Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City) is a wonderful city to explore not only because of its economic growth and famous attractions but also because there are many urban tales, hidden pagodas, and quiet streets to be discovered. Have a look at some of Saigon’s off-the-beaten-path locations to explore the unseen side of Saigon.
As the largest Chinese community in Vietnam, Cho Lon has partly contributed to historical and cultural Saigon. Although a certain number of Chinese living there had left before the end of the Vietnam War, the area still retains its classical Chinese architecture throughout hundreds of years with several ancient buildings, restaurants, and temples.
The main attraction of Chinatown is Binh Tay Market where you can find every kind of goods ranging from Chinese and Vietnamese dried foods to traditional handicrafts. Besides, there are many local temples in this area including Thien Hau Temple and Quan Am Temple, to name a few, which offer a unique Chinese-Buddhist style architecture. Like many Chinatowns, there are a certain number of authentic Chinese restaurants here with plenty of local foods like roasted duck, BBQ porks, dim sum, dumplings, and fresh Chinese noodles. Wandering around the streets, you can fully experience its Chinese heritage and lively local lifestyle.
How to get there?
From District 1, you can follow and head west on Tran Hung Dao Street to get into District 5, where Cho Lon is located. There are many options for transportation you can choose which is the bus (Route 1: Ben Thanh Station - Cho Lon Station), motorbike taxis, and on-demand taxis apps. Besides, signing up on a private Saigon motorbike private tour with local tour guides could be more convenient for a fulfilling exploration.
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Vietnamese people often show a preference for strong coffee which is roasted, brewed, and enjoyed in a very different way from the rest of the world. The coffee is usually loaded into an aluminum filter, poured over with hot water and left for a few minutes to drip and filter the ground. This particular way of enjoying drip coffee fresh, either with condensed milk or plain black, is popularly known as “ca phe phin”.
As an essential part of the coffee culture in Saigon, coffee shops are a favorite place for Vietnamese, especially young people, to gather with friends and colleagues, chatting and catching up over a nice cup of coffee. There are several hidden coffee shops in the city, which has contributed to another side of Saigon. Those coffee shops usually offer a unique ambiance with a distinct smell of coffee and vintage décor styles.
1. Tram Café
Tram Café is decorated like a tropical forest in the middle of Saigon. The canopy of trees outside of the café creates a cool shade for the outdoor seats and tables. Meanwhile, inside seating is pretty cozy and comfortable with gentle lighting.
Address: 100 Tran Huy Lieu Street, Phu Nhuan District
Opening Hours: Daily 6:30 AM - 11 PM
Price: VND 40,000 - VND 66,000
2. Mockingbird Café
The café is located on the fourth floor of an old colonial apartment building quietly hidden in a Saigon alley on Ton That Dam Street. Mockingbird Café is a charming café with a small bar counter and a great view of the surroundings of the old apartment.
Address: 4th Floor, Old Apartment Building, 14 Ton That Dam Street, District 1
Opening Hours: Daily 9 AM – 11 PM
Price: VND 30,000 - VND 50,000
3. Things Café
On the first floor of the same building as Mockingbird, Things Café offers you another vintage ambiance. Unlike Mockingbird, Things Café is decorated with many old antique items, table lamps, chess boards, and old books.
Address: 1st Floor, Old Apartment Building, 14 Ton That Dam Street, District 1
Opening Hours: Daily 9 AM - 10 PM
Price: VND 20,000 - VND 55,000
Read more on Coffee Houses in Ho Chi Minh City.
Vietnam has a strong following tradition of Buddhism besides a wide variety of religions including Catholicism, Caodaism, and Hinduism. This diversity has led to a substantial collection of places of worship with unique architectural structures of these different religions. Visiting those local places of worship will give you a chance to uncover another unseen side of Saigon regarding religious and cultural life.
1. Giac Lam Pagoda
Being built in 1744, Giac Lam Pagoda is the oldest pagoda in Saigon, which has a typical structure of Southern pagodas. There are many Buddhas being worshipped and many ancient statues made of different materials including wood, cement, and bronze in this pagoda. Most of these statues reflect the Vietnamese art of sculpture that first appeared in the 18th century.
How to get there?
You can reach this pagoda by taking a taxi/motorbike taxi or catching a bus. If you prefer traveling by bus, you should catch the bus number 27 at Ben Thanh Station and get off at the crossroads of Lac Long Quan street and Au Co street.
Address: 565 Lac Long Quan, Ward 10, Tan Binh District
2. The Floating Temple (Mieu Noi) in Go Vap District
A beguiling sight in the heart of Vam Thuat River, this floating temple in Saigon sits on a river islet that covers an area of 2,500 square meters and is over 300 years old. From the overwhelming number of dragons at the entrance to the pompous architectural blend of Vietnamese and Chinese styles, this multi-colored architect is bound to attract you. After years of being neglected, the temple rose to worship again in the early 90s thanks to Luc Cau, a Chinese-Vietnamese resident who invested his hard-earned money, along with financial support he got from persuading the locals, into renovating the site. Nowadays, the serene atmosphere of clear water and lush vegetation is blessed with kind wishes from every pilgrims and visitors, who find respite in this calming temple from the whirlwind of city life.
