Vietnam’s tourist slogan is “Timeless Charm” and walking around the city you’ll quickly realize why. You’ll see sights ranging from beautiful French architecture to modern architectural marvels along with the occasional old abandoned buildings artistically remodeled into wonderful multi-purpose spaces.
While Hanoi is the capital of Vietnam, Ho Chi Minh city is the largest city and the central business district for the country. You may know of the somber history of Vietnam’s past, but upon arriving you’ll realize the Vietnamese people built back a strong and vibrant country full of art, history, architecture, food and entertainment.
If you’re new to Ho Chi Minh city, I suggest that you stay within District 1 either near the Saigon Opera House or in the Backpacker district of Pham Ngu Lao. While one offers class, the other one offers affordability, but both are within walking distance to all of the popular activities that the city has to offer. You can check our full guide on where to stay in Ho Chi Min here.
Below you’ll find a guide to our favorite must-see places in Ho Chi Minh City.
Saigon Notre Dame Cathedral
In the center of a wide roundabout in District 1 you’ll find the beautiful Saigon Notre Dame Cathedral . Built in the late 1880’s by the French colonists that settled in whats now called Ho Chi Minh city, it’s one of the few remaining Catholic churches left in the primarily Buddhist country.
The name “Notre Dame” was given later in 1959 after the installation of the “Peaceful Notre Dame” statue. You’ll also find the beautiful Virgin Mary statue which was said to have shed tears back in 2005 (although this is widely believed to be a rumor) and many flock to it hoping to see it happen again.
Saigon Opera House
One of the most elegant buildings in District 1 nearby to the Notre Dame Cathedral is the Saigon Opera House. Built in 1897, this opera house is 3 stories tall and has 800 total seats decorated in hardwood floors and red velvet seats. You’ll find an arrangement of different shows from opera, ballet, musical concerts, musicals and plays as well.
You can check the shows playing just outside on sign boards as well as take a peak inside of the large polished archway.
People’s Committee Building Saigon
One of the cities most iconic landmarks at the end of the Nguyen Hue walking promenade is the People’s Committee Building. A beautifully preserved French architectural style building constructed as a hotel in 1898 now serves as the city hall of Ho Chi Minh.
Enjoy the wonderful promenade full of landscaped gardens, the statue of Ho Chi Minh in front, and at night it’s lit up with LED lights to give it a modern flip. You’ll find the Rex Hotel just next door with a rooftop bar if you’re visiting at night it has a great view of the city around.
At the heart of Ho Chi Minh city just after the Notre Dame Theater you’ll find a long park leading you to the Reunification Palace. The Palace was the home and offices of the French Governor prior to the Vietnam War.
This was also the original base of the Vietnamese General Ngo Dinh Diem until his death in 1963. It also was the official location of the end of the Vietnam War as a tank from the North Vietnam army crashed through it’s main gates.
The palace is open to the public and is almost frozen in time with the original tanks still on the grounds as well as lush gardens, antique furniture, secret rooms, and is use for important occasions including the APEC summit.
War Remnants Museum
The War Remnants Museum first opened in 1975 in Ho Chi Minh city as is known as the “Museum of American War Crimes” as a reminder of the devastating Vietnam War. Outside you’ll find fighter planes, tanks, cannons, rocket launchers, and other vehicles/aircraft left after the war.
Inside you’ll find informational signs, graphics, photographs, and drawings from the time of the war. While the museum may seem very one-sided against the Americans, it’s goal was to remind the world of the terribly devastating effects of chemical wars in the hope that it’ll never happen again.
Ben Than Market
District 1 is quite large and it houses all of the restored French architecture buildings on one side and then the backpacker’s area on the other side. As you walk in between both areas you’ll go right past the Ben Thanh Market which is a perfect place to pick up some local gifts, artwork, clothing, and many other souvenirs.
You’ll also find different local food inside including barbecues, wok-fried noodles, shakes, Vietnamese coffee, and much more. If you’re looking for affordable gifts to take home, this is definitely the place.
At night-time you’ll find a night-market opens on the street where you can find lots of vendors selling street food so you can experience the local life.
Ho Chi Minh Central Post Office
Overlooking the Notre Dame Cathedral is the Central Post Office of Ho Chi Minh city which is one of the grandest of all post offices in the world. With it’s French style architecture with arched windows and shuttered windows, it’s been standing since the 1890’s and looks as perfect as ever!
While it still acts as a post office, inside it’s filled with vendors selling goods and seems more like a shopping center than a post office these days. You can still see it’s teller booths and old telephone boxes on the sides as well as a painting of Ho Chi Minh hanging at the far end.
Pham Ngu Lao Street (Backpackers Street)
While most of the sights across Ho Chi Minh City are old historic locations, you cant forget to toss a little fun into the mix as well. Pham Ngu Lao street is considered the backpack district and is more than just a street but rather a whole area full of narrow streets and alleys packed with cheap hotels, restaurants, stores, and bars.
If you’re traveling on a budget, this is the place to stay in a cheap (but nice) hotel and eat local affordable food.
At night, Pham Ngu Lao street lights up like Vegas and this is where you can find some of the most rowdy night life in the city. You’ll find every sort of entertainment/lively bar imaginable from rooftop bars, to saloons, lounge singers to dance clubs. If you just want to drink cheap beer with friends, the sidewalks itself fill up with street vendors where you can buy a beer and sit on the sidewalk and drink the night away.
It’s very common on Pham Ngu Lao and the surrounding streets to find there’s a majority of foreigners/expats who are typically happy to share a drink and their travel tips of their exploration of the city.
Vietnam Travel Guide
Checkout our full guide to Vietnam and Ho Chi Minh City here.