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Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam is a vivacious city filled with a spirited culture, towering skyscrapers and the relentless sound of buzzing scooters. Marked by its tumultuous past, the city both embraces its history and looks toward a modern future. The result is an exotic blend of diversified architecture, unique local customs and engaging sights – which means there is a long list of things to do in Ho Chi Minh City.
What To Do in Ho Chi Minh City District 1
Ho Chi Minh City is massive and boisterous; the sheer size of the city can be intimidating – and the traffic can be terrifying. Therefore, we limit the activities in this blog post to Things To Do in District 1 Ho Chi Minh City. District One Ho Chi Minh City is the historic core and center of administration and commerce. We think every city visit should commence in District 1; it is home to some of the absolute best things to do in Saigon, Vietnam.
A City with Two Names: Saigon vs Ho Chi Minh City
Visitors will quickly notice that the name Saigon is still prominently used in what is officially named Ho Chi Minh City. Perhaps out of habit or because the full name, “Ho Chi Minh City,” is quite a mouthful, both locals and tourists refer to the city by both names – without any political undertones. Additionally, the long name – Ho Chi Minh City – is often shortened to simply HCMC. Saigon is also typically used to refer to just District 1.
Things To Do: Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam
Our list of Ho Chi Minh Things To Do includes historic sights, modern marvels and local experiences. Our Must-Do in Ho Chi Minh City List includes a wide range of activities – from free things to do to ticketed sights to history lessons and nightlife. Use our guide of what to do in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam to plan your trip – or take a look at our detailed HCMC Itinerary for help planning each day (coming soon!).
This Ho Chi Minh Travel Blog Post contains our top tips for what to do in HCMC! Save, Pin or Bookmark it so that you can easily access it during your trip!
#1 Soar Up to the Skydeck
When the Bitexco Financial Tower was built in 2010, it ranked as the tallest building in the country – standing at an impressive 861 feet. The modern structure is visible from several places around the city, but visitors can do more than just look at it. Visiting the 49th floor Skydeck, which offers stunning panoramic city views, is one of the top things to do in Saigon. Buy your Skip-the-Line Ticket now!
In addition to the Skydeck, visitors can also enjoy the views from the 52nd Floor Eon Heli Bar. The drinks are not cheap, but the views are stellar! The entrance can be a little tricky to find; enter the main lobby, go up the escalator and you will see a sign by a curving set of stairs and an employee will point you in the right direction if you tell them you want to go to the bar.
#2 Hop on a Ho Chi Minh River Cruise
A Ho Chi Minh Cruise on the Saigon River is a sensational way to see the city skyline. A popular Ho Chi Minh Boat Tour includes a buffet dinner (with optional open bar) for a 2-hour evening cruise. Get the details!
A budget option for a Ho Chi Minh City river cruise is the inexpensive Saigon Waterbus. Although it is more of a river ferry than a cruise, it’s a useful way to get out on the water and see more of the city for cheap. The HCMC ferry boat transports passengers up the meandering Saigon River, making several stops along the way in other Ho Chi Minh districts. A cool way to wile away a hot afternoon, visitors can snag a seat in the air con and float up and down the river in a couple of hours…for less than a couple of dollars. Check the schedule and reserve seats via their Facebook page.
#3 See the Sights of HCMC on Foot
The best city sights are in District 1 Ho Chi Minh City – and they are easy to reach on foot! From top attractions to city scenes, walking tours are an ideal way to get acquainted with the city. Visitors can join a private tour – or use our Self-Guided Walking Tour to Ho Chi Minh City Attractions. We include the top places to visit with step-by-step directions and a useful Ho Chi Minh City District 1 Map, too!
#4 Send a Postcard from Central Post Office
Going to the post office might seem like a mundane chore, but it is one of the top Ho Chi Minh City things to do! An exemplary structure built by the French, the HCMC Post Office features a bright yellow façade with white trim and dark green shutters. Inside, relics from the past – like the old wooden phone booths and telegraph route maps – reveal the historic importance of the post office.
Today, the post office continues to function as it was originally intended – to send and receive mail. For a unique and memorable souvenir, visitors can buy one of the postcards for sale, write a quick note and send it to themselves from the HCMC Central Post Office.
#5 Feast on the Best Food in the City
There is no doubt that eating the local fare is a must-do in Saigon. Vietnamese food is renowned as one of the best cuisines in the world – and in HCMC there is a distinguished culinary scene. Classic Vietnamese dishes, like Pho and Banh Mi, are readily available from street vendors, while home-style cooking is often served in restaurants.
