Ho Chi Minh, (formerly known as Saigon) is one of the most well known cities of the AMAZING Vietnam. If you’ve been on our blog for a little bit, you’ll know we are massive fans of Vietnam, and consider it one of the greatest countries in the world.
So, to complete our guides to the different areas we’ve been to in Vietnam on our 3 week Vietnam itinerary, it’s time to look at the best things to do in Ho Chi Minh city for backpackers.
Ho Chi Minh was the first place we stopped at in Vietnam. It probably doesn’t give the best first impression of Vietnam, and the fact that when we arrived we were dropped at a bus station miles away from the actual city with no money and no way of getting to our hostel.
We actually had like 2% battery left (I lost our battery pack in Cambodia- whoops) and were able to see that we had some money in our Revolut cards. Managed to find an ATM and negotiate hard with a taxi driver to take us to our hotel….
BUT, the address from booking.com was not the hotel address. We spent about 2 hours looking for this hotel (our taxi driver gave up and we went on foot). Was a nightmare, so I remember thinking, god, what is Vietnam going to be like.
But no worries. That chaos does not represent Vietnam in the slightest, and actually I think Ho Chi Minh is one of the least chaotic cities in all of Southeast Asia.
Anyway, even if you don’t LOVE the idea of going to a big city, Ho Chi Minh is a perfect place to start your Vietnam trip because you can get yourself organised, plan your itinerary and purchase your very convenient long-haul bus ticket.
So, let’s look at some of the practicalities of Ho Chi Minh first.
When is the best time to visit Ho Chi Minh?
The best time to visit Ho Chi Minh City is during the drier months of December to March, when temperatures range between 21°C and 34°C. Although Bradley and I visited during September and it was perfect!
How long do I need to spend in Ho Chi Minh?
Personally I think 2 or 3 nights is enough for Ho Chi Minh. It should allow you to get organised, and see the sights that Ho Chi Minh has on offer. BUT, if you want to party hard, you could easily extend this to 3 or 4 nights.
It really depends on what you’re looking for.
How to get to Ho Chi Minh
The most common way to get to Ho Chi Minh is probably via air travel. You can get a variety of flights to the city via many airlines.
Your second option is to cross via land border from Cambodia. We travelled via Kampot, but buses leave frequently from the capital Phnom Phen.
There is a place in the city called lucky -- that can sort out your Vietnamese visa hassle free!
I highly recommend getting them to do it for an extra $5 dollars than organising it yourself.
Plus the Vietnamese fee tends to fluctuate depending on your nationality, skin colour, and the mood of the office, so if a local is sorting it for you, well you can get a fairer price.
Top things to do in Ho Chi Minh City
Okay, now for the fun stuff, the top things to do in Ho Chi Minh, for backpackers! This list of 12 fabulous things is based on a combination of things Bradley and I did, and things we wanted to do, but ran out of time.
1. Cu Chi Tunnels
This was one of the things to do in Ho Chi Minh city that I debated back and forth about doing or not. Some recommend it, some didn’t, and I’m not really sure what I recommend to you (that’s helpful right!).
If you’re interested in the history of the Vietnam war (which I very much was), then it might be worth it. But I’ve heard some reports of it’s a little propagandary.
Anyway, the Cu Chi tunnels are an immense network of connecting underground tunnels located in the Ho Chi Minh district of Cu Chi. They are part of a larger network of underground tunnels which were used in the war.
A trip to these tunnels is a day trip, and you can get some great deals with Get your Guide here, or alternatively there will be 1001 tour companies offering package deals to the tunnels.
You can get there via bus, boat, taxi, uber, and motorbike.
Ben Dinh and Ben Duoc sections are the ones open to the public currently. You can even shoot a gun at the shooting range, or pop into a tunnel to see for yourself what it’s like! (This is a common picture spot).
TOUR: Check out this high quality tunnels tour that also gives you an experience down the Mekong Delta!
2. War Remnants Museum
This is basically the war that is dedicated to everything Vietnam War. It’s actually quite a sorrow experience and there is a lot of detail inside.
