If you had unlimited time in Vietnam, you would surely be able to explore every facet of what makes this country unique.  Unfortunately, many people who travel here have limited time and want to make the most of it.  As part of our new “Custom Itineraries for Vietnam” series, we will guide you through the various cities in Vietnam and help you experience the country to its fullest.  We will also show you how to get off the beaten path and see the country in a unique way.  The first of our “Custom Itineraries in Vietnam” series – Ho Chi Minh City!

Tourists often transit through Ho Chi Minh City before moving on to a packed itinerary in Vietnam.  Though Ho Chi Minh City has a lot to offer in terms of attractions and cultural experiences, it is difficult to take part in everything when you have limited time here.  We have compiled a thorough itinerary that helps you maximize your time here.  If you only have one day in Ho Chi Minh City, we recommend that you…

Eat Soup for Breakfast

Vietnamese people love their noodle soup dishes.  You may already be familiar with pho, but there are countless more noodle soups that are in fact not pho!  What’s more, with a generous helping of various meats, veggies, and noodles, these soups are a breakfast of champions.  So start your day off Vietnamese style and devour a bowl of Pho, Banh Canh Cua, Bun Bo Hue, or whatever the guy next to you is having.

Recommendation:  Ben Thanh market has a huge section in the middle with food stalls.  The turnover is quite high here so it is usually a safe place to eat.

Eating inside Ben Thanh market is safe, exciting, and delicious!

Eating inside Ben Thanh market is safe, exciting, and delicious!

Visit Ben Thanh Market

Ben Thanh market is the iconic central market in Ho Chi Minh City.  It wouldn’t be a complete trip to the city without seeing this wonder.  They sell everything from souvenirs to kitchen supplies to groceries and meat.  It’s a one stop shop!  Or, just a great place to people watch.  This market is not air conditioned so it gets hot and muggy here during the day.  And the sellers can be quite aggressive with both tourists and locals – that’s just the nature of this market.  Having said that, it’s important to give this place a chance.  It is more than just a tourist grab.  Even for people who live here, the market sells things that are ordinarily hard to find otherwise.  The market is a lot bigger than it seems so make sure you leave some time to navigate through and really explore all that it has to offer.  Be aware that the prices here are very marked up so be sure to negotiate.  If a sign says ‘fixed price’ and the seller is hesitant to budge, you will most likely find the same items at another stall.

Marvel at the Architecture

The architecture in the city is a mish mash of new skyscrapers, old tube houses, and French colonial buildings.  The old colonial buildings in the centre of the city have a lot of character and hold a lot of history.  Fortunately, they are all quite close together so a short walk offers you the opportunity to enjoy most of them.  If you walk between the Notre Dame cathedral and the Saigon River along Dong Khoi street, and wander around Nguyen Hue and Le Loi streets, you will be able to appreciate many of the beautiful old buildings of downtown Ho Chi Minh City.  If you have time, walk into the main historical post office for a closer look at colonial style architecture at its best.

Colonial architecture in Ho Chi Minh City.  The Notre Dame cathedral, the Saigon Opera House and the Post Office are some of the most popular tourist sights.

Colonial architecture in Ho Chi Minh City. The Notre Dame cathedral, the Saigon Opera House and the Post Office are some of the most popular tourist sights.

Sip Some Coffee

Vietnamese people really pride themselves on their coffee and there is no shortage of coffee shops in Ho Chi Minh City.  Coffee culture was huge here well before Starbucks and other big name coffee brands arrived.  If you’ve been walking around the city for a while,  sipping on coffee and people watching is the perfect break from the hustle and bustle.  Fortunately, most coffee shops have excellent regional fare.

Recommendation: One of the coolest coffee shops in the city is L’Usine at 151/1 Dong Khoi.  The entrance is through an alleyway and up two flights of stairs.

Get a Massage and Hair Wash

Ho Chi Minh City may be chaotic but Vietnamese people sure do know how to provide a serene escape to the chaos.  Cheap foot massages can be found everywhere and for $5-10, you can achieve complete relaxation for an hour to 90 minutes.  If you are in the mood for a more authentic spa service, get a hair wash (Goi Dau).  This isn’t a regular run of the mill hair wash – a proper Vietnamese hair wash includes a head massage, face wash and mask, and a shoulder massage!  They will even blow your hair out and style it for you after.  Read our blog on massages in Vietnam to understand the ins and outs of getting a massage here.

Recommendation:  Get a 70 minute foot massage at 118 (adequately named since its address is 118 Pasteur) for $7 including tip and then go around to Jasmine Spa (45 Ton That Thiep, at the corner of Pasteur and Ton That Thiep) for a relaxing hair wash.

Go on a Motorbike Tour

Soon after arriving in Ho Chi Minh City, you will notice that motorbikes are the vehicle of choice.  What better way to see the city than to experience it on the back of the bike?  XO Tours is a leading motorbike tour company in the city.  We have a range of motorbike tours to suit your taste, but by far our most popular is The Foodie.  Not only does it take you to several different districts of the city that are not generally visited by tourists, you will also have the opportunity to try the best street food Ho Chi Minh City has to offer.

The Foodie Tour takes you to see and eat in 4 other districts besides District 1.

The Foodie Tour takes you to see and eat in 4 other districts besides District 1.

See the Backpackers’ Area

Ho Chi Minh City is a popular destination for backpackers because it is relatively cheap to travel around here.  Over time, this small area around Pham Ngu Lao and Bui Vien streets has become a magnet for budget accommodations, colourful restaurants, and lively watering holes.  Even if you aren’t traveling as a backpacker, this particular area in the city is a tourist attraction in itself.  It is quite lively at night when hundreds of people sit on child sized plastic stools, drink local beer and mingle with the crowd.

