Top 5 free things to do in Ho Chi Minh City with kids

From visiting secret pagodas to marvelling at historic sights, there are plenty of free things to do in Ho Chi Minh City with kids.

Toy figures on a stick in Ho Chi Minh City.
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The supercharged, motorbike-packed streets of Ho Chi Minh City hold plenty of family-geared attractions. Whether its communing with friendly locals in peaceful parks and gardens, visiting secret pagodas or marvelling at historic sights, there are plenty of things to do in Ho Chi Minh City with kids, that won’t cost you a dong.

Listen to the songbirds ring in the day at Tao Dan Park

Tao Dan Park in the hectic heart of Ho Chi Minh City is actually one of the best places to find solace—as well as some remarkable interaction with locals. Head here in the early hours of the day between 7am and 9am, when a crowd of elderly bird-lovers gather in the corner of the park closest to Cach Mang Thang Tam Street to let their songbirds do their musical thing. There’s usually around 50 or so intricate bamboo cages sprawled around in a circle. As their owners sip strong Vietnamese coffee, the birds stretch their vocal chords and get used to singing for an audience. Tune in to the chorus and take part in the fun to remind the kids what ‘tweeting’ used to mean.

Location: Corner of Tao Dan Park closest to Cach Mang Thang Tam Street

Our favourite link: Vietnam travel: finding peace with the songbirds of Saigon in Ho Chi Minh City opens in new window

Experience Vietnam’s largest Chinatown

Even though Cholon is Ho Chi Minh City’s Chinatown, at first you’ll notice that Vietnamese script, rather than Chinese characters, dominates shopfronts and signage. Scratch the surface, however, and you’ll find atmospheric pagodas, spirit houses and old Chinese assembly halls, and even some of the city’s most colourful markets. It’s a fantastically lively place for at least a half-day’s exploration by foot. And with its attractions free to enter and browse, it’s an excursion that won’t cost much more than a taxi fare. Highlights of the area include Ha Chuong Hoi Quan Pagoda and Binh Tay Market. Kids will love the array of che (sweet soup desserts) at Che Tau Ha Ky.

Location: Chinatown: District 5 and part of District 11 Che Tau Ha Hy: 138 Chau Van Liem, District 5

Our favourite link: A Day in Cholon opens in new window

Promenade down Vietnam’s premier ‘walking street’

Efforts have been made in recent times to boost Ho Chi Minh City’s appeal to pedestrians. Nowhere is that more obvious than on Nguyen Hue Street, which has long been one of the city’s grandest thoroughfares and is now an iconic traffic-free strip. The 60m-wide precinct runs for almost a kilometre from the colonial era People’s Committee Building, with its statue of Ho Chi Minh, down to the Saigon River. It’s a fantastic, family-friendly destination for an evening stroll, full of prime people-watching opportunities. Crowds of locals descend on the strip every evening to walk, socialise, sing, dance and ride hoverboards.

Location: Nguyen Hue Street, District 1

Our favourite link: Nguyen Hue Walking Street, Saigon opens in new window

Browse the aisles at Ben Thanh Market

You don’t need to dig into your wallet to get the most from Ben Thanh Market, and Ben Thanh night market, Ho Chi Minh City’s most iconic retail hub. The market has been the focus of Saigon’s commercial life since it was completed under French rule nearly a century ago, and it continues to play a key role in the life of the city. Although temptations to buy are myriad, the market is a vibrant place for commitment-free browsing and kids will love the lively atmosphere. There are some seriously tempting items such as bags, Vietnamese coffee, silk and other handcrafted products to be found amidst the flotsam and jetsam. Also recommended is the wet market, where fruit and fresh produce are plentiful.

Location:  Le Loi Street, District 1

Our favourite link: Ben Thanh Market opens in new window

Chow down on some of the world’s top street food

While it’s not strictly free, sitting at around VND 40,000 (AUD $2) per delicious dish makes sampling Ho Chi Minh City’s famously delicious street food an unmissable giveaway. Mobile vendors can be found in practically every nook and cranny of the city, serving up a variety of delicacies ranging from noodle soups such as pho bo (rice vermicelli with beef) and hu tieu (flat rice noodles with pork and shrimp) to goi cuon (fresh spring rolls). One of the most kid-pleasing items on the city’s street food menu is banh xeo, a savoury pancake made of rice flour, coconut milk, turmeric, and stuffed with pork, shrimp, mushrooms and other goodies.

Location: Throughout Ho Chi Minh City

Our favourite link: Vietnamese Food Guide opens in new window