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Ho Chi Minh City: Modern Vietnam
Get to know this vibrant Vietnamese metropolis
The elevator pitch: This major metropolis has the hectic feel you’d expect from Vietnam’s largest city - traffic, motorbikes, nightclubs, and that big-city energy. However, if you know where to look, there’s a surprising amount of zen hidden away in this historic city.
When to go: HCMC is quite humid and hot, with consistent temperatures throughout the year. Highs are around 95°F (35°C), and lows rarely go lower than 72°F (22°C). November through March is the driest time to go, and the rainy seasons spans May through October.
Where to stay: We absolutely adore the relaxing Villa Song Saigon ($150+, check prices here), a luxury boutique hotel across the river in District 2. Their free river ferry is a great way to see the city. If you’re looking to be closer to the frenetic city energy, The Myst Dong Khoi ($100+, check prices here) is a great chic, luxury option in centrally-located District 1. For a cheaper central hotel, we love the modern, zen Fusion Suites Saigon ($40+, check prices).
How to get around: Vietnam is a motorbike-centric city, like most of Southeast Asia. Most of our days are designed to be fairly walkable, but for the times that aren’t, we recommend downloading Grab - essentially their Uber that also allows you to book a motorbike driver. Unlike Uber, you can pay your driver in cash.
Odds and ends: Locals still call it Saigon. You’ll need a visa to get in, although they’re easily obtainable online prior to your arrival. Cash is king in Vietnam, so make sure you take out some dong upon your arrival (yep, dong, you read that right).
What this is: a way to get to know Vietnam’s sprawling metropolis, with some history, food, and partying sprinkled in
What this isn’t: 3 days learning solely about the Vietnam War - you’ll do some of that, but you’ll also get to know the Vietnam of today
Day 1: Classics in District 1
Breakfast at Godmother Bake and Brunch in District 1
Walk by the Central Post Office
Spend the morning like a local in Tao Dan Park
Lunch at L’Usine in District 1
Haggle at Ben Thanh Market
Visit the War Remnants Museum
Grab a snack at Maison Marou Saigon in District 1
Walk and people watch at Nguyen Hue Walking Street
Dinner at Quan Bui in District 1
Drinks at Qui Cuisine Mixology in District 1
Party at Glow Rooftop Lounge in District 1
Day 2: Cu Chi Tunnels
Breakfast at Banh Mi Hoa Ma in District 3
Take a picture of the Tan Dinh Pink Church in District 1
Go on a half-day excursion to the Cu Chi Tunnels
Dinner at Cuc Gach Quan in District 1
Drinks at Summer Experiment in District 1
Day 3: Relax Across the River
THE DETAILED GUIDE
Day 1: Classics in District 1
Godmother Bake and Brunch
Luxe and sleek. Grab breakfast at this trendy spot featuring large portions, juices, kombuchas, and mimosas.
Central Post Office
Send a postcard from this beautiful building
Old-school and ornate. This iconic historic building in Saigon is still a functioning post office!
Tao Dan Park
Walk through this oasis
Relaxing and airy. This gorgeous park in the middle of the city is where locals gather in the mornings to practice Tai Chi. It’s the perfect place to stroll through while enjoying a Vietnamese coffee!
L’Usine Le Thanh Ton
Bright and contemporary. Lunch is at this super chic restaurant with Vietnamese classics alongside healthy American staples - we’re obsessed! Alongside the restaurant is a shop, which we could spend all day (and all bank account) in!
Ben Thanh Market
Haggle for some souvenirs or grab a street food snack
Hectic and exciting. Walk through this gigantic market with over 1500 stalls and a street food market. It’s slightly touristy, so prices are a little higher than a typical local market - make sure to haggle!
War Remnants Museum
Sobering and historic. Even if you’re not a history nerd, this museum is a must-see in order to understand the country. It’s dedicated to the US invasion of Vietnam, and it provides shocking insight into the horrors inflicted.
