Best Things To Do in Ho Chi Minh

Ho Chi Minh City, also known as Saigon, is the most populous city in Vietnam and one of the most famous tourist destinations in the country. Here I tell you everything you can do in this place during your trip, to get to know the local idiosyncrasy and its rich millenary culture.

Matías Rodríguez

Matías Rodríguez

9 min read

Best Things To Do in Ho Chi Minh

Ho Chi Minh City (ex Saigon) |©Grissss

Vietnam is one of the most famous destinations in Southeast Asia and Ho Chi Minh City, also known as Saigon, is one of the most important cities in the country and therefore one of the most visited. Capital of South Vietnam during the war, it is now a major financial center, a haven of local cultural heritage and the setting for some very interesting attractions.

Touring the famous Cu Chi tunnels, visiting the Buddhist temple of Giam Lac, discovering the sweeping views of the city from the observation deck of the Bitexco Financial building, seeing the War Remnants Museum and touring the Reunification Palace are some of the best things to do in Ho Chi Minh City. I tell you more about each of them below.

1. Take a guided tour of the Cu Chi Tunnels

Cu Chi Tunnels Ho Chi Minh Vietnam|©Mel Carson
Cu Chi Tunnels Ho Chi Minh Vietnam|©Mel Carson

If you want to live one of the best experiences Ho Chi Minh has to offer, you can't miss a visit to the Cu Chi Tunnels. These intricate subterranean passages retrace the vibrant and complex history of the Vietnam War, which kept the region on edge between 1955 and 1975.

Located on the outskirts of Ho Chi Minh City, these tunnels played a crucial role in the Viet Cong's resistance strategy during the conflict. Constructed by hand with amazing skill, the tunnels allowed North Vietnamese guerrillas to move stealthily underground, surprise U.S. forces and gain safe haven.

The Cu Chi Tunnels guided tour, often included among the best Ho Chi Minh tours, is an immersive experience that will take you back to the days of the war. Expert local guides will tell you fascinating stories about the construction and use of these passageways. In addition, on these tours you can also explore the trenches, bunkers and secret hideouts that demonstrate the tactical cunning used by the Viet Cong.

The Cu Chi tunnels are physical testimonies to the tenacity and creativity of those who built them. On the tour, you will learn how the guerrillas lived, supplied themselves and communicated in these narrow subway galleries and, if you dare, you can descend into the depths to experience it firsthand.

Join a tour of the Cu Chi Tunnels

2. Visit the Giac Lam Buddhist temple

Giac Lam Pagoda|©captbruiser
Giac Lam Pagoda|©captbruiser

Vietnam is considered one of the countries with the largest number of Buddhist faithful and that means that all cities have a large number of religious buildings. Ho Chi Minh City is no exception and in this site you can visit Giam Lam, a Buddhist temple that, in addition to being catalogued as an architectural jewel, provides testimony of the rich Vietnamese cultural heritage.

Founded in the 18th century, the temple has withstood the passage of time and historical vicissitudes to become one of the most revered places of worship in the region. Its name, Giac Lam, means "Virtuous Adornments," reflecting the essence of the Buddhist practice that flourishes in this precinct. During your visit you will be struck by the pagoda, with its intricate carvings and ornaments that replicate sacred stories.

Also, at the heart of the temple, the statue of Maitreya, the Buddha of the Future, presides over the prayer hall. During the tour you can also access the gardens surrounding the temple, which offer a haven of meditation in an environment of serenity difficult to find in other corners of chaotic Ho Chi Minh City.

Note also that the history of Giac Lam is intertwined with the evolution of Buddhism in Vietnam. Over the centuries, it has witnessed the devotion of generations of monks and worshippers who have contributed to preserving and enriching the spirituality of the place, which is why this temple is considered the epicenter of Buddhism in the country.

3. Contemplate the panoramic views of the city from the observation deck of the Bitexco Financial Tower

THE BITEXCO FINANCIAL TOWER|©manhhai
THE BITEXCO FINANCIAL TOWER|©manhhai

Hi Chi Minh City, formerly known as Saigon, is a millenary city, but since the 1970s it experienced a financial explosion that led it to merge its traditions with the winds of change of modernity. One of these changes was manifested in the construction of a large number of skyscrapers, which offer panoramic viewpoints. Bitexco Financial Tower is one of them, and is worth a visit for the best views of the city.

