If you are planning a dream trip to Vietnam and looking for a perfect Ho Chi Minh Itinerary you’ve come to the right place. With this itinerary, you’ll discover the fascinating history, the fantastic food, the party city, and the rich history of museums and historical buildings. With a well-planned Ho Chi Minh itinerary, you can visit the main highlights of one of the most exciting cities in Southeast Asia.
Ho Chi Minh City is the largest and most developed city in Vietnam. During my 2-week itinerary in Vietnam, I spent 3 days exploring Ho Chi Minh, and it was enough time to discover the dynamic city that never stops.
Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC) is sometimes referred to as Saigon. After the end of the war, the name formally changed from Saigon to Ho Chi Minh City in tribute to the former Communist revolutionary leader and 1st President of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam. But you’ll notice that many of the locals still refer to it as Saigon.
With this Ho Chi Minh Itinerary, you’ll spend time getting lost on the small alleys, exercising your negotiation skills at the local markets, and taking some time to visit the museum and historical buildings. Here you will find all the logistics to plan your visit to Ho Chi Minh, how to budget your trip, the best hotels in Ho Chi Minh City, and all the tips to plan your perfect trip. So without any further ado, let’s dive into this perfect HCMC itinerary!
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- Ho Chi Minh Itinerary Overview
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- Ho Chi Minh Itinerary Conclusion
Read More: A Perfect 2 weeks Vietnam Itinerary
Ho Chi Minh Itinerary Overview
With 10 million people and 5 million motorbikes, you can only imagine how busy the traffic and noise in Ho Chi Minh can be. The motorbikes do not stop, so my first lesson learned was: Do not hesitate or stop, simply make eye contact with the driver and walk fast to the other side of the road, and you will be fine!
Motorbikes are pretty much everywhere, I really mean EVERYWHERE. I even had to dodge them on the sidewalk. It’s 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.
I recommend pre-planning and doing some research before you visit Ho Chi Minh City, to make sure you take full advantage of your visit. An excellent guidebook that I read and used during my 2-week in Vietnam is the Lonely Planet Guidebook, as it has tons of great information on the main attractions, places to stay, and other information to make your trip planning easier.
HO CHI MINH CITY ITINERARY OVERVIEW:
- Day 1: Explore the alleys on foot, try the amazing street food and some Vietnamese coffee, and have dinner and drink at the Ho Chi Minh Pub Street if you’re tired, get an amazing (and cheap) massage.
- Day 2: Visit the Local Market of Ben Thanh, have lunch at Ben Thanh Street Food Market, visit the Museum of War, and spend the rest of the day exploring the rich architecture of HCMC such as the Notre Dame Cathedral, Old Post Office, and Reunification Palace
- Day: Take a day trip to the Co Chi Tunnels, Cao Dai Temple, and the Mekong Delta.
Ho Chi Minh Itinerary
Day 1 Ho Chi Minh Itinerary: Navigate the City and Explore the Valleys
I recommend starting your itinerary in Ho Chi Minh City and exploring the city on foot. On my first day, I simply got my camera and walked the city without a planned destination and explored 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 see 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!
1. Grab a Vietnamese Breakfast
Your first activity is to start with a Vietnamese breakfast, which usually is outside where you’ll find some communal little plastic tables and chairs. You don’t want to miss the amazing Vietnamese coffee either, and this way, you can start to feel the vibe of the city!
Now, there are tons of awesome places to grab a local breakfast in the city so you’ll be spoilt for choice. However, some of the most highly-rated spots include:
- Bánh Mì Hòa Mã,
- The Old Compass Cafe and Bar
- Little HaNoi Egg Coffee
If you wander around the city’s less touristy areas, I’m sure you’ll come across plenty of others too!
Now, what to have? Well, Vietnamese breakfast dishes can include a bit of everything ranging from sticky rice to dumplings and there’s a lot on offer. However, some of the best dishes to have include Pho which is a noodle soup, Banh Mi which is a type of sandwich, and Bun Bo Hue which is essentially a noodle bowl with broth, meat, and vegetables.
2. Wonder Around the Ho Chi Minh Streets and Alleys
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’s where the locals live their everyday lives, and you can see the culture and characteristics of the city.
You’ll find plenty of fantastic areas like this in Ho Chi Minh and it offers you the chance to really explore ‘off-the-beaten-path’. As I just mentioned, you’ll often get to find plenty of authentic eateries this way too!
PRO-TIP: An excellent option is to join this Ho Chi Minh City Guided Tour where you will have the chance to explore the best things to do in the city, accompany by a professional local guide.
If you stray away from the main touristy areas you’ve got a much better chance of being able to interact with the locals, and you might find that tour operators are much cheaper too. Not only that, but you might find some hidden gems that weren’t on your itinerary to start with.
