Ho Chi Minh City used to be known as Saigon although this was officially changed after Ho Chi Minh unified Vietnam following the Vietnam War. As such, Ho Chi Minh City is a place that is steeped in some of the most important modern history in the world, and you will find references to this on every street corner. If you want to learn more about the period of reunification in Vietnam, then you can visit monuments, museums and spots used during the Vietnam War like the Cu Chi Tunnels, but you will also find a vibrant modern side to the city at the same time.
Despite its historic and cultural significance, Ho Chi Minh City is also one of the most dynamic spots in Vietnam, and you can see this through the cutting edge buildings and the exciting nightlife on offer here. If you want to sample some of the local delights, then the street food scene in the city is also one of the best in the country, and you can happily spend your days eating your way around Ho Chi Minh City, or join a dedicated food tour.
Here are the 25 best things to do in Ho Chi Minh City…
1. Try a bowl of pho
You can’t come to Ho Chi Minh City and not try pho which is a traditional Vietnamese noodle soup.
The soup is made with stock to which the noodles are then added and you can choose from a variety of toppings to customize the dish.
You can also choose from a number of different meats to add to your soup such as beef or pork.
If you want to try some of the best pho on the city then your best bet is to stop at one the many street food stalls that abound here.
If you are not sure where to start however, then you can try popular chains such as Pho 24 and Pho 2000.
Recommended food tour: Ho Chi Minh City Food by Night: Private Motorbike Tour
2. Visit the Giac Lam Pagoda
Giac Lam Pagoda has the claim to fame of being the oldest temple in Ho Chi Minh City and dates from 1744. T
he pagoda is set in a pretty garden and the name of the temple actually means ‘Feel the Woods Temple’. At the entrance of the temple you will find a graceful Bodhi tree which is sacred in Buddhism and was actually a present from a visiting monk from Sri Lanka in 1953.
You can walk around the grounds and admire the picturesque architecture here and take in the serene atmosphere at the same time.
3. Tour the War Remnants Museum
The War Remnants Museum is one of the most moving sights in Ho Chi Minh City and is dedicated to educating visitors about the atrocities of the Vietnam War.
This is one of the most popular museums in all of Vietnam and more than half a million visitors come here every year.
Some of the items on display include old military vehicles like Huey helicopters as well as attack bombers and M48 Patton tanks.
Inside you will also find personal memorabilia of victims of the war as well as old photographs.
Suggested tour: VIP City Highlights: War Remnants Museum & Ben Thanh Market
4. Take a Bonsai River Cruise
If you want to take in the city from the vantage point of the water, then head for a Bonsai River Cruise.
Here you will get the chance to join a boat ride that includes dinner and takes you back to the days of elegant cruise dining.
The boat is actually a traditional dragon boat that dates from the 19th century and they serve a buffet dinner complete with live music.
5. Visit the Central Office
A post office may not sound very exciting but the one in Ho Chi Minh City was designed by Gustave Eiffel, of Eiffel Tower fame.
The building is designed in the Gothic style and dates from 1886 and is still one of the most famous monuments in the city.
Make sure that you go inside, as you will find a huge domed roof and grand walls which are adorned with maps from the colonial period.
There is also a requisite portrait of Ho Chi Minh, the founding father of modern Vietnam.
6. Tour Reunification Palace
Reunification Palace was the former home of the president of South Vietnam during the Vietnam War.
The building is also steeped in history as this is also the spot where the North Vietnamese invaded in 1975 and Ho Chi Minh City surrendered.
The building looks much as it would have done in 1966 and you can take a free guided tour here which will fill you in on the cultural and historical significance of this monument to the Vietnam War.
7. Have a drink in Pham Ngu Lao Street
If you are looking for some nightlife in Ho Chi Minh City then you need to head for Pham Ngu Lao Street.
This is the central bar and cafe hub of the city and you will find a huge range of watering holes here if you fancy a cold drink at the end of a long day’s sightseeing.
Three of the most famous hotels in Ho Chi Minh City are located here in the form of the Rex, the Majestic and the Caravelle, and they all have rooftop bars with amazing vistas over the glittering city.