This iconic tower has a total height of 262 meters and offers an observation deck from which it is possible to discover the entire spectrum of the Vietnamese metropolis. During your visit, you can also take a glassed-in elevator that will show you the first sweeping views of this unique destination.

From the observation deck you will see how the skyscrapers intertwine with the bustling local markets and how the avenues are completely surrounded by lush greenery. The Saigon River, meandering between the buildings, enhances the architectural and cultural richness of Ho Chi Minh City that you can discover from a bird's eye view.

Also, visiting the Bitexco Financial Tower observation deck is one of the best things to do at sunset in Ho Chi Minh City, so you can combine the orange colors of the sunset with some of the city's historical monuments that stand out on the horizon, such as the Notre-Dame Cathedral and the Reunification Palace.

Buy tickets for the Bitexco Financial Tower observation deck

4. Take a motorcycle tour of Ho Chi Minh City

people on motorcycle|©mondereise
people on motorcycle|©mondereise

If you want to see the true profile of Hi Chi Minh, you can't miss embarking on a motorcycle tour through the bustling streets of the city. These tours, which are part of the best excursions in this destination, will allow you to discover the vibrant and chaotic pulse of Vietnamese urban life.

Motorcycle tours allow you to explore a variety of the city's iconic sites and hidden secrets. From local street markets, such as Ben Thanh Market, to alleyways lined with small food stalls, you'll find alternatives to dive into local idiosyncrasies.

The route of these tours usually includes stops at Notre-Dame Cathedral and the Reunification Palace, where an expert local guide will share fascinating stories about the city's past. In addition, motorcycle tours will give you the opportunity to venture into local neighborhoods, experiencing the authenticity of Vietnamese life and enjoying the hospitality of the people.

Join a motorcycle tour

5. Visit the War Remnants Museum

War Remnants Museum, Saigon, Vietnam|©VD
War Remnants Museum, Saigon, Vietnam|©VD

The Vietnam War was the sad showcase that put the country in all the world's media and is also one of the reasons tourists find to visit this destination. Therefore, touring the War Remnants Museum, which houses the most famous exhibition of this theme, is an irreplaceable plan for any traveler who plans to visit Ho Chi Minh City.

This museum contains a collection of military remnants, photographs and exhibits that narrate the horrors and aftermath of the Vietnam War. The exhibit is presented as a moving testament to the resilience of the Vietnamese civilian people in the face of the challenges of war.

In its galleries you will encounter shocking elements, such as a vast collection of weapons used during the conflict and the famous "Agent Orange Room," which documents the devastating effects on the population and the environment of the herbicide that was used to fumigate the rice fields. Exhibits detail history from multiple perspectives, presenting the reality of the war through documents and testimonies of those who lived through it.

The confluence of authenticity, sensitivity and historical awareness makes this museum a must-see for those who wish to understand the complexity and humanity that lie behind historical events.

6. Take a ride on a dinner cruise in Ho Chi Minh City.

Cruise ships|©roullix
Cruise ships|©roullix

One of the best things to do in Ho Chi Minh City is to take a dinner cruise on the Saigon River. These evening tours will not only take you on a leisurely stroll along the meandering waters of the river, but will also allow you to discover some of the rich gastronomy of the region.

The cruise will sail under lighted bridges and in front of illuminated skyscrapers, and in the meantime you can enjoy a typical Vietnamese dinner. Traditional dishes such as pho, banh mi, and spring rolls are just some of the delicacies usually served on board, allowing you to savor the authenticity and diversity of the local cuisine.

In addition, the cruise usually also includes musical performances during the itinerary, which will take you over the Nguyen Van Tam Bridge and Ben Thanh Wharf. If you plan to visit Ho Chi Minh in winter, which is the city's dry season, you can opt to discover the scenic views from the ship's deck.

