The Definitive Ho Chi Minh 3 Day Itinerary
The heart of South Vietnam, Ho Chi Minh City or Saigon is the energy and drive of this tropical region. With a turbulent past and colonial history, natural parks, green spaces and river, endless shopping for any budget and enough delicious local food and coffee Ho Chi Minh City sure is a great place to base yourself for a few days on your Vietnam itinerary. There’s no shortage of wonderful things to do, see, learn and discover in this lively, exciting city. If you’ve already spent a few days in Hanoi you’ll already be used to the vibrance and movement and Saigon is no exception. In this Ho Chi Minh 3 Day itinerary find out exactly what to do, see, where to eat and stay to make your trip as memorable and fun as it can be.
WHEN TO GO
Ho Chi Minh is located in tropical southern Vietnam, meaning that unlike the north it has only two seasons wet and dry. Given that, the best time to visit is during the dry season which runs from December-April but this is also the hottest time to visit where temperatures can hit anything from 25-degrees upwards. Many travellers also like to visit for Tet or Vietnamese New Year which happens late January-early February but make sure to book accommodation ahead of your trip at this time.
Ho Chi Minh International Airport (Tan Son Nhat) is located 30-45 minutes outside of the city centre. The best way to get from the airport into the city centre is by airport bus or taxi.
Airport bus– Yellow Airport Bus #109, Airport Bus #49 and public bus #152 all bring you to the centre of Ho Chi Minh city for the equivalent of $1-2. The buses are as fast as traffic allows, clean and spacious and they run almost all day long. They each have slightly different stops, so check the itineraries of each to see which stops closest to your accommodation.
Taxi– Another, albeit more expensive option to get to the centre of Ho Chi Minh City is by taxi or Grab. Taxis cost from $4.50 but often drivers will try to charge you more so be wary of this. Another option is ordering a Grab taxi using the ride-hailing app if you have a local SIM and internet on your phone. If you plan to take a Grab and don’t have a local SIM, then try to buy one inside the terminal building.
Most points of interest to travellers are located in and around the city centre, which is pretty walkable. However, if you do need to get somewhere a little further the best way to get around is by xe om (local motorbike taxis) or by using the Grab App. Xe oms can be flagged down anywhere and local drivers will take you to your destination for a small fee. Remember that if you’re a small group it will be cheaper to take a Grab taxi than a few xe oms.
The Grab app is also a great way to get around Ho Chi Minh City, especially to some more out-of-the-way sights. Rides are extremely affordable and safe and you’re less likely to be ripped off than when hailing a ride off the street. Even if you take a local taxi it’s always a good idea to check the fare via the Grab app first so you have some idea what the fee is if you’re faced with the situation of your driver asking you for four times the fare.
WHERE TO STAY
Budget– Au Lac Legend Hotel – A lovely little budget property with clean simple rooms in the heart of the city centre. The decor is modern Vietnamese with traditional touches and each room is airy, light and clean. There’s also a beautiful terrace with a pool and all the jungle feels as well as a great view of the city. The breakfast buffet is great and the staff are helpful and extremely friendly.
Mid-Range– Fusion Suites Saigon – A beautiful, boutique, design hotel with spacious and affordable rooms right in the heart of District 1. Wood is used throughout the design giving it a natural, zen-feel. It’s been designed with comfort and simplicity in mind and if your like minimalistic design and earthy tones this might just be your dream place to stay. There’s everything you could need offered in your room as well as a fitness centre and on-site restaurant downstairs. Breakfast is good too.
Splurge – Caravelle Saigon – For some old-world luxury, check right into the Caravelle. This 5-star hotel features luxurious French and Vietnamese architecture and design and is spacious and elegant in its rooms and common areas. You’ll find a beautifully lavish roof-terrace and bar, the famous Saigon Saigon Rooftop Bar, perfect for sundowners as well as an outdoor pool, gym and spa. The breakfast buffet has everything you could imagine from Vietnamese classics to International breakfast dishes with plenty of healthy options.
There are also many great Airbnbs in Ho Chi Minh City. If you haven’t yet signed up for Airbnb, do so here and get up to $63 off on your first stay.
