The PERFECT Ho Chi Minh City Itinerary in 2 Days for FIRST-TIMERS in 2024!

Hello! Welcome to the sunny metropolis of Vietnam – Ho Chi Minh City, otherwise known as Saigon before 1975!

You don’t have much time. Yet, there’s so much to do and see. How can you make the most of your one to two days in this vivid city?

Our ideal Ho Chi Minh itinerary in 2 days is here to make sure you smash all the best things to do in this monster of a city in South Vietnam. 

See how awesome Saigon is with our detailed 2 days virtual itinerary

Let VietnamIsAwesome show you the best things to do in Ho Chi Minh City in 2 days. We’ll be realistic in our virtual itinerary here. You’ll need two full days, morning until evening. This itinerary stretches from around 06.30 on Day 1 to around 23.00 on Day 2.

You’ll be able to do almost everything within the two days that are a must-try in Ho Chi Minh City. The time is tight, and you may have to choose between places. You’ll see a fair amount of what is on offer in Ho Chi Minh City.

You’ll be tired, yet euphoric. You feel energized yet a bit exhausted. You’ll want to come back for more. Ho Chi Minh City is one of the most vibrant and energetic cities in Southeast Asia.

Don’t worry though. The South Vietnamese are friendly and helpful people. They’ll guide you through their city.

Day 1 – A Vibrant Day of Culture, History, and Nightlife

Let’s mix this up as a range of sites to be seen and activities to do throughout the day. Times are included as a guide but not strict. You can customize your own itinerary. This is generally based on our experience when acting as a tour guide for family and friends.

culture of vietnam
People come to fly kites at the end of the afternoon. Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, February 11, 2020. Photography by Adrien Jean / Hans Lucas.

1. Kick off your day with local breakfast and coffee – from 06.30 to 07.00

Kick off the day with a delightful wake-me-up cafe sua da (local iced coffee) and some local breakfast.

There are plenty of Vietnamese coffee houses around offering takeaway coffee. You can get coffee at some breakfast places and street food stalls as well. Don’t like coffee? Try tra da, or iced tea. Refreshing and delicious in the early morning.

There are breakfast options aplenty in Ho Chi Minh City. The banh mi is a solid Vietnamese baguette. You can get the mixed meat, fried egg, or vegetarian options. Locals like to eat sticky rice cakes for breakfast as well. Pho noodle soup is a breakfast item on the menu throughout all of Vietnam.

Eat something good and filling, and wake up with a coffee or tea in this fascinating city. There’s a busy day ahead.

ho chi minh city's cho lon
Saigon Local Food / Photo by VIA Ambassador Van Nguyen (odaucungchup)

2. Visit Cu Chi Tunnels – from 07.30 to 14.00

We recommend this as a first stop, purely because it is one of the main tourist attractions here. It is also a half-day trip. You are best advised to book this trip before you arrive in Ho Chi Minh City or book it when you check in to one of the elegant hotels in Saigon.

Cu Chi Tour
Our team visited Cu Chi Tunnels in 2023 and it was amazing. Photo by VIA

The Cu Chi Tunnels is an army playground. It is where the Vietcong hid while the US Air Force was bombing the areas surrounding Saigon during the Vietnam War. The tunnels protected the revolutionary forces. Opposition prisoners were held here. You can visit the traps laid out in the jungle terrain around here. Not pretty.

You can walk, or crawl through the Cu Chi Tunnels during this half-day out. You get to see a fair amount of US artillery. You can even shoot an AK-47 on-site! Enjoy the enthralling atmosphere before being further enlightened at the War Remnants Museum.

3. Visit the War Remnants Museum – from 15.00 to 16.30

We’d say Cu Chi Tunnels are a must for visitors here. Everything else is about choice. This museum is a place for war enthusiasts or those looking for historical documents stored locally. This has some dark images, some areas of intrigue, and offers some moments of hope.

The grounds have lots of US warplanes and there’s a replica war prison area to visit. Inside, the floors are separated into different areas. Each place gives a diverse perception of the Vietnam War. Some of the photos are shocking. The War Remnants Museum is enlightening. It isn’t for the faint-hearted.

War Remnants Museum - The PERFECT Ho Chi Minh City Itinerary in 2 Days for FIRST-TIMERS in 2024!
War Remnants Museum in Ho Chi Minh City, one of the best places to visit for your 2-day trip.

There’s a coffee house on the grounds for those who need a drink and something to eat, especially if you’ve been to Cu Chi. Handmade souvenirs can be purchased from long-serving victims of the Vietnam War inside. This place is quite an eye-opener.

Besides the War Remnants Museum, Saigon offers other fascinating museum experiences as well, take a look at our top 10 museums in Ho Chi Minh City and see which is the best one for your next trip to Saigon.

4. Admire The old French Colonial area – from 16.45 to 18.30

You can get a taxi here, or use a shared car app to book your ride. We put these places together, as these are next to each other. They are also open later than the government-operated tourist spots. This is architecture dating back to colonial French origins.