Maison Marou Saigon
Playful and artisanal. Lighten up after the museum with a bite of chocolate. This exquisite chocolaterie features a store, a factory and a cafe!
Nguyen Hue Walking Street
People watch as this street fills up at night
Unique and convivial. Before dinner, stop by this walking street, filled with locals getting off of work. We recommend stopping by 42 Nguyen Hue, also called The Cafe Apartments, which is an old apartment block turned into a shopping center. You do have to pay to use the elevator at the Cafe Apartments, but it’s refunded if you buy anything from a shop.
Authentic and fresh. This spot features traditional Vietnamese cooking, elevated just slightly (no plastic chairs here!)
Qui Cuisine Mixology
Sleek and sceney. After dinner, grab a drink at this buzzy lounge complete with DJs and well-dressed locals.
Glow Rooftop Lounge
Going Out in District 1
Trendy and loud. If you’re looking to continue the party, head over to Glow, where you can party late into the night with a view of the city.
Day 2: Cu Chi Tunnels
Banh Mi Hoa Ma
Breakfast in District 3
Unpretentious and cozy. This low-key hole-in-the-wall banh mi shop serves them the traditional way - deconstructed and seated at plastic tables. They’re only open until 11am, and only offer two options: banh mi with and without eggs.
Cu Chi Tunnels
Historic and educational. In the afternoon, head to this labyrinth of underground tunnels built to help the Vietnamese evade capture from invaders. If this doesn’t sound appealing, swap it out for a street food tour or a Vietnamese cooking class (recs at the end!)
Tan Dinh Pink Church
Picturesque and bright. When you get back, stop by this insta-ready pink Gothic church from the 1870s.
Cuc Gach Quan
Cozy and acclaimed. Dinner is at this rustic spot around the corner from the pink church, which offers traditional Vietnamese cooking served family style. Their popularity has blown up since a Brangelina visit in 2011!
Artisanal and fresh. Grab after-dinner drinks at this bar serving unique craft cocktails with local ingredients and garnishes grown on-premise. We recommend making a reservation!
Day 3: Relax Across the River
Contemporary and intimate. Make reservations ahead of time at this extremely popular spot serving all-day breakfast. Slightly pricier than other options in the city, but still an amazing deal.
Binh Quoi Tourist Village
Take a ride out to this zen-inducing park
Charming and relaxing. Unwind from the last two days at this greenery-filled, relaxing park outside of the city center that feels worlds away.
Lush and fresh. Head back to Thao Dien to this organic, plant-based spot serving all-day breakfast. We love the greenery-filled space almost as much as the food.
Relaxed and funky. Stop by this unique events center, featuring rotating workshops, a half-pipe, craft beer, and more. Sundays are family-friendly days, with music and live graffiti, but we love Thursdays, which feature an outdoor cinema at 8pm.
The Deck Saigon
Sophisticated and romantic. Enjoy dinner at this five-star restaurant alongside the river - it’s classy but not too stuffy. If you’re staying in District 1, you can arrive directly by boat.
What didn’t make the list?
Enjoy some quiet time at The Hidden Elephant, a not-so-secret bookstore and cafe
Try out Wild Thyme, the sister concept to L’Herbanyste that’s more nighttime - tapas and cocktails
Go on a street food tour (we like this one) to get to know local dishes and spots
Take a Vietnamese cooking class (we like this one) to learn how to cook your favorite dishes!
If you love HCMC, you’ll also love
Bangkok. Another sprawling Asian megacity. Jaunt coming soon.
Mexico City. Also a major, overwhelming metropolis with lush greenery and fascinating history.
Nearby places to visit
Da Lat. This mountainous city was developed as a resort town by the French, and its temperate climate and charming streets make it a perfect escape from the city. About an hour flight north or a 7-8 hour bus north.
Hue. This charming city is an old Vietnam imperial capital - great for history lovers! About a 1.5 hour flight north.
Hanoi. Vietnam’s other major city, slightly more quaint and a tad less hectic. A 2 hour flight north.