WHERE TO EAT
Saigon is king when it comes to the most delicious food in all Vietnam. From traditional pho to banh mi sandwiches, bun cha noodles, summer rolls, noodle salads and delicious stir-fries, Vietnamese food is really hard to beat when it comes to freshness, quality and flavour. There are so many delicious restaurants to choose from in Ho Chi Minh City when it comes to local, healthy and plant-based food. Here are some of my favourites around central Ho Chi Minh City.
Veggie Saigon – One of the best options in Saigon, this modern restaurant serves the plant-based versions of so many traditional Vietnamese classics such as spring rolls, rice and noodle dishes, banh mi and hot pots. Delicious food with a large selection of dishes
The Organik House– With influence from both Vietnam and Italy, this little cafe/restaurant serves a great variety of both international and local dishes, all with a focus on healthy and fresh ingredients. They have a range of soups, pancakes, stir-fries, smoothies, salads and sandwiches, all of which were absolutely delicious. They also do a great Sunday brunch.
Pho Chay Nhu– If you’re on the hunt for a steaming bowl of flavoursome yet plant-based pho then this is the place to come. Pho is their speciality and honestly, it’s what you simply have to order. The broth is flavoursome but light and it comes with all the sides of herbs, lime and chilli. A real lovely local experience.
A Di Da Phat – Another great local option, this place which is open just for breakfast and lunch, serves a variety of delicious plant-based soups, tofu and fake meat dishes. Really delicious and filling!
Dieu Phap Chay– Delicious, cheap and extremely local. This little, often hard-to-find restaurant serves noodle and tofu dishes as well as spring rolls and banh canh. It’s totally worth the extra effort when in District 3.
HO CHI MINH 3 DAY ITINERARY
DAY 1– Independence Palace / Notre Dame Cathedral of Saigon / Saigon Central Post Office / People’s Committee of Ho Chi Minh City / War Remnants Museum / Sunset at Bitexco Financial Tower
DAY 2 – Ben Thanh Market / Ho Chi Minh City Museum / Ho Chi Minh City Opera House / The Cafe Apartments / Binh Quoi Village
DAY 3 – Cu Chi Tunnels / Giac Lam Pagoda / Museum of Traditional Vietnamese Medicine / Nhà thờ Tân Định (Pink Church) / Ngoc Hoang Pagoda
Start your Ho Chi Minh 3 day itinerary in the heart of the centre of the city, both physically and politically by paying a visit to the vast Independence Palace. Also known as the Reunification Palace this building was the home and office of the South Vietnamese President during the war and before that, the seat of the French Colonial Government. Inside the rather communist looking building, you can learn about the building’s rather turbulent past and the events that make this palace so significant today. You’ll be able to walk around the rooms admiring the stuccoed meeting rooms as well as the working rooms such as the kitchen and communication rooms. If you’re interested in learning more about the history of particularly South Vietnam the Independence Palace is a must.
Notre Dame Cathedral of Saigon
Located just a few blocks behind the Independence Palace, this Catholic Cathedral was built in the 19th century as a place of worship for French colonialists. All the original building materials used in the cathedral were all imported from France including the beautiful stained glass windows. Walking down the central nave you’ll see the ribbed vault ceilings, columns and arches present in Neo-gothic architecture. It’s the largest and one of the most beautiful Cathedrals in Vietnam.
Saigon Central Post Office
Normally you might not consider a post office to be on your list of top places to visit when travelling but Ho Chi Minh is a little different. The Saigon Central Post Office has over the years become one of the most iconic buildings in Vietnam, a memory of the countries turbulence past and bygone eras. Architecturally it’s a mix of French colonial, Renaissance and Gothic styles, all coming together to form a truly unique building, a tribute to the past. Inside you’ll find typically European elements and decor from the 19th Century such as phone booths and oil paintings. At the end of the hall, there’s a giant portrait of Ho Chi Minh, a small reminder of where you actually are. The building still functions as a fully working post office so if you need to buy stamps or mail a postcard then I couldn’t think of a better place do it, could you?
