Vietnam

Ho Chi Minh City Travel Guide (Saigon) – Vietnam

Vietnam is a wonderful and exciting country to explore, but there isn’t a more interesting city to  discover than Ho Chi Minh. It’s the central business and financial hub of Vietnam and has an interesting and complex history. From the French occupation, to the Vietnam war, and the last 50 years of peace, the city has grown bigger and brighter than ever.

Their travel slogan of Vietnam is “Timeless Charm” and one visit to Ho Chi Minh City will show you exactly why.

Here’s everything you need to know when visiting Ho Chi Minh City!

What to Expect When Arriving in Ho Chi Minh City?

Ho Chi Minh Airport (SGN)

The airport in Ho Chi Minh city is called Tan Son Nhat International Airport with the airport code of SGN. You can find it using any of those 3 names above.

When you arrive off the plane you’ll notice right away the employees lined up greeting you. You’ll find it’s the same as most international airports and you’ll be directed towards the immigration counters.

Vietnam Visa Information

From here, if you’re a part of the visa on arrival exemption list then you’ll be able to proceed through immigration directly. If you’re unsure if you’re a part of the exemption list, you can find out here.

If you’re not a part of the visa exemption list then you’ll have gotten your pre-approval visa letter already and you’ll need to get your visa sticker by approaching the Landing Visa Counter upon arrival. You can find a full detailed guide of the Visa Requirements for Vietnam here.

Mobile Data – SIM Card

After immigration grab your bags, then get a SIM card so you’ll have mobile data. To do this you’ll need to have an unlocked phone, but it’s extremely useful to have mobile data in Vietnam for directions and transportation. I suggest using the company Mobifone as it’s affordable and the coverage is good.

Mobifone has different packages, but you can get a 5GB package for a week for just under$10 which is perfect for a week-long trip. You can also compare prices with Viettel or Vinaphone which are also reputable cellular carriers.

Transportation

While you could take a taxi upon exiting the airport, I highly suggest that instead you download the Grab app which is very similar to Uber in Asia. Below is the Grab logo for you to search for in the Apple or Google Play store.

Grab Logo

While the taxis in Vietnam are still quite safe, we found it was difficult communicating effectively in English with them. Using Grab you wont have try to explain where you’re going as they will already have the location you entered into the Grab app. It’s the most convenient, safe,  and efficient way of getting around hte city.

You can also choose to rent a car as Vietnam does recognize international drivers licenses, however, based on alot of feedback this tends to be a very lengthy process. First to get the paperwork processed is one thing and then if you encounter any local law enforcement they often dont know the rules for international licenses. Often it’s much better just to rent a car with a driver so you can avoid the hassle and it’s still relatively affordable.

Vietnam’s primary form of transportation is motor bikes, so dont be shocked when you see that the motor bikes simply take over the roadways here as you can see in the video below.

What to do 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.

Reunification Palace

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.

Best Area To Stay in Ho Chi Minh City

If you’re heading to Vietnam for the first time, I highly suggest that you stay in the backpackers district which is called Pham Ngu Lao. This area is also considered the budget travel district since most of the hotels and the food in the area are very affordable.

For those looking for a more low-key time without the foreigners and the noise, then instead look around the Notre-Dame Cathedral or Ho Chi Minh City Hall instead. This area is a bit more upscale/classy and has quite a few nice hotels in renovated historic buildings and  the standard shiny new skyscrapers.

Cheap Ho Chi Minh City Hotels

If you’re like me – you just want a nice clean room, fresh sheets and towels, and free breakfast! In the backpackers district there are plenty of great hotels that match this description: cheap Ho Chi Minh City Hotels!

Here are a couple of my favorites all located around Pham Ngu Lao in District 1:

Dragon Palace Hotel

You’ll find there’s 3 different Dragon Palace hotel’s in the backpackers district and they’re all similar in style/price. Their rooms are simple with a clean bathroom, small desk and a queen size bed good for 2. You can also get bigger rooms with two beds as well. Includes free breakfast which has both local food options and basic eggs/toast/fruit.

Dragon Palace Hotel is my preferred hotel whenever I visit Vietnam! 

Price: USD $19 per night for 2
Click here to check current rates.

Castella Hotel

The Castella Hotel is located right in the backpacker’s district where the action can be found. The rooms aren’t spacious, but they are clean and  comfortable with a private bath.  Step right outside the hotel and there are plenty of places to eat and drink at.

Within a 15 minute walk to all of the popular attractions including the Opera House, Notre Dame Church, and City Hall.

Price: USD $15 per night for 2
Click here to check current rates.

Le Le Hotel

Perfectly located along Pham Ngu Lao street, the Le Le Hotel is extremely affordable and in perfect walking distance to everywhere in Ho Chi Minh that tourist will want to find. Unlimited cheap food and bars to one side, a beautiful park in front of it, and the historic buildings to the other side.

While the Le Le Hotel isn’t the newest building, it’s well maintained and the rooms are clean and comfortable. Don’t expect a fancy place, but it’s perfect for those on-the-go travelers looking for a cheap hotel with free breakfast while they’re bouncing around the city.

Price: USD $16 per night for 2
Click here to check current rates.

Luxury Hotels In Ho Chi Minh City 

All across Vietnam you can expect no shortage of beautiful fully serviced hotels and apartments available if you want the first class experience. From restored historic French buildings remodeled to new industrial style apartments, they’ve got something for everyone!

Here are a couple of my favorites across Ho Chi Minh City for luxury accommodations.

Sedona Suites Orchid Tower

Sedona Suites (Orchid Tower) is located just a block away from Saigon City Hall and  Opera house in one direction and the Ben Thanh market on the other side, it’s centrally located to all of the popular historic buildings in the city.

Enjoy their first class style accommodations with pearl white sheets, modern furniture, infinity edge pool, gym with boxing ring, library, bar/restaurant, and garden to make your romantic weekend in Ho Chi Minh a success!

Price: USD $212
Click here to check current rates.

Pullman Saigon Centre

Located at the heart of Ho Chi Minh city, you’ll love the playfully elegant design of the Pullman Saigon Centre hotel. Including free breakfast, wifi, gym, and a beautiful pool overlooking the city. This hotel is perfect for those who want to be next to the backpacker’s district, but still far enough away to escape the noise.

Price: USD $155
Click here to check current rates.

Norfolk Mansion – Serviced Apartments

The Norfolk Mansion’s serviced apartments is in a beautifully maintained building with wooden floors, high ceilings, and large spacious rooms. It offers studio, one-bedroom, and two-bedroom apartments with kitchens, dining rooms, and living room areas so you can enjoy the luxury of a full apartment even while traveling.

This is a great property especially if you’re traveling with a family as it has alot to offer kids as well. Facilities include a pool, gym, library, kids playground, sauna, hot tub and billiards table.

Price: USD $126
Click here to check current rates.

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