Saigon is an active, fast-growing city which has been an attractive tourist destination for anyone who has a chance to visit Vietnam. If you are looking for ways to get off the tourist trails in Saigon, read our recommendations for some attractions that are worth a visit and check out our Saigon’s other side tour. These sites can help you uncover the intriguing features of the city which you can rarely find in travel guides.
Unlike the cramped streets in the center of the city, the alleyways conceal themselves among the skyscrapers and let the tranquil atmosphere become their most attractive characteristic.
Several alleys are just wide enough for only one scooter to arduously go through at a time. Others may allow two trucks to run through without any difficulty, their width is no different from a normal road, but they are still considered alleys on official papers. Big or small, each of them still has many interesting things to offer.
Some of which just lead to some tranquil residential areas where you can find the local gathering in front of their house in the evening. The women would share about how their days are, the elder might go deeply into the chess matches or discuss some important news while enjoying their tea, and the kids are busy running around, playing sports such as cycling, soccer or badminton. If you want to capture these moments, don’t forget to ask for permission first. They are willing to give out some big smiley faces, so don’t hesitate.
A peaceful view of a normal hidden alleyway in Saigon
Besides the residential alleys that have been existed for many years, there are also other ones that express the citizens’ culture in their own ways. They can have some graffiti drawings that show the creativity and the free spirit of the youth. Or they might “hide” one or two great coffee shops at which you would be served the famous Vietnamese coffee. Or they can consist of dozens of street food stalls where you can find delicious dishes at super affordable prices. Trying out street food is not only a must when you come to visit this country, but it is also a great way to get off the tourist trails in Saigon.
Read the Guide to the Hidden Alleyways in Saigon for some specific addresses that can help you explore other sides of Saigon.
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In Saigon, there are five districts that are considered as suburbs: Cu Chi, Hoc Mon, Binh Chanh, Nha Be, and Can Gio. Although Saigon is not incredibly big compared to other crowded cities in the world, from District 1, it would take you at least 30 minutes and up to 2 hours to get to these suburbs, depending on the means of transport you choose and the traffic congestion.
Cu Chi is usually mentioned as “Steel Land” as it had been through the dramatic period of the Vietnam War and now it has become a historical district. The most well-known destination here is Cu Chi tunnels, an underground network of tunnels that were built by the Vietnamese soldiers. Cu Chi also has some eco-tourism site organic farm Green Noen, an ecological village of the minorities Fosaco, or Riverside Binh My Village, where you can relax in the green spaces without the noise of vehicles. Read more about Cu Chi to know what you should not miss out.
Cassava is a local specialty of Cu Chi District
Hoc Mon would be an appealing district for those who love to learn about Vietnamese pagodas, temples, and Vietnamese history. Hoang Phap Pagoda and Phap Buu Pagoda are the sacred pagodas where welcome hundreds of Buddhists to come and worship, especially in important dates such as Buddha’s Birthday or Bon festival. For the history lovers, you can visit the monuments of war soldiers like Nga Ba Giong. More details are in our guide to Hoc Mon.
On special dates, Hoang Phap Pagoda might welcome up to thousands of Buddhists
Binh Chanh District also shares many similar characteristics with Hoc Mon District. Phat Co Don (The Lonely Buddha) Pagoda is also one of the special pagodas in Vietnam. Other famous stops are the historical sites named Lang Le-Bau Co and Rach Gia. And if you are fond of fishing, Binh Chanh would be a great choice since some private businesses here offer lakes where you can sit around and escape your fast-paced life, then enjoy the fish that you catch yourself.
A fishing lake in Binh Chanh
Nha Be has a rather rural atmosphere. Some residents here still make their living by farming and fishing. However, in the recent years, investors have conducted some projects to develop this district. By building some amusement compounds and high-quality apartments, Nha Be is promised to become the alternative that the citizens can look for when the inner city is too packed. Read more about Nha Be.
Can Gio is the only suburb which is closed to the beach. In the short holidays or on the weekends, many people would flood to the district to make the most of the fresh air from the sea. It also has Vam Sat salt-marsh forest ecological park where you can reconcile with nature, and Monkey Island - a place to meet and play with the naughty human’s close relatives. When it comes to meals, you should take a look at Can Gio Market and Hang Duong Market. Find out more with our guide to Can Gio.
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Explore the bridges is an interesting way to get off the tourist trails in Saigon. Some old bridges have been existed for so long that they have witnessed lots of ups and downs and become the historical witnesses of Saigon. Some other bridges which were built in the development stage of the country. Their missions are not only contributing to solving the traffic problem but also being the icons that represent the dynamic and active vibe of the city.
Two of the most ancient bridges in Saigon are Mong Bridge and Khanh Hoi Bridge. These bridges have been rebuilt or rehabilitated many times to adjust to the demands and assure safety for the citizens.
Address: Ward 12, District 4
This is an overpass walkway that was built in an antique French structure more than 120 years ago. It is located on Tau Hu Canal, just about 1 kilometer from Ben Thanh Market, so if you are in District 1, you can easily find the way there on foot.
Standing on this mint bridge, you can see the bud-of-lotus-shaped building named Bitexco Financial Tower, which used to be the highest tower in Saigon until its record was broken by Landmark 81 in July 2018. Locals and tourists love taking pictures here since it is not very crowded and it has a refreshing river view. Mong Bridge is also known as the Love Bridge, a lot of young couples have come here and left a lock with their names written on the railing with a hope that their love would last forever.
