Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam’s largest city, is a large expanse of history and architectural wonder. One day is a tight squeeze for all of the cultural sights it has to offer. Though with this guide, you’ll be able to walk through the city with stories and experiences to carry with you until your next visit.
This travel itinerary is a rough guide of what a day in Saigon could look like. Optional detours and sights will be offered to suit your individual needs. So let’s begin!
A quick note
The easiest way to travel around Saigon is by using Grab or another taxi-hailing app. Most of the city sights are in the centre, so your average journey between different areas should cost as little as 30-50k (around 2usd) if you’re using their bike service.
Start your day in Saigon with a Vietnamese breakfast. We recommend the backpacker district, Bui Vien, since it’s so centrally located and has a few options for tourists.
Banh Mi is Vietnam’s baguette sandwich, which will power you through the first few hours of the day. There are street vendors who should be able to provide one of these delicious treats for about 15k, though for a high-quality toasted sandwich Banh Mi 362 on Duong De Tham (267 Đường Đề Thám, Phường Phạm Ngũ Lão, Quận 1, Hồ Chí Minh 70000, Vietnam) is a reliable option.
Nguyen Hue walking street is the next stop on this tour of the city. This long stretch is the closest that Saigon has to a city square. On one end is the Saigon waterfront, and on the other is the city hall building. While making your way from one side to another, you’ll be greeted by the beautiful Cafe Apartments, as well as some city skyscrapers housing several major banks.
The Cafe Apartments have a range of quirky spots to have a Caphe Sua Da in. They were originally apartments that were used to house soldiers around the 1960s, though were later given to the dockworkers in the area. Development of the area led to many renting out their homes to be used as cafes. Not the Cafe Apartments building is home to a coworking space, fashion brands and restaurants.
At the northern end, Saigon City Hall stands. It features french architecture which dates back to its development between 1902 and 1908. It’s not open to the public, but it provides an attractive sight both during the day and night.
Your next stop few stops also show the French influence over the city. The Saigon Opera house (or Municipal Theatre) still operates to this day after its first show took place on January 17th, 1900. Tickets can be booked for the shows. These usually start at 30usd per ticket. Prices depend on your seating area: ‘aah’ (the cheapest), ‘ooh’ and ‘wow’ (the priciest).
The next place is for anyone who wants to marvel at some more French era architecture, or for anyone wanting to post a letter. The Saigon Post Office still operates as the city’s central post office. The interior is faithful to its European roots, with the picture of Ho Chi Minh at the furthest end marking a change to its original vision. And in the central atrium, there’s a generously spaced area for writing to loved ones back home.
Duc Ba Cathedral sits outside of the Post Office. Constructed in 1880, the Cathedral was originally named L’eglise Saigon by its French Architect. At the time of writing this, it’s currently being renovated as a result of water damage to the roof. As a result, there’s no entry and scaffolding obscures any chance of that perfect picture opportunity.
The War Remnants museum serves as a lesson on how deeply the Vietnamese war affected the people here. All sides of this topic are covered. On the ground floor, you’ll see pictures of the people who protested against the Vietnamese War from around the world. The galleries upstairs show the shocking images of the conflict. These are startling but show a side of this country’s history which should never be forgotten.
The horrors of the war are a lot to take in. To balance out the challenging imagery there you can relax in one of the nearby spas. A short 10 minute walk away is Golden Lotus Healing Spa which should rejuvenate you in time for the evening.
If the War Museum seems like it’ll be a lot to take in, a visit to the Pink Church on Hai Ba Trung street will be a gentler way to spend the afternoon. This church features an all-pink exterior, as its colloquial name suggests, which makes it one of the more photographable areas in the city.
Ben Thanh Market is the sprawling home of counterfeit goods, Vietnamese coffee, flowers, clothes, and watches. There’s actually very little that isn’t sold here. However, it can be a disorienting place to visit thanks to the pushy salespeople running the stalls. You’ll rarely have a moment not interrupted by people offering you a ‘cheap price’ for their knock-off North Face bag and novelty T-shirts. Having said that, the market is worth walking through for the occasional cheap item. Just make sure you’re ready to haggle the prices to something more acceptable. The general rule of offering them a third of the initial price usually works a treat.
For a fine dining experience, Bitexco (Bitexco Financial Tower, 7, 2 Hải Triều, Bến Nghé, Quận 1, Hồ Chí Minh 700000) is one of the best options around. For a view from the 48th/49th floor, you’d be expected to pay 200k VND (9USD). However, you’ll be able to eat at a restaurant, Eon51, on the 51st floor for around 180-400k depending on what you choose from their menu. The view is fantastic, but you won’t have access to a telescope.
The light show is a recent addition to the city, which is shown every day at 6:30pm and 8pm. This takes place on Nguyen Hue walking street, by the fountain with a lotus flower at its center. The show lasts for only 5-10 minutes, so it’s a quick and fun way to start the night.
For the final stretch of the day, we’ll head back to where we started. Bui Vien takes on a different vibe during the night. Clubs, bars and fast food places open up for travellers looking for a fun night out.
For a few cheap drinks, some good options are Lam Cafe or any of the surrounding bars. There’s a nice rooftop bar called ‘The View’ which provides exactly what its name suggests. It’s not quite as glamorous as what Bitexco has to offer, but it’s a pleasant way to spend the night. Drinks here start at around 60k (3USD) which is on the steep side compared to other bars in the area, but the pleasant atmosphere away from the hectic streets below is worth it.
Another option is to head to Acoustic bar (6E1 Hẻm 6 Ngô Thời Nhiệm, Phường 7, Quận 3, Hồ Chí Minh, Vietnam) which has live music throughout the night on the weekend. Performances consist of classic covers to heavy rock depending on the night. Near to Acoustic Bar is Yoko Cafe which is also great for those looking for local bands and a more relaxed atmosphere.
Whether you’re wanting to discover more about the country’s rich history, enjoy traditional food, or experience a stunning cityscape; Saigon will satisfy. For one day, you’ll have more than enough to keep you busy, but Saigon is a place that provides much more than just this.
If your idea of a perfect day in a city involves more coffee, click here for our selection of the best cafes in Saigon.