How to Spend One Day in Ho Chi Minh City – Custom Itineraries for Vietnam

How to spend one day in Ho Chi Minh City

Looking to spend one day in Ho Chi Minh City?

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 other nearby points of interest outside the city.  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.

8 things you can do in one day in Ho Chi Minh City

1.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!

2.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.

3.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.

4.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.

5.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.

6.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.

7.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.

8.Take in a View of Saigon

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 Ho Chi Minh 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. It’s a good way to relax in Saigon.

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,

The best time to visit Vietnam – Vietnam Weather

 

The best time to visit Vietnam

The best time to visit Vietnam

Weather and climate can often affect how much you enjoy your vacation and what activities are feasible during your travels.  In Vietnam especially, this is a huge consideration.  With more than 2000 miles between the Northern and Southern tips of the country, the weather in Vietnam in incredibly varied.  Fortunately, regardless of when you visit the country, you can maximize your time in good weather.  Use these Vietnam travel tips to decide the best time to visit Vietnam.

A simple chart showing the dry and wet seasons of Northern, Central, and Southern Vietnam.

A simple chart showing the dry and wet seasons of Northern, Central, and Southern Vietnam.

THE BEST TIME TO VISIT VIETNAM:

(please click on the link below to jump directly to the region)

  1. The Best Time to Visit NORTHERN VIETNAM – Sapa, Hanoi, Halong Bay
  2. The Best Time to Visit CENTRAL VIETNAM – Hue, Hoi An, Da Nang, Quy Nhon, Nha Trang
  3. The Best Time to Visit SOUTHERN VIETNAM – Da Lat, Mui Ne, Ho Chi Minh City, Mekong Delta, Phu Quoc

The Best Time to Visit NORTHERN VIETNAM – Sapa, Hanoi, Halong Bay

The mountainous regions of the north are characterized by wet and hot summers and dry and cold winters.  The dry season lasts from October to the end of March (average 20C, although in the far north the average is much lower) and the wet season from April to September (average 28C).  Come prepared for chilly weather in December and January – you may even see snow in the far mountainous North!  Although the temperature drops in the dry season, it is much more pleasant to visit Northern Vietnam during this time.

Travel Tips

Halong Bay: Cruises in Halong Bay are astonishing. But wet season marks for occasional storms in the Bay so cruises are frequently cancelled or cut short when there is a storm warning.

Sapa:  Sapa can be scenic in both wet season and dry season.  Early spring (April) is when many of the flowers are blooming so the scenery can be very colourful and lively.  However, the rice fields around Sapa only have one harvest a year so if you want to see the lush green rice terraces, you have to visit around October.


The Best Time to Visit CENTRAL VIETNAM – Hue, Hoi An, Da Nang, Quy Nhon, Nha Trang

Central Vietnam is more varied in temperature from city to city.  Nha Trang and Quy Nhon are more south so they have a much longer dry season from January to September (average 28C).  In contrast, Hue, Da Nang and Hoi An have a dry season from January to August at best (average 25C).  Hue’s weather is known to be notoriously bad in that it stays gloomy and drizzly for the greater part of the year due to its unique location within a mountain range.  Just on the other side of the mountain range, Hoi An and Da Nang tend to stay hotter and drier.  Keep in mind that the wet season in this part of Vietnam often brings typhoons and nasty rain storms.

Travel Tips

Nha Trang and Quy Nhon – Early September is an ideal time to visit this part of central Vietnam – the weather is still nice enough to enjoy the pristine beaches with little rain and the cities are not riddled with tourists, as peak tourism season in this area is from June-August.  However, the beaches are at their best and most beautiful in April!

Hue – The Phong Nha caves near Hue are a popular tourist destination and a must see if you will be traveling in this area.  One of the most unique experiences here is to be able to swim in the river that runs through the caves but this is only possible in the dry months.  During the wet season, the water level is too high and there is too much sediment in the water to permit swimming.


