In a city of 2,061.4 sq km, divided into 24 districts, there are so many things you can explore. From admiring architectures, learning history, culture, and trying new foods and adventures, you can find them all in Ho Chi Minh City. Here are our suggestions for what to do in the 1st time in Ho Chi Minh City.
With more small roads and rather old infrastructures, traffic in Ho Chi Minh City is more suitable for the motorcycles. There are more than 7 million motorcycles in the city, and it is the most convenient transportation choice for locals. You can make stop anywhere and get into every narrow backstreet. Weaving the streets and seeing the pace of daily life in Ho Chi Minh City through your naked eyes, through no filters or tinted glass is a must-try experience.
Check out what you can do on motorcycle tours in Ho Chi Minh City.
A ride on the back of the bike in Ho Chi Minh City with a local guide
Address: 2 Cong Xa Paris, District 1
Opening hours: Weekdays 7 AM - 7 PM, Saturday 7 AM - 6 PM, Sunday 8 AM - 6 PM
Finished in 1891, Saigon Central Post Office is one of the few French architectures that are still used for its original purpose. The wooden phone booths and the long hall will surely make you feel like traveling back in time to an old train station in Europe. And of course, in the post office, there are a lot of stamps and postcards with famous sights of Ho Chi Minh City printed on it to send to your loved ones.
Besides the vibrant color and the sophisticated sculptures, there are many interesting things around this old post office. An old man with excellent language skills writing letters in French and English for many people usually sit quietly in a table in the post. He may be able to tell you quite a few interesting things about his job and the old Saigon. There is also a book street right next to the Saigon Central Post Office, where you can find both old and new books, in many languages.
The beauty of Saigon Central Post Office at daytime
Another place to admire the French architectures in your 1st time in Ho Chi Minh City is the Saigon Opera House. It is located in the busiest area of District 1, near many fanciest hotels and shopping malls.
Address: 7 Cong Truong Lam Son, District 1
The Opera House is the place for many classical and traditional Vietnamese art performances. If you have the ticket of the shows, you can visit inside the building; otherwise, you can admire the building from the outside and join the locals having bubble tea or coffee in the park nearby.
Address: 135 Nam Ky Khoi Nghia, District 1
Opening hours: Daily, Morning 7:30 AM - 11 AM, Afternoon 1 PM - 4 PM
Independence Palace is a significant architecture of Ho Chi Minh City. Standing out with its white color and spacious green surrounding, this place used to be the home and office of French Governors and South Vietnam’s Presidents. First built in 1863, rebuilt in 1868 and 1962, the palace witnessed Ho Chi Minh City's development through the two Indochina Wars and the historic day - April 30th, 1975, Vietnam Reunification Day, when Viet Minh tank ran over the front gate of this palace.
The majestic of the palace still lasts over the years
Another place you can learn about the history of not only Ho Chi Minh City but also the events of the Vietnam War is the War Remnants Museum.
Address: 28 Vo Van Tan, District 3
Opening hours: Daily 7:30 AM - 6 PM
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Address: Quach Thi Trang Roundabout, Le Loi, District 1
Opening hours: 5 AM - 11 PM
One of the most fun things to do when traveling somewhere is shopping for cool souvenirs. Ben Thanh Market is one of the largest markets in Ho Chi Minh City, located right in the middle of the city, close to many tourist destinations, where you can find almost anything you need. It is not only served as a marketplace but also an interesting historical, architectural sight. First established around the 17th century, became the Central Market in the 19th century, and reinforced with concrete in 1911, Ben Thanh Market has always been a crowded trading place. Because of its popularity, items here are a bit pricey. You need to have some bargain skills to have a good deal, which is also one of the “survival skills” for your 1st time in Ho Chi Minh City.
The myriad of shops inside Ben Thanh Market
While the layout of stalls inside Ben Thanh Market is quite organized, there are several other local markets in Ho Chi Minh City where you can see the traditional ways of business. Most of the stalls set outdoor randomly, more locals shop for their everyday items at a lower price, and street foods are everywhere. Check out the famous local markets in Ho Chi Minh City here.
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Vietnamese are religious people. About 12% of them follow Buddhism, 7% are Christians, and almost 70% worship their ancestors or practice folk religion. If it is your 1st time in Ho Chi Minh City, the number of old and beautiful architectures of different religions like pagodas, temples, churches, and mosques you can encounter on your way may give you a big surprise.
Address: 1 Cong Xa Paris, District 1
Opening hours: temporarily closed for renovation. Only people who attend mass are allowed at 5:30 AM and 5 PM (Mon - Sat), and 5:30 AM, 6:30 AM, 7:30 AM, 9:30 AM, 4 PM, 5:15 PM, and 6:30 PM (Sun)
The church was built in the late 19th century in the missionaries' effort to grow the Catholic community in Ho Chi Minh City. All of the materials were imported from France, from the red tiles to the stained glasses. The church, now, has become an iconic figure of Ho Chi Minh City for many years and a popular place for the locals to play with pigeons and young local to hang out with the Ca Phe Bet (Makeshift Coffee) in the 30/4 park next to it.
