Saigon – which is actually officially called Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC) – is the largest of Vietnam’s cities (based on population). Hundreds of years in the making, this fascinating, and scooter-packed city has many things to offer the millions of visitors it receives every year.
It’s certainly not an easy task, but we’ve rounded up TEN of the very best things to do in Saigon…
Well, officially, the city is referred to as Ho Chi Minh City, but nearly all the locals (especially in the south) use its old name Saigon, and even the airport still uses SGN as its code. We’re going with Saigon baby!
Head to the Bitexco Financial Tower (and Saigon Skydeck)
The tallest building in the city from 2010 until 2017 (when it was upstaged by the gleaming new Landmark Tower), the stunning 68 floor Bitexco Financial Tower is highly recommended – in particular, the Saigon Skydeck on the 49th floor (with 360 degree panoramas) has been ranked as one of the top ten places to visit in Saigon by the Department of Tourism.
The amazing looking helipad on the 52nd floor makes this building stand out on the Saigon skyline, but it’s those panoramic views you’ll be going for!
Open 7 days a week between 9:30am and 9:30pm, the Saigon Skydeck offers incredible views across the city. The Bitexco Towers also offer an incredible shopping experience for its visitors, with several floors of shops, bars and restaurants.
Marvel at the Cathedral of Notre Dame
Officially known as the Cathedral Basilica of Our Lady of The Immaculate Conception, this Saigon landmark is a 150-year-old church built by French Colonists in the 1860s and consecrated in 1880.
Visitors to this landmark church can see (if you can get past the unfortunate scaffolding currently in place) 56 windows depicting characters and events from the bible. Of these windows, two are original and date from the building period in the 1860s. The 1200-person capacity church also features a historical organ with over 7000 pipes.
Entry is free, and visitors are welcome to join masses at the weekend.
How to get there
Get reflective at the War Remnants Museum
In my humble opinion, the War Remnants Museum is an absolute must if you’re looking for things to do in Saigon that will give you an insight into the psyche of the Vietnamese people.
Formerly known as the Museum of Chinese and American War Crimes, this museum receives over half a million visitors per year. Its focus is on the preservation and displays of artifacts, documents, photographs, and film reels. Just be aware that some of the images are very very powerful, and also pretty stomach-churning.
On display outside the museum are various US military vehicles, including a Chinook helicopter, Cessna lightweight bomber, and M41 and M48 tanks; further displays include an original French guillotine, used in many executions of Vietnamese. The museum is open seven days a week (but try and understand the opening hours on the official website!) and costs 40k Vietnamese Dong to enter.
Take in some history at Independence Palace (Reunification Palace)
After the French invasion and occupation of Vietnam in the mid-1800s, Norodom Palace was built in an attempt to consolidate the newly established colony. Used by the French Governor of Cochinchina, it became referred to as The Governor’s Palace.
During the Vietnam War, the palace was bombed, and a large section destroyed. Prime Minister Diem ordered the palace to be demolished, and soon after work began on the building we see today. It is now home to several exhibitions about the history of the palace and also hosts exterior displays of military hardware from the Vietnam War.
For those of you who remember/are interested, the palace was also the site of the end of the Vietnam War during the Fall of Saigon on 30 April 1975.
Opening hours are 07:30 to 11:00 and then from 13:00 to 16:00 daily. Ticket prices range between 10k and 40k Vietnamese Dong.
Check out the architecture at the Central Post Office
Located just across the road from the Cathedral of Notre Dame (see above), the Central Post Office is well worth a visit, especially for those with an interest in architecture with Gothic, Renaissance and French influences.
The interior is resplendent with many original features including two painted murals, maps that were created soon after the building was completed in 1891.
You can also use the old-school glue pots to stick stamps on letters and postcards (remember them?!), and apparently, there is a legendary old fella who writes letters for those who can’t, in French and English. Try and catch him if you can, he charges 50 cents a page.
