Saigon is the bustling metropolis of the South. Formerly it was known as the "Pearl of Indochina" and it still retains many old colonial buildings, turning the city into a great sightseeing spot and your best portal to explore Vietnam. For visitors Saigon is quite easy to navigate. The streets are arranged in a logical order and once you get used to the massive traffic madness, you may find the chaos even enjoyable.
This page should give you an overview about what and where you can buy, see, do, eat and drink in Saigon. We constantly expand the website with new and exciting information for travellers, so stay tuned for more!
Most tourist attractions are located in District 1 and can be reached on foot. Here we describe the most prominent landmarks of Saigon, that every tourist should have seen. Well, if you are walking or riding around in the area near the city centre, you cannot miss most if the buildings anyway.
Saigon City Hall
The former Hotel de Ville de Saigon is now the Ho Chi Minh City Hall and one of the most famous landmarks in Saigon. It was built between 1898 and 1908 in French colonial style by the famous architect Paul Gardès, designed after Hôtel de Ville in Paris. The historic landmark nowadays is a working government building, guarded and not open to the public. Nonetheless, it is a beautiful example of French colonial architecture.
Central Post Office
This remarkable colonial building is indeed an important place to visit in Saigon. Not only you can enjoy the magnificent maps, painted to the right and left of the hall, depicting French Indochina, but you can also send postcards and the occasional parcel home, since the Central Post Office is still in use.
Notre Dame de Saigon
Opposite of the Central Post Office you find the interesting cathedral of Saigon, built with red bricks that really impressed the people in the past. All the materials were imported from France and nowadays the Notre Dame Church is a popular background for photography sessions and wedding pictures.
Saigon Opera House
A beautiful remnant of the colonial era, the famous Saigon Opera House is still in use and as marvelous as ever. It is the place for the HCMC Symphony Orchestra and the HCMC Ballet to perform world-class operas, concerts and ballets. Apart from that, the famous AO Show takes place at the opera house with an acrobatic performance involving traditional Vietnamese images. Definitely a place to visit, if you have some nice clothing, that is.
The Ho Chi Minh City Independence Palace is the location where the government of South Vietnam was before the North overran the city in a quite spectacular showdown. The Americans managed to evacuate their important personnel and the breaking of the main gates symbolizes the end of the war and the reunification of the country.
The city features a wide range of hotels, generally with a great value for money. From cheap backpacker hostels, usually located in the notorious Pham Ngu Lao area where you can get a room for $12 per night or a bed in the dormitory from $4 per night - over a variety of very nice middle class hotels near Ben Thanh Market - to a selection of well-known five star hotels by the riverside or next to famous landmarks like the Saigon Opera House or the City Hall.
Like everything in this marvellous city, your experience largely depends on your travel budget. The famous and established high-class hotels offer premium service like in every other city worldwide, while cheap and dodgy hostels may lead to experiences that range on a scale between interesting and unnerving.
Saigon is the foodie metropolis of the South and you can get almost anything you desire. There is a wide choice of Vietnamese restaurants, offering the best food the whole country has to offer. Vietnamese food comes in a great variety of taste, from the Chinese influenced North over the spicy and savoury taste of Hue in Central Vietnam to the sweet and delicious flavor of the South. Surprise your palates with this plethora of delicious and healthy treats. There are many restaurants around, but myself I prefer the smaller kitchens that are run by housewives and specialised in special dishes from their hometown.
But of course that's only the tip of the iceberg. For Chinese food you may want to go to District 5, where many immigrants from China set up their living. Most of the Chinese food there is Cantonese or from the southeast of China though, so expecting real Sichuan kitchen is a bit too much. Silkie soup however is quite common, as well as various duck restaurants and a few excellent Dim Sum places, as well as stir-fried dishes right out of the wok.
There are a few Thai restaurants in the city, some of which are very nice. However to find really authentic Thai kitchen, I fear you need to fly to Bangkok. The best we have tried so far is Thai Street in District 2, with great ambience and tasty food, however even that place adapted to local taste buds rather than Thai.
Indian food is quite common and you can find a wide variety of Indian restaurants that serve what I consider the best cuisine in the world. The one place I consider the best of all is Baba's Kitchen, located in Bui Vien street, Pham Ngu Lao area. I guess Baba's Kitchen is for many expats the only reason to return to the dodgy backpacker area frequently. One more excellent Indian is the relatively new Caphe Bombay, also located on Bui Vien. Try their Dum Biryani and be properly amazed. But of course there are other good Indian restaurants and there will be more information about them soon.
Especially in District 1 you can find a nice selection of Italian restaurants, particularly when the main dish is pizza. There are many great restaurants offering the Italian experience in the city centre, so go ahead and treat yourself to pasta, pizza and piccata milanese.
The increasing popularity of Japanese food in Southeast Asia and especially in Saigon is partially based on the many Japanese expats, working on large, Japan-invested building projects. The Subway of Saigon is being built with Japanese technology, as well as certain skyscrapers and more. A part of District 1, the Ben Nghe Ward, is the temporary home to many expats and therefore there are lots of Japanese restaurants, spas and supermarkets around. The area is located in the beginning of Le Thanh Ton street and the alleys in the area are clean and pretty safe for Saigonese standards. The restaurants do not only offer sushi and sashimi, but also the lesser known culinary blooms of the land of the rising sun. You can get delicious noodle bowls and other native Japanese dishes, as well as fusion cuisine in all shades of J.