If you are wondering what to do in Ho Chi Minh City for food, we’ve got you covered! Use our Saigon Food Guide to discover our top picks for the city’s best restaurants…then eat your way through the city!
#6 Take a Walk in Tao Dan Park
Wondering what to do in Saigon for a breath of fresh air? Escape the polluted city streets for a refreshing stroll in one of the urban green spaces. Tao Dan Park, located behind the Presidential Palace, is our favorite city park. The 24-acre oasis is lush with shade trees and colorful gardens.
Mornings in the park are particularly popular; it’s when locals practice Tai Chi on the lawns and exercise on the paths. Go ahead and join them…or just grab an iced Vietnamese coffee from a vendor, sit on a bench and soak in the atmosphere.
#7 Tour the Presidential Palace (a.k.a. Reunification Palace)
Once the home to high-ranking government officials, the Presidential Palace is an iconic city sight with an intriguing story. The first residence on the site was the Norodom Palace; built in the 1800s, it was completely destroyed in a 1962 presidential assassination attempt. The new, modern palace was built in the 1960s and served as the residence of the last president of South Vietnam.
Now open to visitors, touring the Presidential Palace – or Reunification Palace, as it is now called – is a must-do in Ho Chi Minh City! A ticket is required to enter, but guests are free to tour the palace on their own. Rooms and artifacts are labeled in English; however, visitors can also rent audio guides for more detailed information. When planning your visit, keep in mind that the palace closes mid-day for lunch from 11am until 1pm.
#8 Shop at Ben Thanh Market
Markets in Vietnam are messy, boisterous and mind-boggling – which is exactly why we love them! In Saigon, the Ben Thanh Market ranks as the largest and most famous market in the city. Within the depths of the landmark market hall, there are about 3,000 vendors hawking a mishmash of products to the more than 15,000 daily shoppers.
Although the market has recently gained a reputation as being overpriced and too tourist driven, we think shopping at Ben Thanh Market needs to be on every Ho Chi Minh to-do list! For more than 100 years the market has served as an economical and cultural hub in the city.
#9 Experience an Authentic Market
For a truly authentic HCMC market experience, visitors should step inside one of the markets that serves the local residents. Unlike Ben Thanh, these markets sell everyday goods and necessities. Visitors not interested in shopping should just go to observe the fascinating scene.
The Thai Binh Market – near the popular backpacker west end of HCMC District 1 – is a buzzing market overflowing with clothing, home goods, fresh fish and butchered meats. The on-site street vendors concoct delicious local specialties for hungry shoppers – and, feasting on the street food is one of the top things to do in HCMC.
In the northeast section of Saigon District 1, Cho Tan Dinh is an older city market known for selling amazing food and textiles – specifically, traditional ao dai. Visitors craving a real-life experience should make the effort to seek out the classic market.
#10 Stand in Awe of the City’s Churches
Although only 7% of the Vietnamese population is Christian, several ornate churches dot the HCMC landscape. Missionaries spread the Christian faith in Vietnam during the 16th century, but it was under French colonization that many of the city’s stunning churches were built. Visiting the churches is one of the top things to do in Ho Chi Minh City.
The city’s most famous church is the red-brick, double-spired Saigon Notre Dame Cathedral that stands in the aptly named Paris Square. In front of the church is the Our Lady of Peace statue, which is said to have miraculously shed a tear in 2005. Since then, believers and visitors have looked upon her face, hoping to witness a miraculous event.
While not nearly as famous, the Huyen Si Church is another beautiful city church that sees far fewer tourists. The quaint church has a single bell tower and, to the left of the church, is the Mountain of Our Lady grotto, which is decorated with plaques of prayers and signs of gratitude.
#11 Walk Bui Vien Street: Ho Chi Minh City Backpackers Street
Attracting budget backpackers, Bui Vien Street is a hotbed of bars, pubs, clubs, restaurants, hostels, tour touters, roving vendors and slick scammers. During the day, the street is relatively quiet, but by night it transforms into a raucous party of neon lights and thumping music.
Walking Bui Vien Street is one of the fun things to do in Ho Chi Minh City both day and night – just be aware that after dark the infamous street shows its seedy side. Keep valuables – like phones, wallets and cameras – hidden in zippered pockets.
#12 Step into the Alleyways
Saigon city streets and sidewalks are packed with a never-ending parade of motorbikes, people, vendors…and more motorbikes. However, tucked away in hidden alleys and along dead-end lanes is a completely different scene – one that is both charming and captivating. In these spaces, it is possible to get a glimpse of local life.