So what are you waiting for? Make sure you spend some time exploring the city’s more local and ‘hidden’ areas!
3. Grab an Authentic Vietnamese Pho
Tasting authentic (and extremely delicious) Vietnamese Pho is a must for any Ho Chi Minh itinerary! I find that there’s nothing better than tasting the local cuisine and this is one dish that you don’t want to miss out on!
Vietnamese Pho is a traditional breakfast option and it’s essentially a noodle soup. These bowls tend to consist of rice noodles (of course), thin slices of meat, broth, and plenty of vegetables. You’ll also find that there are lots of herbs and spices thrown in there too!
You won’t be short of restaurants in Ho Chi Minh that serve Pho but here are a couple of recommendations:
- Pho Hung
- Pho Quynh
- Phở Phú Vương
- Den Long – Home Cooked Vietnamese Restaurant
- Pho Le
- Bếp Mẹ Ỉn – Lê Thánh Tôn
PRO-TIP: There are so many fantastic places to grab authentic Vietnamese Pho and I’d recommend trying a couple of these restaurants if you have the chance! I recommend joining this Ho Chi Minh City Private Street Food motorbike tour, as you will be able to combine culture, adventure, and the best of the local gastronomy.
4. Visit the War 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’s 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 the indignant South. You can easily visit the War Museum on your own, or through this combination tour, which includes a visit to the museum and the famous Cu Chi Tunnels (which I’ll discuss later).
PRO-TIP: Keep in mind that it’s not an easy place to visit, as it displays thousands of pictures showing atrocities of the war and the after-effects of Agent Orange on the civilian population of Vietnam. Many of the photos are extremely graphic.
5. Spoil Yourself with a Vietnamese Massage
A traditional Vietnamese massage is rather unique in its technique as it focuses on circulating your blood through a series of punches and claps. Although this may not sound very enjoyable, it’s actually rather relaxing and is the best way to intense those muscles after a long flight or overland journey!
You’ll find plenty of spas in Ho Chi Minh that offer traditional massages but here are some of the most popular options:
- Cát Mộc Spa
- Zen Spa Foot and Body Massage
- My Spa
- Saigon Heritage Spa & Massage Club
- Temple Leaf Spa
There are lots of spas to choose from so it might be best to take a look at their other services if you’re looking to get a combination package instead.
If you’re like me and had a long way flight to Vietnam, finish the first day of your 3-day itinerary in Ho Chi Minh City spoiling yourself by having a massage, followed by a nice street food dinner and a drink or two at Pub Street. Why not?
6. Go to Pub Street to Enjoy the Vibrant Nightlife
HCMC has some exciting and fun things to do at night, and Pub Street is just one of them.
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’re looking for peace and quiet, you can definitely skip this area.
This street becomes very lively at night, with restaurants and bars and you can get cheap street food and drinks. Visit different bars and get to sit 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 Pub Street at least once.
I’m not a beer drinker, but hey, I’m on vacation in Vietnam and I’m at Pub Street! It’s 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 the rooftop. This street is a mix of locals socializing, being seen or working hard selling all sorts of things, and tourists having fun. It’s a place to observe and immerse in the culture of the younger Vietnamese people.
If the Pub Bar sounds too much for you – handling the noise and crowds, another excellent option is to join the Bitexco Tower offering stunning views of a 70-floor building, followed by a Dinner Cruise tour down the Saigon River.
PRO-TIP: Do not show your valuables in public, and do not lose sight of your cameras, cell phones, and purse. Watch your belongings as you would in any big city.
Day 2 Ho Chi Minh Itinerary: Explore the Local Market and the Rich Architecture
Start the second day of your Itinerary in Ho Chi Minh City, by visiting the local market. It’s one of the best ways to experience the local culture and see local life in action. You’ll also get to try plenty of delicious dishes too if you head to a street food market. Then, after you’ve got a full stomach take a wander around the city and admire the historic architecture that’s on offer.
1. Explore the Ben Thanh Market
The Ben Thanh Market, also known as the Central Market of Ho Chi Minh City, opened first in 1914 and it’s located at the heart of the city, with easy access by foot if you’re staying downtown. It’s the oldest and most famous market in all of Vietnam.
You’ll find similar things throughout the market: tons of souvenirs, clothes, watches, fruits and veggies, dry goods, and some exotic meat and seafood sitting outside the refrigerator. Soak up the atmosphere and enjoy seeing the market in action.
Although you can explore Ben Thanh Market by yourself, this fantastic half-day tour will take you around the city on a U.S. Army jeep. You’ll not only get to visit the market but you’ll also visit the Independence Palace, Central Post Office, and Saigon Opera House among other sites!
