Ho Chi Minh has a near endless supply of things and fun activities to take part in – No matter who you are.
Thrill-seekers, bookworms, and history-buffs are all taken care of in Saigon. In this list, we sift through each activity to bring you the best things to do and see in the city.
We’ll cover the following:
- Cyclo tours
- Street Food
- Watch a water puppet show
- Exploring book street
- General activities
You’re probably wondering:
What is a Cyclo?
Similar to the rickshaw, a two-wheeled seated carriage pulled forward by a person on foot, the Xích lô is a three-wheeled pedaled bike with an extra seat for a passenger.
These were introduced by the French in the 19th century. The Xích lô, developed by a French businessman named Pierre Coupeaud in 1930s from the tri-porteur, was an attempt to avoid the negativity surrounding the rickshaw. At the time, it was seen as unethical. This was due to the footman being lower down than the passengers, as well as the physical burden this work involved.
The Xích lô raises the pedaler above the passenger, giving an impression of equality between the two.
It also serves a functional purpose:
The pedaler can see ahead for any incoming obstacles, like potholes and people.
After the second world war, the popularity of the Vietnamese Xích lô grew. It presented the people of Saigon the opportunity to travel around the city with a passenger – ideal for the needs of families and the growing population.
It also served as the backbone of enterprises. Freelance Xích lô taxi drivers and courier services began to flourish and created many new opportunities for the people.
Taking a Xích Lô tour
Fast forward to modern-day Saigon, and the large fleet of Xích lô has been replaced by the now-ubiquitous motorbike.
However, these colonial-era vehicles have been given a new lease of life.
Xích lô tours provide tours around the main tourist areas of the city. These range in lengths, though I found the 1 hour tour to be an enjoyable way to see many of the city’s landmarks.
The tour begins outside the French Opera house and continues to Nguyen Hue Walking Street, Bitexco Tower, Independence Palace, and finally at the central Post office.
Tours cost 9 dollars for an hour. Book your tour using this link with Xich Lo tours.
For more information regarding the history of the Xích lô race in 1936, take a look at the Saigoneer’s post on the topic here.
Things to do in Ho Chi Minh – Eat traditional Vietnamese Street food
Saigon hosts a range of traditional dishes. The best way to enjoy these is to eat out like a local, which means finding a humble street food street to settle down in.
One of the best ways to do this is with a local. Thankfully, there are plenty of opportunities to find street food tours. Take a look here for one that provides a scooter for each person to experience street food in comfort.
Another option is provided by a company that specializes in Vietnamese Cooking classes. There’s no one better to ask about the best Vietnamese street food spots than your personal guides here.
Sat on the opposite end of Nguyen Hue Walking Street to the City Hall building is the Saigon River. At the riverfront, visitors are treated to a range of local merchants who sell traditional snacks for visitors to feast on. Favourites such as Bánh Tráng Trộn and Bánh tráng nướng are available for those who want a scenic view while they enjoy their snacks.
Ben Thanh Street Food Market
A short walk away from the hustle and bustle of the main market is Ben Thanh Street Food Market. There’s a range of international food options here in case you’re yearning for some pizza, Pad Thai, or curry. However, there are also a few places serving up Vietnamese cuisine as well, such as Pho or Banh Xeo.
You can head here with a bunch of friends and dine together with your different food choices on the benches provided at the front and back of the market.
Things to do in Ho Chi Minh – Watch a show at the Golden Dragon Water Puppet Theatre
A short drive away from Ben Thanh Market is the Golden Dragon Water Puppet Show. Each show treats the audience to live Vietnamese folk music, as well as an impressive display of puppetry. The actors and actresses dress in traditional Vietnamese silk dresses known as áo dài, a beautiful sight in their own respect.
Although the shows are in Vietnamese only, the craftsmanship of the elaborate puppets used, and the skill involved in controlling the puppets will not be lost on you.
There are two shows each day at 5pm and 6:30pm. Each show lasts for approximately 45 minutes, and cost 100k VND at the gate. Alternatively, you could buy your tickets beforehand for around 330k VND if you want to beat the queues.
Be prepared to get wet if you sit in the front row, the productions involve water puppets which can get carried away at times.
Address: 55B Nguyễn Thị Minh Khai, Phường Bến Thành, Quận 1, Hồ Chí Minh, Vietnam
Note: Check ahead of time to see if the shows are still going on. Due to the coronavirus, the theatre is closed until further notice.
Walk through book street
Next to the post office is this small street dedicated to books. The options range from Vietnamese history, to English children’s books. There’s no shortage of books here, though the selection of English books will be similar to that of a regular book store. Still, it’s a pretty street with a couple of nice cafes to settle down in with your new paperback.
Tip: The Book street is close to some of our favourite cafes in Saigon. We would recommend taking a look at the Running Bean or Shin Cafe which are a 5 minute walk away.
Yoga Living is a yoga centre that provides free community classes for beginners at selected times each week. There are English speaking classes, as well as intermediate and advanced styles of yoga to choose from as well. There’s a small price of admission for these (100k VND), but the lessons are conducted in both Vietnamese and English.
