With its innocent charm, sprawling metropolis, fascinating history and exquisite food, Ho Chi Minh City, still known as Saigon, is a perfect blend of the traditional and the modern. Saigon’s colonial past seen in its preserved towns and heritage buildings with breathtaking natural wonders at the background will surely electrify all of your senses. If you ever find yourself in Ho Chi Minh City, here’s our 3-day suggested itinerary to get you started. This trip suggestion is designed to show you the best the city has to offer and what are the things you can accomplish in less than a week. Depending on your interests and travel priorities, you can certainly mix and match destinations, activities, and attractions.
Things to consider before travelling to Vietnam:
1.Language – Vietnamese is the official language of Vietnam. In Ho Chi Minh City, many Vietnamese can speak English, specially the young people. English is taught in schools and is widely used in the cities, so do not worry about not knowing local phrases or words. It is, however, recommended to learn some Vietnamese if you are heading towards rural areas where you can expect that a lot of people cannot speak any English.
2.Money and Costs – The official currency used in Vietnam is the Vietnamese Dong (VND). ATMs can be found in Airport, most tourist centers and shopping malls across the country. Exchanging money in Ho Chi Minh is easy and follows the same standard to elsewhere in Southeast Asia. It’s also good to know that bigger establishments accept US dollars. International credit cards are widely accepted, though small businesses, especially stores and restaurants may not accept them.
3.Safety – Ho Chi Minh City is a safe city to travel in. Scam is the most common problem in tourists areas and remains the number one source of complaints from foreign visitors. If you ever find yourself in Ho Chi Minh City, you have to remember that not every Vietnamese person you meet is out to scam you. Do your research, keep all your wits about you and always ask for personal recommendations from other travelers.
4.Getting there – Getting to Ho Chi Minh City is very straight forward (not even close to the complication to get to Bhutan). Flight from New York are reasonable priced at about 800 USD for a round-trip ticket, from Amsterdam you can snap a round-trip ticket at about 570 USD if you decide to fly with Etihad, from Hong Kong it will cost you about 180-190 USD and if your starting point is Moscow – you are a lucky one – round-trio cost under 450 USD.
5.Where to stay – Ho Chi Minh City has a wide range of accommodation options, with something for every level of comfort and budget. With so many cheaper options in the city, it is almost always tempting to get the cheapest accommodation. In Saigon, you have to remember that you get what you pay for. Deciding where to stay will be just the beginning of your adventure so make sure to choose carefully and always read reviews online. Pham Ngu Lau, the backpacker area of Ho Chi Minh City, is where you will find the cheapest hostels, hotels and guesthouses.
Where to stay in Ho Chi Minh City:
Villa Song Saigon (197/2 Nguyen Van Huong Street, District 2, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam)
The Reverie Saigon (22-36 Nguyen Hue Boulevard, District 1 | 57-69F Dong Khoi Street, District 1, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam)
Park Hyatt Saigon (2 Lam Son Square | District 1, Ho Chi Minh City 70000, Vietnam)
InterContinental Asiana Saigon (Corner Hai Ba Trung St. & | Le Duan Blvd, District 1, Ho Chi Minh City 70000, Vietnam)
I Am Vietnam Boutique Hotel (30/57B Nguyen Cuu Van Street, Ward 17, District Binh Thanh, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam)
6.Getting Around – Ho Chi Minh City is not that huge but for first time visitors, getting around can be quite daunting and confusing. Although District 1 offers more in terms of culture, sights and activities, there are 23 other districts in Ho Chi Minh City which you can explore via public transportation. Xe Om (motorbike taxi) is probably the easiest and most efficient mode of transport in Saigon. Traffic in the city is intense, so this is the perfect way to get to your destination. Xe Om drivers do not have uniforms and they do not advertise themselves clearly, but they are easy to locate. They usually hang out in touristy areas and they normally call out people. Before you decide to avail their service, ask for the price and make sure to haggle. Shorter trips normally costs 20,000 VND to 40,000 VND (0.90 – 1.80 USD). If you plan to take a cab, take note that there are plenty of taxi scams in Saigon so be sure to ride reputable taxi companies like the Vinasun and MaiLinh.
Sample Itinerary for Ho Chi Minh City in three days
Day 1: Cu Chi Tunnels Day Trip
On your first day, start early and have breakfast at one of the restaurants in Pham Ngu Lau. Wander through the city’s densely populated neighborhood and make sure to try coffee on a sidewalk café. Take a Xe Om and head to the War Remnants Museum (28 Võ Văn Tần, 6, 3, Hồ Chí Minh, Vietnam) in District 3. One of the most famous history museums in Vietnam, the War Remnants Museum is a great educational attraction that will surely give you better understanding of Vietnam War – from Vietnam’s perspective. After this, squeeze in a trip to Reunification Palace (135 Nam Kỳ Khởi Nghĩa, Bến Thành, Quận 1, Hồ Chí Minh, Vietnam), the former residence of the French General and later became the home of the South Vietnamese president. Head back to District 1 to have an early lunch at Nha Hang Bien Duong (45 Nguyễn Thái Học, Cầu Ông Lãnh, Quận 1, Hồ Chí Minh, Vietnam; tel: +84 91 610 40 00), a seafood restaurant famous among locals.
After lunch, avail a half day tour of the Cu Chi Tunnels. Cu Chi Tunnels are an extensive underground labyrinth from which the Vietnamese fought during the Vietnam-American War. In addition to providing underground shelter, the Cu Chi Tunnels were utilized to launch surprise attacks and booby traps. Normally, tours take 5-6 hours and you can either join a morning of afternoon tour. Before your scheduled arrival in Ho Chi Minh City, make sure to book your tour online with a reputable tour company. Afternoon tours normally depart at 11 in the morning and returns to Ho Chi Minh at 5 in the afternoon.
Day 2: Mekong Delta Day Trip
On day 2, embark on one of the most interesting day trips out of the city by joining a day tour of the Mekong Delta. This is a great opportunity to enhance your cultural experience in Vietnam and to interact with the locals. You will start early and your group will travel to the rural town of Cai Be. The agricultural heartland of Vietnam is surely a Photographer’s paradise so make sure to bring your cameras (you can also bring extra batteries because you will surely take many photographs). Once your group reaches the town, you’ll hop on a motorboat that will take you around the Mekong Delta. Tours normally include a visit to a local village where you can hop onto a bicycle and explore the surrounding orchards. Day tours to the Mekong Delta takes 12 hours.
Day 3: Ho Chi Minh
No trip to Saigon would be complete without going on a gastronomic adventure. So on your last day, visit some of the foodie neighbourhoods in the city like Dong Khoi area, famous for its haute cuisine restaurants, and Cholon, famous for Chinese fare. Do not miss to try some of the dirt-cheap sidewalk food stalls in Pham Ngu Lao. Try Saigon’s version of Pho, the de facto national dish of Vietnam. If you want to learn more about Vietnamese Cuisine, then join a food tour which lasts for about 3 hours. XO Tours, Back of the Bike Tours and Vietnam Vespa Adventures Day Tours are some of the top-rated tour companies in Saigon offering excellent food tours. Consider a late night flight back home so you can get some rest in your hotel or squeeze in some souvenir shopping.
This is the end of our 3-day suggested itinerary. The sequence of activities and attractions above are just a guide and you can definitely change it to suit your interests. Travel to Ho Chi Minh City when you are ready because it is definitely not for everyone. Go with your eyes open and experience the charm of this city.
Have you been to Ho Chi Minh City or anywhere else in Vietnam? Do you have any tips or suggestions to share? If so, you can leave your comments below.