HO CHI MINH CITY | Vietnam’s biggest city offers a wealth of attractions for visitors, with a vibrancy and buzz that can be felt any time of the day. It has a culturally rich and diverse history, shaped by ancient dynasties, periods of Chinese and French rule, and more.
There’s diverse architecture, amazing food, museums, galleries, and more. As with any big cities, two days is only enough to scratch the surface and if you’re like me, you’ll want to return (I’ve visited three times).
If time is not on your side and you only have 48 hours or so in town, here’s some suggestions on things to do in Ho Chi Minh City, that will ensure you have a great experience.
Appreciate The City’s French Colonial Architecture
Vietnam’s French Colonial era lasted from 1858 to 1945. The impact of this can be seen throughout Ho Chi Minh City, particularly in the city’s grand architecture. In the wealthy older parts of District 1, which was once old Saigon, you can see several examples of French Colonial architecture. Check out the Notre-Dame Basilica, Central Post Office, Saigon Opera House, People’s Committee Building, Hotel Continental, and Tan Dinh Parish Church (the ‘pink’ church).
Crawl Through The Cu Chi Tunnels
The Cu Chi Tunnels are an extensive network of connecting tunnels located on the outskirts of Ho Chi Minh City. They were the location of several military campaigns during the Vietnam War, and today visitors can crawl through the safe parts, and learn more about their role and importance during the war.
Eat Street Food
Vietnam is one of the world’s street food capitals, and Ho Chi Minh City is a great city in which to immerse yourself in the city’s street food culture. Vendors can be found all over town, often specialising in one of two dishes, to eat then and there on the sidewalk. You can find some tips on where to eat street food and other food, in my Ho Chi Minh City Food Guide.
As a general rule of thumb, when it comes to street food, follow the locals. Many people tell me that they’re wary of eating street food because it ‘might make them sick’. If you stick to the ‘follow the locals’ rule, you won’t have this problem. If a place is busy with locals lining up to enjoy that food that’s being served up, it’s going to be good and safe.
Get A Different Historical Perspective
The Vietnam War, or American War as it’s known in Vietnam, needs no introduction. Regardless of your opinions on the war, a visit to The War Remnants Museum is a must, and will make you think about things from a different perspective. Other museums worth visiting are the Reunification Palace, and the Ho Chi Minh City Museum.
Go On A Speedboat Tour Of The Mekong Delta
The Mekong River is the lifeblood of Vietnam, and a speedboat tour of the Mekong River Delta is a great way to see a lot of how life unfolds on the river in a short timehttps://lesrivesexperience.com/. There’s a lot of tours out there catering to all timeframes, budgets, and interests. Generally, you’ll see temples, villages, markets, flora, and fauna. I personally recommend Les Rives Authentic River Experience.
Learn To Cook Vietnamese Food
If you’ve ever wanted to learn how to cook up a few classic Vietnamese dishes yourself, you should check out Ho Chi Minh Cooking Class. It was started by Vietnamese-born doctor turned celebrity chef, Luong Viet Tan, and teaches visitors how to cook in a fun, informative environment, on Tan’s farm on the outskirts of Ho Chi Minh City. It’s a good activity to pair with the nearby Cu Chi Tunnels.
Sample Local Beer
Ho Chi Minh City is a place that’s embraced craft beer in recent years, with the Vietnamese city seeing an explosion in the number of craft breweries in town. From popular craft breweries like Pasteur Street, to craft beer bars, there’s no shortage of spots to sample Vietnamese craft beer. All major styles are represented, and many brews incorporate local ingredients and flavours. Check out my Ho Chi Minh City Craft Beer Guide for a list of the best craft beer spots in town.
Try Vietnamese Coffee
Coffee was introduced into Vietnam by the French in 1857, and today coffee farms can be found throughout Vietnam’s central highlands. Vietnamese coffee has its own style and flavour, and is known as cà phê đá. It’s medium to coarse ground dark roast drip filter coffee, most commonly made with Vietnamese-grown Robusta beans.
Vietnamese coffee can be enjoyed hot or iced, black or with sweetened condensed milk (cà phê sữa đá). It’s sold all over town at cafes and street vendors. If you’re looking for a cafe in which to enjoy it, I recommend La Viet Coffee and Trung Nguyen Legend. For Western-style coffee made using Vietnamese arabica beans, check out The Workshop Coffee.
Take A Ride On A Scooter
Taxis are plentiful in Ho Chi Minh City (make sure you go with one of the reputable names – Mai Linh or Vinasun), but you’ll notice that for solo trips, most hop on the back of a quicker, and cheaper, motorised scooter. ‘Grab‘ is South East Asia’s version of ‘Uber’, and is a great, safe way to book a taxi or scooter in Vietnam. At least once, you should go for the scooter option – it’s a unique experience.
Taste Fresh Tropical Fruits
Vietnam’s climate is perfect for growing tropical fruit, and at any time of the year you’ll find a wide array of delicious familiar and unfamiliar fruits to enjoy. Three of my favourites are mangosteens, lychees, and rambutans.
Skip the grocery stores and head to any one of the many street vendors or wet markets where you’ll find growers selling the day’s harvest direct to the public. It’s generally sold by the kilogram, and very well priced.
Visit A Market
There are plenty of markets in Ho Chi Minh City, though the number of traditional wet markets in the centre is declining as the city rapidly develops. The famous Ben Thanh Market is essentially a tourist market these days. I recommend visiting the street market of Old Market Ton That Dam instead. It’s a proper local’s market, and one of the few remaining markets of it’s kind in District 1. Tran Huu Trang Market, a wet market in Phú Nhuận district, is another favourite of mine.
Visit Bui Vien Street
This street is at the heart of Ho Chi Minh City’s backpacker district, and is arguably the most tourist focused street in the city. Usually those two things would turn me off, but in the case of Bui Vien Street it’s different. After dark, it’s a hive of activity, and one of the most interesting, vibrant parts of Ho Chi Minh City that any visitor can experience. You don’t need to visit any of the places there, but a walk through is highly recommended.
Ho Chi Minh City is one of the most thrilling cities to walk through. Life happens on the streets, with a constant stream of pedestrians going about their day, street vendors operating day and night, and motorised scooters weaving in and out of traffic. It’s a safe city (just beware of pickpockets like you would in any other big, busy city), so don’t be afraid to get amongst it, explore, and soak in the atmosphere.