How to get there
Explore the history of the FITO Museum (Museum of Traditional Vietnamese Medicine)
This might be a surprise for some Saigon die-hards, but I particularly liked this cute little museum. It might be because I got in late and there was hardly anyone there, but yes, add it to the things to do in Saigon wishlist!
The FITO Museum is actually privately owned and operated with displays on information about the history of traditional medicine in Vietnam. There are approximately 3000 items on show, ranging from the stone age to the last hundred years. Watch out for the huge jars of snake wine!
The museum is open seven days a week between 8:30am and 5:30pm. Cost for entry ranges from £1.80 / $2.50 for Children and £3.60 to $5.00 for adults.
Haggle like a pro in Ben Thanh Market
Benh Thanh market has been around since market stalls were first setup in the 1700s, with new buildings added by the French in 1859.
Definitely one of Saigon’s must dos, Ben Thanh Market is located in central Saigon, in the heart of District 1, and is extremely popular with tourists who can try out their haggling skills – and haggle hard, the merchants will be expecting it!
Expect to find local crafts, textiles, souvenirs and even “ao dai” the traditional silk garments commonly worn by Vietnamese women on special occasions. You can also experience an array of traditional food dishes in the food section.
Be aware that the market closes in the evening, but as soon as they shut up shop, a new night market springs up outside!
How to get there
Take in a Water Puppet Show
If you’re looking to taste some true Vietnamese culture, try a water puppet show!
Vietnamese water puppetry dates back to the 11th century, originating in the villages along the Red River Delta in Northern Vietnam. When the rice fields flooded and there was nothing to do, villagers put on the shows to entertain the other villagers.
The most famous of the water puppeteers is the Ho Chi Minh City Puppet Company, who gained international attention in the 1990s.
Currently, there are two locations where you can catch a puppet show: twice a night at the Golden Dragon Water Puppetry Theater (click here for directions) and once every Saturday night at Villa Song Saigon (at the Ngon Vietnamese Restaurant on Nguyen Van Huong in District 2).
Sample Saigon’s amazing food with a Food Tour
Getting familiar with Saigon’s amazing street food isn’t an easy task for most tourists. Other than the Banh Mi and perhaps some Banh Xeo, many of us stick to what we know and our stomachs will definitely trust!
But with a Saigon Street Food Tour, you really do get to explore some of Saigon’s hidden foodie gems, and trust us, there are plenty of them. We took a tour on our last visit – read our full review, and be prepared to get hungry!
Take a stroll on Nguyen Hue Street
The legendary Nguyen Hue street in District 1 makes the cut for our Top 10 list of things to do in Saigon!
This broad pedestrian promenade is great by day, with some beautiful buildings flanking it (including the colonial city hall at one end accompanied by the much-photoed statue of Uncle Ho, and the not so beautiful but very quirky and cool block of apartments known as Apartment 42). But it’s at night when this promenade comes to life, with the locals flocking here in their Sunday best EVERY night of the week (meaning many beautiful ladies dressed up in their Ao Dai traditional dresses).
Definitely worth a visit, and highly recommended at night. Just be aware that if Vietnam wins a football match that night, things here are going to get pretty damned crazy (as in other parts of Saigon)!
And here are some of the sites that almost almost almost made it to our things to do in Saigon checklist:
|Constructed by the French colonists in the late 1800s, Binh Tay Market is located in the heart of Vietnam’s Chinatown District. The market is known for mainly serving the local community with an extensive range of fruit, veg, meat and seafood that comes from across Vietnam.
|If you’re after a good night out, head to the Bui Vien Walking Street in District 1. Renowned for plenty of beer, massage parlors, and loud music, this is about as far as you can get from the real Vietnam. Hugely popular with locals and tourists, it’s definitely one to consider if you need a Western fix.
|With many a majestic pagoda to enjoy in Saigon, you’re spoilt for choice! However, the Ba Thien Hau Temple in Chinatown is probably the finest in my opinion. Free to enter, you can make a small donation and get to hang up one of those spiral incense burners way above your head.