The Best Time to Visit SOUTHERN VIETNAM – Da Lat, Mui Ne, Ho Chi Minh City, Mekong Delta, Phu Quoc

The cities in the south also vary considerably weather wise but the climate here is more temperate than Northern and Central Vietnam (25C -35C year round).  The wet season lasts from May to November and the remainder of the year stays mostly dry.  Although the temperature remains nearly the same, the humidity varies a lot throughout the year.  Be prepared for peak humidity between February and May.  Fortunately, during the wet season, you can expect heavy rainfall usually only once a day for a short period of time.  Farther south, Phu Quoc gets more rainfall than other parts of South Vietnam and the waters are less blue and more choppy during wet season, although Phu Quoc is highly visited year round.  Da Lat is quite different than other places in the South because the city is perched in the highlands.  It can be cold in the winter, around December and January (average 20C), and really wet and humid from June to October.

Travel Tips

Phu Quoc:  the island is still developing so many of the roads are not fully built.  If you want to make your way to the other beaches on the island during the wet season, be prepared for a very muddy trip!

Da Lat:  Da Lat is known for outdoor adventure sports like canyoneering and whitewater rafting but many outfitters will cancel excursions in the wet season if the water levels are too high or if the current is too strong.


We wish you dry weather and sunny skies during your time to Vietnam and remember to pack appropriately for your trip.  Have questions for us about our Vietnam tours?  Check out our FAQ page and see if other customers have had similar inquiries.

 

A Guide to Massages in Vietnam

One of the first stops in Vietnam for many travelers is the massage parlor!  Getting a massage in Vietnam (along with shopping in Vietnam) is a big part of tourism here and is a perfect escape from the heat and bustle outside. But what’s the big deal with massages in Vietnam? Here’s a rundown of the popular types of massages you will find in Vietnam and some recommended massage parlors in Saigon, Hanoi and Hoi An!

traditional massages in Vietnam

 

Massages in Vietnam

Here are what you need to know about massages in Vietnam:

  1. What is a Vietnamese Massage?
  2. Things you need to know about Massages and Massage Palours
  3. Recommendations:
    1. Recommended spas in Ho Chi Minh city
    2. Recommended spas in Hoi An
    3. Recommended spas in Hanoi

 


 

What is a Vietnamese Massage?

Massage therapy has existed in Vietnam for centuries.  In the early days, massage establishments were considered shady businesses where men would go to commit adultery or to simply get away from their wives. In fact, it was considered shameful to be recognized while coming out of such an establishment. Not so much the case anymore, so feel free to enjoy good massages here as much you’d like!

 

Traditional massages in Vietnam

 

Vietnamese massage is influenced mostly from Chinese methods of therapy but has evolved to be unique in that it really focuses on kneading and working out the knots in the muscles.  By contrast, Thai massages use a lot of muscle movement, stretching, and moving limbs. To add more confusion to the mix, a foot massage isn’t necessarily just a foot massage!  Most places will add-in a body massage to some degree.  And does reflexology really work?  It depends on whom you ask!  But the many foot massage parlours claim it does and can do wonders for your body simply by invigorating pressure points on your feet.  Some parlours will also use hot stones strategically placed at points on your body to stimulate and warm the muscles in the area.  Again, does this work?  Maybe, but the point is that it feels good. 🙂  So how do you know which massage parlour or spa is right for you?  Here’s how…

[Back to Contents]

 


 

What you need to know about Massages in Vietnam: 

  • Some massage parlors are staffed with scantily clad women who eye potential customers as they walk by (especially in Saigon). These places may not seem like a legitimate spa but most are. They are more like a men’s club where men can get a proper shave, sit in the sauna or lounge in the VIP area, order food and get a massage at the same time!

    traditional spa and massage in Saigon

    A spa in Saigon

  • Many masseuses offer their services roadside or on the beach in a public setting. These messages tend to be much cheaper than at established spas but for a basic foot massage, it doesn’t get better than this!

    foot massage on beach

    Massage on the beach

If you go to a place that specifies that it’s a foot massage spa, the routine and choices are pretty simple.  You will be instructed to lay down on a foot massage chair/bed and will be given shorts to change into, although some places don’t require you to change.  After that, all you will have to do is simply fall into a state of complete bliss for the duration of your massage!

