Best way to spend a day in Ho Chi Minh City

Crazy traffic, exotic foods and a complex colonial past make Vietnam’s largest city an enthralling place to visit.

View from above of a street vendor making food in Ho Chi Minh City
  • Peter Barrett
  • March 2018

Early morning

Life all over Vietnam starts super early. Much of the day’s shopping and commerce happens while temperatures are relatively cool, before 9am. To get into the swing of life in this bustling city of more than 10 million, join the ladies doing aerobics to a techno soundtrack in Park 23/9 (District 1).


Breakfast

Now you’ve worked up a hunger, drop into nearby Nhu Lan (66 Hàm Nghi St, District 1) for banh mi (pork sandwich) or banh cuon (minced pork with fermented rice noodles), then amble through the local wet market at Ton That Dam Street, between Ham Nghi and Huynh Thuc Khang streets, where you’ll be dazzled by an exotic array of fresh fruit, vegetables, fish and meat. Hungry again? Keep north and try a hot bowl of pho bo (beef noodle soup) at Pho Hoa (260C Pasteur Street).

Banh Mi being made in Ho Chi Minh City
Banh Mi being made, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam

Mid-morning

Vietnam is the world’s second-largest coffee producer and Vietnamese people while away countless hours chatting in cafés, which you’ll find on every street corner. The two drinks of choice are iced black coffee (ca phe da) or iced white coffee (ca phe sua da), which is sweetened with condensed milk. For something different, though, try a coconut-ice-cream coffee at the kitsch, communist-themed Cong Ca Phe (26 Ly Tu Trong Street, District 1).


Lunch

For a taste of traditional, southern-style Vietnamese food, drop into one of the six Hoang Yen opens in new window restaurants dotted around the city. Order thit kho nuoc dua (pork cooked in coconut juice with boiled egg) or ca loc kho to (caramelised snakehead fish, cooked in a clay pot). Don’t leave without trying their specialty: cha ca com chay (deep fried, crunchy rice in a marinated fish paste).

Fresh bowl of Pho in Ho Chi Minh City
Fresh bowl of Pho, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam

Afternoon

Immerse yourself in the city’s culture with a special tour. Sophie’s Art Tour takes visitors through private collections, museums and contemporary art spaces, uncovering fascinating insights about the city’s modern art and complicated 20th century history along the way. Afternoon private tours are available by appointment.


Dinner

Enjoy pre-dinner drinks while you watch the sun go down over the Saigon River at The Deck opens in new window (38 Nguyen U Di Street, Thao Dien, District 2) and then head next door to Restaurant 13 for more traditional (and less expensive) fare. Or, for something special, try Cuc Gach Quan (10 Dang Tat, Tan Dinh, District 1), a great little restaurant in a residential street – be sure to book.

Freshly poured Vietnamese iced coffee
Freshly poured iced coffee, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam

Late night

Take advantage of the city’s thriving craft beer scene and start your fun at BiaCraft opens in new window (90 Xuan Thuy, Thao Dien, District 2), which stocks more than a dozen locally brewed ales. Head back into the centre of town for an award-winning chocolate stout at the Pasteur Street opens in new window Brewing Company Tap Room (144 Pasteur St, District 1), then a quality cocktail or three at The Racha Room opens in new window (12-14 Mac Thi Buoi, District 1). End your night in the speakeasy opulence of Snuffbox (14 Ton That Dam Street, District 1) or kick on to an underground house/techno beat at The Observatory nightclub opens in new window (5 Nguyen Tat Than, District 1), which stays open until 7am.