People’s Committee of Ho Chi Minh City
A short walk away from the Saigon Central Post Office, you’ll find the rather remarkable People’s Committee of Ho Chi Minh City or Ho Chi Minh City Hall. This French Colonial building is beautiful and quite Baroque in style-something you don’t often see in South East Asia. It’s a popular stop for photos with locals and visitors alike and as it’s not open to the public, spend just a few minutes here admiring the facade and snapping your own great Instagram shots.
War Remnants Museum
It’s not quite a Ho Chi Minh City itinerary without coming face to face with its past and while visiting this museum is raw and quite frankly horrifying and depressing, it’s still a must. Upon arrival, you’ll notice large American military equipment- the result of the southern army and American soldiers fleeting as they were pushed south leaving behind countless fighter jets, tanks and helicopters. Inside you’ll find displays of horrific photographs of death, destruction and the effects of war, highlighting how important peace really is. If you’re squeamish you might want to be careful with looking at the photos inside as almost nothing here is censored.
Bitexco Financial Tower
This rather interesting addition to the Ho Chi Minh City skyline is the 68-floor Bitexco Tower. Owned by the Bitexco Group, this elegant glass skyscraper dominates the Saigon skyline. Near the top of the tower on the south side you’ll notice a helipad that resembles a lotus leaf and inside the building boasts floors of office space, The World of Heineken and the Saigon Skydeck. The best time to come up here is during golden hour, or just before sunset to see the 360-degree panoramic views of the whole city from above and the sun go down beyond the horizon to end another day. It can be really nice to come up here, especially on your first day as it can help you get your bearings and notice places of interest from above.
Ben Thanh Market
On day 2 of this Ho Chi Minh 3 day itinerary, head straight to Ben Thanh Market for a truly local experience. This market is the symbol of the city, a hub of local commerce, a meeting point for locals. Here, you’ll be able to find just about anything you can think of from local fabrics and textiles to accessories, shoes and food and drink. It’s the perfect place to buy some souvenirs or accessories to take home or some local snacks for your onward journey. For me personally, I loved checking out all the amazingly fresh local fruit and vegetables and we even managed to try and buy some delicious new fruit we’d never seen before. Ben Thanh Market really is a must-visit when in Saigon. The market is also open in the evening where it converts into a food-focused night market- a great place for people watching and trying new delicacies.
Ho Chi Minh City Museum
A few blocks north of Ben Thanh Market you’ll find the Ho Chi Minh City Museum, a vast, impressive Neo-classical building in which you’ll find exhibits relating to the history of Vietnam and Saigon, the war, as well as more recent art by local artists and even a fairly creepy war bunker. While the exhibits themselves could be a little more informative the building is worth going in for-It’s a great place for photos.
Ho Chi Minh City Opera House
Another two blocks away is the Ho Chi Minh City Opera House, a beautiful building that you simply have to at least walk past. This is another great example of French Colonial architecture in Vietnam. The pastel pink facade with classical half-columns and caryatids holding up the entranceway makes for a really interesting stop. If you are an opera fan you might want to look into what’s on during your stay and even come back in the evening to enjoy the interior and performance.
The Cafe Apartments
One of the most interesting architectural marvels along Nguyen Hue Walking Street is the cafe Apartments building. This unusual building was built in the 1960s and served as housing for government and military personnel during the Vietnam War. It was later abandoned and converted into what you see today, each apartment into its own cafe or business. Inside you can take the stairs or the elevator to each floor and check out the residential building layout that’s rather strangely used for commerce today. One of the best things to do here is to walk around, visit and support some local business and of course, have a local Vietnamese coffee.
Binh Quoi Village
In the afternoon, take a Grab taxi to Binh Quoi Tourist Village, a little way outside central Ho Chi Minh City. Situated right along the Saigon River, this is an elegant miniature of what life was like on the Mekong Delta in a bygone era. You’ll stroll past lush green gardens, coconut palms, lakes full of giant water lilies and signs of village life pre-industrial revolution. There are many things to do in this area including simply walking around, eating traditional southern Vietnamese food, and several other sports and cultural activities. The area is split into three parts, 1,2 and 3 with 1 being the most popular and affordable, 2 more for sports fans due to the tennis courts and swimming pools available and 3 has a more laid-back rustic feel, perfect for those who want to just have a drink or meal by the river. One of the best things to do here is to try the evening buffet so make sure to be here at around 6 pm when it all kicks off and before it gets too busy.
