Ho Chi Minh City was our first destination in Vietnam. First thought when we got to the city is “how the hell should I cross this street?!?” The city is very energetic and framed with kinetic river of traffic. And oh the thousands and millions of Vietnamese Dongs – might be very confusing, but at the same time exciting.
If Ho Chi Minh City doesn’t sound so familiar, Saigon should ring a bell. It’s the biggest city in Vietnam, located in the south part of the country and has been renamed after Vietnam (or as Vietnamese say American) war in honour of national hero Ho Chi Minh. The former name Saigon is still used pretty frequently by many locals and foreigners and even airport of Ho Chi Minh is still commonly known as Saigon airport.
How to get here?
Ho Chi Minh International Airport
Tan Son Nhat is the main airport of South Vietnam and main hub of VietJet airlines. If travelling from Europe – the best choice is to travel from Paris, Frankfurt, Istanbul, Helsinki, Moscow or London as there are direct flights by Vietnam Airlines, Turkish Airlines, Finnair or AeroFlot. And if you are flying in from another city in SE Asia – choose cheap local airlines: AirAsia from Malaysia, Cebu Pacific from Philippines, JetStar from Singapore or numerous airlines from Thailand, China and India.
The airport is located just 10 km from the city centre, so it’s easy reachable by public transport. The cheapest option is taking a bus from domestic terminal. Bus No. 152 costs 5000 Vietnamese Dong (VND) per person and 5000 more for a bag (0,5 Eur). You can also take bus No. 109 which is better air conditioned and costs 20 000 VND (1 EUR).
Alternative: Uber, which would cost 70 000-10 0000 VND (3-4 EUR).
And same rule as everywhere – you will pay more if you use regular taxi or shuttle bus. By the way, shuttle buses are being offered the same moment you leave airport, it might be hard to say no 😉
In case you don’t have your accommodation booked and you want to find one – go to Ben Thanh Market and then walk around.
Ben Thanh bus station
Alternate way to reach Ho Chi Minh city is by bus or train. Both come from north of Vietnam.
Train goes from South to North along the coast – it might be adventurous, but only if you don’t mind some inconveniences and bed sheets that might have been changed some time a week ago. Otherwise you will wish someone would take you back home the very same minute you enter the train. It can be fun – but you have to be open for experiences!
Very few countries in the world have this privilege to enter Socialist Republic of Vietnam without visa. And event then they can stay for 2 weeks without one. So check if you need visa to enter and if your passport is valid for more then 6 months!
You can apply for visa on arrival. You need to prove that you have place to stay, fill in the form, pay 50 money (Dollars or Euros, no Vietnamese Dongs). And you might get it or not 😉 Usually yes, unless you have unclear history behind you.
You can also prepare fro application in advance – ask for your hotels / hostel to send invitation letter, you can print out these application forms and fill it in advance. You will need pictures!
There is nothing too complicated in getting visa for Vietnam.
Ho Chi Minh city is divided into 17 districts. With 14 million residents, the city is wide spread, so we bet you prefer more central districts. Choose Ben Thanh Market area in District 1 or Binh Thanh district on the other side of the Saigon river.
Budget travellers should definitely go for hostels as you can find lots of them with a huge number of backpackers from all over the world. The price range per person will be around 5-10 Eur per night.
Our Choice: Saigon friends hostel in Le Lai street. Wasn’t the best choice in terms of cleanliness, but it’s location was super good and we were very lucky to meet cool people living there.
Reunification Palace – The palace that marks the end of Vietnam war. You can see tanks which crashed the gates in 1975. Entry ticket costs 30 000 VND (1,5 EUR) and inside you will find some information about the war. Go there if you need to kill some time, but a much better place is War Remnants Museum.
War Remnants Museum – If you think you know something about the Vietnam war, think it over again and visit this museum. For entry fee of 15 000 VND, everyone can find something for them – military transport, planes, tanks, bombs, imprisonment structures and shocking Agent Orange history. You might come out upset, shocked, definitely touched.
Ben Thanh market – The main and biggest market of the Saigon city. You can find lots of clothes, food, souvenirs and probably anything else that You need here. There are fixed prices for something but search all the market and negotiate a bit. Locals don’t like negotiations but remember the phrase “Ok, I’ll just walk a bit more to see other prices and then I’ll come back. Maybe”.
Notre Dam Cathedral – It doesn’t look like a replica of real Notre Dam in Paris but still it’s quite unusual building for this part of the world, where temples and pagodas are building the landscape.
Saigon River – beautiful sights are all around the Saigon river. Just stroll around, breath in some air.
Vietnam History Museum – Another museum of Saigon. We haven’t been there ourselves, but as we heard everything about early history of Vietnam can be found here.
Alternate day trips: Mekong Delta (2 days recommended), Cu Chi tunnels.
Eating and drinking
Our favourite part! Vietnam in general is the country that you need to visit for its food culture. Really! Cuisine is influenced by so many different cultures – from Chinese to French!
We are not giving you specific places to eat (food here is e v e r y w h e r e, on every corner). But here are some rules to keep your stomach happy and balanced:
x go where locals go
x always look at the menu and the prices; menus only in english is a bad sign
x if you’re planning to eat in the street, watch for cleanliness and make sure that your food is fried or cooked in high temperature. We don’t recommend eating too much raw fruits or veggies in the street, better wash them yourself.
x eat local food because it’s cheaper, and to be honest, locals don’t know how to do a good hamburger, because they do amazing Pho Bo!
What to try?
Banh Mi – French influenced baguette with pate, some meat and veggies.
Spring rolls – they are not deep fried, they are just fried.
Fried morning glory with garlic – this water spinach is crazy delicious if properly cooked.
Pho – soup they eat for breakfast, and not only.
Seafood – there are plenty of places where you choose your seafood yourself, and they grill it for you.
Vietnamese Coffee – suuuuper sweet with condensed milk.
2 days in Ho Chi Minh | Itinerary
Day 1: Breakfast > Walking around the city > Reunification palace > Notre Dam Cathedral > Lunch near Saigon river (try Lunch Lady, recommended by Anthony Bourdain) > Walking back to District 1 > Dinner and some nightlife in Backpackers area
Day 2: Breakfast > War Remnants Museum > Vietnam History Museum > Lunch > Ben Thanh market > dinner near Ben Thanh market
See you soon – more articles about Cat Ba Island and Hanoi is on the way!