Updated as of July 2019
Summary: This blog shares a budget travel guide for Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon), Vietnam with a DIY itinerary that is good for 2 to 3 days; estimated budget is 1,151,000VND or 50USD+ per person which covers expenses for entrance fee, food and transportation only. All needed details for each Ho Chi Minh City top attraction are laid out in the post including operating hours, entrance fee, location and information on how to get there on a public transport. Further, this Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) blog is intended for first-time backpackers and budget travelers, either solo, family or traveling in group.
HO CHI MINH CITY AT A GLANCE
How many motorcycles are there exactly in Ho Chi Minh City?
Perhaps a usual question that comes to mind for first-time travelers when coming to this heaving metropolis. Yet, regardless how this endless flow of scooters and motorbikes appeal to you, HO CHI MINH CITY is without a doubt a destination worthy to be explored. From history and culture, to architecture and food – there is too much to dig in while in here.
Truth be told, Ho Chi Minh has a sense of uniquely enigmatic desirability that only those who endure can discover. For most, the city may appear chaotic at first sight, but it becomes familiar and orderly once you let that pure mash of old and new flow through you.
Don’t hesitate. Pack your bag and prepare to get dizzy as you embark on this rough yet vibrant urban sprawl that is Ho Chi Minh!
QUICK FACTS ABOUT HO CHI MINH CITY
- Ho Chi Minh City was formerly known as “Saigon”, the capital of South Vietnam, a name you would often hear from the locals even to this day when referring to the city.
- While Hanoi is officially the capital of the country, Ho Chi Minh City is by far the bigger and more populous province. It also beats the capital for being the economic center in all of Vietnam.
- Ho Chi Minh City (or Vietnam in general) holds the largest motorcycle ownership in the world next to Taiwan. Hence, it comes as no surprise that its streets are flooded with motorcycles. A word of caution to tourists: A yellow traffic light in Ho Chi Minh City means “to drive faster” so make sure you stay put to avoid accident!
- The education sector in Ho Chi Minh City has been extensively expanding. Of late, there are already over 80 universities and colleges in the city with a student population close to 400,000.
- Arguably, the most loved drink in Ho Chi Minh is coffee but unlike how it is usually served, the locals prefer their coffee cold and thick with condensed milk.
FAQs WHEN TRAVELING TO HO CHI MINH CITY
How many days to spend in Ho Chi Minh City – Two days would be enough to cover the best sights in Ho Chi Minh City. Visit the Cu Chi Tunnels on the first day and wander around its city attractions the day after.
Is it safe to travel to Ho Chi Minh City? – Ho Chi Minh City is well guarded by police and reports on incidences related to theft and sexual assault are rare. However, it is quite noting that scams do exist so it is still important to have your wits about you – keep away from dark corners at night, know the people you are with, and have the contact information of people that you can call in case of emergency readily accessible.
Do I need a Visa to visit Ho Chi Minh City?
Citizens from these countries are granted Vietnam Visa exemption:
- Cambodia, Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia and Laos for a maximum of 30 days
- Philippines for a maximum of 21 days
- Japan, South Korea, Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Russia and Finland for a maximum of 15 days
- Brunei for a maximum of 14 days
All other countries and visits from the above listed countries passed their allowable number of days are required of Visa upon entry.
When is the best time to visit?
Ho Chi Minh City and the rest of Southern Vietnam are a year-round destination but the best time to visit is from November to March during its dry season when the city is wrapped with humid temperature. This period is also the time when you get to witness how the locals celebrate Christmas and New Year, and of course, the “Tet” festival (comparable to Thanksgiving) which usually happens in late January.
What is the accepted currency? The official currency of Vietnam is Dong (or VND) which is widely used among locals and tourists, however big shops and hotels in Ho Chi Minh City also accept US dollar. Transactions are on a cash basis so make sure you bring enough money with you.
How is the mobile data and signal strength? Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) has a high-speed internet connectivity just about everywhere, and the same can be said for other mobile and network services. Note: Getting the best local SIM card in Vietnam is a matter of knowing how much data you need all throughout your travel period. As mobile shops at the city proper tend to give a different price for SIM cards to tourists, it is highly advised to purchase the ones sold at the airport.
What is the tipping policy in Ho Chi Minh City? Tipping is not customary in Ho Chi Minh city however, gratuity for an excellent service is always appreciated.