Notre Dame Cathedral and Our Lady of Peace Statue
Address: 73 Mai Thu Luu, District 1
Opening hours: 5 AM - 6 PM, daily, to 7 PM on special occasions according to the lunar calendar (like the 1st and 15th)
Jade Emperor Pagoda, an attractive vivid pinkish-red pagoda, is famous with the locals as a sacred place to pray for fertilization. The architecture and worshipped deities in the pagoda is a combination of Buddhism, Taoism, and Confucianism. A lot of people gather here to give their offerings, and the air filled with incense smoke on special occasions like full moon and Tet holiday.
The gate of Jade Emperor Pagoda
Address: 66 Dong Du, District 1
Opening hours: 4:30 AM - 9:30 PM. Prayer at 4:22 AM, 12:30 PM, 3:30 PM, 6:25 PM, 7:34 PM.
The Musulman Mosque is the central mosque in Ho Chi Minh City. It was built in the early 20th century for the religious practice of Southern Indian Muslim expatriates in the city. Its peaceful green walls and traditional design create a beautiful balance with the high-end hotels in its surrounding. Unlike other religious sites in District 1, this mosque stays quiet and serves mostly for its believers.
The Musulman Mosque and hotels in the backdrop
Address: 710 Nguyen Trai, District 5
Opening hours: 8 AM - 4:30 PM
The Thien Hau Temple on Nguyen Trai Street is a typical design of the Chinese temple. Immigrants from China who settled in Saigon in the 18th century decided to build this place to worship Mazu, Goddess of the Sea, as a way to appreciate her help in their overseas journey. Situated in Cho Lon - Chinatown of Ho Chi Minh City, Thien Hau Temple, along with several other Chinese pagodas and temples, is perfect filming and shooting location with its mysterious and spiritual vibe.
The ancient censer inside Thien Hau Temple
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If it is your 1st time in Ho Chi Minh City, street foods are what everyone will recommend you to try. Not only the foods but also the vibe will give you a whole new experience. But before that, you cannot forget about some famous Vietnamese cuisine; they could be sold in long-established and reputed restaurants or small vendors along the streets.
Address: 413 - 415 Nguyen Trai, District 5
Opening hours: 6 AM - 1 AM
Price range: VND 62,000 - VND 80,000
Famous with both locals and foreigners for their beef noodle soup, run for over 40 years in Ho Chi Minh City
Address: 26 Le Thi Rieng, District 1
Opening hours: 2:30 PM - 11 PM
Price range: VND 40,000
The most expensive Banh mi in Ho Chi Minh City, full of stuffing like Vietnamese sausages and flavorful homemade pate
Address: 40B Tran Cao Van, District 3
Opening hours: 8 AM - 11 PM
Price range: VND 63,000 - VND 100,000
Banh xeo and Banh khot, made with Vung Tau style, are types of rice pancake with really crispy skin
Besides, you can find other traditional Vietnamese dishes here like Bun mam, Banh beo, Bun thit nuong, and Goi cuon.
Address: 11A Cao Thang, District 3
Opening hours: 7:30 AM - 22:45 PM
Price range: VND 52,000 - VND 60,000
The steamed rice roll full of minced meat and shrimp in this store is well-known to many locals and celebrities in Vietnam
If the bustling urban is not really your style, you should go to more “relaxed” districts in Ho Chi Minh City. The view of Saigon River at an airy park or the small alleyways hidden behind tall buildings and tube houses will give you a fresh look of Ho Chi Minh City. Traveling from the city downtown to these places, you can see the two sides of a developing city, the fancy and glamorous skyscrapers vs. the old and rundown houses.
A view from the other side of Ho Chi Minh City
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Some famous sites like Notre Dame Cathedral or historical sights like Independence Palace are what you should visit to have a brief look at Ho Chi Minh City. But to explore the city to the fullest, you must visit other attractions like pagodas and temples, get into the hidden gems like alleyways and local markets, try new experiences like a ride on the back of the bike and enjoy the wonders of Ho Chi Minh City’s street foods. Keep our list of suggestions in mind and make the best of your 1st time in Ho Chi Minh City.
Helpful Information for 1st Time in Ho Chi Minh CityBest Time to Visit Ho Chi Minh City
Tan Son Nhat Airport Arrival Tips
Getting Around Ho Chi Minh City
An Introduction to Ho Chi Minh City
Typical Costs of Traveling in Ho Chi Minh City
One-day Itinerary in Ho Chi Minh City
© Written by Nhi Nguyen for itourvn.com
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After my mediocre experience in Cambodia, I was pleasantly surprised when traveling in Ho Chi Minh. Life is moving so fast here and there are so many things to do. I was lucky to be accompanied by a smart local guide. I would highly recommend booking a private tour if it is your fist time here