Vietnam’s economic hub Saigon or otherwise known as Ho Chi Minh City is a magnificent city that never sleeps! Ho Chi Minh City is one of the most popular uber destination to visit in Southeast Asia. The sheer pace and frenetic energy along with organised traffic chaos is unique to other rival cities. The city is a huge living organism and constantly evolving by day or night. It sucks you in and takes you along for the ride — and what a fun ride it is! There’s something new to discover at every turn, be it a tiny street food stand serving the best damn Pho you’ve ever eaten for $1 or 2, or a bustling market where you can haggle your way to a few fun things to take home. A short visit will definitely offer a taste of this city has to offer and i’m sure you’ll probably want to make a return trip. Here is my take on 24 hours in Ho Chi Minh City? My recommendation and itinerary what to see, do, drink, and places eat.
HCM – On Arrival
You will most likely land at Tan Son Nhat Airport, which is located less than 30mins into the Heart of the City. The airport is small but has recently been upgraded to in the last few years to accommodate the millions of tourist coming into the Country. Depending on your citizen ship most countries will need Visa which can be applied in your home country or through an Agent online where you can pick up a Visa on arrival. Do note the queue and processing time can take hours, so I would recommend to get this beforehand as you will face another battle at the immigration counter. The Visa free waiver currently applies to the following countries:
At the exit you will be greeted by hundreds of people, most of these people are families of expat Vietnamese who have lived in other countries for countless years some and many whom have never seen each other since the war ended. If you haven’t been overwhelmed already, make a quick dash to the left, you will the Taxi stands. I tend to stick to 2 reputable operators VinaSun and Mei Linh the 2 biggest Taxi operators, I’ve heard stories about the others which i’ll leave to your imagination to figure out.
Organised Chaos – Welcome to Vietnam
Traffic in Vietnam is quite unique to any City in the world where the Motobike is king of the Road and what seems like total chaos is actually organised chaos. Ho Chi Minh City is Vietnam’s population center – more than six million people – and some say there’s one bike for every two people. The two-wheelers come in all sorts of shapes and sizes and the smaller models are the best for getting around the city’s nooks and crannies, and for negotiating the surging, swelling traffic that threatens lives. In one single day on the roads, it’s common to see whole families crammed onto a small Honda. Sometimes, a baby’s being cradled by mother or sister. I saw a lady using her bike to transport live 20+ Chickens and Ducks, Bikes carrying large boxes of beer, reducing their visibility to only what they could see in front:
The trip to Downtown HCM or D1 should take around 30 – 40 mins and cost around 120k-200k max so keep an eye out on the meter if this is exceeding the cost.
Head over to Tao Dan Park and why not start the day like a Vietnamese person, Coffee drinking is a huge part of Vietnamese Culture. Vietnam is the second biggest exporter of coffee in the world and, over the last century, has developed its own way to make and drink the beverage. Locals either drink Cà Phê đá (ice coffee) or Cà Phê sữa đá (ice coffee with condensed milk). The same advice given for food applies to coffee: many street vendors are scattered around the city, and they will pull out a chair for you in the middle of the pavement to sit down and enjoy your coffee while people-watching.
Since we are in the area another trusted brand is Trung Nguyen Coffee Chain has a Legend branch nearby: 87A Cách Mạng Tháng 8, Phường Phạm Ngũ Lão, Quận 1, Hồ Chí Minh 700000, Vietnam
Spend the early part of your visit to HCMC in Tao Dan Park. Located in the heart of District 1, the Green Space is perfect for an early morning walk when the park is filled with locals exercising and practicing Ta Chi. With 24 acres, Tao Dan Park has over 1,000 trees with rich heritage and some planted during the French occupation. If you’re in the park in the morning, you might also catch sight of what’s known as the bird café, wherein local bird enthusiasts gather with their feathered friends
Morning Breakfast like no other, why not try out the Banh Mi Huynh Hoa is one of my favorite and arguably the Best Banh Mi in Town for $1.5 USD which is a short stroll from the Park. Banh Mi is a Vietnamese baguette filled with pate, meats, soy sauce, chilli and crudités – or its variation with eggs, banh mi op la. In the morning, those can be found at every street corner around the city.
