City Guide: What to do while visiting Ho Chi Minh City

Ho Chi Minh City is Vietnam’s largest metropolis with over 10 million residents. HCMC is located in southern Vietnam between neighboring Cambodia and the South China Sea. I’ve been living in this crazy city for about seven months now, and have found some fun places to see and awesome things to do during my time here. Here are some of my favorite activities when visiting Ho Chi Minh City.

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1. Ride a Motorbike

The public transportation system in Vietnam has two options: Ride Share (Grab or GoViet) or the bus. If you don’t fancy any of those, you can rent a motorbike. The traffic in Vietnam, especially Ho Chi Minh City, is known for being crazy and aggressive. It’s one of the few places to experience it, so earning your motorbike bade in HCMC is a must. You can rent bikes from almost anywhere in the city for a reasonable price.

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2. Notre-Dame Cathedral

The Notre-Dame Cathedral was build for French colonialists when the French colonized Vietnam. It was built in the late 1800’s with two tall bell towers. It’s one of the city’s main symbols stretching 190 feet in District 1. My favorite thing to do is to grab a snack or drink at one of the street food vendors and sit on the curb to people watch. Doing it at night is best as the church lights up.

Pro Tip: It’s right next to the Central Post Office, which is a gorgeous displace of more French architecture. Stop by here on your visit to the cathedral. 

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3. Bui Vien Walking Street

Bui Vien is the Khao San Road of Vietnam. It’s full of shops, bars, restaurants, and is where most backpackers go for a wild night out. You can grab anything from cheap beer, to fancy cocktails, to “happy balloons.” During the day, it’s full of tourists walking around the various shops. At night, the street comes alive. The nightclubs, party hostels, street food vendors, and drunk backpackers line the street into another world.

As someone who lives in Ho Chi Minh City, I have to admit that I don’t come down here very often. But everyone that comes to the city needs to experience what Bui Vien is all about.

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4. Relax on Book Street

Known as Duong Sach Nguyen Van Binh to Vietnamese, Book Street is one of my favorite places in District 1. It’s a pedestrian street lined on each side with various book stores and coffee shops. I feel like I always wander this area for hours before getting bored. You can find almost any book you need, although you will have to shuffle through to find English books. Find a book to buy and then cozy up at one of the coffee shops and just relax.

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A bowl of Hu Tieu

5. Dig into the Local Cuisine

If you’re staying in District 1 (which most visitors do), you’ll easily be able to find western food comforts from home. Places that serve pancakes, pizza, burgers, and enchiladas are easy to find. But they come at a pretty penny. The best way to experience Ho Chi Minh City is to eat some of the local food with local people. Some of my favorite dishes include pho, com tam, hu tieu, bahn xeo, bun cha, and the famous bahn mi.

Find a random place and just ask for what ever they serve. Most places serve one dish and different variations of it. You have to experiment, the food is amazing.

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6. Take an Early Walk in the Park

Vietnam values a healthy lifestyle. A lot of the locals have a regular workout routine, and they’ll ask you what you do to stay healthy. A lot of them get outside and walk in a park. You’ll see workout equipment at some of these parks too. Because the days are so hot, most people get up early for their morning walk. Find a park near your hotel and experience the morning work out routine. It’s something you’ll never see back home, so it’s very interesting to witness. Some popular parks include  Tao Đàn Park, September 23 Park, and Vinhomes Central Park.

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7. Landmark 81

Vinhomes Central Park mentioned in number 6 is part of a huge complex in the Binh Thanh District. Inside of the complex is Landmark 81, the tallest building in Southeast Asia and the highlight of Ho Chi Minh’s skyline. It lights up beautifully at night. There’s lots of shopping and gorgeous art pieces here so it’s a nice area to wander around. You’ll get a first hand experience of where Vietnam’s upper class lives. Landmark is a residential building that is very expensive to live in, but it’s still pretty to explore.

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8. Binh Quoi Village

For some greenery inside the city, the Binh Quoi Village is the perfect location. It’s a quick Grab bike ride away and free to get in. There are three different parts to see, each offering a different view. The area is full of trees, grass, walking trails, waterways, bridges, and other areas to wander. It’s a very calming area to help reduce the stress from the chaos that is Ho Chi Minh City.

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9. Enjoy the Sunset on one of the City’s Rooftop Bars

Ho Chi Minh City has a lot of rooftop bars for you to choose from. Get there just before sunset so you can enjoy Vietnam’s pink skies with a delicious cocktail in hand. This will most likely be a more expensive bar than the other street bars, but it’s worth the view. My favorite rooftop bar is Mary Jane’s The Bar, but there are loads all over the city.

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10. War Remnants Museum

There are no rainbows or teddy bears at this place. The War Remnants Museum tells the tragic story of the war between Vietnam and America. It shows you the effects of the war on the country, and leaves most people in tears. Everyone who comes through Ho Chi Minh should spend a day here to see what Vietnam went through. It’s a very eye opening experience.

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11. Ben Thanh Market

This is one of the most popular markets in Ho Chi Minh City. It’s full of fun shops with cute souvenirs, local Vietnamese coffee and teas, and clothes to purchase. It’s a very busy place, but it’s great to experience. You can try to bargain with the shop keepers, or just take the item at face value. If you stay toward the outside of the market, the prices are marked, so you’re not able to bargain. This is nice because it takes the stress away so you can buy it for what you see.

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12. Cafe Apartments

The Cafe Apartments is an old apartment building that was converted into commercial space. You can wander up the 9 floors for a pretty cool view of the downtown area. Each unit holds a unique space. You’ll come across tea shops, cafe, sushi restaurants, shopping boutiques, lingerie stores, and much more. I love wandering around up to the Boo Cafe, and enjoying a cup of coffee on the deck with the view.

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13. Experience the Coffee Scene

The coffee scene in Vietnam is like no other. I’m even from Seattle, the home of Starbucks, and was blown away by the coffee culture. Vietnamese coffee is absolutely delicious, and is available on, literally, every street corner. You can find it from a local vendor for less than $1USD easily. Or if you experience a fancier coffee shop with indoor seating and air con, you can pay up to $4 a cup.

There are so many coffee shops hear, it’s impossible to make a list of the best ones. So just take a walk and find one to try, they’re all interesting.

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Ho Chi Minh City is a part of this world with so much culture and city to explore, you could easily explore this place for a week and still not see everything. In fact, I’ve been here for seven months and I’m still finding new places to explore. Make sure to contact us if you have questions on planning your next trip to Ho Chi Minh City, and check out our other posts on Vietnam.

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