Skyscanner Australia has reviewed our five favourite items and places in five categories to help with your Ho Chi Minh City travel plans.
5 Best Places to Stay in Ho Chi Minh City
1. District 1
Ho Chi Minh City is broken down into 24 districts, many of which follow a very similar naming convention. District 1 tops the list for many reasons, not just because it comes first numerically.
Also referred to as the city’s downtown area, District 1 is a hub of activities, hotels and restaurants. Expect to see French colonial building designs, tree-lined streets and the brightest of Vietnam’s bright lights. Upscale accommodation is found along Dong Khoi Street while hostels and budget accommodation are on Pham Ngu Lao and the surrounding area.
District 1 is particularly good for those visiting Ho Chi Minh City for the first time, as many of the city’s main attractions are found here too.
2. District 5
District 5, also known as Cholon, is home to the city’s biggest fresh produce market. Cholon is also HCMC’s, and Vietnam’s, largest Chinatown. Established in 1778, the area has old temples, teahouses and a fusion of Chinese and Vietnamese dishes.
3. District 3
District 3 has a more local feel to it than District 1, so be prepared to see how the locals live. If you’re looking for an authentic karaoke bar, this is the place to go.
4. District 2
District 2 is home to a large section of the ex-pat community in Ho Chi Minh. Expect upscale living and attractions catered towards the Western lifestyle.
5. District 7
Although not to the same scale as District 2, District 7 attracts its fair share of ex-pats which in turn brings familiar fast food chains to the area. With much of District 7 on the river, it’s easy to get waterside accommodation.
5 Best Things to Do in Ho Chi Minh City
1. Cu Chi Tunnels
The American-Vietnam War is a major part of the recent history of Ho Chi Minh City, which started the war called Saigon. The War Remnants Museum is a great way to get an understanding of the conflict, but the Cu Chi Tunnels gives a different perspective.
These tiny tunnels were used by fighters to sneak around the area, creating a secret network of passages to get around unseen. As well as the astounding spread of the tunnels, the narrow size of the gaps is something that has to be seen to be believed, with many tourists not even close to fitting into the tunnels.
The tunnels are more than two hours away from the city, so set aside at least half a day to visit them. Many tour companies offer full day tours that take in other nearby attractions, giving you an easy way to see the best of the city and the surrounding countryside.
2. Mekong Delta river cruise
Having a relaxing day on the water is a great way to spend the day, and Ho Chi Minh has great access to the mighty Mekong Delta. There are a variety of operators offering river cruises, with different lengths, boat types and activities available, so be sure to shop around for plumping for a certain tour.
3. The Independence Palace
Built in 1966, the Independence Palace was the HQ for southern troops during the America-Vietnam War. The building has been preserved from its condition in the 1970s, and tours of the palace and its underground bunkers give an insight into how the war was run.
4. Saigon Opera House
Dating back to 1898, the French-style building is worth a look if not a ticket purchase. The opera house is still in use today, hosting a variety of local and international productions.
5. Cao Dai Temple
The largest temple in Vietnam, Cao Dai is certainly worth a visit. It’s two hours north of the city centre, and is often combined with tours to the Cu Chi Tunnels.
5 Best Foods to Eat in Ho Chi Minh City
1. Chè ba màu (three-colour dessert)
Vietnamese food is hugely popular in Australia at the moment, and there are two things that surprise most visitors to Vietnam about the dishes there: how cheap they are and how much better they are.
On any trip to Ho Chi Minh city there’s plenty of time to try the noodle and rish dishes, to fill up on bánh mì and phở, but sometimes it’s discovering something that’s a bit new or different that’s where the real glory is. Depending on how versed in Vietnamese dishes you are, chè ba màu might be what you’re looking for.
Translated as three-colour bean desert, it’s a Southeast Asian knickerbocker glory. The general version has a topping of shaved ice for crunch, three layers of beans and agar jelly, placed on top of sweetened coconut cream, but variations exist depending on where you order it.
2. Bánh mì
Bánh mì has almost become a staple in Australia, mixing local Vietnamese staples with the French baguette. This normally comes with pork, although tofu is often available, and coriander makes the dish.
Phở is another fmaous export, with the noodle soup now very common in Australia. This is served from street carts, and in restaurants, all over Ho Chi Minh City.
4. Bún chả
Bún chả is another noodle dish, but with less liquid than the phở, which is generally served with veggies, crisphy spring rolls and a meat of your choice.
5. Bánh cuốn
These steamed rice rolls are a fresher alternative to the deep fried variety, with fresh veg wrapped in rice paper rolls.
5 Best Beers in Ho Chi Minh City
1. Bia hoi
As well as trying local food, washing it down with a local brew is a big part of experiencing the local culture. Vietnam has a wide offering of local beers, although you’ll also find imported European beers in most bars and restaurants. Best of all, you shouldn’t ever have to pay more than $2 for a beer — and even that’s seen as expensive.
Of the local beers, bia hoi is the most liked Vietnamese offering, making up about 30% of the local market. Although it’s more popular in the capital Hanoi than in Ho Chi Minh, it’s generally available wherever you travel in the country.
Bia hoi, which translates as ‘fresh beer’, is a light-coloured lager that’s generally drunk quickly to enjoy it while it’s still cold — so don’t be surprised to see bar staff drop ice cubes in your drink if you’re taking too long.
2. 333 Lager
Originally called 33 Lager, this beer got a name extension after the communists won the war. 33 Lager had been popular with American soldiers, so the 333 re-branding helped create a distance between the drink and the war.
3. Saigon Special
A local beer that differentiates itself from Saigon Lager and Saigon Export because of its squat bottle, giving it a distinctive appearance. In much of Ho Chi Minh, this beer is available for as little as 15,000 dong (around 85 cents).
4. Biere Larue
Originally brewed by Frenchman Victor Larue in 1909, this beer has endured the test of time and still uses the same recipe more than 100 years later, although it is now brewed by the Heineken company.
Huda beer comes from Hue, a town in central Vietnam. This lager is refreshing and easy to drink, which helped it win a medal at the World Beer Championships in 2013.
5 Best Views in Ho Chi Minh City
1. Bitexco Tower
Although the Bitexco Financial Tower (36 Ho Tung Mau Street, District 1) doesn’t necessarily sound like the most inviting of tourist attractions, the SkyDeck on the 49th floor (178m) offers panoramic views over the city. Formerly the tallest building in Vietnam, and still the city’s highest viewing point, the Bitexco Tower watches over HCMC and the Saigon River.
The viewing platofrm is open from 9.30am to 9.30pm every day, with the last tickets being sold at 8.45pm. An adult ticket costs 200,000 dong (roughly $11).
While most of the rest of the skyscraper is given over to office space, the first four floors host a modern shopping and dining centre, and level 57 has a restaurant too.
2. Breeze Sky Bar (Hotel Majestic Saigon)
Across the road from the Saigon River, Breeze Sky Bar has the obvious benefit of water views, as well as giving you the chance to grab a beer to admire the view.
3. Grand Cafe (Grand Hotel)
You can see the Breeze Sky Bar from the Grand Cafe, however if you prefer to have a coffee with your view than a beer, this is the place to come.
4. Rom Barbecue
Set further from the river, Rom Barbecue gives diners a different view of the city, all while serving up freshly grilled food.
5. Saigon Saigon Rooftop Bar
Saigon Saigon is the rooftop bar to go to if you want a cocktail with your view. This is open from 11am to midnight every day.