What I will say is that it’s very one-sided, extremely “biased”. Not that I am saying that the USA are innocent, of course not, but a balanced view on war is needed, and they don’t achieve that.
That being said, I still think it’s a super important place, with a lot of important information and you should definitely visit.
Outside the museum there are some really cool war items like airplanes, army tanks etc, which are fun to photograph and hear more about.
It’s a very modern museum and well maintained.
Combine this with a trip to the tunnels and you’ll have gotten your dose of history for the day!
3. Party like crazy at Bui Vien
You will hear Bui Vien before you see it. Although it’s filled with many bright lights, so it could be a toss up between the two.
Anyway, if you want to get drunk, dance, and see was weird things, then you will find yourself here. I say this is one of the best things to do in Ho chi Minh city for backpackers simply because it’s a great place to meet fellow travellers, is the heart of the hostel scene, and it’s actually a really fun vibe.
If you do have a hotel here, don’t expect any sleep. It’s loud. Our hotel was down one of the little “backstreets” and it was still too loud. But alas, it was fine!
We walked up and down this street about 7 times with backpacks at night when searching for our hotel on our first night, and it was buzzing and filled with drunk backpackers.
It’s also an area with cheap food, so fill up on carbs before you drink (especially if you’ve got type 1 diabetes, like me!)
4. Shop till you drop at the Ben Thanh Market
If you’ve travelled Vietnam from North to South (so opposite of what we did), then you might find Ho Chi Minh as your departure city. If this is the case, then the Ben Thanh market is the perfect place to buy gifts for yourself and your friends and family back home.
It’s located in District 1 and super easy to get there. I’d say taxi is most convenient.
It’s popular amongst tourists for local handicrafts, textiles, áo dài and souvenirs, as well as local cuisine. Oh yes, don’t visit on a full stomach, you’re going to want to eat lots of amazing food.
5. Visit the iconic Saigon Notre-Dame Basilica
Want a little bit of France whilst in Ho Chi Minh? Well, surprisingly, it’s actually possible. The Saigon Notre-Dame is not only beautiful, but it’s iconic too.
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Romanesque architecture is probably my favourite architectural style after gothic, so I think this is a very impressive cathedral.
The church hosts a range of new tourists each day who visit to marvel at the grandeur and the contrast of such a beautiful building in a manic city like Ho Chi Minh.
Locals will be ready with their makeshift stations to ensure you’ve got food, drink and souvenirs to buy!
6. Catch some thrills at Suối Tiên Amusement Park
The reason I’ve included an amusement park on this list of top things to do in Ho Chi Minh city for backpackers is for two main reasons: 1. I LOVE amusement parks and 2. Backpacking is all about having fun, and THIS is fun!
The Suối Tiên Amusement Park is located in the 9th district and is described as a buddhist theme park. It’s bright, it’s weird, it’s wonderful!
There is even a dark house of horrors place in the theme of Harry Potter, which couldn’t be more unlicensed if it tried, but hey it’s fun and you will certainly remember it!
Maybe don’t go here if you’re feeling hungover from partying the night before...I wouldn’t want you to be sick!
7. Take a MeKong river cruise down from Ho Chi Minh
This isn’t something we did, but I have lots of friends and family who have visited Ho Chi Minh and done the Mekong River cruise.
Known to the locals as the “River of the Nine Dragons, the delta is home to several verdant forests, riverside villages, rice plantations and much more. You can opt for a traditional wooden boat cruise or something a little fancier if you wish.
You can do a 14 day cruise from Cambodia, Vietnam and really put yourself in a cultural dream, but if you don’t have that sort of time frame, or budget, then you can do a day tour.
There are SO many options for this on Get Your Guide and Viator (the only two sights I use for booking activities), so I thought I’d recommend a few to make life easier.
Don’t forget your camera as you’ll see a lot of interesting things.
8. Head to the Hard Rock Cafe for live music and great food
I know what you’re thinking, did she really just recommend a “Hard Rock Cafe” as a thing to do in Ho Chi Minh? Will, yes sass monster, I did.