Get a View

The city has very few tall buildings so going to the top of one of these buildings gives you an excellent view of the city.  Luckily, there are a handful of bars on really high floors so you can enjoy the view and sip on a drink at the same time.  After a long and activity filled day in the city, this is the perfect way to end your night.  It is mesmerizing to look out onto the streets hundreds of feet below and truly appreciate how the city moves.

The different kinds of nightlife in the city - backpacker style with watering holes on the street and upscale rooftop bars with an amazing view of the city.

The different kinds of nightlife in the city – backpacker style with watering holes on the street and upscale rooftop bars with an amazing view of the city.

Recommendation:  The Heli Bar in the Bitexco tower (52nd Floor, 2 Hai Trieu) is one of the highest viewing points in the city, but the perspective is much better from Chill Skybar (AB Tower, 76 Le Lai).  Both these places have a strict dress code and shoe policy.

Our recommended locations within District 1 to visit during your action-filled day in Ho Chi Minh City.  For sights outside D1, we recommend taking a motorbike tour.

Our recommended locations within District 1 to visit during your action-filled day in Ho Chi Minh City. For sights outside D1, we recommend taking a motorbike tour.

We hope you enjoyed the 1st part in our “Custom Itineraries in Vietnam” series.  To help you make the most of your time in Ho Chi Minh City, XO Tours offers many day tours with the most professional tour guides in Vietnam.  To learn more about our tours, please visit our main tour page by clicking HERE.

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18 Comments
  1. Blanca

    Hi! We will be visiting Vietnam for 3 days and will be staying in Ho Chi Minh City. What other nearby cities or places outside the city can we go to?

    • Brinda Shah

      Hello,

      Within the city limits, you can visit Cu Chi tunnels which takes about half a day. As for nearby cities, you can take a hydrofoil to Vung Tau for a day trip or you can also go out to Mekong Delta for the day.

  2. Oliver

    your blog was very helpful, now that i am doing my itinerary. can i ask, is it possible if i include the Cu Chi tunnel in my itinerary for one whole day tour in ho chi minh, vietnam? -Oliver

    • Brinda Shah

      Hello,
      Cu Chi Tunnels is about 45 minutes to 1 hour away from the centre of HCMC. And, it really depends on how you get there, which tour you choose, and what time you leave. Even if you don’t go with an organized tour from HCMC, once you reach there, a free guide will be provided to you as Cu Chi Tunnels can only be done as a guided tour. The whole tour of Cu Chi takes about 2.5-3 hours. So, you need to account for half a day at least at Cu Chi.
      Cheers,
      XO Tours

  3. helen

    I am going to Ho Chi Ming for five days.Can you suggest a clean budget hotel for me to stay( 4 people).I would like to do shopping and a bit of sight seeing. Suggest me me so unique and nice vietnamese food.

    • Brinda Shah

      Hi Helen,
      Tripadvisor is a great resource to find hotels and restaurants in Vietnam.

  4. Wilai

    Hi Brinda
    I am planning to spend time in CHM, Mui Ne and Dalat.
    I want to take a look by myself in HCM without the guide, possible?
    I want to see Cu Chi Tunnel as well so any nearby places to spend half day there?

    Thanks:)

  5. pietro

    I will be visiting ho chi minh first week of november is it rainy period there?

  6. Chaya

    Hi Brinda,
    Imtravelling to HCM airport for a 12 hr transit and would like to visit the city. Is there any website where I can book for a tour that starts from the airport to the city and bring me back? or how would you suggest me doing this in the most convenient way possible and to be back to the airport on time for my connecting flight.

    Many thanks for a reply!
    Chaya

    • Brinda Shah

      Hi Chaya,

      XO Tours can create a custom tour for you to see and experience the things you want in HCMC during your short time here. Please email your exact time and dates to info@xotours.vn and we will be more than happy to help you out.

  7. gary

    Hi Brinda
    We are coming back through HCM on Tuesday 28/102014,@ 7.11 am from Paris and have a 12 hour layover.
    We are 2 grandparents with our 9 year old granddaughter, what can you prepare for us for the day ?
    Thanks
    Gary

    • XO Tours

      Hi Gary,

      Brinda only blogs for XO Tours. She does not manage or run any tours. If you want to learn more about our tours, see current prices and schedules, please visit our main tour page here: https://xotours.vn/

      If you decide that you want to book a tour, you can do so by filling out this booking form: https://xotours.vn/booking.html

  8. Luka

    Hello – We will arrive in HCM at 610am for transfer to another flight to Australia, bit not leaving till 9.00pm
    We would like to see HCM during that time departing from Airport and arriving back at Airport
    Do you put together a 8hr tour?
    Hope you can help
    Thank you

    • XO Tours

      Hi Luka,

      For tour related questions please contact XO Tours by using the form on the Contact Page. This blog is managed by volunteer bloggers, who have nothing to do with the tour operations.

  9. 1/2 day ideas?

    Hi, i am planning a 1/2 day trip to Vietnam in the coming month. Due to time constraint, i will be arriving about 7.30a.m and departing about 9.30p.m at Ho Chin Minh Int Airport. I understand that the time is very tight here but I wish to get a sample of the vietnam out of these few hours. I am not expecting alot of the sight seeing and food tour but nonetheless just wondering if you can recommend a “from the airport to a place of interest for a quick sight and its nearby to try out a type of food” Perhaps not too far away from the airport? Thanks alot. A simple one will do. 🙂

    • XO Tours

      Hi Patty,

      Based on your schedule the only tour we might be able to accommodate you on would be a 9am “Sights” tour. We do also offer “Custom Tours” however that type of tour requires a minimum of 2 pax to book. You can learn more about our tours, see current prices and schedules by visiting our homepage at:

      https://xotours.vn/

      Please let us know if you have any further questions or concerns.

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