What To Do In Ho Chi Minh City

Preparations are underway for an old friend to visit us in Ho Chi Minh City. And the preparations are taking the form of planning what we’re going to do with our stylish European mate while he’s here.

He’s visited before, so he has seen some of the good stuff. But I want to share my Saigon with him, in all its chaotic quirkiness. I want to take him to a footpath eatery to sit on a tiny chair and feast on seafood, then zip him over to a fancy bar for cocktails — all while wearing the same pair of shorts.

I want to show him the smiles, which are warmer and wider outside Ho Chi Minh City’s tourist areas, and the everyday life of Vietnamese people. I want to fill him full of Vietnam’s fabulous coffee, phở, bánh mì, bánh bèo, mì Quảng, bánh cuốn and all my other favourite dishes.

When friends come to visit we EAT, as Sally (aka Unbrave Girl) gracefully demonstrates.

When friends come to visit we EAT, as Sally (aka Unbrave Girl) gracefully demonstrates.

Since my body is flooded with pregnancy-related procrastination hormones, I’ve also been trying to work out how I’d entertain friends and family who are not actually coming to visit.

The procrastination hormones are flowing so fast that I spent hours compiling my procrastinatory thoughts into a helpful blog post for people who are planning to visit Ho Chi Minh City.

All our visitors would be dispatched into town with a map and a guidebook that lists what to do in Ho Chi Minh City and the addresses of the main sights – the shagadelic Reunification Palace, the General Post Office, the Opera House and the Hôtel de Ville (aka City Hall), all interesting, worth visiting and/or seeing and accessible on foot.

The Notre Dame Cathedral

The Notre Dame Cathedral

They’d be warned to stay away from the Ben Thanh Market with its hideously pushy vendors and sub-standard food stalls and also to steer clear of the xích lô (cyclo) drivers who always overcharge.

They’d be left to choose whether or not to visit the War Remnants Museum, which can be a bit depressing. And they’d be steered towards Saigon River Express and Innoviet for visits to the Cu Chi Tunnels and the Mekong Delta.

All our visitors would be taken along on one or two of our street food tours, because they’re based on what we did with visitors anyway. And a visit to Vietnam should include lots and lots of fabulous food, especially street food.

Because everyone has different tastes and interests, we’d do different things depending on who is (theoretically)  visiting.

 

If my vegetarian sister was coming to visit, we’d:

* eat at Hum vegetarian restaurant for pan-Asian style food in stylish decor;

* have half a half-day of pampering at Cat Moc Spa, owned and operated by the lovely Ms Khanh who went to university with Darling Man;

* eat at Hoa Dang vegetarian restaurant for Vietnamese-style vegan food, including a range of mock meats, in an upscale cafeteria atmosphere;

* act like 1920s colonial overlords at Temple Club;

* do a Saigon Unseen tour; and

* eat chè at Tan Dinh Market and then browse the fabric shops along Hai Ba Trung Street.

 

If my vegetarian sister’s three boys were coming as well, we’d:

* visit Dam Sen Water Park (not on a Tuesday, though, because it’s closed);

* visit the water and amusement park sections of the ultra-whacky Suoi Tien Theme Park;

* discuss whether teenage boys are too mature for a water puppet show; and

* see if teenage boys (accompanied by their of-age but still amazingly young mum and aunt) could get into Acoustic to see some live cover bands … because the middle boy is a drummer and needs to see the best of the best.

 

If my hipster DJ sister was coming to visit, we’d:

* visit Hoa Vien microbrewery to try the Belgian-style craft beer and eat Eastern European food with chopsticks;

* get our hair and nails done at Jasmine Spa then pop next door for a squiz at Saigon Kitsch, a cute little gift and souvenir shop;

* be seen at Chill Skybar, billed as Ho Chi Minh City’s hippest spot (certainly one of the most expensive);

* make inappropriate jokes at Fanny Ice Cream (especially if eating durian ice cream);

* get sweaty with David of Golden Hands Pilates (from a distance, of course); and

* discuss the benefits of brunch at the Intercontinental Asiana, which starts at midday and includes a chocolate fountain, free-flow Veuve, tequila shots and an oyster and vodka bar.