Additional classes are available in English only with a native speaker. These tend to be more expensive, but allow the instructors to more easily cater towards each individual in the classroom. The Vietnamese teachers speak English to a very high level though, and these lessons occur regularly throughout the day.
Another alternative is Shine Yoga. As well as providing a range of different classes, it also provides courses on how to become a Yoga instructor according to the standards of the American Yoga Alliance. These are 200 hours in length, and are conducted by an accredited yoga instructor. You can find more details on their website here.
Sometimes you need a break from the Saigon heat. The city has a few ice rinks which offer a welcome reprieve from sweating. The largest ice-skating rinks are located in VinCom centres. One is located in the basement of Landmark 81, and the other is in VinPearl land Thao Dien. The ice is regularly polished to allow for smooth skating, and there are a variety of support dummies to help beginners get started.
Tip: Shopping-lovers can take a look around these malls for a range of tech stores and clothing outlets.
Address: B1-K8 LandMark81, 208 Nguyễn Hữu Cảnh, Phường 22, Bình Thạnh, Hồ Chí Minh, Vietnam
Vincom Thảo Điền 713314, 159 Xa lộ Hà Nội, Thảo Điền, Quận 2,
Learn how to cook Vietnamese food
Vietnamese food features a diverse range of flavours, but making it without guidance can be an intimidating experience. Thankfully, cooking lessons with a local are reasonably accessible. M.O.M cooking classes are a fun and social way of learning how to make Vietnamese favourites like Pho and Bun Bo Hue.
Depending on the type of cooking lesson you sign up for, you might cook dishes depending on your particular interests and needs. For instance, there are vegan cooking classes that you can sign up for, and even cooking classes for making traditional holiday food. The Vietnamese dishes are also made with traditional ingredients only, no MSG or artificial flavour enhancers are added.
There’s no way to cook Vietnamese food without knowing which ingredients you’ll need and where to buy them. Thankfully, there are some classes that take you through the process of finding them. Saigon Cooking Class offers a cooking package that includes a morning market visit at Ben Thanh market – followed by a two-hour cooking lesson.
Adult rate: $45 or 1 048.000 vnd
Kids rate until 12 years old: $28 or 652 000 vnd
Address: 39A Cô Bắc, Phường Cầu Ông Lãnh, Quận 1, Thành phố Hồ Chí Minh 700000
Things to do in Ho Chi Minh – Cinemas
Saigon Outcast is a treasure trove of activities for anyone wanting to fill a night. It’s a bar, restaurant, rock climbing centre, outdoor cinema, and skateboarding park all rolled into one.
Each Thursday it transforms into an outdoor cinema for its weekly movie night. These films start at 8pm in the bar seating area. Previous showings have included family favourites like Babe: Pig in the City and the Emperor’s New Groove, as well as adult viewings such as Reservoir Dogs.
Film viewings are available for no additional cost as long as you buy some food or drink from the bar.
There are plenty of other cinemas around the city. The most popular cinema brands are CGV and Lotte Cinema, and Galaxy cinema.
One that stands out among the rest is the one at CGV Liberty City Point. It has the feel of a cinema from the 70s. The cinema ticket prices are more expensive than a typical cinema, but the comfortable seating options make it perfect for a special screening.
Things to do in Ho Chi Minh – Rock Climbing
The feeling of accomplishment from climbing a 100m high is difficult to describe. There’s no wonder why it has quickly become a popular activity among the locals and expats alike, despite it being relatively new to the country.
Saigon Outcast has several walls for people to practice on. They’re constantly being updated with new route options, so that each time you visit you’ll be welcomed by a new set of challenges.
The biggest benefit of rock climbing here is that the majority of the walls are outfitted with an auto-belay system. This means you don’t need to hook up to your absent-minded friend before climbing.
150k – for an hour pass (equipment is an additional 50k)
Memberships are also available
Address: No. 188/1 Nguyen Van Huong, District 2, Ho Chi Minh City, VN
Saigon Climbing Centre
Saigon Climbing Centre is another option for climbing. There are 96 routes to choose from, which makes it the largest climbing centre in Ho Chi Minh. Each wall has a traditional person operated-belay system, so you’ll have to pay extra for the privilege of having a coach to support you.
130K – without equipment or coach
220k – with a coach and shoes
Address: 168/42 Nguyen Gia Tri (D2), Ward 25, Binh Thanh District, Ho Chi Minh City
You’re never too young to jump around and feel like a kid, thanks to Jump Arena. These are a range of centres that provide trampoline spaces for people to play around in. Most of the centres include rock-climbing walls that don’t require a belay, though you won’t get as high up as Saigon Outcast. Soft blocks down below are there to break your fall, but it’ll still offer up a decent challenge.
The Jump Arena in Giga Mall (Thu Duc district) has the tallest walls. These are outfitted with an auto-belay system similar to the ones in Saigon Outcast. For more information about Jump Arena, take a look at their website.
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