa on Arrival – Travelers from many countries can obtain a 30-day single-entry visa upon landing at Tan Son Nhat Airport in HCMC. Approval letters are required beforehand.
  • E-visa – Apply online for a 30 or 90 day single or multiple entry visa if your nationality is eligible. More expensive than VoA but faster clearance.
  • Visa Embassy – Valid from 1-3 months for multiple entries. Best arranged via the Vietnamese Embassy/Consulates in your home country prior to arrival.

Also make sure your passport is valid for 6+ months beyond the trip dates. Prepare passport photos as well as payment in USD for the visa fees.

Best places to see in Ho Chi Minh City

Ho Chi Minh City brims with exciting attractions that showcase its culture, complex history, and cosmopolitan ambiance.

1. Ben Thanh Market: This iconic market is a bustling hub where you can find a wide variety of goods, including handicrafts, clothing, and delicious street food.

2. Cu Chi Tunnels: Located just outside the city, these historic tunnels were used during the Vietnam War. Visitors can explore a section of the tunnels, learn about the guerrilla warfare tactics used, and get a glimpse into Vietnam’s wartime history.

3. War Remnants Museum: This museum provides a powerful and thought-provoking look at the Vietnam War through photographs, artifacts, and exhibits. It offers a sobering perspective on the impact of the war on Vietnam and its people.

4. Notre-Dame Cathedral Basilica of Saigon: This beautiful cathedral is an architectural landmark in the city. With its neo-Romanesque design and striking red bricks, it is a prominent religious site and a popular spot for photography.

5. Reunification Palace: Also known as Independence Palace, this historic building served as the presidential palace during the Vietnam War. Visitors can explore its grand rooms and experience a glimpse of Vietnam’s political past.

6. Bitexco Financial Tower: This skyscraper is one of Ho Chi Minh City’s most recognizable landmarks. You can visit the Skydeck on the 49th floor for a panoramic view of the cityscape, including the Saigon River.

These are just a few highlights, and Ho Chi Minh City has much more to offer in terms of culture, history, and cuisine. Exploring the local markets, enjoying Vietnamese street food, and wandering through the city’s vibrant streets are experiences you shouldn’t miss.

Must-Eat Specialty Dishes in Ho Chi Minh City

As a culinary epicenter of Vietnam, Ho Chi Minh City offers boundless opportunities to tantalize your taste buds. Don’t leave without sampling these scrumptious local delicacies:

1. Pho: A traditional Vietnamese noodle soup consisting of flavorful broth, rice noodles, and your choice of beef or chicken, topped with fresh herbs and crisp vegetables. Make sure to try Pho in Ho Chi Minh City, where it’s particularly renowned.

2. Banh Mi: A delightful Vietnamese sandwich filled with various ingredients like grilled pork, pate, cold cuts, pickled vegetables, and cilantro, served in a crispy baguette. There are numerous Banh Mi stalls throughout the city offering different mouthwatering variations.

3. Banh Xeo: These Vietnamese crispy pancakes are made from rice flour and turmeric, stuffed with bean sprouts, shrimp, and slices of pork or beef. Wrap the pancake in rice paper with fresh herbs and dip it in a tasty fish sauce.

4. Com Tam: A popular dish in Ho Chi Minh City, Com Tam consists of broken rice served with grilled pork chops, a fried egg, chopped green onions, pickled vegetables, and fish sauce. It’s a satisfying and fulfilling meal.

5. Bun Cha: Originally from Hanoi, Bun Cha has become a favorite in Ho Chi Minh City too. It features grilled pork patties and slices served in a savory broth accompanied by rice noodles, herbs, and dipping sauce.

6. Hu Tieu Nam Vang: This flavorful soup originated from Cambodia but has become beloved in Ho Chi Minh City. It’s made with pork or seafood broth, rice noodles, various toppings like pork, shrimp, quail eggs, and fresh herbs.

7. Banh Trang Nuong: Also known as Vietnamese pizza or grilled rice paper rolls, Banh Trang Nuong is a delightful street food snack. Toppings such as green onions, quail eggs, dried shrimp, and pork are added to the rice paper, then grilled until crisp.

These are just a few of the must-try specialty dishes in Ho Chi Minh City. Don’t miss the opportunity to explore the vibrant food scene and savor the authentic flavors during your visit!

Where to stay in Ho Chi Minh City?

When it comes to finding accommodation in Ho Chi Minh City, there are plenty of options to consider based on your preferences and budget. Here are a few popular areas to stay in the city:

1. District 1: This central district is a popular choice for tourists due to its proximity to major attractions like Ben Thanh Market, Notre Dame Cathedral, and the Opera House. It offers a wide range of hotels, hostels, and guesthouses catering to different budgets.

2. Pham Ngu Lao Street (District 1): Known as the backpacker area, this street and its surrounding alleys are filled with budget accommodation options, including hostels and small guesthouses. It’s a vibrant area with a lot of dining, nightlife, and easy access to the city’s attractions.

