You have most likely heard of Saigon and perhaps Ho Chi Minh City too, but you might not have known that both are different names for the same city in Southern Vietnam. Before the trip I said I was visiting Ho Chi Minh City, but now that we’ve visited and spent time speaking to the locals I’d be more likely to say Saigon. Saigon was renamed to Ho Chi Minh City at the end of the Vietnam war, named after the communist leader who led the independence movement in Vietnam. Ho Chi Minh City is still the official name but lots of Vietnamese, especially those in the South, mainly use Saigon. It’s very common for hotels and restaurants to use Saigon in their names too and the airport code remains SGN. If you visit Vietnam you will see the former leader’s face, Ho Chi Minh, on the local Vietnamese Dong currency.
1. Learn to cross a busy road
Back to basics, one of the first things to get used to in a busy Vietnamese city is crossing the road. At first this can be really overwhelming but a couple of days in you will be used to it and hopefully start enjoying it. You will probably never see as many scooters on the road as in Ho Chi Minh or Hanoi but embrace it as it’s part of the whole experience.
2. Bargain hunt at Bến Thành Market
Bến Thành is an important symbol of the city as it’s one of the earliest surviving structures from Saigon. You can shop anything from souvenirs, food, clothing, bags and much more. Some of the prices the vendors start with are actually quite expensive but from my experience they are willing to haggle and I was happy with the quality of the items I bought.
3. War Remnants Museum
Visiting the War Remnants Museum is one of the top things to do in Ho Chi Minh City and if you have an interest in the Vietnam (US) war I would put it on your list. However if you do visit then be ready for a shocking exhibition with no details or images censored.
4. Jade Emperor Pagoda
If you have an interest in temples then Jade Emperor Pagoda is definitely worth a visit. The temple is Taoist religion and was built by the Chinese, you will notice the Chinese style and influence as you walk around. It is also known by some as Tortoise Pagoda, in the bottom right of the picture you will see a man looking down – he is actually looking down at tortoises in water.
5. Saigon Notre-Dame Basilica
Vietnam is largely Buddhist so the Saigon Notre-Dame Basilica is a strong symbol for any Catholics living in Vietnam or those visiting the country. The building is stunning and whether you decide to view from the outside or take a look inside then I’m sure you’ll be impressed. There are currently restoration works taking place so access is limited and due to safety tourists are not currently allowed to enter the Basilica during mass.
6. Visit Bui Vien street
Bui Vien Walking Street is also known locally as the ‘backpackers area’ with lots of cheap hostels and places to stay located on the street, hence attracting backpackers. If you want to experience casual restaurants and busy bars then it’s worth taking a visit to Bui Vien street and the surrounding streets but as you can imagine it is very touristy. I would recommend visiting the ‘Lost In Saigon’ bar which is easy to spot. Lost make great cocktails and if you sit on the terrace upstairs then you can get away from the madness of the street a little bit.
7. Chill at a rooftop pool or bar
Sometimes it’s nice to take a step back from the crazy city and just relax, you are on holiday after all! There are plenty of rooftop pools in many of the hotels across the city and some of them also let you visit even if you’re not staying at the hotel. We stayed at Liberty Central Saigon Riverside and they allowed people that weren’t staying as long as you ordered food or drink.
8. Mariamman Hindu Temple
As the only Indian temple currently in Saigon, it was built in the late 19th Century dedicated to the Hindu goddess Mariamman. The outside structure is the main attraction at this temple, but you can also visit inside to pay your respects with burning incense.
9. Dinner at SH Garden
My favourite food in Saigon was at SH Garden, it was so good we ended up going back for a second meal. I would recommend the vegetable coconut curry, they can also be flexible if you’d like to add meat to this dish. The staff were so friendly, the food was very good and the ambience was just right.
10. Day trips from Saigon
Although this tip isn’t exactly a tip for something to do in Saigon, it’s a good base to do day trips outside of the city perhaps towards the end of your trip. We visited the Mekong Delta and some beautiful temples, but there is also the popular Củ Chi tunnels or longer trips to places like Sa Pa.
If you do visit Saigon/Ho Chi Minh City or Vietnam, I’d love to hear what you get up to. We had such a great time and next on my list for Vietnam definitely has to be Hanoi.
For now it’s not Good Morning Vietnam but a see you later!