The mint color of Mong Bridge is distinctive
Khanh Hoi Bridge
Address: Ward 12, District 4
Not far away from Mong Bridge is another over-100-year-old bridge named Khanh Hoi. When it was first built in 1904, the bridge was rotatable so that it would allow ships to go through. However, this feature had only lasted for several decades until, in 1940, a railway was constructed to go over it. A few years later, the bridge was reinforced by concrete.
In 2006, Khanh Hoi Bridge was upgraded to be a path to Thu Thiem Tunnel (another place to get off the tourist trails in Saigon, which will be mentioned below). It is now an aesthetic softly-curved bridge with colorful lights. This four-lane divided bridge is a favorite spot for many citizens to watch the fireworks on special dates such as New Year’s Eve or Vietnamese Independence Day.
Khanh Hoi Bridge from a top side view
Anh Sao Bridge (Starlight Bridge)
Address: Phu My Hung, District 7
Located about 9 kilometers from district 1, it would take you 30-45 minutes to go by bus to Anh Sao Bridge. Come to the Bus Center to take the bus number 102 or 34 (VND 5,000 - VND 6,000/one-way ticket) and then get off at the Crescent Mall Stop, and continue to walk about 700 meters to reach the bridge.
The bridge is named based on the lighting system here. It makes you feel like you are watching or walking on the Milky Way at night. Pristine Ban Nguyet Lake (Crescent Lake) and the green grass lawns also create a relaxing and enjoyable atmosphere for the visitors.
Anh Sao Bridge is like a milky way on earth
Bridge for Pedestrians in Gia Dinh Park
Address: Hoang Minh Giam, Ward 3, Go Vap District
The construction of the bridge has just completed in 2018 and the bridge is now the so-called most beautiful overpass walkway in Saigon. It is approximately 6.5 kilometers from the city center. To get here by bus, from the Bus Center, take bus number 4 to Quan Khu 7 Stadium, and then take bus number 50 to Gia Dinh Park. The expense for the two buses is 11,000 VND in total.
This bridge is carefully designed and decorated with a good lighting system, green grass, colorful flowers, and miniature oases. If you come here in the morning, you can see many residents do exercises in the park. They might jog, run, play badminton, play cuju or even dance. The existence of the bridge has glorified Gia Dinh Park, a rare green space in this busy city.
The pedestrian bridge in Go Vap District connects two parts of Gia Dinh Park
See our guide to Saigon's Bridges
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There are not many tunnels in Saigon, and the purpose of them is either to serve in the wars or transporting services. So if you consider yourself as someone who is interested in Vietnamese history, or if you just want to sneak out of the hurry roads and enjoy fresh air, this is the perfect way to get off the tourist trails in Saigon for you.
For the historical tunnels, Cu Chi Tunnels are the most well-known site in this category. Our private Cu Chi Tunnels tour is designed to help you get the best experience with enthusiastic local English-speaking tour guides, insurance, and pickup - dropoff services.
Going inside the famous Cu Chi Tunnels
Another wholesome yet less famous monument is Phu Tho Hoa Tunnels. Due to the missing of the related documents and the information of the contemporary witnesses, this system has not attracted and been known by many people, even by the locals. Sitting in Tan Phu District, much closer to the city center compared to Cu Chi, it is promised to become a golden destination in the near future.
The entrance to Phu Tho Hoa Tunnels
Moving to the other part of Saigon, we have Thu Thiem Tunnel, or Saigon River Tunnel, as a representative of the city’s development. It links Vo Van Kiet District 1 with Mai Chi Tho, District 2. The tunnel is built to make Thu Thiem Peninsula, a poor area but owns a high potential to grow, become another center of entertainment and finance as well as an ideal residential area to reduce the pressure of the city center. The project is still in progress, but Thu Thiem tunnel has already shown how useful it is. Besides the main purpose, it is an appealing place for gathering and having a small picnic. Many young people love hanging out on the top of the tunnel, especially at nights, to admire the view. It is where you can enjoy your time in Saigon without paying any fee.
Parks near Thu Thiem Tunnel are also good places to watch the fireworks
If you are a food-lover, but you do not have much time traveling here and there, Saigon is a suitable destination for you to try out nearly every traditional dish in Vietnam. The only tip for enjoying food when you get off the tourist trail is, do not underestimate the small, simple food stalls, food carts. They can offer meals at a surprisingly affordable price, but the quality of food of these Saigon street vendors might be comparable to some luxurious restaurants. There are dozens of street food options that you should try, and a long list of Saigon exotic dishes are waiting for you to taste.
Kite-flying is a childhood hobby of many Saigonese. There are some large fields around the city where you can see dozens, or even hundreds, of multicolored kites gliding around. Most of these kites are simple, easy to fly, several of which are huge and require some technical skills to make it take off and keep it flying. Kites are directly sold at the fields, you can get a small one to join the thrilling atmosphere.
Address: Road 9, Binh Trung Tay Ward, District 2
Lots of people of different ages gather at Diamond Island and fly a kite in the afternoon
Kite Field Nguyen Van Luong
Address: At the end of Nguyen Van Luong Street, Ward 6, Go Vap District
Kite Field Nga Tu Gieng Nuoc
Address: The land near the intersection of Tran Van Muoi Street and Highway 22, Xuan Thoi Dong Ward, Hoc Mon District
Saigon has a lot of famous tourist destinations that can take you a lot of time to visit them all. However, to get to know the other sides of this city, your plan would be even much longer. Discovering the hidden alleyways, the suburbans, the ancient and modern bridges, the historical and energetic tunnels, enjoying the local cuisine, and experiencing kite-flying are what you should consider to put on your to-do list. The more activities you try, the more surprised you will feel about the marvel of Saigon.
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