Explore Ho Chi Minh: A Complete Itinerary And Guide

Author: Veruska Anconitano, Award-Winning Food Travel Journalist, Sommelier & Outdoor LoverAuthor information
About the author
Veruska Anconitano
Veruska is a a food travel journalist with awards to her credit, such as World Best Food Travel Journalist. She holds a certification as a sommelier and she is also an ardent lover of the outdoors. Aside from this, Veruska is a Multilingual SEO and Localization Consultant and co-owns multiple websites that cater to a global audience.
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Ho Chi Minh City is a vibrant metropolis teeming with energy and it also the epitome of Vietnam’s growth and resilience. Once known as Saigon, this city has undergone a remarkable transformation, becoming a bustling hub of culture, commerce, and history. An Ho Chi Minh itinerary needs to take into consideration this to make sure you get the best out of it. Whether it’s the remnants of colonial architecture, the poignant War Remnants Museum, or the lively streets lined with vendors selling Vietnamese delicacies, Ho Chi Minh City offers an immersive experience into the heart of Vietnam’s spirited culture.

This guide is the results of our extensive trip to Vietnam and Ho Chi Minh and it is crafted to help you navigate through the city’s maze of wonders, ensuring you capture the essence of its vibrant life. From historical landmarks that tell tales of the past to the bustling markets echoing the city’s dynamic present, we’ve curated an itinerary that promises an unforgettable exploration. And as we traverse through the city’s timeline, I’ll also touch upon its historical shift from Saigon to Ho Chi Minh, shedding light on a pivotal moment in Vietnam’s narrative.

Join me on this journey through Ho Chi Minh City, where every corner holds a story, every street hums with life, and every experience enriches your understanding of this incredible city. Ho Chi Minh City’s diverse offerings are sure to captivate your heart and imagination.

Ho Chi Minh

Day 1: Discovering the Heart of Ho Chi Minh

Morning: Visit to the War Remnants Museum and Independence Palace

Begin your Ho Chi Minh itinerary with a visit to the War Remnants Museum, a poignant reminder of the Vietnam War’s brutal impact. The museum’s compelling exhibits, including graphic photographs, military equipment, and personal anecdotes, offer a stark insight into the realities of war. It’s an emotional experience that sets a reflective tone for understanding Vietnam’s history.

The War Remnants Museum offers an unflinching portrayal of history: its photographs and documents are displayed in their raw, unedited form. Prepare yourself for a visit that is far from light-hearted, and approach it with the respect it demands. This institution serves as more than just a museum—it acts as a poignant memorial to somber periods in history, ensuring that the lessons they teach are remembered and honored.

Just a short walk from the museum, the Independence Palace, also known as the Reunification Palace, stands as a symbol of Vietnam’s fight for independence. Explore the well-preserved rooms, including the war command room, and take a moment to stand on the balcony where significant historical events unfolded.

Afternoon: Exploration of Notre Dame Cathedral and the Central Post Office

After a morning steeped in history, lighten the mood with a visit to the Notre Dame Cathedral, an exquisite example of French colonial architecture. Its red-brick façade and twin bell towers make for a striking sight against Ho Chi Minh City’s skyline: at the moment the Cathedral is going under an esxtensive renovation so the facade is not visible. Nearby, the Central Post Office, designed by Gustave Eiffel, is not only a functioning post office but also a magnificent piece of architecture worth admiring.

Just a stone’s throw from the Central Post Office, you’ll find Book Street (Đường Sách), a charming haven for book lovers and a vibrant cultural spot. Lined with bookstores and cafes, this pedestrian street offers a wide range of reading material, from contemporary works to classic literature, in both Vietnamese and English. It’s a perfect place to unwind with a good book and soak in the city’s literary scene, making it an essential addition to your exploration of Ho Chi Minh City’s architectural and historical landmarks.

Evening: Street Food Tour

Ho Chi Minh City comes alive at night, and there’s no better way to experience its vibrancy than through a street food tour. Sample local delicacies like pho, banh mi, and bun thit nuong. Each dish tells a story of cultural influences and local ingredients, offering a taste of the city’s soul. For a delightful shift in ambiance, meander through the Japanese Quarter, where streets glow under the gentle light of lanterns and sushi bars beckon with their allure. This distinct cultural enclave serves as a captivating juxtaposition to Ho Chi Minh City’s Vietnamese culinary landscape, offering an intriguing dive into Japan’s rich gastronomic traditions right in the heart of Vietnam.

