An exciting, vibrant metropolis made for food lovers and night owls
Ho Chi Minh City, still known to many by its old name, Saigon, changed in 1976, pulsates with energy unlike any other city in Vietnam. It’s a fast-growing, business-driven place. As hectic as it is, people here certainly know how to relax, usually over iced coffee or cocktails. In District 1, skyscrapers tower above old French museums while swarms of motorbikes hum down the streets. Ho Chi Minh's buzzy rush is exciting, and infectious.
From gourmet restaurants to fast food outlets and the humble carts at Ben Thanh Market, the city’s dining options are as thrilling as its nightlife. Once the sun sets and the neon lights come on, Ho Chi Minh City serves up everything you could demand from a night on the town, from no-frills beer joints to swanky cocktail bars and thumping clubs. With so many to choose from, you might find yourself collapsing into bed just in time for sunrise. You won't find this kind of after-dark action elsewhere in Vietnam, so make the most of it while you can.
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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.
Things to do
A full plate
If you want to explore Saigon's food scene beyond the street stalls, there are many ritzy but affordable restaurants to sample. Mediterranean, classic French, English high tea, Mexican and various takes on Vietnamese fine-dining – your every food whim will be met in this food-obsessed city.
Dam Sen Park in Hoa Binh offers fun for families with young children. It’s a welcome escape from the city rush. Paddle a boat around the lake, jump on the monorail traversing the park or catch one of the weekend shows.
Just a generation ago, this city was in turmoil. Spend a few hours learning about the impact of the war on what was then known as Saigon. Go back in time at the Reunification Palace and The War Remnants Museum. Both spots trace the story of Vietnam during its turbulent 20th century.
Saigon’s nightlife is legendary, and it keeps going into the wee hours. Start the night early by downing impossibly cheap beer while perched on tiny stools on Pham Ngu Lao Street. Then the choice is yours: pumping clubs, elegant speakeasies, rooftop cocktails, backpacker bars or live music – anything and everything goes.
As the river flows
The small villages of the Mekong Delta are where the Vietnamese continues to live life simply, in tune with the changes in the tides, throughout the year. Experience the Mekong on a boat or cycling through the villages — visit the Cai Be floating market, amble through a fruit orchard, try the local fare as well as the traditional coconut candy.
Distance to city centre 6km
Taxi Metered taxis are available outside and to the left of the terminal; go for the reliable Mai Linh or Vinasun brands. To get to District 1 should take around 15 minutes and cost about VND 160,000 (plus a VND 10,000 airport surcharge). There are also counters inside the building, where you’ll pay more for a pre-paid taxi voucher.
Bus Public city bus 152 goes to Pham Ngu Lao (the backpacker street) every 20 minutes from 6am until 6pm. The fare is VND 5000, plus VND 5000 for bags. The more modern and comfortable bus 109 runs through the city centre to Pham Ngu Lao every 15-20 minutes from 5.30am to 1.30am. It takes about 45 minutes and costs VND 20,000.Back to top
When to go
Ho Chi Minh City has two distinct seasons wet and dry. It's always hot, with average temperatures year-round up around 28°C; it’s said that there’s no bad time to visit but when it rains it pours, and exploring can become difficult. The dry season runs from December until April, a period when there’s considerably less humidity, and temperatures may get as low as 18°C, especially in December.
Many businesses close during Tet, Vietnam’s Lunar New Year from the end of January to mid-February. City residents tend to leave town to visit family in the countryside. This makes things eerily quiet but it also means visitors have the city pretty much to themselves.Back to top
Taxis are cheap and plentiful, though you need to beware of dishonest operators. Stick with the reliable brands like Mai Linh and Vinasun, and watch out for crafty imitators with very similar names! Be sure the driver uses their meter, and carry small change for the fare, as drivers will usually not have change.
Xe om (motorbike taxis) are everywhere, make sure you agree on a fare before you set off (and ensure your travel insurance covers you for motorcycle travel).
The city’s bus network can be tricky if you don’t speak Vietnamese, but buses are fast and frequent. Many buses depart from Ben Thanh Station, where you can also get a route map.Back to top