PRO-TIP: If you’re interested in buying something, practice your negotiating skills. As expected, the vendors normally start at a price of 50% higher because bargaining is expected. I also found that some vendors can be aggressive; they really want to sell to you, so be prepared!
2. Grab 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’s 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 sidewalk where you can sit and appreciate your bowl of Pho. They are always very busy, any time of the day.
PRO-TIP: If you love street food markets as much as I do, then this street food tour is a must! Your guide will take you to a variety of foodie spots where you’ll get to try plenty of local dishes which may include traditional Vietnamese sandwiches, a sugar cane drink, and a sweet soup dessert.
3. Enjoy the Beautiful Architecture in Ho Chi Minh City
Visit the Reunification Palace, which 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 the UK until the end of the war.
Walking around Ho Chi Minh City, you’ll 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 you can enjoy with your family 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 incredibly elegant colonial building. Check the interior too, as it still has the original 20th-century furnishings, thanks to the little touches including the wooden phone booths.
The elegant Museum of Vietnamese History sits next to the Botanical Garden, at Le Duan’s eastern end.
Just a short walk away, visit the Reunification Palace, which was built in the 60s during the Vietnam War to be the president’s residence.
Day 3 Ho Chi Minh Itinerary: Take a Day Trip to Mekong Delta and Co Chi Tunnels
Third and last day of your Ho Chi Minh itinerary, 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 all about this region.
1. Visit the Cu Chi Tunnels
The Chu Chi Tunnels are located about 90 minutes from HCMC. The site is fascinating and very educational to visit as these tunnels were used during the War.
There are about 124 miles (200 km) of tunnels in total, and you’ll see and learn how complex it was, with rooms for cooking, weapons storage, and sleeping. You’ll even have the opportunity to walk in one of the tunnels and see how small and dark they are.
It’s honestly so hard to understand how people could live in these tunnels for months, which only makes the Vietnamese people even more inspirational. Now, you can get to the tunnels by yourself but there are plenty of awesome tours out there to make your visit easier.
This excellent Cu Chi Tunnels tour is the excellent tour that I choose and recommend it runs in both the morning and the afternoon and includes hotel pick-up and drop-off, an English-speaking tour guide, your entrance ticket, and transportation. It’s an easier option than catching the public bus to the tunnels!
During my tour, I also included a shooting range with an AK-47. But let me start by saying that I don’t like guns. I feel very intimidated by them. But I got so intrigued to shoot them since they’re the real guns used during the War and I knew it would be a unique opportunity. I will say that It’s 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.
2. Mekong Delta
Mekong Delta is a series of tributaries leading from the powerful Mekong River out to the sea covering 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 – whichever option you choose you’re guaranteed to have a fantastic time.
This 8-hour Mekong Delta tour allows you to cruise along the river by motor boat, enjoy a boat ride through the canals, and explore the local villages. You’ll also get to have a delicious local lunch, visit a bee house, and explore Vinh Trang pagoda which is the largest pagoda in the Mekong Delta!
We got 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.
Mekong Delta boat tour
3. Visit the Cao Dai Temple
If you have time, please include this temple in your Ho Chi Minh itinerary! It’s situated around 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 a perfect religion, combining Buddhism, Christianity, Taoism, Confucianism, Hinduism, and Islam. It was established in the 1920s and the name ‘Cao Dai’ translates to ‘the High Tower’.
Because of the religion’s inclusivity, Cao Dai Temple is the perfect place to visit no matter your religion or ideals, which can often be a rarity! However, it’s not just the principle of this temple that makes it stand out from the rest.
Both the interior and exterior of the temple are outstandingly beautiful and colorful, making this a place you don’t want to miss! I didn’t have the chance to visit this temple because of time, but I did visit a smaller version on my way to the Mekong Delta, and it was a very intriguing experience.
Planning Your Trip to Ho Chi Minh
Arriving in Ho Chi Minh City
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 2-weeks in Vietnam, but I knew I had so much to experience, and Ho Chi Minh didn’t disappoint me.
After my long 32 hours flight from Florida – the USA I arrived in Ho Chi Minh City and took a cab from the airport to my hotel.
If you’re flying to Ho Chi Minh City, upon your arrival and clear customs/ immigration, go to the Sasco Taxis counter – the ladies are dressed in light green traditional outfits – and get a voucher for your hotel. I paid around US$10 for my voucher and it’s very safe.
You can also book a private transfer in advance from the airport that costs around $14 if you want your transport organized before you land!
Where to Stay in Ho Chi Minh
District 1 is the best area to stay in Ho Chi Minh for first-timers, as most highlights are within walking distance and there are plenty of food places and cafes.
Many backpackers and adult travelers choose one of the hotels in the Bui Vien area, or you can also look for hotels around Nguyen Hue street, which are a bit more upscale. Both of these areas are located in District 1.
