Ho Chi Minh City (or Saigon if you still want to use the old name) is Vietnam’s largest and most chaotic city.
I love the chaos here. It’s a city with a billion things happening at once. Motorbikes, bicycles, cars, and rickshaws go wherever and whenever they please, and lots of street stands and market spill into the traffic lanes.
The city has a lot to offer: wonderful shops, fantastic nightlife, and delicious food. After Hoi An, it is my second favorite city in Vietnam.
Additionally, you’ll find some interesting (and propagandaish museums like the War Remnants Museum and the Cu Chi Tunnels.
This travel guide to Ho Chi Minh will give you the best places to visit.
1. Get lost in Chinatown
Chinatown is a hive of activity and a maze of temples, restaurants, jade ornaments, and medicine shops. Aside from the sprawling Binh Tay Market, you’ll find some fascinating temples in the area including the Chinese Chua Quan Am Temple and Cha Tam, a Catholic cathedral.
2. Admire the Notre Dame Cathedral
The Notre Dame Cathedral is an imposing red brick building built between 1877 and 1883. The two towers in the front of the cathedral rise above visitors at nearly 58 meters tall while the neon-lit statue of the Virgin Mary is also an intriguing sight.
3. See the Emperor Jade Pagoda
This temple was built in 1909 to honor the supreme Taoist god, Emperor Jade. It’s one of the most impressive pagodas in Vietnam. The building is filled with intricate woodcarvings and statues of divinities and heroes, including Emperor Jade himself. The roof is also covered in detailed tile work showing characters from Buddhist and Taoist legends.
4. Shop at the Ben Thanh Market
Though this market in District 1 is crowded and rife with pickpockets, it is the ideal place to pick up some handicrafts or bargain souvenirs, or to try some traditional (and inexpensive) Vietnamese food. It’s the largest market in Vietnam, so get lost in the chaos and enjoy it all.
5. Escape to Can Gio Island
The Can Gio Island is popular with tourists and locals looking to escape the chaos of the city. The beaches here aren’t mind-blowing like they are in Thailand but it’s a cool place to relax and one of Vietnam’s better islands. The island’s monkey sanctuary and mangroves are great for wildlife fans. It’s about a two-hour drive to get there and you can take the #75 bus from 23/9 Park.
6. Unwind in Twenty-Three September Park
In the early morning and just after the work day is done, this park is packed with people exercising and playing games. Watch a Tai Chi class, play a game of badminton, or chat with one of the many students who hang out in the area.
7. Visit Ba Thien Hau Temple
Located in Chinatown, the Ba Thien Hau Temple is a Buddhist temple that was built in 1706 for the Chinese sea goddess, Mazu. It’s believed she flies around on a cloud or a mat, rescuing people at sea. The outside of the temple doesn’t look like much but the inside is filled with porcelain figures, and the roof is covered in colorful dioramas.
8. Take a cooking class
There are many, many cooking classes in Ho Chi Minh City. You can easily shop around. I recommend Saigon Cooking Class by Hoa Tuc because it is led by chefs that love combining classic and contemporary Vietnamese dishes. You can even combine your cooking class with a market tour. Tours here start from 909,000 VND ($39.50 USD), but you can find them for cheaper elsewhere.
9. Take a food tour
If you would rather not get hands on with your food, take a tour through Ho Chi Minh’s best foodie neighborhoods. With Street Food Adventure Tours you will safely try lots of street food, including everything from rice vermicelli with BBQ pork to coconut juice and Vietnamese coffee (and more!). Tours are typically around 818, 825 VND ($35 USD).
10. Catch a show at the Opera House
The Opera House in Ho Chi Minh City is one of the best-preserved examples of French colonial architecture in the country. It was built in 1897 for the opera but now also hosts lots of different performances, including ballet and Vietnamese traditional dances and plays. Check the website to see what’s on during your visit.