foot massage in a spa
  • At established spas, the massage menu can be quite lengthy.  These spas are usually more expensive as well so it would be hard to find one that offers a $5 massage.  It’s questionable whether a simple foot massage would be that much better at these places than at a dedicated foot massage parlour.  The spas are more known for their facials, body scrubs and other spa treatments.
massages in Vietnam
  • A word about tipping – many of the ‘men’s club’ type establishments will demand a hefty tip.  For instance if your service was only 120,000 VND, you may have to put down more than 100,000 VND in tips.  The reason is that the girls who work there earn solely on commission so a tip is almost expected.  Be careful of this as it catches many tourists by surprise.  At spas and foot massage parlours, many advertise a price with tip included.  If it doesn’t state that anywhere, be sure to clarify! This is very important because they will either say that a tip is not necessary or give you a specific number as to how much the minimum tip should be.  It is best to establish all of this before you start your massage. Also make sure you bring enough cash to pay for your massage, as many spas do not accept credit card payments in Vietnam.
dong cash in Vietnam
  • A word about travel safety in Vietnam – don’t walk into a spa or massage parlor with a lot valuable belongings. If a place looks suspicious, it probably is! Go to the one of the other 100+ massage establishments in the city. 🙂  And for our female readers, it’s not uncommon to have a male masseur, especially at foot massage places, but feel free to relax and enjoy the massage as it’s very doubtful that they will make you feel uncomfortable or do anything inappropriate.

[Back to Contents]

 


 

For a great massage in Vietnam here are a few recommendations:

In Ho Chi Minh City:

  1. Indochine Spa: 69 Thu Khoa Huan, District 1
  2. Cat Moc Spa: 61-63 Tran Dinh Xu, District 1
  3. Temple Leaf Spa & Sauna: 32 Thai Van Lung, District 1

In Hoi An:

  1. The Calm Spa:  35 Lê Thánh Tông, Hội An
  2. Citrus Health Spa: 99 Ly Thuong Kiet, Hoi An
  3. Ma Spa: 111B Le Thanh Tong, Hoi An

In Hanoi:

  1. Omamori Spa: 52A Hàng Bún, Ba Đình District
  2. Just MassageNo. 237 Au Co, Tay Ho District
  3. Moc Spa: 65A Tran Quoc Toan, Hoan Kiem District

[Back to Contents]

We hope you found this article about massages in Vietnam helpful! Please check our blog regularly to receive more useful Vietnam travel tips! And if you’re traveling to  Ho Chi Minh City or Hoi An, please considering joining us on one of our famous Vietnam tours.

XO Tours NOT in Hanoi

fake XO Tours

This is not XO Tours!

XO Tours does not operate in Hanoi, and it’s unlikely we ever will. So why the misleading blog title? We felt the need to write this blog post to protect our brand, so that when our valued guests search for XO Tours they will know that XO Tours only operates out of Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) and will not be tricked into booking onto a substandard and unsafe copycat tour in Hanoi or other cities in Vietnam.

We’ve always had many tour companies copy our tours, but it’s gotten especially bad in the past year with many new fly by night tour businesses actually stealing our website content, photos, and even our logo. Our website content is copyrighted and we have also trademarked our logo which has allowed us to file lawsuits against many of these tour operators and put many of them out of business. But it seems that for each of these copycat tours we shut down, a new one will pop up.

Although we cannot patent the concept of female motorbike tour guides, we do object to companies that blatantly steal our name, logo and website content with the intent to use our hard-earned reputation as a way to make a quick buck.

The companies that have been stealing our company name and website content are all poorly run businesses. These companies are also operating illegally and are not safe in our opinion. Instead of working hard to build a sustainable business and brand, they prefer to use deception to trick guests into believing that they are XO Tours.

If you’re in Hanoi and you want to book with a trustworthy and reputable tour operator, you should consider booking a tour with Vietnam Awesome Travel. Vietnam Awesome Travel, offers great walking food tours, cooking classes, and even motorbike tours. You can contact Vietnam Awesome Travel by clicking on the link below:

http://www.vietnamawesometravel.com/

Please tell them that XO Tours recommended you.

If you go through Saigon or Hoi An and you want to enjoy an authentic Vietnam tour come to XO Tours!

How to Spend Two Weeks in Vietnam – Custom Itineraries for Vietnam

With spring break just around the corner, many of you may be planning a perfect two-week getaway.  Vietnam is an ideal choice for a two week holiday because traveling within the country is quite efficient, which allows you to see many places in a short period of time.  Moreover, whether you like a vacation with adventure, beaches, relaxation, luxury or marvel, Vietnam has a little bit for everyone.  As part of our ‘Custom Itineraries for Vietnam’ series, here’s a sample itinerary to guide you through your trip planning process and to show you a complete picture of Vietnam has to offer.