What is the power socket used in Ho Chi Minh City? Most establishments in Ho Chi Minh city use type A, and C sockets that can support flat or round prongs, and a 220 voltage supply.
HOW TO GET TO HO CHI MINH CITY
Getting to Ho Chi Minh City By Air
Ho Chi Minh City is served by Tân Sơn Nhất International Airport (IATA: SGN), 30 minutes away from the city center which services direct flights from these major cities in the world:
- Bangkok (DMK)
- Beijing (PEK)
- Doha (DOH)
- Guangzhou (CAN)
- Hanoi (HAN)
- Hong Kong (HKG)
- Johor Bharu (JHB)
- Kuala Lumpur (KUL)
- Manila (MNL)
- Melbourne (MEL)
- Moscow (SVO)
- Osaka (KIX)
- Paris (CDG)
- Phnom Penh (PNH)
- Seoul (ICN)
- Shanghai (PVG)
- Shenzhen (SZX)
- Siem Reap (REP)
- Sihanoukville (KOS)
- Singapore (SIN)
- Sydney (SYD)
- Taipei (TPE)
- Tokyo (NRT)
- Yangon (RGN)
From the airport, you can reach the city center
- by taxi with fare around 140,000VND if your choice of accommodation is within District 1
- by bus #152 (green buses) found at the right side of the arrival lobby, fare is around 5,000VND or bus #109 (yellow buses), fare is 20,000VND.
Getting to Ho Chi Minh City By Bus
Several bus companies offer direct trips to Ho Chi Minh City from Siem Reap and Phnom Penh, Cambodia.
Find tickets for bus, trains, ferries and planes to Ho Chi Minh City and book online using the search box below:
How to get around Ho Chi Minh City?
Most of the attractions in Ho Chi Minh are just around the city center which can be reached on foot for about 10 to 15 minutes. If you don’t have the luxury of time, getting on a Grab taxi will be the quickest way to get around but it can be expensive especially during rush hour when there is heavy traffic. A better alternative is a motorcycle taxi, locally known as Xe Om. It is efficient as it can go anywhere in the city and can travel in the most limited of streets even when there is traffic jam. However, riding a Xe Om can be shocking as drivers tend to steer aggressively rough and fast to beat the time. So before hopping on, tell the driver to slow down and ride carefully.
On a different note, the best way to get around outside the city center is by public bus which collects a travel fare of around 10,000 to 15,000VND depending on your destination. For more information about the bus system in Ho Chi Minh city, kindly visit this website: WayByBus.
TOP ATTRACTIONS IN HO CHI MINH CITY
Here are some of the best tourist spots in Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon).
CU CHI TUNNELS
The network of connecting tunnels at Cu Chi District that crawls to a distance of 75 miles around 3 hours from the city proper served as hiding spot and route for supply of food, medicine and weapon during the Vietnam War. Nowadays, the tunnels have been transformed into a war memorial park becoming one of the most popular tourist attractions in Ho Chi Minh.
To get to Cu Chi tunnels, take a public bus #13 at 23-9 park near Pham Ngu Lao which will take you to Cu Chi bus station. Take note that there are only two tunnels that are open to the public: Ben Dinh (closer from the city, smaller and more touristy) and Ben Duoc (farther from the city, less touristy, but more authentic feel). To get to Ben Duoc, you will need to transfer to bus #79 from Cu Chi bus station. Travel time is close to 3 hours, fare is around 26,000VND.
Opening hours is daily from 8:00AM to 5:00PM. Admission fee is 110,000VND for Ben Dinh and 90,000VND for Ben Duoc. To return to the city, take either bus #13 or #79.
BITEXCO FINANCIAL TOWER
The soaring Bitexco Financial Tower is a favorite spot among tourists in Ho Chi Minh to catch the sunset and a sweeping view of the lit skyscrapers at night.
You can choose to get to its Skydeck on the 49th floor and pay an entrance of 200,000VND or to Eon Heli bar which occupies the 50th to 52nd floor and order a cup of coffee for 130,000VND. The Skydeck is open everyday from 9:30AM to 9:30PM while the bar accepts customers daily, from 11:30AM to 11:00PM.
Bitexco Financial Tower is located at 36 Hồ Tùng Mậu, Bến Nghé and can be accessed on foot for a couple of minutes when you are around the city proper.