Notre Dame Cathedral

The Notre Dame Cathedral Basilica of Saigon is one of the finest looking of its kind in Vietnam. The bell towers command your attention. The Romanesque architecture almost tricks you into thinking you’re in Western Europe. There are some treasures to be seen here. Some original wood from France is maintained. The statue of Mary looks on the outside. She was seen shedding tears before, by passers-by.

hcmc city tour
Notre Dame / Photo by VIA Ambassador Van Nguyen (odaucungchup)

Saigon Central Post Office

The Saigon Central Post Office is another wonderful work of 19th-century French colonial architecture. There are so many details in the Gothic exterior, one being the grand clock. The inside feels like an old train station, with phone booths and counters overseen by the great Ho Chi Minh portrait above. It is open to everyone. Locals and visitors frequently visit this attraction built in the French Colonial era. Souvenirs and collectible stamps are offered here at the Central Post Office.

hcmc post office
Saigon Central Post Office on blue sky background in Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam. Steel structure of the gothic building was designed by Gustave Eiffel. Ho Chi Minh is a popular tourist destination of Asia.

5. A trip to Ben Thanh Market – from 18.30 to 20.30

We’ll look at doing two things around Ben Thanh Market. Having dinner, as it is that time. We’d recommend trying some street food. It’s all over the city. You can get the famous com tam or broken rice dish made up of rice, a few veggies, and different cuts of pork. Local stands serve food around the local markets.

You should visit Ben Thanh Market around this time. One reason is that it is the best time to shop, as you can take stuff back to your hotel. Another is for bargaining. This time is perfect to get the end-of-the-day deals the market sellers offer. You can get all kinds of antiques and souvenirs here. Make sure you know the market spot price before buying anything, even gold purchases!

hcmc city tour
Ben Thanh Market. Photo VIA Ambassador Van Nguyen (odaucungchup)

6. Pham Ngu Lao and Bui Vien Street – Night Owl Times from 21.00 until late

It’s a long day. Some go back and crash at their hotel. Not you though. With only a few hours left of your first and last night in Saigon, it’s time to visit the epicenter of nightlife debauchery. 

So you are too excited to sleep? Pham Ngo Lao and Bui Vien street are the most famous spots. With bars and nightclubs for every taste, these two streets attract locals, tourists, and expats alike making it one of the coolest melting pots of culture in South East Asia. 

ho chi minh night life
Bui Vien street in Ho Chi Minh. Photo by Georgios Domouchtsidis

Want a drink without the nightclub scene? Nguyen Hue ‘walking street’ offers very fancy rooftop bars, cozy apartment cafes, and a plethora of street foods. Lots of lovely hotels around here have some chic and sophisticated late-night bars, with some amazing views of Saigon life. 

The central districts are not alone in their vibrancy. In fact, all districts have unique nightlife. The city comes alive at night in Saigon.

Day 2 – Journey Through Time and Modernity in Ho Chi Minh City

Depending on the time you finished the previous night, you may make a few changes to the itinerary here. Day 2 is a tour around Ho Chi Minh City. You can see the older stuff and look at modern-day Saigon.

1. China Town – Buddhist and Taoist Temples – From 08.00 to 10.00

This bustling Chinese quarter is in District 5, southwest of the city. Visitors come to try food and see temples.

It is an actual small town, not just a couple of streets. You can try street food dim sum and sample some herbal tea. Make sure you look around the ornate temples. These are intricately styled, and full of beauty and mystery.

Down in Chinatown
Lion Dance In Ho Chi Minh. Photo by VIA Ambassador Adrien Jean

The Buddhist and Taoist Temples

The Taoist and Buddhist Temples vary in age and style. They are very unique to Ho Chi Minh. Quan An Pagoda and Ong Bon Temple are two examples of very articulately carved places for prayer and worship. There are so many Taoist and Buddhist deities worshipped here. Quan An, or Thien Hau, the Goddess of Mercy, is one deity worshipped here. Get permission for pictures and take off your shoes. You won’t see such architecture elsewhere!

ho chi minh city 2 days itinerary
Ba Thien Hau Temple / Photo by VIA Ambassador Adrien Jean

2. The Independence Palace – From 10.30 to 12.30

Ticket price:

1. General admission tickets (includes the Exhibit and Palace)

  • Adults: 65.000 VND (~$3) /person
  • Children: 15.000 VND (~$1) /person

2. Palace admission tickets

  • Adults, Students: 40.000 VND (~$2) /person
  • Children: 10.000 VND (~$0.5) /person

This is in the center of Saigon and within walking distance of Saigon’s oldest streets. This was originally a place for the governor of Saigon, built during French Colonial times. It was called the Norodom Palace. The building was reconstructed after the American War. It was renamed the Reunification Palace. It is at the heart of the city center.

hcmc city tour
The VIA team visited The Independence Palace. Photo by VIA

The palace’s interior and exterior

Old meeting rooms, such as the Minister’s Cabinet, can be viewed inside. You can explore the underground old war rooms here, created to avoid heavy bombing in the American War. There’s a possibility to view US Military machinery all around here.