8. Grab a coffee in Tao Dan Park
Vietnam is known for its delicious coffee so it stands to reason that it has a strong cafe culture.
The signature brew here is known as ca phe sua da which is an iced coffee made of a dark roast which is mixed with condensed milk and served over ice.
One of the best places to try this is at Tan Tao Park and if you get there in the morning you can go for a walk and pick up a cup from a street stall.
9. Tour the History Museum
The History Museum is located in a beautiful botanical garden and dates from 1929. The museum would have started off as a French colonial villa which has now been turned into a museum and you will find artifacts here which date back 4,000 years.
Many of the pieces originate from the Bronze Age and there are also items from the Cham and Khmer kingdoms.
These include collections of weaponry as well as art pieces and gifts that would have been offered to Ho Chi Minh by visiting dignitaries.
10. Take a cooking class
Vietnam is famous for its delicious food and Ho Chi Minh City is no exception.
With that in mind, you can spend your time eating your way around the city, but if you want to know how to make some of the dishes yourself then you can also sign up for a cooking class.
You will find classes all over town, and many of these include a market tour so that you can learn all about the local ingredients used in Vietnamese cuisine.
Available class: 4-Course Hands-On Vietnamese Cooking Lesson in Small Group
11. Visit Notre Dame Cathedral
Notre Dame Cathedral was built from 1877 and 1883 and sits in the heart of the city.
The cathedral is designed in the neo-Romanesque style and you can check out the towers here which soar to a height of 40 meters and are topped with impressive iron spires.
The cathedral got its name from the Virgin Mary and the inside is covered in devotional tablets and pretty stained glass windows.
Staff are on hand during the week to explain all the history of the cathedral to visitors.
12. Travel to the Mekong Delta
The Mekong Delta is made up of 39,000 square kilometers of waterways and this is also one of the most densely populated parts of Vietnam.
The center of the Mekong Delta is around four hours away from Ho Chi Minh City, and many visitors choose to visit as part of an organized tour.
Here you will find floating markets as well as schools and homes and this is one of the most unique sights in all of Vietnam.
Suggested tour: Mekong Delta Small Group W/ Vinh Trang Pagoda & Rowing Boat
13. Crawl through the Cu Chi Tunnels
The main draw in Ho Chi Minh City is the Cu Chi Tunnels which would have been used by the Vietcong guerillas at the time of the Tet Offensive in 1968. The tunnels are made up of a series of underground chambers which stretch for 30 kilometers out of the city and you can now visit sections of the tunnels and crawl through the small spaces to experience the conditions of the Vietcong during the Vietnam War.
Note that this is not an ideal place to visit if you suffer from claustrophobia as the tunnels are very small indeed.
Recommended tour: Cu Chi Tunnels: Half-Day in Small Group
14. Admire the Cao Dai Temple
There are a number of Cao Dai temples in Vietnam although the one in Ho Chi Minh is said to be the most beautiful of its kind.
The temple took some 20 years to build and was finally completed in 1956. Inside you will find some ornate carved dragons but the real draw is the mix of religious statues here.
These include effigies of Christ, Brahman and Buddha, which reflect a range of faiths in one building.
15. Have breakfast at Binh Tay Market
Binh Tay Market is located in the Cholon district of Ho Chi Minh City and you will find a large clock tower here as well as a central courtyard.
The market was built in the 1880s during the colonial period and you can go for a walk and try out the food stalls here.
These include local dishes like noodle soups or you can just stop by for a coffee.
If possible, try to come early in the morning to take in the bustling atmosphere.
16. Scale the Bitexco Financial Tower
The Bitexco Financial Tower was designed by Carlos Zapata and is made up of 68 storeys.
The building soars to a height of 262 meters and is meant to have been designed to resemble a lotus bulb.
On the 48th floor you will find the Saigon Skydeck and you can come here around sunset to take in the stunning vistas over the city.
There is also a rooftop bar if you want to relax with a drink as you take in the scenery below you.