3. District 3: This district is known for its quieter atmosphere compared to the hustle and bustle of District 1. It features a mix of mid-range and luxury hotels, offering a more relaxed environment while still being within reach of major sites.

4. Binh Thanh District: Located just northeast of District 1, this up-and-coming area offers a range of accommodation options, including serviced apartments and boutique hotels. It’s a good choice if you prefer a less touristy neighborhood.

5. District 5 (Chinatown): If you’re interested in experiencing the city’s vibrant Chinese community and culture, District 5 is a great option. It offers a variety of accommodation choices and is known for its lively markets and delicious street food.

Remember to consider factors like proximity to attractions, transportation options, and your own preferences while choosing an area to stay in Ho Chi Minh City.

Nightlife Activities in Ho Chi Minh City

When the sun sets, Saigon’s nightlife springs into high gear. Sip and dance the night away at these lively venues:

1. Bui Vien Street: Located in the heart of the backpacker district, Bui Vien Street is famous for its bustling atmosphere, lively bars, and street food stalls. It’s a great place to enjoy cheap drinks, meet fellow travelers, and experience the vibrant nightlife of the city.

2. Rooftop Bars: Ho Chi Minh City is known for its stunning rooftop bars offering panoramic views of the city skyline. Places like Chill Sky Bar, Social Club Rooftop Bar, and Saigon Saigon Rooftop Bar provide a sophisticated setting to enjoy drinks, music, and breathtaking views.

3. Nightclubs: There are several nightclubs in the city that cater to different tastes in music and ambiance. Lush, Apocalypse Now, and Glow Skybar are popular choices for dancing, entertainment, and live music performances.

4. Live Music Venues: If you’re a fan of live music, Ho Chi Minh City has plenty of venues to satisfy your musical cravings. The Observatory, Yoko Cafe, and Acoustic Bar are famous for hosting talented local and international bands, offering a cozy and intimate atmosphere.

5. Saigon Opera House: For those who appreciate the arts, the Saigon Opera House hosts various performances, including traditional Vietnamese music, ballet, opera, and theatrical shows. It’s a fantastic venue to immerse yourself in the cultural side of Ho Chi Minh City’s nightlife.

Remember to drink responsibly, and be aware of your surroundings while enjoying the nightlife in Ho Chi Minh City.

Some Suggested Itineraries for a Tour in Ho Chi Minh City

With abundant sights and activities, designing a Ho Chi Minh City itinerary depends wholly on your interests and timeframe. Here are recommended schedules for 3, 5, or 7 days in the city.

3 Days HCMC Itinerary

If you have three days to explore Ho Chi Minh City (formerly known as Saigon), here’s a suggested itinerary:

Day 1:

  • Morning: Start your day by visiting the Notre Dame Cathedral and the Central Post Office, iconic landmarks in the heart of the city.
  • Afternoon: Explore the War Remnants Museum to gain insights into the Vietnam War and its impact on the country.
  • Evening: Take a walk at Nguyen Hue Walking Street and indulge in the vibrant atmosphere. You can also enjoy local street food and try Banh mi, a famous Vietnamese sandwich.

Day 2:

  • Morning: Visit the famous Cu Chi Tunnels, an extensive network of tunnels that played a significant role during the Vietnam War.
  • Afternoon: Head to the Ben Thanh Market, one of the city’s liveliest markets. Explore various stalls selling local handicrafts, clothing, and street food.
  • Evening: Pamper yourself with a relaxing dinner cruise along the Saigon River. Enjoy the city’s beautiful skyline while relishing a delicious meal.

Day 3:

  • Morning: Explore the Mekong Delta on a day trip from Ho Chi Minh City. Experience the local river life, visit floating markets, and enjoy the serene countryside.
  • Afternoon: Return from the Mekong Delta and visit the Bitexco Financial Tower. Climb up the Saigon Skydeck for a panoramic view of the city.
  • Evening: Wander around District 1 and enjoy the nightlife at Bui Vien Street, a vibrant backpacker area with numerous bars, restaurants, and live music.

5 Days Ho Chi Minh City + Mekong Delta Tour

If you’re planning a 5-day tour of Ho Chi Minh City and the Mekong Delta, here’s a suggested itinerary:

Day 1: Ho Chi Minh City

  • Start your day by exploring the historic landmarks of Ho Chi Minh City. Visit the Reunification Palace, Notre-Dame Cathedral, Central Post Office, and War Remnants Museum.
  • Take a stroll along Dong Khoi Street and explore the vibrant Ben Thanh Market.
  • Enjoy the evening by indulging in local cuisine at a street food market or dining at a rooftop restaurant with panoramic views of the city.

Day 2: Cu Chi Tunnels and City Highlights

  • Take a half-day trip to the Cu Chi Tunnels, an extensive network of underground tunnels used during the Vietnam War. Explore the tunnels and learn about their historical significance.
  • Return to Ho Chi Minh City and visit the Museum of Vietnamese History, Jade Emperor Pagoda, and the lively Bui Vien Walking Street, known for its nightlife and entertainment.

