A brief history of Ho Chi Minh City

Ho Chi Minh City, also known as Sài Gòn/ Saigon, is located in Southern Vietnam. The city is named after Ho Chi Minh, a former Vietnamese President and founding father of the modern nation state. Ho Chi Minh was a revolutionary that believed in and fought for the independence of Vietnam from the French and Japanese. He was a key figure in the People's Army of Vietnam and the Viet Minh during the Vietnam War, which lasted from 1955 to 1975 culminating in the reunification of North and South Vietnam.

Ho Chi Minh City in a nutshell

The largest city in Vietnam, Ho Chi Minh City is also the economic engine of the nation, attracting both investors from abroad and enterprising Vietnamese from across the country. Ho Chi Minh City offers a rich culture, beautiful historic sites and mesmerising landmarks that truly capture the hearts of local and international visitors. Despite the history of almost a century of colonialism and brutal conflict. Ho Chi Minh City is emerging as a global tourism and economic destination.

At a glance, Ho Chi Minh City is a mishmash of huge boulevards built during the French Colonial Era and small winding 'hem's or alleyways alongside towering skyscrapers. The future has arrived, but the past and its cultural heritage is never dismissed.

Ho Chi Minh City has so much to offer. In the bustling city centre of Saigon, among its chaotic streets flowing with motorbikes, you will find:

  • luxury brands that graced the sidewalks
  • a wide range of accommodation from hostels to five-star hotels
  • ginormous shopping malls with stylish boutiques and coffee shops
  • a wide range of restaurants with cuisines from different parts of the world and lastly
  • the nightlife in Ho Chi Minh City
     

Where to stay in Ho Chi Minh City

A hotel in Saigon is fairly easy to find. It all depends on your budget and preference.

If you are in Ho Chi Minh City for just a short holiday, the best place to book your hotel is in District 1 which is the city centre. It is easy to find an affordable hotel that is close to many main attractions in the city. If you are on a tight budget, you need not stay in a hotel. Hostels are located all around Ho Chi Minh City, and they are very affordable! You can book a bunk bed in a dorm room for as low as US$6 a night by Bui Vien Street and Pham Ngu Lao area.

Bui Vien street
Bui Vien street @ Internet

If you are not up to the hustle and bustle of District 1, District 2 is the best location to book your hotel. The expat community tends to hang out here, and the shops and restaurants, pubs and boutique hotels cater to international tastes. Hotels here have a more laid-back and relaxing vibe.

Ho Chi Minh City is also home to the best hotels for experiencing luxury. If you are looking to splash out or celebrate a special occasion, booking a luxury hotel that offers five-star service and facilities is perfect. The top luxury hotels here are equipped with trendy hotel suites, rooftop infinity pools, and sky bars. Get ready to be treated like royalty.

How do I get to Ho Chi Minh City?

There are three main ways to enter Ho Chi Minh City through public transport: plane, train, and bus. You can, of course, drive a motorbike, but that's a different story. 

Tan Son Nhat Airport
Tan Son Nhat Airport @ Wikipedia

1. Airport

For travellers coming to Vietnam and have no time to waste, the best way to get to Ho Chi Minh City is to fly through Tan Son Nhat Airport. 

The airport has 2 terminals, a domestic terminal and an international terminal. Flights from nearby regions are usually affordable except during public holidays. 

Do be careful of airport taxi drivers who have been known to scam visitors, make sure to negotiate a rate or have them turn on the meter before your ride starts. It's advised to not take a motorcycle taxi parked outside the airport but instead use a ride-hailing app such as Grab or GoJek as a safer option.

 Inside a limousine bus
 Inside a limousine bus @ Internet

2. Bus

For those on a tighter budget, you can opt for a sleeper bus or a 'sleeper limousine' as they call it in Ho Chi Minh City from domestic regions in Vietnam or even neighbouring countries. 

If you can sleep easily while travelling on a bus, this will work really well for you. 

A single bed with a privacy curtain can be very comfortable unless you are a tall person!

Train in Vietnam
Train in Vietnam @ Internet

3. Train

If you fancy a romantic train journey, hop on the train that comes from North Vietnam to South Vietnam that passes through Ho Chi Minh City. 

