Ho Chi Minh City, formerly known as Saigon, is a popular tourist destination to discover fascinating culture, sleek skyscrapers, classic French architecture and ornate temples and pagodas in Vietnam. In the evening, rooftop bars offer great sunset views overlooking Saigon, and fantastic restaurants offer a combination of local Vietnamese, French, Chinese cuisine. If you are unsure of what to do, see, eat, and shop during your stay, this is a survival guide for your first time in Ho Chi Minh City.
Weather in Ho Chi Minh City
Saigon city has a tropical monsoon climate with an average temperature of 28 degrees Celsius. There are two distinct seasons in the year. The rainy season usually lasts from May to November with an average rainfall of about 1.800 millimetres. The dry season lasts from December to April with highest temperature recorded was 40 degrees Celcius and the lowest one was 13.8 degrees Celsius.
Best Time to Visit Ho Chi Minh city
For people with the first time to Ho Chi Minh City, the best time to visit this dynamic center of Vietnam is during the drier months, from December to March. During this time, temperatures range between 21 and 34 degrees Celsius. Many visitors also visit in late January or early February to enjoy Vietnamese Tet Festival (Vietnamese New Year). As the whole country joins in the festivities, the prices are higher and getting around may be difficult because of the large numbers of tourists.
Foods in Ho Chi Minh City
Saigon or Ho Chi Minh city is a cultural hotpot where people from many regions of the country lives. That’s why you can find food from nearly every corner of Vietnam in its authentic style or Saigon version as well. While the Northern dishes are a little salty, Saigon food is sweeter and has an excellent of combination between cool and warm ingredients. And, the best thing is that there are so many options that you can choose to enjoy at breakfast, brunch, lunch, and dinner during your first time in Ho Chi Minh City.
What to Do in Saigon for First Time Comers
1. Contemplate French Colonial Architecture in Saigon
During the late 1800s, Saigon became the capital of Cochinchina’s southern region and then quickly turned into a hub of colonial culture and commerce when the French spread their power across the entire region. Until now, many buildings still remain and the French culture has left various marks on the city. The buildings are good sites for you to understand the colonial architecture and get to know more about the history of the land. Some recommended places to go include Reunification Palace, Ben Thanh Market, Saigon Central Post Office, Hotel Majestic Saigon, Ho Chi Minh City People’s Committee.
2. Shop at Saigon’s Best Markets
Shopping in Ho Chi Minh will surely become the highlights of your first day in the city. It offers more than just boutique outlets or generic shopping malls. It is a chance to experience the local culture, traditional street markets which are scattered across the city with many vendors selling local products. You can find everything you need in Saigon markets, like war memorabilia, hand-woven fabrics, quality silks, authentic woodwork, lacquer, and ceramics. The biggest market to visit is Ben Thanh Market which was almost 100 years old. And, An Dong Market and Binh Tay Market are also worth shopping.
3. Enjoy Beer at Backpacker Streets
In the evening, local people often gather for having a beer. If you want to hang out on a budget, backpacker streets such as Pham Ngu Lao street and Bui Vien street are your top choices. This is a lively, bustling area for drinking people. As its name suggests, you can meet a lot of backpackers from all over the world here. There are numerous roadside sears where you can get some decent snacks and enjoy cold beers, especially craft beers, with surprisingly cheap prices. During happy hours, bars and pubs on the street always offer phenomenal deals for you.
4. Indulge in Delicious Food
You may find it hard to resist Saigon cuisine with hundreds of amazing dishes. Taking a Saigon food tour in three or four hours is a wise thing to do on the first day in this city. You can find food whenever you need and wherever you are. A food tour may include desserts, main dishes, street foods, and drinks. You should start your tour from early morning when many street vendors sell mouthwatering street foods. If you want some suggestions for savory dishes, they should be: com tam (broken rice), Bánh (Vietnamese baguette), “bún mắm” (Vietnamese gumbo), and “bún thịt nướng” (vermicelli with grilled pork).