How to get there?
From the Ben Thanh Bus Station, take bus route 18 and get off at the 26th stop (Industrial University). From there, you should head to Nguyen Thai Son Street, turn right, reach the end of Nguyen Thai Son Street, and turn right into Tran Bao Giao Street. In the next 500m or so, you’ll see the parking where people leave their vehicles (for a small charge) to take a boat to the temple.
Address: Vam Thuat River (a branch of Saigon River), Ward 5, Go Vap District
Charge: US$ 0.5 for a boat ride (both ways).
Get your bus tickets online:
3. Nhi Phu Temple (Ong Bon Temple)
Situated right in the middle of the busy and chaotic Cho Lon, this temple is not to be missed when you visit the area. Roughly the same size as the Floating Temple, Nhi Phu Temple has a long history, commencing in the late 18th century. Its architecture and interior decoration are purely Chinese, or to be more precise, in the Fujian style. The highlight must be the awe-inspiring altar of Ong Bon – the major God of the temple – an erudite man who led Chinese entrepreneurs to success in new lands, but various statues of other Gods made from gypsum should not be missed either. Enjoy the tranquility as you admire intricate wood carvings, exquisite ceramics while treading through the evergreen garden engulfing the temple.
How to get there?
This temple is about 7 km from Ben Thanh Market. You can get a motorbike taxis to get here, or take the bus Route 1 (Ben Thanh - Cholon) and get off at the 24th stop on Hai Thuong Lan Ong Street and walk a few steps down the road to the temple.
Address: 264 Hai Thuong Lan Ong, Ward 14, District 5
Read more on Best Temples and Pagodas in Ho Chi Minh City.
Explore Thanh An Island
Thanh An is a small island belonging to Can Gio District of Saigon with an area of around 130 square kilometers and about 5,000 inhabitants. It might take you approximately 3 hours to reach there from the center of Saigon by bus. A relatively quiet attraction without many tourists, Thanh An remains its natural beauty and particular aspects of local lives. Thanh An Island, therefore, has gradually become a favorite destination for young people to have a day-camp trip on weekends.
One of the most attractive factors of this beautiful island is a paradise of fresh seafood at an extremely reasonable price without any act of overcharging tourists. One thing you have to take notice of is that because Thanh An Island is not a tourist attraction, it seems to be challenging to find hotels or guesthouses on this island.
How to get there?
From Saigon, there are two options for you to get there. The first one is to catch bus number 75 (Saigon - Can Gio) to the last stop - Can Thanh, then take a boat to the island. You can also go by motorbike or private car to enjoy the peaceful sceneries of Can Gio. However, it is advisable to prepare a map and ask some locals you meet on the way to make sure that you are going on the right way, or better yet, have a local guide to take you there.
Have a Peaceful Time in Tao Dan Park
Tao Dan Park in District 1 can be considered as a small tropical forest in the middle of Saigon. This park has been an important part of Saigon locals’ lives for hundreds of years as a center of entertainment and physical activities. Visiting Tao Dan in the early morning and the late afternoon, you will often see people doing light exercises, jogging, playing badminton, and aerobic dancing. The highlight is the beautiful sounds of hundreds of birds standing out in the calm atmosphere here. There are many bird breeders gather at the park to compete for the bird with the best singing voice in the morning.
How to get there?
The park is in District 1 at the block that is surrounded by four streets: Cach Mang Thang Tam, Nguyen Thi Minh Khai, Nguyen Du, and Huyen Tran Cong Chua. It is a 15-minute walk from Ben Thanh Market; take a right to Le Lai Street, another right to Truong Dinh Street, head down the road until you reach the intersection with Nguyen Du Street and you would find the park right in front of you.
Read more on Public Parks in Ho Chi Minh City.
Get Lost in An Dong Market
As the biggest wholesale market of Saigon, An Dong Market is one of the traditional markets where you can find anything ranging from foods to furniture and accessories. Clothes, fabrics, and handicrafts are among the most popular items here. There are a number of merchants coming to An Dong Market on a daily basis due to its variety of goods in both number and price factors. Besides, the market can offer you a wide range of local foods, especially traditional Vietnamese desserts, and dried foods, such as cashews, pecans, and pistachios.
How to get there?
To get there, you can take buses number 56 (get off at the 10th stop) or number 11 (get off at the 16th stop) from Ben Thanh Station or hail a ride with taxis.
Address: B63 Cong Truong An Dong, Ward 9, District 5
For other attractions in Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City), check out our guide on Ho Chi Minh City Districts Overview.
Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City) has always been a worth-exploring due to not only famous attractions but also many quiet alleys, local places of worship and beautiful suburban areas. Check out our Saigon motorbike tours for a memorable travel experience in Saigon.
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I love the Other Side tour. It was incredible to see another side of Ho Chi Minh that has not been portraited by the public media at all. I learned so many great things about local life. Mie was the best guide. She took me to try local foods as well. If you think Vietnamese cuisine is all about Pho, you must travel with these guys for an eye-opening experience