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Day 2: Cultural and Historical Insights

Opera House

Morning: Cu Chi Tunnels

Dedicate your second day to exploring the Cu Chi Tunnels, an extensive underground network used by the Viet Cong during the Vietnam War. Crawling through the narrow passages gives a visceral sense of the guerrilla warfare tactics and the resilience of the Vietnamese people.

The Cu Chi Tunnels are located outside of the city and are best visited with a tour to avoid spending time figuring out how to arrive and leave, how much to spend and how to get the tickets. I recommend this highly rated Cu Chi Tunnels Luxury Tour that you can book for morning or afternoon and will allow you to experience this network of underground tunnels used by the Viet Cong soldiers. 

Afternoon: Thien Hau Temple and Binh Tay Market in Chinatown

Venture into Chinatown (Cholon) to visit the Thien Hau Temple, dedicated to the sea goddess Mazu. Its incense-filled interior and intricate roof sculptures make it a fascinating cultural site. Nearby, Binh Tay Market offers a bustling atmosphere where you can haggle for goods and sample street food amidst the locals.

Evening: Saigon Opera House and Dong Khoi Street

Conclude your day with a visit to the Saigon Opera House for a performance that showcases Vietnam’s rich cultural heritage. Later, take a leisurely stroll down Dong Khoi Street, a prime spot for shopping and dining in the heart of the city.

Day 3: Leisure and Shopping

Ben Thanh Market

Morning: Leisurely Walk in Tao Dan Park

Start your day with a peaceful walk in Tao Dan Park, a green oasis amidst the city’s hustle. It’s a popular spot for locals practicing Tai Chi, playing badminton, or enjoying the tranquility.

Afternoon: Shopping at Ben Thanh Market

Ben Thanh Market is an iconic landmark where you can shop for souvenirs, textiles, and handicrafts. It’s also an excellent place to sample local dishes at the food stalls, offering an authentic taste of Vietnamese cuisine.

Evening: Sunset Cruise on the Saigon River

Experience the beauty of Ho Chi Minh City from the water with a sunset cruise on the Saigon River. Enjoy dinner on board as you glide past the city’s illuminated skyline, a perfect end to your day. Afterward, if you’re seeking a vibrant nightlife scene, head to Ho Chi Minh’s famous Bar Street, originally Bui Vien, where the youthful energy is palpable. The area is notorious for its boisterous vibe, where bar staff aggressively coax visitors inside, making it a magnet for the younger crowd seeking the city’s pulsating nightlife. Be ready for a bombardment of invitations, a testament to the street’s lively and sometimes overwhelming atmosphere.

Add this Ho chi Minh itinerary to your Vietnam itinerary: choose between our 5 Days In Vietnam itinerary or our 10-Day Itinerary In Vietnam.

Day 4: Day Trips from Ho Chi Minh

The Mekong Delta

Mekong Delta: A Glimpse into Local Life and Nature

A day trip to the Mekong Delta reveals the heart and soul of Vietnam’s rural life. Explore the floating markets, ride a sampan along the narrow canals, and visit local workshops to see how traditional products are made.

This Cu Chi Tunnels and Mekong Delta Luxury Tour from HCM City is the perfect blend of culture, history and nature and it will allow you to be amazed by this fascinating area.

Vung Tau: Beach Escape

Vung Tau, just a few hours from Ho Chi Minh City, offers sandy beaches, colonial architecture, and a laid-back atmosphere for those seeking sun and sea. It’s the perfect day trip for relaxation and exploration.

The Coffee Apartment of Ho Chi Minh City

Coffee Apartment

The culture of coffee brewing and sipping is not just a daily habit but a living art that captures the essence of Vietnamese tradition fused with modern creativity. Do not miss to add a special spot to your Ho Chi Minh itinerary: the Coffee Apartment.

Located on Nguyen Hue Street, this building stands out as a unique symbol of this vibrant coffee scene. Housed in an old apartment building, each floor and almost every door opens to a different coffee haven, ranging from quaint, rustic nooks serving traditional Vietnamese drip coffee to chic, contemporary spaces offering experimental brews. The Coffee Apartment is not just a place for caffeine indulgence; it’s a multi-story exploration of Vietnam’s deep-rooted love for coffee, where locals and tourists alike meander through its corridors, discovering new flavors and blends. It reflects the dynamic and innovative spirit of Ho Chi Minh City, where the past and present merge in the aroma-filled cup of the country’s beloved beverage. This iconic spot is a must-visit for anyone looking to immerse themselves in the local coffee culture, offering a taste of the city’s rich history and its thriving, cosmopolitan present.

