It’s impossible not to get caught up in the high-octane energy of Ho Chi Minh City. Set along the Saigon River, the capital of southern Vietnam is an intoxicating mix of history, culture, and shopping opportunities. The city seamlessly blends its dark wartime past with a thriving present as the financial and commercial center of Vietnam. Tour ancient temples and war museums, then enjoy views of the glittering cityscape from atop a modern skyscraper. Even with just 72 hours to spend sightseeing, Ho Chi Minh City is a highlight of any backpacking trip to Southeast Asia.
Day 1: Downtown Tour
Start your Saigon trip by exploring the historical and cultural highlights in Ho Chi Minh City.
- War Remnants Museum
- Reunification Palace
- Notre Dame Cathedral
- Old Post Office
- Saigon Opera House
War Remnants Museum
Learn more about the Vietnam-American War at the War Remnants Museum. Expect a somber look at wartime; although they’re all from a Vietnamese perspective, the exhibits showed the utter devastation the war brought to both countries. There are weapons, tanks, and other artifacts from the brutal American War, as well as displays that touched on the French colonial period in Vietnam.
Another significant historical landmark in the city is the Reunification Palace, also known as the Independence Palace. The beautiful 1960s building was the setting of the Fall of Saigon in 1975 when North Vietnamese tanks crashed through the gates and ultimately won the American War. Inside, the palace is so pristinely preserved that a tour of the building feels like stepping back in time.
Notre Dame Cathedral of Saigon
One of the greatest physical legacies of the French in Vietnam is the Notre Dame Cathedral. Built between 1863 and 1880, the neo-Romanesque Catholic church was established by French colonists and all the building materials used were imported from France. Hailed as one of the world’s most majestic cathedrals, Notre Dame is a must-visit in the heart of Ho Chi Minh City.
Saigon Central Post Office
The Old Post Office is another architectural marvel in District 1 of Ho Chi Minh City. Built by Gustave Eiffel (who was also behind the Eiffel Tower) in the 19th century, the magnificent building is definitely worth a stop during a downtown tour. Make sure you step inside as the interiors are even more gorgeous than the façade! And although it’s a thriving tourist attraction, it’s also still an operating post office with mailing and translation services.
Saigon Opera House
For another marvelous example of French colonial architecture, visit Saigon Opera House, also known as HCMC Municipal Theater. If you have a little time, catch a show so you can appreciate the equally beautiful interiors of the theater.
Local Food Tour
On your first night in town, make sure you sample some of the best local Vietnamese delicacies. A motorcycle food tour is a fun activity, especially in the evening when it’s slightly cooler and all the vendors and locals are out.
Day 2: Cu Chi Tunnels
Take a quick day trip out of the city to learn more about the war period in Vietnam and gain a deeper appreciation of Ho Chi Minh City. And when you get back to the city, make a few more sightseeing stops before indulging in a relaxing dinner cruise on the Saigon River.
- Cu Chi Tunnels
- Ho Chi Minh City Museum
- Bitexco Tower
- Saigon River
Cu Chi Tunnels
Go underground and explore the Cu Chi Tunnels, now known as a base for the Viet Cong during the American War. It’s one of the best places to learn about a tumultuous time in Vietnam’s history, with the tunnels offering an intimate glimpse of life and death during the war. Many Cu Chi Tunnels tours only take half a day and get back to Ho Chi Minh City by the afternoon—plenty of time for more activities in other Saigon attractions!
Ho Chi Minh City Museum
While Hanoi’s Ho Chi Minh Museum is all about the iconic revolutionary Uncle Ho, Saigon’s Ho Chi Minh City Museum is an excellent place to discover the rich heritage of the city. The museum opened its doors in 1975, and it features plenty of artifacts depicting Vietnamese history including the people’s conflicts against French and American forces.
If you still have some time, head to the Bitexco Financial Tower, which was once the tallest tower in the city. The Observatory Sky Deck on the 49th floor overlooks the incredible cityscape, but if you have an hour or two to spare, it’s worth visiting Eon51 on the 51st level for cocktails and spectacular views.
Saigon River Cruise
Finally, wind down a busy day of sightseeing on a cruise of the famous Saigon River. Treat yourself to a sumptuous dinner aboard a cruiser with live music and dancing across three levels.
Day 3: Chinatown
Don’t leave Ho Chi Minh City without seeing some of the iconic sites you missed in the last two days of your whirlwind tour.
- Chinatown (including Thien Hau Pagoda)
- Ben Thanh Market
Spend a few hours wandering the streets of Chinatown, also called Cholon and known as the largest Chinatown in Vietnam. It’s an interesting place where travelers can explore grand pagodas, shopping markets, and authentic Chinese and Vietnamese food. Take a tour to ensure you don’t miss anything—and you should certainly try hopping on a cyclo while in Vietnam!
Thien Hau Pagoda
Constructed by the Chinese in the 1800s for the Chinese goddess of the sea Mazu, Thien Hau Pagoda is one of the most famous temples in Ho Chi Minh City. Locals still frequent the sacred Buddhist temple to pray, especially on Mazu’s birthday on the 23rd day of the third month of Vietnam’s lunar calendar. It’s set on the bustling Nguyen Trai Street in Chinatown, an easily accessible part of Saigon during a city tour.
Ben Thanh Market
If you haven’t made your way to District 1’s Ben Thanh Market, stop by before leaving. It’s an essential market to visit in Ho Chi Minh City, especially if you’re still hunting down a souvenir before going home! There’s a reason why this is one of the top tourist attractions in Saigon, with everything from clothing and shoes to spices and handcrafted products.
Staying for a bit longer in Ho Chi Minh? Discover the gems of rural Vietnam with a day tour to the Mekong River Delta. Other nearby attractions like My Son and Ben Tre are must-visit sites.
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