Cu Chi Tunnels
Start day three with a half-day visit to the Cu Chi Tunnels. The tunnels are quite a little while outside of the city itself (60km) so getting there you have a few options. Most travellers opt for a half-day tour which will take you to the tunnels and back and you’ll have a guide who will explain the history of the tunnels, how they were used as well as many interesting stories and facts. You can find the tour we did here.
Alternatively, you can visit by taking a Grab Taxi and exploring the tunnels yourself, without a guide. This gives you more freedom, but less information about the actual tunnels.
The Cu Chi Tunnels, are a famous tunnel complex used during the war by Vietnamese soldiers. They would live in the tunnels, leaving only at night to forage for food, tend to crops or to fight in battle. Conditions inside the tunnels were rancid; there was very little air and they were full of rodents, scorpions, poisonous centipedes and mosquitoes. You’ll notice that the tunnels are also extremely narrow and very difficult for an average caucasian to fit through. While visiting you can also walk or shall I say crawl through the tunnel to experience them from the inside- not suitable for the claustrophobic, however. You learn about some other war tricks the Vietnamese used and generally how cunning and smart they were in regards to their tactics during the war. Nearby you’ll also find a shooting range where for quite a large fee you can shoot a number of assault rifles and machine guns.
Giác Lâm Pagoda
Back in Ho Chi Minh City, make your way to the Giac Lam Pagoda, one of the finest pagodas and Buddhist temples in Ho Chi Minh City. It’s the cities oldest pagoda with almost three hundred years of history instilled in its walls. Walking around the temple grounds you’ll find the seven-storey pagoda, the Buddhist garden with sacred bodhi tree and the main buildings of the pagoda with large statues and altars devoted to different bodhisattvas.
Museum of Traditional Vietnamese Medicine
If you’re reading this guide because of your interest in both travel and wellness you’ll definitely want to stop at the Museum of Traditional Vietnamese Medicine on your way back to the centre of the city. It’s an extremely informative insight into the history of non-western medicine in Vietnam and the variety of different plants and herbs people used and still use today to cure a variety of different illnesses and ailments. You’ll also learn about the very early origins of medicines and the instruments and tools used to administer it. The best part is the modern pharmacy and shop where you can buy a variety of teas and other herbal mixes to help you on your holistic or wellness journey.
Nhà thờ Tân Định (Pink Church)
If you haven’t already noticed, Saigon is pretty fond of pink buildings and this rather bright pink church is another testament to that. The French colonial Catholic Church is the second-largest in Ho Chi Minh, after the Notre Dame Cathedral. It’s definitely worth a look inside where it’s also painted pastel pink. This is hands down, one of my favourite places to take pictures during this Ho Chi Minh trip.
Ngoc Hoang Pagoda/ Jade Emperor Pagoda
On the final stop of the Ho Chi Minh 3 day itinerary head to the Jade Emperor Pagoda, another beautiful temple in Ho Chi Minh City. There are no surprises when it comes to the colour of this temple, the bright pink colour catching your eye and leading you inside. It’s a Chinese Taoist Temple, famous for 100 statues made of cardboard which depict genies meeting with the Jade Emperor. Inside you’ll find many of statues made from a variety of materials as well as paintings and incense burning worshipers.
End your trip with drinks at some of the most iconic rooftop bars in the city. Order your favourite cocktail and take it the views and the energy of the city. For evening or even sunset drinks, I recommend Glow Skybar Saigon, Rex Rooftop Garden at the Rex Hotel, and the iconic Saigon Saigon Rooftop Bar.
MORE THAN 3 DAYS?
If you have more than three days in Ho Chi Minh. City, I’d highly recommend taking a day trip or even an overnight trip to the Mekong Delta. Here you can experience what life is really like in rural Vietnam. Stay in a homestay and learn about local life, take long slow boat trips on the river as well as see the gorgeous scenery and ecosystem of the Mekong Delta.
Do you have any questions or comments about your Ho Chi Minh itinerary? Let me know in the comments below! I’d love to hear from you.
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