A different way to travel, this slower mode offers a stunning view of the country. 

There are different kinds of tickets that you can book. You can purchase just a seat or a bed inside a cabin or even a private suite depending on your budget and liking.

Districts in Ho Chi Minh City

The city is divided into 26 districts, 19 inner-city and 5 suburban districts.

In the city center you will find District 1, this is where almost all of the tourist attractions are located including the famous Saigon Central Post Office and the Notre Dame Cathedral of Ho Chi Minh City. District 2, and in particular Thao Dien Ward, now part of Thu Duc City, is known as expat central. Thao Dien in District 2 is where many of the international schools are located, as well as trendy, foreigner-friendly restaurants and shops. District 3 is known for it's charming sidewalks and low-rise buildings, and is a hidden hipster gem for shopping and crafts. District 5 is where Cho Lon or Chinatown is located, where Chinese-Vietnamese have lived and worked for centuries. All districts have their own distinct flavour and appeal waiting to be explored!

Saigon view form above
Saigon view form above @ tuachanwatthana / Getty Images

Ho Chi Minh City weather

Ho Chi Minh City has 2 distinctive seasons which are the wet and the dry seasons.

Dry Season

Usually from December to April with a temperature of 33 degrees celsius combined with high humidity. If you are in Ho Chi Minh City then, remember to keep hydrated to avoid heatstroke and be mindful during midday when the sun is at its strongest.

Wet Season

The rainy season, also known as the monsoon season, lasts from May to November, where rain is expected to fall at least 150 days a year. The rain tends to fall heavily but does not last beyond a few hours. Like many places in Southeast Asia, Saigon experiences plenty of typhoons too.

A raining day in Saigon
A raining day in Saigon @ Thanh Nien Newspaper

Best time to visit Ho Chi Minh City

It is always a good time to visit Saigon as there is always something to do, see, eat, and experience. However, weather wise, the best time to visit is during the dry months of December to March, when the temperature is usually in the pleasant mid 20s (degrees celsius).

Travel Budget

For a low budget backpacker experience, prepare at least 600,000 VND per day.

For other travellers about 1,500,000v VND per day will allow for a comfortable and exciting experience.

Safety Tips in Saigon

Always mind your belongings! Ho Chi Minh city is well known for bag snatchers and pickpockets. Do not use your phone while walking on the street. Always pay attention to vehicles when outside. Lastly, do not drink the tap water (with or without boiling)!

Going around the city

Motorbikes and Scooters

These are the main modes of transportation in Ho Chi Minh. You can easily rent a motorbike or scooter from your hotel for about 120,000vnd per day. If you are not comfortable driving on your own, getting motorcycle taxis will be way more handy.

Miss Vietnam - H’Hen Niê rides motorbike on the street
Miss Vietnam - H’Hen Niê rides motorbike on the street @ Cong An Newspaper

Buses

There are also city buses that go around the city, do make sure that you pay attention to where you are going or you might end up in a different location.

Bus in Ho Chi Minh city
Bus in Ho Chi Minh city @ Internet

Cyclo

A unique way to see the city is to go around in a cyclo. It is a bicycle with 3 wheels where a Vietnamese local driver will drive you around to different attractions. This is an experience that you should never miss!

Tourists experience cyclo
Tourists experience cyclo @ Internet

Places to visit in Ho Chi Minh City

If it is your first time in the city, we recommend you read our 1-2 day travel itinerary with all the recommendations you need to get the best out of a short time here. There are definitely tonnes of places you need to explore. Ho Chi Minh City is both a dynamic and charming place, with a vibrant mix of old and new. Having a good itinerary is a good start if you don't want to miss the key features. 

Traveling to the past in Rue Catinat

Set foot to Dhong Khoi Street or also known as "Rue Catinat" during the French Colonial Era in Vietnam. During the early 20th Century it was the epitome of sophistication and elegance.

A corner at Rue Catinat
A corner at Rue Catinat @ Internet

Send a post in Saigon Central Post Office

Visit one of the city's famous sites with quaint architecture - the Saigon Central Post Office. It is still fully operational and is deemed to be the most beautiful post office in South East Asia. It was designed by French Architect Alfred Foulhoux.