The gardens are very pleasant and have some natural fauna displays of diverse beauty during different seasons. Independence Palace is a place which you have to visit in Ho Chi Minh City. It is a landmark spot.

3. Nguyen Hue and Saigon Center – From 13.00 to 16.30

By this point, you might be feeling a bit tired. It’s a lot to do in two days. This is a good time to go to Nguyen Hue ‘Walking Street’. From this road, you can explore shopping malls, markets, restaurants, and prominent spots such as the Opera House.

Nguyen Hue – Walking Street

This is a short walk from the Independence Palace. It stretches from the government offices all the way to the Saigon River. It is usually lined with shops, restaurants, and coffee houses. There are some incredible floral arrangements and displays during the Lunar New Year here. You can do most activities to enjoy your final afternoon in Ho Chi Minh City here. This is a good place to find lunch. There are some great lunchtime deals here.

apartment cafe saigon
Nguyen Hue Cafe Apartment Building. Photo by Jet Dela Cruz

Opera House

This is a lovely piece of French architecture. Worth a visit for the photo alone. The whole street feels French. Some of Saigon’s oldest streets are around here and the grand roads blend in wonderfully with the intriguing little alleyways around. You can see a show here. Times are scheduled and tickets can be purchased at the venue.

Bitexco Financial Tower

This is modern Saigon. This is Ho Chi Minh City as it turns into the 21st century. It looks like a sailing boat from far away. The glistening silver-like structure shows a helicopter pad as you draw closer. You can see the peak or go get a beer close to the top by joining the Heineken Experience. There are some nice local food places around here, along with Western cuisines available.

best places in vietnam
Bitexco Financial Tower. Photo by VIA Ambassador Van Nguyen (odaucungchup)

The views around Nguyen Hue

Hopefully, when you visit, the Opera House will be seen all the way from Ben Thanh Market. Ho Chi Minh is developing a new subway system, which will increase transportation and walking areas. The whole street is the center point of Ho Chi Minh City.

Other fine tourist attractions

If you have more time, visit the Jade Emperor Pagoda. This is a delicately ornate temple and one around the center of the city. An alternative is the Giac Lam Pagoda in District 10. This has a 7-story stupa, bodhi tree, and temple of worship on tranquil grounds.

Another place worth visiting is the Fine Arts Museum. Displays of fine art from across Asia and Europe can be marveled at while strolling around and finely woven old French Town House. Some like to take a Saigon River Cruise, stopping at points along the riverside.

4. Sunset at the top of the world – The Landmark 81 Building – from 17.00 until nighttime

We couldn’t end this post without mentioning the tallest skyscraper in the city. The bamboo-shaped Landmark 81 is an icon of modern-day Saigon. It is best visited early evening, to enjoy the fabulous sunset.

You can go to the peak and see an amazing bird’s eye view of the city. You can drink in an ice bar a few floors down. Landmark 81 has a range of cuisines. Visiting during the daytime? Go and take a relaxing stroll in the beautiful park.

2 days ho chi minh itinerary
Tan Dinh Church, Saigon. Photo by VIA Ambassador Benjamin Tortorelli

End of itinerary

There’s so much to do in Ho Chi Minh so expect to miss a few of the best experiences that this city has to offer. 

To help you make the most of your short time here, check out our full guide to Ho Chi Minh City, with tips and links to help you find the best features of this city that you shouldn’t miss. 

Have a good time in Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam!

Common asked questions about Ho Chi Minh

Yes, two days can give you a glimpse of Ho Chi Minh City, but you may not explore everything thoroughly.

Ho Chi Minh City is incredibly walkable, with sidewalks everywhere. Once you get the hang of crossing the streets, you can reach your destination easily. Just remember, people don’t always follow traffic lights or marked crossings at intersections, so stay alert!

Ho Chi Minh City can cater to various budgets for tourists. While there are luxurious areas like Phu My Hung in District 7, known for its upscale amenities and expatriate community, as well as District 2 with its high-class dining and entertainment options, there are also more affordable areas in the city. Overall, the city offers a range of accommodations, dining choices, and activities to suit different budgets, making it possible for tourists to find options that fit their financial preferences.

In the end, deciding between Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City hinges on your preferences for sightseeing and activities. If you lean towards a traditional and historical ambiance, Hanoi might suit you better. Conversely, if you’re drawn to a dynamic and contemporary vibe, Ho Chi Minh City could be the preferred destination.

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Written by Adam Girvan
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Adam is passionate about all things travel. He has travelled to a few places and have worked in the travel business for years! The main sectors of his professional career life relate to travel, media, marketing and education. Adam came to live in Vietnam in 2019 and has based himself in Saigon. It is a great city right now, with so much going on. There's a lot of opportunity here and is becoming a wonderful melting pot for new ideas and ways of seeing things.