Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC) is Vietnam at its most dizzying: a high-octane city of commerce and culture that has driven the country forward with its pulsating energy. A chaotic whirl, the city breathes life and vitality into all who settle here, and visitors cannot help but be hauled along for the ride.
See the top landmarks
Ho Chi Minh City’s colonial attractions are sprinkled around District 1, with the Reunification Palace looking down tree-lined Le Duan Boulevard where you’ll find the Notre Dame Cathedral and the city’s Central Post Office. Walk down Dong Khoi street, and you’ll pass the Saigon Opera House and the Continental Hotel. On a more local level, the Ben Thanh Market and the Jade Emperor Pagoda are both worth a stop.
Shop small boutiques
Around District 1, a host of old apartments and former office buildings have been repurposed as shopping centers, leading to some surprising retail discoveries. Decades-old buildings such as 22 Ly Tu Trong and 42 Nguyen Hue are good examples of these impromptu shopping malls, as are the shops at 3A Station near the riverfront. The streets and alleys branching off of Dong Khoi are packed with all kinds of fascinating stores.
Visit the War Remnants Museum
The War Remnants Museum recounts a tumultuous time in 20th-century Vietnamese history, documenting both the atrocities of the war and the aftermath of the conflict. If you’re interested in learning about the war from another point of view, this museum offers a wealth of information as well as some compelling photo exhibits.
Hop on a motorcycle
Beyond landmarks, Ho Chi Minh City serves up a taste of urban Vietnam by way of its traffic. Do as the locals do and hop on the back of a motorbike to see the city on street level and feel its energetic pulse. If you can’t drive, there are many tour companies offering motorbike tours. Some of the best set off in the evening, when the city is at its most romantic and the sidewalk vendors are out in force.
Eat street food
Ho Chi Minh City’s street food draws together countless regional specialties from across Vietnam. Locals love to gather around dented metal tables across the city for incredible roadside feasts. The options are plentiful, but don’t miss highlights such as Vietnamese sandwiches (bánh mì), southern-style savoury pancakes (bánh xèo) and broken rice (cơm tấm).
Get to know Vietnamese art
Though they may be small and sometimes difficult to find, Ho Chi Minh City’s contemporary art galleries are worth your effort. Start your artistic adventure at the Fine Arts Museum, once the mansion of one of HCMC’s wealthiest residents, before venturing out to other spaces. Noteworthy venues include Galerie Quynh, The Factory and Craig Thomas Gallery.