 

If my mum was coming to visit, we’d:

* take Sophie’s Art Tour, fascinating for its overview of Vietnam’s recent history as well as for the art;

* spend a lot of time at Snap Cafe, known at our place as “the cafe playground”, the most child-friendly venue in all of Ho Chi Minh City (because it has free wifi, a free two-for-one book exchange, a fully-stocked bar, great food AND it allows adults to sit while kids run, jump, climb and throw sand at each other);

* look for hidden treasures in Saigon’s “antique street” (Le Cong Kieu) near the banned-by-me Ben Thanh Market;

* watch clumps of water hyacinth float down the Saigon River while sipping cocktails at The Deck in District 2;

* have a family portrait session at Saigon Crazee; and

* take a cooking course at Vietnam Cookery Center.

 

And that brings me to my old friend who actually is visiting. What are we going to do with him?

Well ….

 

When my elegant European friend comes to visit, we’ll:

* go see the Cu Chi Tunnels (because neither he nor Darling Man has been);

* lounge by the pool at Thao Dien Village, a pricey not-everyday option because he’s from Europe and Europeans love lounging when they’re on holidays. The pool is also right by the Saigon River and surrounded by palm trees and deck chairs, so it feels like you’re on a tropical island;

* book in for therapeutic massages with Hieu from Golden Hands Massage;

* dine at the super-groovy Cafe If, which serves contemporary Vietnamese dishes;

* do cheesy Vietnam-style photo-shoots at Van Thanh Park (48/10 Dien Bien Phu Street, Binh Thanh District) and Binh Quoi Tourist Village (1147 Binh Quoi Street, Binh Thanh District); and

* spend three days in Vung Tau eating seafood and bánh khọt, visiting giant Jesus and Buddha statues and driving motorbikes out to visit waterfalls that Darling Man has heard of but never seen.

 

Now … what could I have possibly forgotten? Have you got any tips for quirky things to do in Ho Chi Minh City? Leave your suggestions (or questions) in the comments below.

 

(And now I am imagining my sisters arguing over who got the best suggestions. And my cousin David complaining that I didn’t do one for him, even though it’s obvious he should take the hipster choices.)

 

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6 years ago

By: Barbara

A career girl who dropped out, traveled, found love, and never got around to going home again. Now wrangling a cross-cultural relationship and two third culture kids.

30 Comments

  1. Denise says:

    What a great article. I hope to one day make it back to Vietnam (though at this rate with all the new countries I want to visit it will be a while) and then I’d like to give Ho Chi Minh city another go. When I was there I was sick and had no real clue what to do so I didn’t end up enjoying it as much as other parts of Vietnam.

  2. Wow. You’ve got it all figured out! I’m going to start referring to you as the human tour guide! I think there’s going to be a Saigon food tour in my future next year!!!

  3. Jan says:

    Hi Barbara,
    Fabulous post. I spent a short week in Saigon earlier this year and need to return now to try your great suggestions, although Dam Sen water park is already one of our favourites. Congrats on the new addition. 🙂
    Jan

  4. what great tips!!! i’d like to do ALL of those things…
    wanderingeducators recently posted..Tiny House Travelers

  5. Yes please 🙂 to all of it. Dreaming of planning a trip over now.
    Malinda @ My Brown Paper Packages recently posted..Lemon Meringue Cupcakes

  6. Willow says:

    I have lived in Saigon for nine months and a lot of these suggestions are new to me. How fantastic! Thanks for such an interesting and quirky list!

  7. Maggie says:

    Wow, your posts are great! Our family of five will be spending our Christmas holidays in Saigon. I have been anxious since we are traveling with two young kiddos and an 8 month old! I want to hire you as our guide :). Your posts have given me confidence that it will be doable and fun. Any suggestions on the Mekong Delta?

    • Barbara says:

      No suggestions for the Mekong Delta, Maggie, apart from the companies I mentioned in the post. I hope you have a great time in Saigon. It is a lot of fun at Christmas time.

  8. Noelle says:

    Love these, thank you! My husband and I are currently in Saigon and are working now on trying to decide on the street food tour to go with!

  9. Mo says:

    Brilliant post! Everything I need is here. Now I’m seriously excited about our impending arrival in Ho Chi Minh City – thank you! Just one complaint – how are we going to fit in all the wonderful things you’ve shared here – I want some of all of the above itineraries!!