Inside Saigon Central Post Office
Inside Saigon Central Post Office @ Andrey Khrobostov

Have a Taste of Religion in the Notre Dame Cathedral

The Notre Dame Cathedral, built by the French colonials, is one of the remaining strongholds of Catholicism in Vietnam. The Catholic Cathedral measures almost 60 meters in height, its distinctive neo-Romanesque features include the all-red brick facade which was imported from Marseille. In front of the Notre Dame Cathedral stands a Virgin Mary who was said to have shed tears in October 2005. Not too far away from the Saigon Notre Dame Cathedral, the Saigon Opera House seemed to echo with music of the times gone by.

Saigon Notre Dame Cathedral
Saigon Notre Dame Cathedral @ kazhiya / Getty Images

Reminders of war in War Remnants Museum

One of the attractions you should not miss visiting when in Saigon is the War Remnants Museum which is a revolutionary museum. Come here to pay respect and understand the painful history of the Indochinese War.

War Remnants Museum
War Remnants Museum @ Andrey Khrobostov

Visit the Reunification Palace

Not too far from the War Remnants Museum is the Reunification Palace, a place representative of Vietnam's complicated history, now converted into a museum. Formerly a seat of the French government, it was renamed after reunification; during the Vietnam War, a tank from the North Vietnamese Army crashed through its main gate, marking the North's advance into the city.

Reunification Palace
Reunification Palace @ CWLawrence / Getty Images Signature

Take photos at the Ho Chi Minh City Hall

Ho Chi Minh City Hall, officially named Ho Chi Minh City People's Committee Head Office, is an ornate yellow French-style building in front of Ho Chi Minh Square - a great place to take your holiday photos.

Ho Chi Minh City Hall
Ho Chi Minh City Hall @ Andrey Khrobostov

Explore the Cu Chi Tunnels

Who can forget the Cu Chi Tunnels? Located just outside central Saigon, the Cu Chi tunnels is where the Viet Minh troops hid and operated guerrilla attacks on American and Southern Vietnamese soldiers. Visiting Cu Chi is truly an extraordinary experience, you can even crawl through the tunnels.

Cu Chi Tunnels
Cu Chi Tunnels @ xuanhuongho / Getty Images

Have a glimpse of the future at Bitexco

Fast forward to the future, the Bitexco is an office tower with a futuristic design that is surely one of the most fascinating views not only in South Vietnam but all over the country.

Bitexco tower (on the left) at night @ efired 

Be on top of the world at Landmark 81

Landmark 81 is definitely worth visiting. It is the tallest building in the country which makes its Sky View Observation Deck the best place to have a birds-eye view of Ho Chi Minh City. Our advise is to just order something at the bars and restaurants in the tower to get the same view without paying an entrance fee.

Landmark 81
Landmark 81 @ David_Bokuchava / Getty Images

Side trip to Mekong Delta

Take advantage of your trip to Saigon and join a day tour to Mekong Delta to understand the rice bowl of Vietnam.

Mekong Delta
Mekong Delta @ Kamchatka

Jade Emperor Pagoda

If you are keen to explore a different side of Ho Chi Minh City, take a look at the Jade Emperor Pagoda. The temple has a gate with red Chinese characters and the pagoda is built in honor of the Supreme Taoist God. Come here to appreciate one of the oldest religious of the country.

Jade Emperor Pagoda
Jade Emperor Pagoda @ soiphotography

See the murals of Cao Dai Holy See Temple

A short distance from Ho Chi Minh City is Cao Dai See, a famous temple in Tay Ninh. Uniquely Vietnamese, Cao Dai is a syncretic, monotheistic religion that combines Buddhism, Christianity, Taoism, Confucianism, and Islam. 

Cao Dai Holy See Temple @ Internet

Ho Chi Minh City shopping scene

It's easy to get lost in the vast expanse of shopping opportunities that Ho Chi Minh City has to offer. Huge markets form the epicenter of Saigon's different districts and have become hubs of hustle and bustle. Shoppers can find anything, from fresh fruit & veg to tailor-made suits, even in a single market. 