Maybe it was because the food was the cheapest hard rock prices I’ve ever had, the portions were so big that I couldn’t finish my food (btw, that doesn’t happen with me), and there was an amazing Queen tribute band on.
So yeah, if you want a brilliant night out, for pre drinks or to just make memories with friends, then it’s a good choice.
You can book online too.
It was really a highlight of our time in Ho Chi Minh and it rounded a day of sightseeing off nicely!
I love a cheap cocktail! :P
9. Take a cooking class
There are lots of opportunities across Vietnam in general to take a cooking class, but Ho Chi Minh has got LOTS of choice and a lot of great markets to pick up your ingredients.
If you want a real local experience you could search on Airbnb experiences which are basically tours and activities run by local real people, which I think is pretty cool.
But if you prefer something that looks more “professional” on paper, then again, Get Your Guide and Viator are filled with fabulous cooking lessons.
These can often be combined with other activities, such as the river cruise above.
Also, when you walk around Ho Chi Minh, you will often see flyers offering cooking classes, or no doubts, your hotel or hostel will also be organising one, or willing to help you find one.
TOUR: Check out this amazing Ho Chi Minh cooking experience.
10. Eat your heart out
Ho Chi Minh is bursting with food places, both traditional, and unique. One of the most interesting dining concepts to be is the dining in the dark style. (If you seen the movie “About Time”, you’ll know the type!)
Well, in Ho Chi Minh you can dine in the dark!
If you don’t fancy that then you’ve actually got some really cute Italian and Spanish restaurants dotted about. I’m not one for recommendations of restaurants as I literally use trip advisor and you probably should too!...plus I can’t remember the names!
But dining in Ho Chi Minh will give you your first chance at tasting Vietnamese wine. It’s very cheap, and it’s perfectly drinkable.
I drink wine, quite frequently, so I know what I like, (Chilean sovereign blanc any time please) and I quite enjoyed the Vietnamese wine (not as much as I am OBSESSED WITH VIETNAMESE COFFEE. Sorry Colombia, I love your coffee, but Vietnam's got the chocolaty toned upper hand...and now I am ranting about coffee).
Back to wine, yes, it’s cheap and available everywhere, so try it with your meal! Red and white are available.
There are also some really good ice cream spots in Ho Chi Minh, so leave room for dessert.
Ho Chi Minh feels quite safe for a big city, and brad and I walked around at night
Although, I did get a lot of attention, so I am not sure how comfortable I would have felt had I been a solo female traveller (it’s an annoying world we live in sometimes).
BONUS: If you love taking pictures for the gram, then why not check out this awesome Ho Chi Minh Instagram Tour with ForeverVacation!
Where to stay in Ho Chi Minh?
When it comes to accommodation in Ho Chi Minh you are truly spoilt for choice.
If you’re the sort of backpacker who loves it dirt cheap and lots of people to meet, then you are really going to be spoilt for choice. Ho Chi Minh is quite a backpacker friendly city.
If you’re like Brad and I, couple backpackers, who don’t really do that party “scene” anymore. (I sound old), then you’ve got lots of “mid-range” hotels for a great price.
We stayed in a pretty crappy place, so I am not going to recommend it. Actually, they cancelled our booking because apparently we “didn’t show up”, i.e it was past 12 by the time we found the place, and we called and said we were lost and that didn’t matter. Blah blah, so I won’t recommend it.
But you have search for hotels in Ho Chi Minh here via booking.com whom I always recommend for the biggest choice, cheapest prices (they price match anyway), and genius perks (I like late check out!).
So there you have it, my guide on the best things to do in Ho Chi Minh city for backpackers this year. I hope you’ve enjoyed this guide, and are feeling a little more inspired.
If you are travelling north from Ho Chi Minh, then you’re going to have an amazing time because the country is just beyond amazing.
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Check out our guide to Mui Ne next, as it’s the best next spot to visit after Ho Chi Minh. Get ready for beautiful beaches, dirt cheap food and seriously cheap fancy hotels.