5. Be Infuriated at War Remnants Museum
The War Remnants Museum is one of the top attractions in Ho Chi Minh which is dedicated to educating visitors about the Vietnam War’s atrocities. It is one of the most popular museums in Vietnam and attracts more than half a million visitors every year. The items displayed in the museum include old military vehicles such as Huey helicopters, attack bombers and M48 Patton tanks. Inside, you also can find old photographs and personal memorabilia of victims in the war.
6. Visit Temples and Pagodas
Religious always play an important part in Vietnamese people’s life. Spending just a few hours to visit temples and pagodas will give you a chance to understand more about local religious, culture, and also admire these beautiful and sacred architecture. Most of Saigon temples are built as memorials for heroes such as Tran Hung Dao and Le Van Duyet. If you are lack of time, we recommend a trip to Thien Hau pagoda or Jade Emperor pagoda which are both famous places for locals to come and pray for peace and fertility.
7. Have a Private Tour to Cu Chi Tunnels
If you want to experience the life of Vietnamese army in the past, Cu Chi Tunnels is the place to go. It has been used by the Vietcong guerillas in 1968. The tunnels are made up of a series of underground chambers stretching for 30 kilometers. Now you can visit some sections of the tunnels, crawl through the small tunnels to get to know the conditions of the Vietcong during the Vietnam War.
8. Explore Saigon Nightlife
As a bustling and energetic city in the daytime, Ho Chi Minh City offers a dynamic eventful nightlife with a lot of fun tours, exciting bars and clubs, and theatre performances as well. To explore the young city to its fullest, you should not miss Pham Ngu Lao, Ngo Van Nam, Dong Khoi, and Le Thanh Ton area where bring you extraordinary experiences. You can find the clubs with relaxing lounge music, pricey and tasty drinks, and meet other expatriates there. If you are tired after a day of exploring, it’s better to find a good message to relax in the evening.
Vietnam’s currency is VND or Vietnam Dong. $1 is about VND 23.000. The preferred method of payment is by notes so you should bring cash instead of cards. But in big restaurants and café, they also accept USD.
Where to Stay in Ho Chi Minh City:
Saigon is divided into 24 districts which offer unique experiences and different accommodation options to travelers. To help you decide where to book your hotel in Saigon, below are the best area we recommend:
- Backpacker’s area in Pham Ngu Lao street (budget prices)
- Around famous market – Ben Thanh (mid-level prices)
- Around Commercial street – Dong Khoi (upscale prices)
Traffic in Ho Chi Minh City
Traffic is always a hot topic to discuss. Saigon transportation system is almost totally roads. Therefore, the streets are always crowded with major means of transportation such as cars, buses, trucks, bikes,… Especially, the main roads become extremely crowded during rush hours which causes traffic jams.
If you want to cross the roads, you may start to panic as you see the amount of traffic and other locals and tourists attempting to cross the road. The best way to tackle it is crossing with some locals or with a few people in a pack. And, the most important thing is to keep walking and not stop for the lines of scooters.
The best words to explain Ho Chi Minh City might be an “organized chaos”. It is totally something you have never seen before, the constant beeping, road rage, and aggression. When visiting the city, you need to stop, look and pay attention to what is going on around you. The bus or truck horn is not a sign of aggression but a sign of letting other fellow drivers know that they are nearby.
Potentials of Thefts and Tips to Avoid
Robbery against tourists usually occurs in tourist attractions at dusk. Some places in Saigon such as Notre Dame Cathedral, Nguyen Hue roundabout, and 23/9 Park are favorite spots for pickpockets. They often snatch bags, necklaces, and mobile phones from those walking on the street and make a quick getaway.
Here are some things you can do:
- Wear a money belt that fastens around your waist or under your pants.
- Leave valuables in your hotel rooms.
- Do not use your phone or camera near traffic.
- Do not walk around alone.
With these tips, we believe that you are ready for the upcoming trip to Ho Chi Minh City. And, don’t forget to share your experience in this wonderful city.