INDEPENDENCE (REUNIFICATION) PALACE
The Independence or Reunification Palace, former home of the President of South Vietnam, holds a strong significance in the history of the country as it marked the fall of Saigon during the Vietnam war when the North Vietnamese army tanks successfully crashed through its main gate.
At present, the palace served as a museum and venue for official government meetings. Among the notable items to check are its secret rooms, antique furniture, bunkers and the original tanks used during the takeover.
The Independence Palace is open daily (except for days when there are government events) from 7:30AM to 11:00AM and resumes at 1:00PM to 4:00PM. Tickets are sold at the main gate, at the east side of the palace gardens for 30,000VND. The Palace is located at 135 Nam Ky Khoi Nghia, Ben Thanh, District 1 and can be reached on foot for a few minutes when around the city proper.
SAIGON CATHEDRAL OF NOTRE DAME
The 40-meter tall Saigon Cathedral of Notre Dame imprints the very heart of the French colonial heritage in Ho Chi Minh. Its interior is wrapped in stained glass at its windows and plaid tiles on its floor, with rows of wooden seats for worshipers. Outside, at its lawn area, is a statue of the Virgin Mary surrounded with ornamental plants and tiled floors.
The cathedral holds service from 8:00AM to 11:00AM and 3:00PM to 6:00PM and only admits foreign visitors during these timings. To get there, walk to the northwestern side of Dong Khoi street, in front of the Central Post office. The cathedral will be on sight in few minutes.
CENTRAL POST OFFICE
The 1886-built Central Post office is yet another landmark that is vividly of French influence. As it is widely known, the post office is designed by Gustave Eiffel who also commissioned the world-renowned Eiffel Tower in Paris.
The post office is located at 2 Công xã Paris, Bến Nghé, adjacent to Saigon Cathedral of Notre Dame. Opening hours is from 7:00AM to 7:00PM on weekdays and to 6:00PM on weekends. Entrance is free.
WAR REMNANTS MUSEUM
Formerly known as “The Museum of Chinese and American War Crimes”, the War Remnants Museum is a perfect avenue to understand the harrowing journey of the Vietnamese during the Vietnam war.
Among the notorious items that are displayed in the museum are the prison cells, some torture instruments, and distressing photos of victims. Outside the museum is a compound ground which houses some military weapons including tanks and aircraft.
The museum is located at 28 Võ Văn Tần, Phường 6, Quận 3, which can be accessed on foot from anywhere around the city proper in less than 15 minutes or by bus using route no. 06, 14, 28 for around 13,000VND or by taxi which would cost less than 50,000VND. Operating hours is from 7:30AM to 12:00PM, then resumes from 1:30PM to 5:00PM. Entrance fee is 15,000VND.
SAIGON OPERA HOUSE
The Opera House in Ho Chi Minh was built in 1897 and is officially known as the Municipal Theater. It was designed by French architect Eugene Ferret and captures the way of life during the French Third Republic which are characterized by peace, prosperity and optimism.
The Opera House is only open to the public during events which are highly advertised at the tourist information center near the area. Performances cover a wide array of performing arts including ballet, traditional dance and musical play.
The Opera House is located at Dong Khoi street at District 1 where most of the French colonial buildings are built, including the Cathedral of Notre Dame and the Central Post Office.
BEN THANH MARKET
A fun thing to do in Ho Chi Minh city is to wander around its markets, the most popular among them is Ben Thanh which sells almost everything that Vietnam produces – from clothes, souvenir items, glassware, and of course, coffee!
Although more pricey and touristy than Bin Tay Market, Ben Thanh is a rewarding tourist attraction to visit for its historical and cultural value. In the evening, all roads surrounding Ben Thanh Market are closed down giving way for food stalls and shops that would crowd around the area.
The market is situated at Lê Lợi, Bến Thành and is reachable on foot in few minutes from any section at the city proper. The indoor market opens from 6:00AM to 6:00PM while its outdoor starts to come alive from 6:00PM to midnight.
JADE EMPEROR PAGODA
The Jade Emperor Pagoda is an important Taoist temple in Ho Chi Minh which serves as a place to glorify the Jade Emperor, one of the highest deities in Taoism.
At the main hall of the temple lies the “God of the Heavens” who decides if you can enter the higher realm or meet the “God of Hell.” On another hall is the goddess of fertility Kim Hua who is surrounded by women and children.
One of the highlights when visiting the temple is the merit-making which is acted upon by feeding animals in the area including the overcrowded tortoise.
