Vietnam’s most vibrant city is a sprawling metropolis. We’ve put together a list of the best experiences for visitors
Like many good things in life, getting to know Saigon, or Ho Chi Minh City to tourists, takes time. Obscure alleyways, hidden cafés and out-of-sight bars are all part of what makes Saigon such a fascinating – and sometimes, perplexing – destination. Here’s a list of what to do during your short stay:
Saigon holds a wealth of treasures for culture-seekers, foodies, history-lovers and shopaholics. Art enthusiasts should join Sophie’s Art Tour, visit the Fine Arts Museum or catch the AO Show at the Saigon Opera House. History buffs can sign up for Tim Doling’s excellent walking tour, with loads of fascinating insights into old Saigon. Budding cooks can ride with Vietnam Vespa Adventures to sample Saigon’s street food scene, or join a cooking class that includes a visit to a local wet market. Visit the emotionally charged War Remnants Museum or the Cu Chi Tunnels outside the city to get a glimpse of this period of Vietnam’s history. Shop at the boutiques, galleries, tailor outlets and malls on Dong Khoi, or dust off your bargaining skills at Saigon Square on Pasteur.
Best place to observe the locals
Saigon’s parks are communal gardens, sport and dance clubs shared by the city’s old and young. It’s easy to strike up a conversation, join in a match, buy snacks from roving vendors, or just people-watch from a park bench. A few lively parks to check out are 23-9 Park along Pham Ngu Lao, Tao Dan Park near the Reunification Palace, and 30-4 Park near the Notre Dame Cathedral. If parks aren’t your thing, pull up a stool at one of the city’s many sidewalk cafes and watch life go by over a mug of ca phe sua da.
Best street food stop
Nha Hang Ngon at 160 Pasteur St. offers safe, scrumptious street food from every corner of Vietnam in a beautiful setting, at affordable prices. Or try a bowl of Saigon’s most talked-about noodles from the Lunch Lady, made famous by Anthony Bourdain of TLC fame. Her stall is located in a quiet alley off Hoang Sa in District 1.
Best Vietnamese restaurant
Two establishments lead the way in terms of authentic Vietnamese home cooking served in atmospheric villas-turned-restaurants. These are Cuc Gach Quan at 10 Dang Tat, and May at 3/5 Hoang Sa. Be sure to call ahead to book a table.
Saigon’s enormous landmark market, Ben Thanh, boasts the lowest prices in town for fresh produce, souvenirs, clothes, cosmetics and more. If you fancy some really fresh Vietnamese fare, Ben Thanh is also a great place for lunch or dinner enjoyed in the market’s lively atmosphere.
Best venues for nightlife
Upscale watering holes Xu and Blanchy’s Tash feature DJ performances and are favourites of the Vietnamese and expat crowd. High above the busy streets, Alto and Chill are known for dazzling panoramic views of Saigon’s District 1 and beyond. For something in the middle, check out La Fenetre Soleil for French bohemian charm, La Habana for live acoustic performances, and Pacharan for Latin music and wine. One of Saigon’s largest nightlife venues, Cargo Bar in District 4, features visiting bands and DJ performances on most weekends. If you want a night on the town with the locals, head to Acoustic Bar in District 3 for some of the best live music in the city.
Best spot for sundowners
Saigon Saigon Bar is a rare combination of Vietnamese heritage, prime location and top-notch service. Not much has changed from the days when this handsome watering hole was THE gathering point for war correspondents. The bar’s 10th-floor views of the city centre are especially enjoyable at sunset, when a light breeze sweeps over the city, and the drinks are on happy hour prices.
Best table in town
If you’d like to splurge on a three-course dinner or perhaps set up a romantic date, book a table at Reflections Restaurant on the third floor of the Caravelle Hotel. Reflections’ one-of-a-kind views overlook the historic Saigon Opera House and bustling Lam Son Square. Around the corner at Ciao Bella on Dong Du St., you’ll find a great little bistro with genuine Italian food at reasonable prices.
Best advice for first-timers
For peace of mind about your fare, stick with Vinasun, Mai Linh and SaigonTourist taxis. Stay alert on the sidewalks and don’t forget to look both ways before launching into any street or alley.
Don't leave Saigon without doing this…
Hit up the spa. From riverside wellness and fitness clubs, to Indochine-inspired day spas, to downtown spa-salons, Saigon is brimming with wellness options at every price point. Soothing head-and-shoulder massages, foot massages and herbal compress massages are favourites among tired travellers. Kara Salon & Spa at the Caravelle offers spa-goers prime views of leafy Lam Son Square and the use of a private free-form swimming pool.