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top five guide: ho chi minh city, vietnam

Updated: Sep 7, 2023

Ho Chi Minh City Saigon Rooftop View Colorful Buildings 2023

Ho Chi Minh City (also known as Saigon), Vietnam’s largest city, takes the chaos of Hanoi and amps it up a few levels. With busy traffic, towering skyscrapers, and a deceivingly large footprint, this dense metropolis can certainly be a bit intimidating to the uninitiated Southeast Asia traveler. We ended our three week motorbike trip through Vietnam here, and though we were exhausted from the journey, we couldn’t help but be energized by the streets of Saigon.

here are my top five tips for a trip to HO CHI MINH CITY:

District One Saigon Ho Chi Minh City Vietnam Japantown Lanterns

1: district one

Ho Chi Minh City is split into 24 distinct districts (Hunger Games vibes, anyone?). The best for first-time visitors to stay in and explore is undoubtedly District 1, which is home to some of the city's most important sights such as the War Remnants Museum and Notre Dame Cathedral, as well as delicious street stalls and lively cafes. You'll also find picturesque streets and buzzing nightlife in Japan Town (pictured), though keep in mind hat this area is also a Red Light District. We stayed using points at Le Meridien Saigon, which was well-located with a great rooftop pool and chic lobby cocktail bar.

Com Tam Street Food Ho Chi Minh City Saigon Vietnam 2023

2: local eats

Our favorite activity when traveling is eating, and you will certainly be well fed here. Consider taking a food tour for a local’s perspective, but either way don’t miss Saigon-specific dishes like bun thit nuong (vermicelli noodle salad: try it at Propaganda Bistro or Bun Thit Luong Kieu Bao) and com tam (broken rice with meat: try it at Com Tam Hong Calmette, pictured, or Com Tam de Tham). Of course, you should also have the national classics while you're there: bun bo, banh mi, and about 100 Vietnamese iced coffees.

Lost and Found Bar Ho Chi Minh City Saigon Vietnam mango cocktail 2023

3: lost & found café

While there is plenty of coffee and beer to keep you satiated during your stay, one of the greatest treasures of our entire Vietnam trip was finding Lost and Found Cafe. This small, tucked away bar serves some of the best cocktails I’ve had in my life (and for an incredible value - definitely try the Safeword). It’s rare for me to visit the same spot twice when traveling, but I broke that rule here.

Rooftop Bar Orange Cocktail Ho Chi Minh City Saigon Vietnam 2023

4: rooftop retreat

It is fascinating to let yourself get lost wandering the busy streets of Saigon, but sometimes you might need a break from the overstimulation. Seek refuge at a rooftop bar with sweeping birds of this sprawling (and surprisingly colorful) city. We particularly liked the vibe and views from Thuong Rooftop in District 4, pictured. Recommend to go at sunset!

Ben Thanh Market Ho Chi Minh City Saigon Vietnam 2023 stalls

5: ben thanh market

An important disclaimer upfront: this is a capital-T TOURISTY spot, there is no getting around it. I usually am not into these kinds of places, but this market is just so quintessentially *Vietnam* to me that you really can’t miss it. Take a stroll through this warehouse to see just about every knockoff item you can imagine for sale. Even if you have no intention of buying (the sellers will try to convince you otherwise), it's worth experiencing. If you do decide to purchase something, make sure to haggle to avoid paying the dope tourist surcharge.

bonus: personal care

There are few places better for *treating yourself* (and doing so affordably!) than Vietnam. I got the best manicure of my life at Golden Nails, we had a luxurious and relaxing massage experience at Ashikatahonpo, and Alex got an incredible skilled and detailed haircut for $5 at the5 Barber Shop (all of the above in District 1).

You can't always do it all, so one thing we didn’t do but wish we had:

Visit the Mekong Delta. When we arrived in the city, we had spent the past three weeks on the adventure of a lifetime: driving a motorbike over 2,000km from Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh City. We had seen and experienced so much over that time that we were flat out exhausted (and also running low on our visa days). For those reasons we didn't have the time or energy to visit the Mekong Delta, which is about 1.5 hours south of the city. I would love to go back and experience that part of the country on a future trip.

Have a great trip! Feel free to leave a comment with your own favorites. You can also find these recommendations (and more!) in map format by following me on the Out of Office app.


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