These little peaceful pockets are scattered throughout the city. One of the best things to do in Ho Chi Minh City is to get lost in the alleys – and our favorite ones are between Bui Vien and Pham Ngu Lao. Venture down the narrow passageways and let your curiosity lead the way.
#13 Drink Cocktails at a Rooftop Bar
Drinking rooftop cocktails is one of the most popular things to do in Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam – visitors have been doing it for decades. Ranging from classy cocktail lounges to open-air beer gardens, there is a rooftop bar in HCMC for every visitor!
The poshest places for a rooftop drink are at the age-old establishments near Nguyen Hue Walking Street, like the Rex Hotel Garden Bar and Saigon Saigon Rooftop Bar at the Caravelle Hotel. Level 23 Wine Bar at the Sheraton Hotel offers a refined atmosphere, while the nearby stylish Chill Sky Bar features fun DJs (but a strict dress code).
For a Ho Chi Minh City rooftop bar that draws a more relaxed crowd, the View Rooftop Bar at Duc Vuong Hotel on Bui Vien Street promotes a chill vibe and pretty fantastic views – especially at sunset!
It’s important to note that elevated bars come with elevated prices. Expect to pay more – a lot more – for rooftop drinks. That said, most places offer happy hour specials that can make the drinks a little more affordable for budget travelers.
#14 Peek inside Ho Chi Minh City Temples
To really get a sense of the culture and people, one of the best things to do in Ho Chi Minh City is visit a temple. There are temples scattered throughout the city – and we highly recommend visiting any that you come across. However, the Ngoc Hoang Pagoda – or Jade Emperor Pagoda in English – is a Saigon must-see temple.
The small Taoist temple sits on the far east end of HCMC District 1 and is the most famous Taoist temple in the city – even US President Obama visited in 2016. Built in 1909, the colorful Ngoc Hoang Pagoda features a turtle pond, intricate details and dozens of ancient papier-mache statues.
#15 Drink Local Craft Beer
Nightlife in Ho Chi Minh City isn’t limited to chic rooftop bars and unruly Bui Vien Street. In fact, after a day of sightseeing, one of our favorite things to do in Ho Chi Minh City at night is to explore the burgeoning craft beer scene.
Since 2015, craft breweries have been adding a little flavor – and a lot of hops – to the HCMC nightlife. In Saigon District 1, there are several brewery taprooms serving craft beer to please the palates of beer aficionados. Use our Saigon Craft Beer Guide to find the best places to drink microbrews in the city!
More Things To Do in Ho Chi Minh City – District 3 Sights
Although there are 24 Ho Chi Minh City districts, the sights on our above list are all located in District 1. However, on the north side of D1 is District 3, which is home to a few more top HCMC things to do.
Visit the Thich Quang Duc Monument
One of the most poignant city monuments, the Thich Quang Duc Monument is a Ho Chi Minh City must-see. Dedicated to Thich Quang Duc – a monk who burned himself to death in 1963 in protest of the ill treatment of Vietnamese Buddhists – the monument occupies the corner where he set himself on fire.
Go See the Pink Tan Dinh Church
The cotton-candy pink Tan Dinh Church – or Church of the Sacred Heart of Jesus – was built by the French in the 1870s and is a Ho Chi Minh City institution. The Romanesque style church features Gothic pillars and bell tower and has been painted pink – inside and out – since the 1950s. Unfortunately, we had trouble finding current opening times, so we missed the interior, but the street view is still quite a sight!
Learn about the Vietnam War at the War Remnants Museum
Hailed as one of the top things to do in Ho Chi Minh City, the War Remnants Museum is an intense place to learn about the Vietnam War – or, as the Vietnamese call it, the American War. Featuring military equipment and photographs, visitors are taken through a timeline of events of the country’s tragic wartime history. A word of caution, the story of war is told from a largely different historical perceptive than many of us are familiar with.
Sip a Vietnamese Coffee at a Cafe on Turtle Lake
Turtle Lake is neither a lake nor does it have turtles – but we think it is one of the fun places to go in Ho Chi Minh City. At the center of the roundabout is a stark concrete fountain that was built in 1967. Ringing the traffic circle are numerous cafes, where visitors can rest their feet, relax and watch the city go by. Cong Ca Phe coffeeshop is our top pick; we highly recommend ordering their signature drink – an iced coconut coffee – and finding a seat by the window where you can drink it with a view.
We Want To Know: Are there any activities that you would add to our list of things to do in Ho Chi Minh City? What are your favorite Ho Chi Minh City District 1 Things To Do? Give us your best tips and advice in the comments below!
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