Here are a couple of recommendations:
TOP OVERALL PICK: Hotel Grand Saigon
Hotel Grand Saigon is one of the most budget-friendly luxury hotels in District 1 and it’s set in a restored colonial building. With an outdoor swimming pool, an on-site spa, a fitness center, and The Rooftop Grand Lounge, this place has so much to offer!
BUDGET: Toi’s Travel Home Central
This quirky place offers both dormitory-style rooms and private rooms so there’s something for every budget. During your stay, you’ll benefit from a shared kitchen, a shared lounge, a seating area, lockers, and free WiFi.
MID-RANGE: Icon Saigon – Lifestyle Design Hotel
Icon Saigon is an excellent location for exploring Ho Chi Minh City as the Saigon Opera House and the City Hall are both nearby. The suites at this hotel are absolutely gorgeous and many of them feature a private balcony, free breakfast, and free afternoon tea!
LUXURY: The Myst Dong Khoi
Last but certainly not least is The Myst Dong Khoi – a luxury 5* hotel that’s known for its spectacular interior design, sophisticated rooms, and fantastic facilities. If you stay here you’ll benefit from a rooftop pool, an on-site spa, a fitness center, and a restaurant.
Best Tours in Ho Chi Minh
There is definitely a lot to do and see in Ho Chi Minh City, but the majority of the attractions are free. I recommend booking in advance the tours below since they have small groups and you will really have the best experience around Ho Chi Minh City.
- Private Street Food Evening Walking Tour
- Co Chi Tunnels Tour
- Small group Mekong Delta with Vinh Trang Pagoda
Estimated Price for this Ho Chi Minh City 3-day Itinerary
Ho Chi Minh City is a very affordable place to visit, just like anywhere in Vietnam, and prices don’t tend to change too much by the season.
There is no need to cook your own meal since you pay very little for delicious street food pretty much everywhere in the city.
My total price for my Ho Chi Minh itinerary, for two people, was $380 -considering I stayed at a 3-star hotel, ate at the restaurant, and my hotel was walking distance from all the attractions, I’d say that’s pretty good value for money!
|TYPE OF EXPENSES||PRICE (for 2 people/ 3 days)|
|Food and Drink||US$80|
|Entrance Fee and Day Tours||US$140|
|Taxi (from and to the airport)||US$40|
Best time to Visit Ho Chi Minh
In my opinion, the best time to visit Ho Chi Minh City is during the drier months of December to March, when the temperatures range between 70-93°F (21-34°C). This is the peak season so accommodation might be slightly more expensive during this time of year.
Many people like to visit Ho Chi Minh City during the Tet Festival (the Vietnamese New Year) which happens in late January or early February. Just keep in mind that Ho Chi Minh is already a pretty busy city so expect to share this event with plenty of crowds. You’ll also find that accommodation can be booked up way in advance!
May to September is often when you’ll encounter frequent showers, but the rains tend to come in short bursts, so you still can enjoy sunny days during these wet summer months. No matter when you travel to Ho Chi Minh, you’re in for an amazing time.
More Tips to Visit Ho Chi Minh City
- DO NOT hand out money to beggars, be they children, elderly, or disabled, no matter how decrepit they may seem. This is not due to any inhumane or uncharitable reasons, but because most of these beggars are part of a profit-making “syndicate” of beggars, usually headed by some unscrupulous low-life who has recruited orphan children from a young age, and crippled them themselves. The best way to handle the situation is to avoid eye contact.
- Be careful of imitation or small cab companies. I trust only TWO taxi companies in HCM: Mai Linh (white vehicle with green writing) and Vinasun (white and green vehicle).
- Do not tip locals who give you directions. A simple “thank you” and smile will suffice. Tipping for directions will encourage a begging mentality.
- Get a good map. Once you have been there for a day or 2, I find that you can just walk everywhere and discover the city that way.
- You have to bargain for almost everything there, which can be tiring, just make sure you check around for prices before you buy, a word of caution, the vendors at Ben Than market are super aggressive.
- Must Drink the Ice coffee with condensed milk there, so awesome, amazingly delicious!!!
Ho Chi Minh Itinerary Conclusion
As you can see there are plenty of incredible places and activities to add to your Ho Chi Minh 3-day itinerary! Whether you’re looking to taste delicious food, visit cultural sites, or hit Pub Street there’s something for everyone.
However, Ho Chi Minh is most famous for its unique history and the role it played in the Vietnam War and that’s one of the highlights of visiting this incredible city! For the best experience, try to spend at least three days here as otherwise, you find yourself rushing around!
Just keep in mind that some of the most popular attractions are located out of the city center so you’ll need to factor in travel time too.
If you’ve enjoyed this guide then here are some others that you might find helpful:
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