Ho Chi Minh City (previously known as Saigon) is a huge exciting city with a lot to explore. It boasts everything from historical palaces and museums to modern rooftop restaurants and backpacker bars. Our favourite attraction was definitely the Reunification Palace, where you can explore the whole palace at your leisure, including the helicopter pad and bunker in the basement. We also continued to enjoy the delicious street food available pretty much everywhere! Though we enjoyed Hanoi a little more, Ho Chi Minh City was still an exciting stop on our trip through SEA.
How to Get There
We ended up with a weird route through Vietnam, entering in the middle (from Laos) before going north, then flying from Hanoi south down to Ho Chi Minh City. Considering we bought our flight fairly late it was surprisingly cheap. It cost us 1,333,900 dong, or about $77 CAD each for the 1 hour and 45 minute flight on Vietnam Airlines, and that included luggage and taxes (even though they said $5/kg of check in luggage on the website and we spent about an hour shifting stuff to our carry-ons to save money). We arranged for transport to the airport in Hanoi with our awesome hotel front desk for $18 US, it’s about a 45 min drive from the Old Quarter. Once we arrived in Ho Chi Minh City we skipped the booths offering 180,000 dong ($11 CAD) taxis and got in the taxi cue line instead. We got in a Vinasun car (Mai Linh is also reputable) and got to our hotel for 140,000 dong, plus 10,000 dong airport fee he asked for at the end.
We also travelled between Ho Chi Minh City and Phnom Penh. We took the Mekong Express for $15, which was great, very spacious and had A/C as well as water, sugar cake and a mini personal pizza stocked in the seat when you arrived. The trip took about 7 hours including a stop for lunch just after getting to Cambodia. Check out our post on Crossing the Vietnam Border here, for more info on how to avoid getting scammed on visa and administration fees.
Where to Stay
- Hoang Minh Hotel – An odd place above a hairdresser, we found this place after staying in An Tan 3 hostel for a night. It was $10 a night for a private room, air con, fridge and ensuite bathroom, so it was worth the walk through a hair dresser and up 4 flights of stairs to get there. The owner was very nice, though he tried to sell us bus tickets for $9 with a $45 visa charge on a bus that had brutal reviews in our research. The hotel was right on the main drag of the backpacker area (Pham Ngu Lao) but we weren’t bothered by too much noise, as we were 4 floors up. Definitely a good deal for a few cheap nights in a private room. You can’t book Hoang Minh Hotel online, but if you’re looking to book in advance you can find cheap accommodation here.
We booked An Tan 3 through booking.com because we were arriving late in Ho Chi Minh on the plane. It was dirty, noisy, and their advertised breakfast was a sad spread of bread and butter. Devon used her pillowcase she had packed because it was so unclean, and accidentally forgot it when we checked out. When we went back to get it we found the room completely made up and ready for a new guest, and Devon’s pillowcase was still on the pillow! This means that nothing had been washed, and the sheets were the same, so the next person in there was going to be sleeping in the same sheets. Pretty unsanitary for a hotel, we don’t recommend this place to anyone.
What to Do
- Reunification Palace – Also known as Independence Palace, this palace was much more modern than a lot of places we’d seen on our trip as it was built in the 1970s. This is where the president lived during the Vietnam war, and the tanks burst through the gates of this palace to prompt a surrender and joined north and south Vietnam, ending the war. The palace had a helicopter pad, cool rooftop bar (couldn’t buy any drinks though!), a cinema, and awesome 70’s furniture everywhere. We also explored the bunker underneath where the president hid during bombings. Make sure to get there by 4pm at the latest, as though it says it closes at 5pm they don’t allow new entrants after 4pm. It costs 30,000 dong to get in, and was definitely worth the visit.
- Ho Chi Minh City Museum – Close to Reunification Palace, we checked out this museum as well. It wasn’t the most exciting museum, and we recommend checking out Reunification Palace instead if you have to choose between the two. It costs 15,000 dong to get in.
- Post Office – A large yellow building stands out near the palace, the post office is a cool place to see. It still works as a functional post office, and
you can buy souvenirs and stuff here too.
- Jade Emperor Pagoda – Again, this was a little bit of a disappointment for us. It was a pretty far walk and there wasn’t much to see. It is a Buddhist temple with more Chinese influence than the ones we’d seen in Laos and Thailand, and it was fairly small. There was a cool pond out front with like 200 turtles in it though! If you have limited time in Ho Chi Minh skip out on this one.
- Bitexco Financial Tower – A skyscraper with restaurants and bars offering great views of the city and the Saigon River. We went to Bar 51 on the 51st floor for dinner, and the ride up was free but you definitely paid for it in the price of your meal. We ended up getting 3 spring rolls and two drinks and it cost 650,000 dong ($38 CAD)! Oh well, the view was pretty spectacular.
What to Eat
- Nha Hang Ngon – A cool restaurant that has stalls all around the outside of the main room where you can see your food being made. Alex got some delicious thick noodle soup with pork and seafood. The atmosphere was really nice, we sat right beside the stream running through the restaurant.
- Bahn Bao – Bahn Bao stalls can be found throughout the city, and they are amazing. Sweet dough wrapped around a center of pork, it was kind of like a Vietnam version of a hamburger. They’re also super cheap and pretty filling.
- ABC Bakery – Our token go-to bakery, we visited this place for breakfast a few times and loved it. It’s very close to our hostel in the backpacker area! Very cheap and good food!
- Donkey Bar – We went out one night in Ho Chi Minh City and ended up chilling at Donkey Bar. It consisted of a couple floors and had cheap drinks. We played darts there too which was pretty fun. Any of the bars around the Bui Vien street area are pretty similar, it’s a good place to make some friends!