Discover the fascinating history, the fantastic food, the party city and rich history of museums and historical building. With a well planned 3-day itinerary you can visit the main highlights of the one of the most exciting cities in south-east Asia. Welcome to Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam.
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Discover the best of Ho Chi Minh City in 3-day itinerary
Ho Chi Minh City is the largest and more developed city in Vietnam. During your visit to Vietnam, include at least a 3-days itinerary to Ho Chi Minh City and discover the dynamic city that never stops.
Ho Chi Minh City, was Saigon until 1976. After the end of the war the name was changed to Ho Chi Minh City in tribute to the former Communist revolutionary leader and 1st President of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam, but you will notice that many of the locals still refer to it as Saigon.
With 10 million people and 5 million motorbikes you can only imagine how busy the traffic and noisy Ho Chi Minh is. My first lesson was: The motorbikes do not stop, so my first lesson learnt was: Do not hesitate neither stop, simple make eye contact with the driver and walk fast to the other side of the road, you will be fine!
Motorbikes are pretty much everywhere, I really mean EVERYWHERE. I even had to dodge them on the sidewalk. It is entertaining to just pick a big roundabout and watch the traffic and try to understand (luckily) that even with all the craziness they are organized and you don’t see many accidents.
After you have mastered the art of dodging the traffic, it is time to get lost on the small alleys, exercise your negotiation skills at the local markets and take some time to visit the museum and historical buildings. Oh...and enjoy the plenty of street food, it is just A-M-A-Z-I-N-G!
Paula Note: This is just a suggested 3-day itinerary to Ho Chi Minh City and the sequence of activities are just a guide and you can change according to your interested.
HO CHI MINH CITY - ARRIVAL
I normally don’t spend too much of my time in the big cities, and I still had many places that I wanted to visit during my, but Ho Chi Minh City I knew I had so much to experience, and Ho Chi Minh didn't disappointed me.
After my long 32 hours flight from Florida - USA I arrived in Ho Chi Minh City, I took a cab from the airport and got to my hotel at 11:00 PM. The hotel was small but nice, with a double bed, clean bathroom, AC and well located near the Pub Street. I dropped my things in the room instead of getting some rest and decided to go for a walk.
If you like a very alive night life, backpacker atmosphere and inexpensive restaurants around, check for accommodation options here .The night life in this area is super alive at this time and I was so excited that I didn’t even feel too tired. Also, considering the time change, it was morning for me.
DAY 1 - EXPLORE HO CHI MINH CITY BY FOOT
EXPLORE THE STREETS, THE ALLEYS & THE AMAZING FOOD
I recommend to start your 3-day itinerary in Ho Chi Minh City exploring the city by foot.
On my first day, I simple got my camera and walked the city without a planned destination, and explored around the city center area while getting lost in the streets and alleys.
I love to take the first day in a country to just observe the culture and what a normal day looks like, talk to locals, eat street food and feel the different smells, colors and atmosphere of the place, and Ho Chi Minh City is just perfect for that!
A great start is to start with a Vietnamese breakfast, which usually is outside where you will find some communal little plastics tables and chairs, and they serve Banh Mi and Pho. Don't miss the amazing Vietnamese coffee, and start to feel the vibe of the city.
The alleyways in Ho Chi Minh City are great to explore and a great way to step away from the busy streets and insane traffic. They are hidden among the crowded streets, and it is where the locals live their every day lives, and you can see the culture and characteristics of the city.
You will see and find pretty much everything, from shops, streets food, great local coffee and arts - and don't you worry if you get lost you will find your way out but before, just enjoy the experience and explore it. Here is a great guide to the hidden alleyways in Ho Chi Minh City.
ENJOY A MASSAGE AND A DRINK AT HO CHI MINH PUB STREET (or PHAM NGU LAO)
If you are like me and had a long way from home to Vietnam, finish your first day of your 3-day itinerary in Ho Chi Minh City spoiling yourself by having a massage and followed by a nice street food dinner and why not, a drink or two at the Pub Street.
Grab a short (I mean very short) stool at a short table on the sidewalk, order some food and drinks and enjoy the people watching. If you are looking for peace and quiet, you can definitely skip this area.
This street becomes very live at night, with restaurants and bars. You can get cheap street food and drinks. Visit different bars and get to seat outside and observe how the street transforms with people from all over the world looking for some fun. Your trip to Ho Chi Minh City is not complete if you don't experience the Pub Street at least once.
I am not a beer drinker, but hey, I am on vacation in Vietnam and I am at Pub Street! It is amazing to just order a drink and sit on a small stool on the sidewalk and observe the super alive nightlife.
There are many bars and restaurants, including rooftop. This street is a mix of locals socializing, being seen or working hard selling all sorts of things, and tourists having fun. It is a place to observe and immerse in the culture of the younger Vietnamese people.
Pro Tip: Do not show your valuables in public, and do not leave sight of your cameras, cell phones and purse. Watch your belongs like you do in any big city.
DAY 2 - EXPLORE THE LOCAL MARKET AND THE RICH ARCHITECTURE
Start the second day of your 3-day itinerary in Ho Chi Minh City, by visiting the local market. It is one of the best ways to experience the local culture and see local life in action.
The Ben Thanh Market, also knowing as the Central Market of Ho Chi Minh City, opened first in 1914 and it is located at the heart of the city, with an easy access by foot if you are staying downtown. It is the oldest and most famous market in all Vietnam.
You’ll find similar things throughout the market: tons of souvenirs, clothes, watches, fruits and veggies, dry goods and some exotic meat and sea food sitting outside the refrigerator. Soak up the atmosphere and enjoy seeing the market in action.