The Transformation from Saigon to Ho Chi Minh

Ho Chi Minh, born Nguyen Sinh Cung, was a seminal figure in the struggle for Vietnamese independence from French colonial rule. His leadership in the founding of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam and his vision for a communist future for the country made him a revered figure among the Vietnamese. Renaming Saigon to Ho Chi Minh City was not only an act of homage to his legacy but also a strong statement of the new government’s intention to break from the past and chart a course towards socialism.

The name change also symbolized the unification of North and South Vietnam under a single government, with the communist North achieving victory over the American-backed South. It represented a new beginning for the city and the country, aspiring to heal the wounds of war and rebuild a nation that had been torn apart by decades of conflict.

The renaming of Saigon to Ho Chi Minh City was met with mixed emotions among its residents. For some, it was a moment of triumph, signifying the end of foreign domination and the start of a new chapter in Vietnamese history. For others, particularly those with ties to the former South Vietnamese government and its allies, the name change was a painful reminder of loss and defeat.

Despite the political and emotional significance of the name change, many locals and foreigners alike continue to refer to the city as Saigon, especially when talking about the central districts. This dual identity reflects the complex history and diverse perspectives of its people, who navigate the legacy of their past while looking forward to the future.

Tips for Traveling to Ho Chi Minh

To make the most of your visit to this vibrant metropolis, consider these tips for travelers, designed to ensure a seamless and culturally rich experience. These tips come from our experience in Ho Chi Minh, which proved to be equally amazing and overwhelming.

Optimal Seasons for Exploration

While Ho Chi Minh City charms visitors year-round, the optimal time to explore its wonders is during the dry season, from December to April. During these months, the city basks in sunshine, offering clear skies and moderate temperatures perfect for meandering through bustling markets, historical sites, and lush parks. The comfortable weather facilitates outdoor dining experiences and leisurely evening strolls along the Saigon River, making it an ideal period for travelers to immerse themselves in the city’s dynamic atmosphere fully.

Navigating the Cityscape

Transportation in Ho Chi Minh City is an adventure in itself, with motorbike taxis (xe ôm) providing an exhilarating way to dart through the city’s lively streets. For a more local experience, consider renting a motorbike, but ensure you’re comfortable with the city’s bustling traffic. Additionally, ride-hailing apps offer convenient and affordable options for getting around, allowing you to explore far-flung districts with ease. Always negotiate the fare with motorbike taxi drivers before embarking on your journey to avoid any misunderstandings.

For those seeking a leisurely pace, the city’s expanding network of walking paths and river ferries presents a scenic alternative to explore Ho Chi Minh City’s charm, offering unique vantage points of its skyline and neighborhoods.

Accommodation in Ho Chi Minh
We organized all our accommodations in Ho Chi Minh via Booking.com, drawn by its user-friendly approach and flexible options, such as canceling at the last minute. Whether you’re looking for hostels, apartments, hotels, or villas in Hanoi, the platform provides a wide range of choices to fit any budget, allowing you to plan your trip affordably or with a bit more luxury.
Check Booking.com

Cultural Insights and Etiquette

Immersing yourself in Ho Chi Minh City’s culture demands a mindful approach to its traditions and customs. When visiting sacred temples and pagodas, embracing modesty in attire shows respect and allows you to connect more deeply with the spiritual ambiance. Opt for clothing that covers shoulders and knees, and remember to remove your shoes before entering these sanctuaries of tranquility.

Moreover, familiarizing yourself with basic Vietnamese phrases enriches interactions with locals, reflecting your appreciation for their culture. A simple “Xin chào” (hello) or “Cảm ơn” (thank you) can open doors to heartfelt exchanges and deeper insights into the local way of life.

Understanding the significance of the lunar new year, Tet, is crucial for travelers. Visiting during Tet reveals a city in full festive spirit, adorned with colorful decorations and bustling with preparations. However, it’s also a time when many businesses close as locals return to their hometowns for family reunions. Planning your visit around this period offers a unique glimpse into Vietnam’s most cherished celebration but requires careful planning to accommodate the holiday’s pace.

Save on accommodation, flights, activities, and WiFi for your Ho Chi Minh itinerary using our comprehensive set of resources that we always use when traveling:

Flights Book your flights with Booking. Compare prices to find your ideal flight.
Booking Use Booking.com for hotel reservations. Check prices, and reviews to identify the best hotel.
Airalo Buy your SIM in advance through Airalo. With their eSIMs, you can connect instantly upon arrival. Avoid data roaming costs.
Klook Rely on Klook for ticket purchases. Skip queues, or plan unique experiences during your holiday. It's a great resource.
Klook Utilize Klook for car rental prices. Find the best deal for your travel needs. An easy solution.
SafetyWing Insure your trip with SafetyWing. It's an easy way to ensure your safety while traveling. Secure your journey.

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