The temple is located at 73 Mai Thi Luu, District 3 which can be reached by taking bus #45. It is open daily from 7:00AM to 6:00PM. Admission is free, but visitors are encouraged to donate.
TOP THINGS TO DO IN HO CHI MINH
Check out these fun things to do, and make sure you don’t miss out anything in your visit in Ho Chi Minh City!
Hype up your day with a Vietnamese coffee! The city has one of the most vibrant coffee cultures in Southeast Asia, and joining the locals either at the coffee shops or even in the streets is an awesome thing to do. Among the favorite coffee places in Ho Chi Minh are L’Usine Le Thanh Ton, Mocking Bird, Things Café, and the neighborhood of Phu Nhuan District where you can find a nameless shop that brews a stocking-filtered coffee (ca-phe-vo) and net-filtered coffee (ca-phe-vot) that are popular among locals.
Walk down memory lane by going to the Reunification Palace, the War Remnants Museum or the Cu Chi tunnels. The experience would be quiet saddening, but it would lead to doors in the past that make you better understand the effects of Vietnam War.
Of course, strolling around Dong Khoi street at District 1 where emulates some of the finest French colonial architectures is a pure delight to the senses – from Notre Dame Cathedral of Saigon, Central Post Office to the Opera House. You can’t help but admire how meticulously these buildings are created.
HO CHI MINH CITY DIY ITINERARY
Here is a sample DIY itinerary for 2 days that would cover the most interesting tourist spots in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. The proposed budget assumes a party of two and will set back an amount of 1,151,000VND or 50USD+ per person which includes budget for food, transportation, and entrance fee.
Things to note for this sample Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) DIY itinerary:
- The Cu Chi Tunnels Half Day Tour is based on the package offered by Klook. Click the link to book online and for more details: Cu Chi Tunnels Half Day Tour
- A short distance taxi fare around Ho Chi Minh city would cost 50,000VND while a bus fare is close to 10,000VND.
- Dinner for Day 1 is at Eon Heli bar of Bitexco Financial Tower. Regular meal ranges from 350,000VND to 400,000VND.
- Ben Thanh Market offers a steep price for most of the souvenir items as the place is intended for tourists. If you want to get more value for your money, try to seek out the shops and stalls on the way to the market especially along Phạm Ngũ Lão street.
- The DIY Heritage Walking Tour on Day 2 would take you to some of the best French Colonial buildings in Ho Chi Minh city starting from Notre Dame Cathedral of Saigon to the People’s Committee of Ho Chi Minh City or Saigon City Hall. Each attraction is a walking distance for about 5 to 10 minutes only.
DAY ONE (Budget per person: 860,500VND or 37USD)
|Cu Chi Tunnels Half Day tour||–||280,000VND|
|Arrive and Explore Cu Chi Tunnels||09:45AM||–|
|Back to Hotel for Lunch||2:00PM||100,000VND|
|War Remnants Museum||3:30PM||25,000VND|
|Dinner at Bitexco Financial Tower||6:00PM||360,000VND|
|Back to Hotel||10:00PM||50,000VND|
Look for more Klook discounted tours for Ho Chi Minh and other major destinations in Vietnam using the search box below. Type the destination and click “search”.
DAY TWO (Budget per person: 290,000VND or 13USD)
|Jade Emperor Pagoda||8:00AM||15,000VND|
|Ben Thanh Market||10:00AM||10,000VND|
|Dong Khoi Street DIY Walking Tour||4:00PM||–|
|Notre Dame Cathedral of Saigon||4:30PM||–|
|Central Post Office||5:00PM||–|
|Saigon Opera House||6:00PM||–|
|Saigon City Hall||6:30PM||–|
|Back to Hostel||9:00PM||10,000VND|
WHERE TO STAY IN HO CHI MINH CITY
The best place to stay in Ho Chi Minh City is around District 1 as it is where most of the actions happen and is close to some of the attractions around the city.
Here is a list of recommended hotels in District 1, Ho Chi Minh city that are around 20USD per night:
- City Backpackers Hostel. Click here for rate and availability
- OYO 189 Amanda Phan 3 Hotel. Click here for rate and availability
- Saigon Cozy Hotel. Click here for rate and availability
- OYO 187 Aivy Boo Hotel. Click here for rate and availability
- Lynnwood Boutique House. Click here for rate and availability
More top pick hostels at District 1, Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon):
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