Day 3: Mekong Delta – My Tho and Ben Tre

  • Embark on a full-day tour to the Mekong Delta, starting from My Tho.
  • Experience a scenic boat ride along the Mekong River and its tributaries, witnessing the local river life and lush greenery.
  • Explore the islands of the Mekong Delta, visit fruit orchards, and taste tropical fruits.
  • Take a traditional sampan boat ride through narrow canals and enjoy a local lunch.
  • Visit a coconut candy factory and learn about the traditional production techniques.

Day 4: Mekong Delta – Can Tho

  • Head towards Can Tho, the largest city in the Mekong Delta region.
  • Take a morning boat tour to the famous Cai Rang Floating Market, where you can witness the bustling trade of fruits, vegetables, and other local products.
  • Explore the floating market and interact with the vendors.
  • Visit a rice noodle factory and learn how this essential Vietnamese food is made.
  • Spend the evening wandering along the Ninh Kieu Riverside, enjoying the beautiful sunset and local delicacies.

Day 5: Return to Ho Chi Minh City

  • Depart from Can Tho and return to Ho Chi Minh City.
  • Spend the day shopping for souvenirs at Ben Thanh Market or exploring local neighborhoods like Chinatown (Cholon) and the unique Binh Tay Market.
  • Indulge in Vietnamese cuisine at top-rated restaurants or try more street food specialties.
  • Take in the city’s vibrant nightlife or enjoy a relaxing evening cruise along the Saigon River.

Remember, this itinerary is just a suggestion, and you can customize it based on your preferences and the duration of your stay. Enjoy your trip to Ho Chi Minh City and the beautiful Mekong Delta!

Shopping places in Ho Chi Minh City

Bring an extra bag to hold all the treasures you’ll want to buy in Ho Chi Minh City! Shopaholics shouldn’t miss these spots:

1. Ben Thanh Market: Located in District 1, this iconic market is a must-visit for both tourists and locals. It offers a wide range of goods, including clothing, accessories, handicrafts, local food products, and souvenirs.

2. Saigon Square: Situated in District 1, Saigon Square is a popular shopping center for bargain hunters. It has a variety of stalls selling clothing, shoes, bags, accessories, electronics, and more at reasonable prices.

3. Vincom Center: With multiple locations throughout the city, Vincom Center is a high-end shopping mall. It houses international fashion brands, luxury goods, electronics, beauty products, and has a wide range of dining options.

4. Takashimaya Vietnam: Located in the heart of District 1, Takashimaya is a Japanese department store that offers a vast selection of fashion, cosmetics, household items, and a food court with Japanese cuisine.

5. Bitexco Financial Tower: This skyscraper in District 1 is not only a sightseeing spot but also home to shopping destinations. The shopping complex inside the tower, known as the Saigon Skydeck, offers various shops, boutiques, and restaurants, all with stunning views of the city.

6. Dong Khoi Street: Situated in the city’s central business district, Dong Khoi Street is lined with trendy boutiques, art galleries, souvenir shops, and high-end fashion brands. It caters to shoppers looking for fashionable clothing and accessories.

Remember to check the operating hours and be prepared to navigate through busy streets and crowded markets while exploring these shopping places in Ho Chi Minh City.


Some common questions about visiting Ho Chi Minh City include:

1. Is Ho Chi Minh City safe for tourists?

Yes, Ho Chi Minh City is very safe. Violent crimes against foreigners are rare. Exercise normal precautions as petty theft can occur at crowded sites. Avoid scamming taxi drivers by booking official Vinasun cabs or ride shares like Grab.

2. Do they speak English in Ho Chi Minh City?

English proficiency is moderate. Hotel staff, tourism workers, and youths often know sufficient English for basic communication. Have addresses written in Vietnamese to help taxi drivers. Consider hiring tours guides when visiting complex attractions like the Cu Chi Tunnels for language help.

3. What currency or money should I use in Vietnam?

The currency is the Vietnamese dong (VND). Get local cash from ATMs or exchange places to pay for goods, taxis, food, etc. Major hotels and fancier shops accept credit cards but most outlets are cash only. Always carry small bills and coins for purchases like coffee or street food. US dollars are also widely accepted.


With an intoxicating energy, poignant history, vibrant culture scene, and mouthwatering cuisine, Ho Chi Minh City offers an unrivaled Southeast Asian travel experience. Follow these Ho Chi Minh City travel guide to fully capitalize on your adventures through this dynamic Vietnamese metropolis brimming with resilient spirit. From former Saigon’s colonial landmarks and war vestiges to bustling markets and lively nightlife quarters, visitors find endless fascination around every corner. Use this comprehensive first-timer’s guide to help craft your own extraordinary tales from this storied riverside city on the rise.