The best of Ho Chi Minh City on a budget: top 5 things to do
Whether it’s a laid-back riverside promenade or an al fresco music performance at the Opera House, there are plenty of fun and surprising things to do in Ho Chi Minh that won’t break your budget.
Once known as the ‘Paris of the Orient’, Ho Chi Minh City retains a certain je ne sais quoi. Whether it’s a laid-back riverside promenade or an al fresco music performance at the Opera House, there are plenty of fun and surprising things to do, whether you’re with a loved one, a group of friends or flying solo. Best of all, you can find the city’s hidden side by hunting down these budget-friendly activities.
Pledge your love at ‘Rainbow’ Bridge
If you’re here with your one and only, do what young Vietnamese couples do and stroll hand-in-hand across this picturesque footbridge, designed by legendary French architect and engineer Gustave Eiffel. Linking the city’s central District 1 with District 4, legend has it that the bridge possesses secret powers granting longevity to partnerships. And it can’t hurt, right?
Location: Tan Phu Ward, District 7, Ho Chi Minh City
Catch a free classical music performance at the Opera House
You don’t need to spend anything to enjoy top-class cultural offerings at the Saigon Opera House, the magnificent colonial-era centrepiece of Ho Chi Minh City. This venue often hosts free shows that make for a perfect nighttime outing, so keep an eye on its program. More consistent, free and live entertainment takes place at the entrance to the landmark attraction on weekend mornings, when local youth orchestras and musical groups perform an assortment of tunes, from marching band melodies to traditional folk songs.
Location: Lam Son Square, District 1
Our favourite link: Ho Chi Minh City Ballet Symphony Orchestra and Opera opens in new window
Get away from it all at Thanh Da Island
A tranquil haven of serenity just 8 kilometres north of the city centre, Thanh Da Island is one of Ho Chi Minh City’s most charming secrets. While many of the city’s remaining pockets of space are in the process of being developed, this island, which lies among a bend of the Saigon River, retains a rural feel, with mature trees and little pathways into the jungle providing perfect peaceful strolling opportunities. Two of the best places to get acquainted with the island are Binh Quoi 1 and Binh Quoi 2, a pair of tourist villages created by the government in the 1970s. Both have decent restaurants, but their true drawcard for people wanting a break from the city’s intensity are their verdant, expansive gardens.
Location: Binh Thanh District
Our favourite link: Thanh Da: the island within Saigon opens in new window
Browse for home improvements on ‘Antique Street’
Window shopping is one of the great pleasures of Saigon. If you’re on a strict budget, you don’t have to spend money to benefit from visiting the city’s markets and retail hubs: the fascinating selection of items on show will give you plenty of inspiration and food for thought. One of the best places to be inspired is Le Cong Kieu Street, known as ‘Antique Street’. Choice items here include vintage gramophones, silk screens depicting traditional Vietnamese scenes, and beautiful furniture. The street’s eclectic range of wares is sure to inspire your future interior design sprees, even if you don’t buy. (And if you do, be aware that many of the items are reproductions, not honest-to-goodness antiques!)
Location: Le Cong Kieu Street, District 1
Our favourite link: Treasure Hunting in Saigon’s Antique Market opens in new window
Align your energies in Tao Dan Park
While Ho Chi Minh City’s frenetic charisma is exhilarating, even the most energetic travellers deserve some downtime. And there is no better place in the city to enjoy some peaceful respite from the big-city buzz than in Tao Dan Park, a leafy green oasis featuring 1000 mature trees and many quiet corners. The park is a hive of activity in the early morning, with locals exercising, jogging or practicing their tai chi moves. Head down at the crack of dawn to realign your chi and kickstart the day with zen.
Location: 57 Nguyen Thi Minh Khai, Ben Thanh
Our favourite link: The Travel Ninjas: Tao Dan Park