Pro Tip: If you are interested in buying something, practice your negotiating skills. As expected, the vendors normally start with a price 50% higher because bargaining is expected. I also found that some vendors can be aggressive; they really want to sell to you.
STOP FOR LUNCH AT THE BEN THANH STREET FOOD MARKET
Have I mentioned before that the food in Vietnam is amazing? Ho Chi Minh City offers street food pretty much everywhere, therefore don't forget to spend some time in your 3-day itinerary exploring the local street food.
Stop for lunch at the Ben Thanh Street Food Market, located close to the Central Market.
There are about 25 vendors, and it is hard to choose what to eat, because everything looks and tastes amazing. Another interesting thing is that they have little tables and chairs on the side walk where you can sit and appreciate your bowl of Pho.
They are always very busy, any time of the day.
CHECK OUT THE HISTORICAL BUILDINGS AND FRENCH ARCHITECTURE
Walking around Ho Chi Minh City, you will observe the strong French influence in some architecture, cuisine and even some ways of life, since Vietnam was once a French colony.
The Notre Dame Cathedral is much smaller than the original one in Paris, but it has very similar architecture.
Just across the street, you can visit the Post Office that was designed by the most famous French architect, Gustav Eiffel. It was the first time I saw a post office be a tourist attraction, but you don't want to miss this incredible elegant colonial building. Check the interior too, as it still has the original 20th century, thanks to the little touches including the wooden phone booths.
Visit the Reunification Palace, where was the seat of the South Vietnam government until 1975, which faces the April 30th Park and Le Duan Street - the long corridor of power, which housed the embassies of the US, France, and UK until the end of the war.
The elegant Museum of Vietnamese History sits next to the Botanical Garden, at the Le Duan's eastern end.
VISIT THE WAR REMNANTS MUSEUM
The War Museum opened after the end of the war. It contains exhibits (tanks, helicopters, jets, bomb casings, etc.) relating to the American/Vietnam War and the first Indochina War involving the French colonialists.
You will observe that this museum serves as propaganda for the south. It is poignant that the museum is located in Ho Chi Minh City and focuses on the atrocities committed against the people of Vietnam. The museum relates a classic tale of a vicious enemy, a poor victim (the south) and a hero (the north) that saves the victim. I believe that the museum is there both as a history lesson (lest we forget) and a reminder to an indignant south.
The museum is located at 28 Vo Van Tan, in District 3, Ho Chi Minh City
Pro Tip: Keep in mind that it is not an easy place to visit, as it displays thousands of pictures showing atrocities of the war and the after effects of the Agent Orange on the civilian population of Vietnam. Many of the photos are extremely graphic.
DAY 3 - SIDE TRIP TO MEKONG DELTA AND CO CHI TUNNELS
Third and last day of your 3-day itinerary in Ho Chi Minh City, so take it outside the city and explore the amazing surroundings.
This side trip is a must if you have time, and I not only enjoyed it but also learned a lot. I booked a private tour from a pick up at my hotel and for a day I explored the Mekong Delta, visited the Cu Chi Tunnels and had other amazing activities included for a very affordable price, with a local guide who explained it all about this region.
If you are looking for a great private tour, this is the one I recommend.
Cu Chi Tunnel
The tunnels are located about 90 minutes from HCMC. The site is fascinating, and very educational to visit the tunnels that were used during the War.
There are about 120 km of tunnels, and you will see and learn how complex it was, with rooms for cooking, weapons storage and sleeping. You will have the opportunity to walk in one of the tunnels and see how small and dark they are. It is hard to understand how they could live in these tunnels for months.
Shoot an AK-47 or M-16 Rifle
Let me start by saying that I don’t like guns. I feel very intimidated by them. But I got so intriged to shoot them, since they are the real guns used during the War and I knew it would be a unique opportunity. It is not cheap, I paid around US$1.40/bullet. The rifles are secured to the shooting range wall, which limits your range of motion, but ensures safety.
At first I tried the AK47 and I realized I was having fun, and decided to try the M16 and it was pretty awesome! I even shot several rounds on full auto. For a girl that doesn’t like guns, I did it pretty well.
Mekong Delta is a series of tributaries leading from the powerful Mekong River out to the sea with over 40,500 square kilometers. An abundance of water powers this region, often referred to as the rice bowl of Vietnam.
The tours offer pretty much the same options. Enjoy the laidback pace as you visit farms growing fresh fruits, coconuts and rice and try the local rice wine if you dare. Float along the canals by boat or cycle the quiet laneways.
It was a nice taste of the Mekong Delta, but you also have options to explore more of this fascinating area of Vietnam if you have more time - here is a complete guide of top things to do in Mekong Delta.
Cao Dai Temple
If you have time, please include this temple. It is situated 100 km northwest of Ho Chi Minh City in Tay Ninh province. The Cao Dai Temple is called The Great Temple or Holy See and was constructed between 1933 and 1955.
Cao Dai tries to be the perfect religion, combining Buddhism, Christianity, Taoism, Confucianism, Hinduism and Islam.
I didn’t have the chance to visit this temple because of time, but I did visit a smaller version on my way to Mekong Delta, and it was a very intriguing experience.
As you can see there is a lot to explore in Ho Chi Minh City, and this 3-day itinerary is only enough to have an introduction to what this amazing city has to offer. But with this guide, you have the top places to visit, and you will have a guaranteed best time exploring while you are there.
Planning a trip to Vietnam? Check out my complete Travel Guide
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