17. Eat at Banh Xeo 46A
If you want to try banh xeo when you are in Ho Chi Minh City then you need to head to Banh Xeo 46A. Here you will find a local dish named banh xeo which consists of Vietnamese rice flour pancakes which have been stuffed with a mixture of pork, prawns and bean sprouts.
You can also get vegetarian versions if you prefer, or you can also try some of the other local specialties on the menu.
If you are feeling hungry, make sure not to miss the goi cuon which are summer rolls stuffed with pork and prawns.
18. Admire the Phoc An Hoi Quan Pagoda
One of the prettiest pagodas in Ho Chi Minh City is the Phoc An Hoi Quan Pagoda which is a riot of color and comes in a range of red, gold, yellow and gold hues.
The temple dates from 1902 and is covered in brass ritual ornaments as well as antique weapons.
Also make sure that you check out the intricate woodcarvings around the altars, walls and columns, as well as the large and aromatic incense coils.
You will also find colorful hanging lanterns here and the walls are lined with ceramic tiles that tell the stories of local legends.
19. Tour the Ho Chi Minh City Museum
The Ho Chi Minh Museum was built in 1885, although at this time it would have been known as Gia Long Palace, and then as the Revolutionary Museum.
This is widely said to be the grandest building in the city and this is the place to come to learn all about the culture and history of Ho Chi Minh City.
Just some of the collections on show include ceramics, ancient maps of the city, and marriage costumes that belong to the various ethnic groups in Vietnam.
As you would expect, there are also galleries dedicated to the history of the Vietnam War.
20. Browse in Ben Thanh Market
Ben Thanh Market is located in the center of Ho Chi Minh City and is a great place to come to shop and eat.
On a visit to the market you will find a range of street food vendors selling local snacks, as well as a dry area where you can pick up some souvenirs.
You can also shop for items like local textiles and ceramics although bear in mind that haggling is expected so don’t be afraid to bargain hard.
Available tour: Ben Thanh Market Tour and Cooking Class
21. Visit the Jade Emperor Pagoda
The Jade Emperor Pagoda is dedicated to the Taoist god known as the King of Heaven or Ngoc Hoang.
As you would expect from the name, this is one of the fanciest temples in Ho Chi Minh City and you will find statues of deities here as well as large coils of smoking incense.
The walls are lined with elaborate woodcarvings and the roof is also a work of art in its own right.
If you look up, you will find rooftop statues which show scenes from Buddhist and Taoist legends.
22. Grab a sandwich at Banh Mi Huynh Hao
Banh mi is probably the most famous of all of Vietnam’s foodstuff as well as being one of the best loved sandwiches in the world.
Banh mi is made from crusty baguette which is then slicked with pate and then topped with chilies and coriander.
This hole in the wall joint is nothing fancy and there are no tables and chairs, but you will recognize it before you see it thanks to the long line of patrons queuing up for one of the best sandwiches in the city.
23. Admire Cha Tam Church
Cha Tam Church was built in the 19th century and is painted a beautiful caramel color on the outside.
If you venture into the church itself, you will find a plaque that marks the place where President Ngo Dinh Diem and his brother Ngo Dinh Nhu were seized in 1963 as they tried to flee from the presidential palace.
With that in mind, the church is stepped in Vietnamese history and is well worth a visit if you are in the area.
24. Giac Vien Pagoda
Giac Vien Pagoda is not the best known temple in Ho Chi Minh City, but it has also not been restored in the way that many others in the city have been, which means that it retains a lot of its traditional charm.
The temple is located near to the Dam Sen Lake and was founded in the 1700s.
Local legend claims that the Emperor Gia Long who died in 1819 used to worship here and this is a great place to get a glimpse of the Vietnam of old.
25. Explore the Fine Arts Museum
Located in a colonial style mansion, the Fine Arts Museum is a great place to come for anyone who is an art lover.
This charming museum features a range of Vietnamese art work that dates from the Bronze era all the way to the present day.
Just some of the galleries that you can enjoy here include pottery, ceramics, sculpture, and paintings, and you will even find an exhibition that is dedicated to displays of ancient weaponry.