Towering above the local markets, you can find commercial centers such as Landmark 81 which host street fashion stores and boutique brands galore. The only limit to your shopping experience is your appetite for spending money. Shopaholics beware!

Ben Thanh Market

To round up your trip and get some souvenirs, go to Ben Thanh Market. It is a famous shopping destination for both foreign and local tourists. Make sure to bring your bargaining skills! You're not sure what souvenirs to look out for, we have the perfect guide. 

Ben Thanh Market
Ben Thanh Market @ BeyondImages / Getty Images Signature

Binh Tay Market

Binh Tay Market is a local Vietnamese market located in the heart of Chinatown. It is the biggest market in Ho Chi Minh City. Within the chaotic Binh Tay market, visitors come to buy textiles, spices and street food.

Binh Tay Market
Binh Tay Market @ Internet

Shopping Malls

There are also massive shopping malls that you can visit. Vincom Center has shopping malls all over Ho Chi Minh. If you are looking for branded items, it is definitely the place to look.

Vincom Center
Vincom Center @ Internet

Food in Saigon

Looking for delicious food? You can find the best places for street food in Ho Chi Minh City. Vietnamese cuisine is a well-known cuisine all over the world with influences from the long Chinese occupation, the French colonial era, and modern tastes and techniques.

Ho Chi Minh City is a street food lovers paradise and one of a few places where you can eat like a king on a budget. The street vendors have mastered the art of turning easy-to find-ingredients into hurricanes of texture and flavour.

On the other hand, if you're looking to spend a little more, Saigon boasts some exceptional restaurants, full guide here. 

Below are a few of our favourites that are easy to find, but hard to forget!

Nem Bo Nuong Sa

When it comes to southern Vietnamese food nem bo nuong sa which is grilled beef with lemongrass is a must-try and can be found at Ho Thi Ky Streetfood Market.

Nem bo nuong sa
Nem bo nuong sa @ Internet

Banh Xeo

This sizzling Vietnamese pancake with either beef, pork, or seafood is very popular among the locals and tourists. It is paired with a peanut sauce and a fish sauce dip.

Banh Xeo
Banh xeo @Internet

Pho Bo

Possibly the most famous Vietnamese dish all over the world, pho bo is rice noodles made with beef. Originating from near Hanoi, it has many regional varieties - trying an authentic Saigonese version should definitely be on your list.

pho bo
Pho bo @ Максим Крысанов / Getty Images

Banh Cuon

This is a Vietnamese rolled noodle cake. The noodles are gently steamed and filled minced meat, this is usually sold for breakfast.

Banh cuon @ nikuyen / Getty Images

Chao

If you are feeling adventurous, look for a retro restaurant called 'Ve D Y Em' that sells 'chao trang' or porridge for 1,000vnd. Just porridge with toppings, it is absolutely delicious.

Chao long
Chao long @ Internet

Banh Mi

Within the busy busy streets of Pham Ngu Lao Ward in District 1, it is hard to miss the queues forming Mì Huỳnh Hoa, perhaps the best banh mi in town. Of course, there are plenty of other banh mi stalls across the city, so you can eat your fill.

Banh mi Huynh Hoa
Banh mi Huynh Hoa @ Internet

Xoi Man

If you are looking for an easy snack, grab some xoi man. It is sticky rice in banana leaf topped with soy sauce, scallions, fried shallots, ground peanuts, Chinese sausage and pork floss.

Xoi man
Xoi man @ Kenh14

Oc

Lastly, Vietnamese shellfish. You can choose from a variety of seafood and the stall owners will cook it for you while you sit in tiny stools by the road. Do not forget to enjoy a beer!

Different kinds of oc
Different kinds of oc @ Internet

If you're feeling adventurous you can even check out these 10 Vietnamese street food dishes that are perhaps more exotic than your usual pho and banh mi.

Ho Chi Minh City is bustling with life and energy on every corner. We hope you love the city as much as we do. Looking for something else to do? Check out fun things to do in Ho Chi Minh City this week.