Here are main destinations you should check out:

  1. Hanoi
  2. Halong Bay
  3. Hue, DMZ, Phong Nha Caves
  4. Hoi An
  5. Ho Chi Minh City
  6. Phu Quoc

Hanoi
The capital city of Vietnam, Hanoi is a wonderful introduction to the culture of this country.  Hanoi is a very historically rich city and the people there are quite proud of their city, heritage, and country. The backpackers’ scene in Hanoi is also very vibrant, and even if you are not a backpacker, the Hoan Kiem area is one of the most popular tourist areas.   Hanoi also has the highest number of motorbikes in Vietnam and one of the highest in the world so be careful when crossing the streets because traffic can become very chaotic, to say the least!
Recommended – 2 days, 2 nights

Halong Bay
Cruises in Halong Bay can be one of the most luxurious experiences in Vietnam if not all of South East Asia.  Waking up on the water surrounded by giant limestone formations is breathtaking.  A one night cruise is often enough to get a feel for Halong Bay, but if time permits, we highly recommend a 2-night cruise.  On the second night, many cruises offer a candlelight dinner on a beach that lies within a cove or a dinner inside a cave.  Either way, the experience is truly spectacular.
Recommended – 3 days, 2 nights
Want more organized tours?  They are an excellent way to gain insight into Vietnamese culture so check out our favourite tour companies throughout the country. 

Hue, DMZ, Phong Nha Caves
A trip to Vietnam is not complete without going to Hue, especially if you’re a history buff.  Besides being a historically significant city, this ancient capital has a very quaint and mystical air about it.  The areas surrounding Hue are also just as beautiful.  Recently, the largest cave in the world was discovered in Central Vietnam.  Access to this cave is still limited and expensive, but there are other caves in the area that are still awe-inspiring.  The Phong Nha and Paradise caves are two of the most popular in the area.  Many hotels and tour companies based in Phong Nha, Dong Hoi (the closest city to the caves) and in Hue offer transportation and tours to the caves.  Dong Hoi is accessible by train from Hue or other nearby cities, or by flight from Ho Chi Minh City or Hanoi.
Recommended – 3 nights (1 night in Hue, 2 nights in Phong Nha)
Want more adventure?  Da Lat is a wonderful place for outdoor adventure activities such as canyoneering, and Nha Trang is a great water sports destination.

Hoi An
Hoi An is the one of the most unique cities in Vietnam.  The Old Town portion of the city is a UNESCO heritage site and the old architecture is superbly preserved and displayed.  The city is a big hub for paper lantern manufacturing, and in the night all the paper lantern shop owners adorn their stalls with lit lanterns – a sight to see!  Hoi An is also famous for custom tailoring with more than 400 shops making suits, clothes, shoes, bags and more according to your specifications.  And the tailors are so talented that they are able to make anything within a few hours!  Hoi An doesn’t have an airport or train station – the nearest transportation hub is in Da Nang so be sure to inform your hotel or guesthouse in Hoi An to arrange pick up and drop off.
Recommended – 2 days, 1 night (2 full days are ideal if you are interested in custom tailoring)

Ho Chi Minh City 
An interesting quality about Ho Chi Minh City is that the feel of the city is quite different in comparison to other cities in Vietnam.  The people, the streets, the layout, the architecture, the food – it’s all unique.  The city is an interesting combination of manic and chaotic and lax and chill, and we urge you to take in all the sights and sounds that Ho Chi Minh City has to offer.  Take a look at our previous blog for tips on how to spend a day in Ho Chi Minh City.
Recommended – 2 days, 2 nights

Phu Quoc
Phu Quoc is one of the most beautiful beaches and islands in the country.  Many call it the next Phuket, but it still retains a rustic and off-the-beaten-path feel.  A new international airport just opened in Phu Quoc which will soon accept flights directly from Thailand and Singapore, so we recommend that you visit here before tourism gains more momentum here!  The island has a very calm and relaxing feel so it’s the perfect way to round off the two week holiday.
Recommended – 3 nights
Want more beach time?  Take a look at our previous blog on our the best beaches in Vietnam from North to South!

Visit the XO Tours blog regularly for more Vietnam travel tips! Our Saigon tour and Hoi An walking tour will allow you to discover great hidden places!