7. Tour the Ben Thanh flea market

Ben Thanh Market|©Hiro_ A
Ben Thanh Market|©Hiro_ A

There is no way to experience Ho Chi Minh City without visiting Ben Thanh. This market, with its vibrant energy and dazzling phosphorescent colors, stands as one of the city's most popular and iconic sites. Located in the heart of District 1, Ben Thanh is a melting pot of Vietnamese culture, commerce and authenticity.

A visit to Ben Thanh is a multi-sensory experience that will immerse you in the fast pace of local life. During the visit, which is often included in the best Ho Chi Minh City tours, you can explore the aisles lined with food stalls, clothing, handicrafts and local products that will bring you closer to a variety of offerings. From aromatic spices to handmade fabrics, every corner of the market will be a sample of the Viennese essence.

In addition, at Ben Thanh market you can bargain with vendors' prices, a widespread local custom, so you can buy many items at bar gain prices. Apart from shopping, the market is also a popular gastronomic destination due to the large number of food stalls.

8. Get to know the Reunification Palace

Reunification Palace|©elimoqi
Reunification Palace|©elimoqi

The Reunification Palace, an architectural monument that has witnessed and starred in Vietnam's rich history, was built in 1966 and is a reflection of mid-20th century modern architecture, with clean lines and a design that fuses functionality with grandeur. Its distinctive butterfly-wing shape and expansive gardens evoke elegance, despite its tumultuous significance.

This palace is intrinsically linked to Vietnam's past, being the scene of crucial events that led to the country's reunification. It was here that, in 1975, a Viet Cong tank burst through its gates, marking the end of the Vietnam War and the unification of the country. The building, formerly known as the Independence Palace, was renamed to symbolize national unity.

During the visit, you will have the opportunity to tour the historic halls, presidential offices and conference room, where key decisions for the fate of Vietnam were made. You will also learn about the history of one of the most iconic photographs of the 20th century, which was taken by Dutch photographer Hugh Van Es and bears witness to the flight of the United States in the face of the imminent fall of Saigon.

9. Visit the Hindu temple Mariamman

Mariamman Hindu Temple|©Alan Samuel
Mariamman Hindu Temple|©Alan Samuel

One of the best ways to dive into Ho Chi Minh City's cultural richness is to visit the Mariamman Temple, an architectural gem that stands as the only Hindu temple in the city. This sacred site, built in the 19th century, is a living testimony to the religious diversity that has flourished in Vietnam ever since.

This temple stands out for its architecture, which combines vibrant colors and intricate sculptures that pay homage to the Hindu deity Mariamman, the goddess of rain. It also marks the meeting point of the Hindu community, which is mainly composed of Tamil immigrants, and despite being a religious minority in Vietnam, has maintained its cultural and spiritual importance over the years.

If you want to visit other Hindu temples you should opt for some of the full-day tours from Ho Chi Minh City and visit other nearby cities, such as Di An and Thuan An.

10. Participate in a gastronomic tour along Ben Nghe Street.

Kênh Bến Nghé Street|©caophi
Kênh Bến Nghé Street|©caophi

If you want to get to know one of the best facets of Ho Chi Minh City, which is culinary, you can't miss exploring Ben Nghe Street through a gastronomic tour. This lively street is a culinary paradise offering a variety of typical dishes. By participating in these tours, you will have the opportunity to discover the essence of Vietnamese culture.

One of the delicacies you cannot miss is the bánh mì, a sandwich that fuses French and Vietnamese influences. This preparation consists of a baguette stuffed with ingredients such as roast beef, coriander, pickled carrots and mayonnaise.

Another emblematic dish you can try on Ben Nghe Street is pho, a noodle soup that has become an icon of Vietnamese cuisine. Prepared with beef or chicken bone broth, rice noodles, fresh herbs and slices of meat, pho is one of the country's most traditional preparations.

For those looking for something more adventurous, bánh xèo are an intriguing choice. These crispy rice pancakes, filled with shrimp, pork, bean sprouts and fresh herbs, offer a perfect combination of textures and flavors. In addition, beyond the tastings, you can also marvel at the local ambiance of this street, which is a favorite of locals and a place where they mingle with tourists.

Join a gastronomic tour