Just a short walk from the post office is Reunification Palace, made famous around the world when a North Vietnamese army tank crashed through its gates on April 30, 1975 — the act that signaled the end of the Vietnam War.
You can visit as long as there are no official meetings or receptions going on. Designed by architect Ngô Viết Thụ, the building served as residence as well as government workplace of the President of South Vietnam during the War. It became an iconic landmark symbolizing the end of war when a North Vietnamese tank crashed thought its gates. The interiors have been untouched since then, and they present an exquisite view of typical French, Vietnamese and Chinese interior designs of that era.
Notre Dame Cathedral is a short walk, an imposing building erected between 1863 and 1880 entirely with materials brought in from France.
Directly across from the Cathedral you’ll find the Saigon Central Post Office, the largest post office in Vietnam and worth a visit even if you don’t have any postcards to send. Designed by renowned French architect Gustave Eiffel and built in the late 1800s, this isn’t merely a tourist attraction but an actual working post office. Stop by to admire the architecture and to see vintage phone booths and beautiful hand-painted maps on the walls inside.
Time for some lunch after all the sightseeing. A 5 mins walk from there you can head over to Ngon Restaurant over at 160 Pasteur. Set in a leafy garden ringed by food stalls, each cook serves up a specialized traditional dish, great choice of all different Vietnamese Street Food.
Now your stomach has been satisfied with delicious Vietnamese Street Food from Ngon Restaurant. Another short walk from the restaurant is War Remnant Building Museum. Once known as the Museum of Chinese and American War crimes, this museum documents the brutality of war. The visuals over there can be pretty jarring for some but it really is all just a matter of perspective.
After all that sightseeing, it’s time to fill up on Pho, of course! And Pho is a national treasure and something you won’t have trouble finding in District 1. Pho 2000 is probably the most famous spot to get a steaming bowl of noodle-filled broth in the city thanks to Bill Clinton’s visit there, and where he reportedly loved his Pho so much that he ordered seconds. Pho Binh is a Pho-History, this was the secret spot of the Viet Cong army, where they would plan their attacks on various targets. My other favourite is Pho Hung in Nguyen Trai.
Start by familiarizing yourself with the traffic and the explosive atmosphere of Saigon by taking a walk around Le Loi and Ben Thanh Market. Although this is typical tourist activities, it offers a glimpse of Saigon’s historical heritage, architecture and shops. Ben Thanh Market celebrated its 100th birthday not too long ago and it is considered one of the landmarks of the city. Due to its popularity, the market has become quite touristy in recent years. However, the architecture and the interiors have not changed much, making it an ideal place for people to experience the dynamics of a traditional local market. Here you can try your best haggling skills, set a price you are willing to pay if they agree it is a win win for both. The sun has come down and Saigon is a full swing! Cho Ben Thanh also becomes a nightmarket, with street food street and stalls setup closed to traffic.
Street Food and Beer O’Clock
A short walk from Ben Thanh is a place call Pham Ngu Lao area. On your right the so-called ‘backpacker area’ will start appearing, but look beyond to Pham Ngu Lao Park. In the early evening, the park is populated by locals practicing sport, doing exercise or simply sitting down on the pavement while having a coffee with friends. This is perfect for people-watching. You can also grab some amazing street food in this park where local street vendor setup stalls.
Bui Vien Street is the main street or ‘backpackers area’ of Ho Chi Minh City. Here you will find variety cheap restaurants, bars, souvenir shops and hotels/hostels. While being seated at one of the places you can soak up the local lifestyle and culture. You can shop, dine and party on Bui Vien Street.
Party Time and Dance the Night away
One of the best clubbing venues to enjoy a cocktail before dinner is Chill Sky Bar. This venue’s bar offers a breathtaking view of Saigon’s skyline and delicious cocktails and pumping music. The price here is higher than the norm for the city but well worth the experience. Here you can party the night away and end your adventure in the Pearl of the Far East. or head downstairs glad a late night coffee or back to Bui vien for some more beers or Breakfast.