Our regular readers will know, that I can marvel about food for hours and fill shelves with articles about regional and international cuisine. But we have to keep it a bit short on this page here, so I need to contain myself. Saigon offers the greatest selection of international cuisine in Vietnam, whether it is Korean food, German kitchen or American burger places.
There is NYC style pizza available as well, and the stuff is so good that I could write two pages just about them. Speaking of pizza, there is Pizza 4Ps in Le Thanh Ton Street: The restaurant is so stuffed that you have to book your table days in advance. They also sell excellent cheese made in Da Lat. There are French restaurants around and Singaporean places, Thai food and even a few places offering the taste of the Middle East. You understand that I have to postpone it and write about the delicious foodie experiences in a separate article. (We actually dedicated an entire website to food experience right here: Saigon Eats. Enjoy!
From local markets over shopping malls and famous wholesale markets to crammed import shops and stylish boutiques, Saigon has everything you need in every quality and price category you can imagine. The shopping section will definitely be expanded in the future and the most interesting places to buy your traditional Vietnamese souvenirs will be a part of it.
Famous Markets in Saigon
Nobody visits Southeast Asia without checking out the vibrant and colourful markets. Saigon offers a broad variety of places to explore and spend your hard earned money. The most famous one is definitely Ben Thanh Market in District 1. This place is bustling with vendors and tourists and interesting to investigate if you keep your eyes on your wallet and camera. The prices are definitely too high here, but you can always bargain for the price. In our market section we will list some more great places to get lost between colourful fabrics and fragrant spices, so stay tuned!
If you stay in Saigon for just a short amount of time, the sightseeing opportunities and one or two of our tours are more than enough to fill in every day from breakfast to dinner, leaving some room for the city's colourful nightlife. However, if you plan a longer stay or become an expat in Saigon, you may want to check out some of the activities that are not just typically for tourists.
Now what a surprise! In Saigon you can find classes for almost any leisure activity you can think of. Whether you want to learn how to cook Vietnamese food (or other kinds of food for that matter), how to speak a variety of languages, hone your crafting skills or train your physical abilities by exploring different kinds of sports, you can do so at many public or private schools. Most of these classes however are held in Vietnamese and finding English ones is a bit more challenging.
If you live in Ho Chi Minh City for longer, you may enjoy the one or another day tour to the Mekong Delta, the Central Highlands, Phu Quoc Island or the beaches at Vung Tau. Here we describe the most popular tours that people can undertake over the weekend.
Even if it usually doesn't bubble to the surface, the city features a variety of games for groups of people. Puzzle games, live roleplay and detective games are on this list of cool things to do.
There are two big amusement parks in Saigon. Dam Sen Waterpark and Suoi Tien Park. Both offer a nice but kitschy landscape and a variety of rides from cosy to action-laden.
Saigon is greener than other cities in Asia, which originates from the original French building plans and the Vietnamese love for evening activities. There are many parks around and in the evening you can find people doing exercises or sitting around doing their thing. Some parks are nicer than others though and some, like the notorious 23/9 Park next to the backpacker's area you may want to avoid after 11pm.
There are many things to see in Ho Chi Minh City and most of the coolest pearls of street food, art and architecture are hidden away in the alleys. While you may not be too eager to strive through these alleys after 10pm, during daylight you can explore each one of them and have a lot of fun while doing so. There is an amazing amount of boutiques and craft shops, that pop up unexpectedly.
The nightlife in Saigon is vibrant and colourful, with an endless list of venues to choose from. Classy lounges, clubs and rooftop bars entertain with live music or DJ performances. Some of them are easygoing and nice places to hang out with friends after work, while others have quite strict door policies and dress requirements.
Coffee shops are plenty and everywhere in the city. Vietnamese and foreigners alike gather in these places that often sell snacks and fruit juices as well. There are barbecue restaurants and beer gardens that are as interesting as they are noisy and some offer eclectic meats and imported beer specialities.
Especially in the Pham Ngu Lao area you find many cafés, bars and dodgy holes where mostly tourists are gathering to drink cheap beer and the one or another cocktail.
While these places are usually cheap, they are swarming with more or less pretty girls that try to lure away customers to more silent places where they offer private massages and similar services, which can get pretty expensive, especially if you don't keep an eye on your wallet, so be careful.
Another thing we have to mention is theft and robbery. Handbags are snatched every day, even in broad daylight in front of the police stations, so if you have to carry stuff around, use a backpack. Phones get snatched even more often and even from experienced city dwellers.
If you have to use your phone, go into a corner or even better one of these mini marts, grab it firmly and always keep an eye on your surroundings. Keeping an eye on stuff is also important when you get a massage in one of the many spas in Saigon. While not all spas are dodgy places with extra service, you may want to leave your gear at the hotel before you get a massage. This is also a splendid opportunity to take a shower...
There is a vast variety of tours within the city and to the surrounding countryside. Whether you want to join a food tour on stylish motorbikes or a sightseeing round trip with the famous cyclos of Vietnam, it is possible. For stress free cyclo rides I would advise to book the service at a travel agency, since we continuously get reports of dishonest cyclo drivers trying to squeeze out more money. But if you feel adventurous and are skilled in negotiating, give it a try. Some are dishonest, but others are very nice and veterans who have only their cyclo to earn their daily bread. For more information and tour packages, please check out the Saigon Tours section of our website (once it's finished).
This paragraph is a placeholder for additional information, such as how to catch a bus, taxi fares, motorbike taxis and other interesting information the curious visitor is interested in. Keep your eyes open for more.
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