  10. Doti says:

    Great suggestions! I’m planning a trip for October. I booked through a budget airline so my flight times are not very ideal. Any suggestions on things we can do when we arrive really early in the morning (1am) and for killing time after hotel check out and before we fly out (1am return flight)?

    • Barbara says:

      Well, Ho Chi Minh City is a city that never sleeps so you should be able to while away the hours eating and drinking, either on the street or in a fancy place.

      I need my sleep, so I’d be checking into a hotel at 1am and getting as much shut-eye as possible. Trying to actually do something with luggage in a strange city at that time of the morning seems like far too much hard work to me.

  11. lisa says:

    Looking for some of your wonderful insight for Vung Tau –
    How to get here?
    Places to see and of course your best food tips for here?!
    PLEASE

    Thanks
    Lisa

    • Barbara says:

      Oh dear, Lisa, I hope my response isn’t too late. Ganh Hao seafood restaurant in Vung Tau is great, the spring rolls there are the best I’ve tasted in Vietnam! I also like to stop for a coffee at the crazy Lan Rung Resort and Spa. The views are great and it’s fun to play spot-the-statue as you walk through the garden. Happy trails (and eating)!

      Also, you need to get there by bus. The ferry service has been suspended.

      • Lisa says:

        Thanks Barbara, I will be taking your advice and tips. I was tossing up between Mui Ne and Vung Tau for 3 nights….. I have been told that Mui Ne is a bit too far? Have you been to both and could you please outline some approx. driving times? (with a driver as I wont be driving!)

        Regards
        Lisa

        • Barbara says:

          Mui Ne is a long way, four hours on the train and then another 30 minutes or so by taxi. It’s also an artificial and soul-less strip of overpriced resorts on a not-very-nice and windy beach. I have been several times over the years and I’ve never grasped the appeal of the place. Vung Tau, on the other hand, is a very local and very quirky destination. Not so easy to get around unless you hire a motorbike, but still do-able. There’s a new highway so Vung Tau is now only 2 hours away, by bus or taxi. My vote is for Vung Tau!

          • Lisa says:

            Hi Barbara,
            I listened to your advice and thought the roads would be too busy, so in the end we are having a few days in Phu Quoc! Have you been?
            Also, of you are still in SGN can you recommend a good jeweller and Tailor maybe?
            Thanks
            Lisa

          • Barbara says:

            Yes, I’ve been to Phu Quoc, LOVE Mango Bay Resort there, and Bo Resort just next door. If staying there is out of your price range, rock up for sunset drinks.
            I don’t have any jeweler recommendations for Ho Chi Minh City, although if your budget is big you should visit Gallery Vivekkevin for one-off pieces. Alas, my lovely tailor died about a year ago and I’m yet to find a replacement. She was so young, only 54, and I really miss her! Not just for her tailoring abilities, she was lovely.

  12. Clara says:

    Well that was a lot of fun to read !

    Great article Barbara! I might have something to add : It’s pretty recent (less then a year) but already really great : URBAN TALES in Cholon (the Chinese district). “Halfway between a life-sized investigation, an original city-tour and a treasure hunt, Urban Tales invite you to solve a mysterious case of murder that took place in the thick ambiance of Cholon. By following in the footsteps of the culprit you will also enjoy an unusual self-guided tour of Ho Chi Minh City’s fascinating Chinese quarter.

    This 1/2 day excursion has been especially designed for individual travelers willing to discover the city by themselves. The scenario will lead the visitor to some of Cholon best kept secrets: century-old temples and pagodas, traditional Chinese medicine boutiques, votive paper shops and hidden lanes.”

    My boyfriend and I had an awesome time doing this, plus there’s a ride in Vintage cars and a full traditional chinese meal ! I guess it would suit your sister’s three boys as well as your elegant European Friend ^^

    http://www.urban-tales.com/

    If you try it out, let me know how it goes !

    Cheers and happy travels !

    Clara.

    • Barbara says:

      Hi Clara! Thanks for dropping by. I’ve heard about Urban Tales and one other similar new activity. I just haven’t had time to go check them out for myself yet.

  13. Fabrice says:

    Hi Barbara, can we envoye you to test Urban Tales? Cheers Fabrice

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