Ho Chi Minh City has a total of 25 districts, but tourists generally only see District 1. This is the only district that one can comfortably walk around in, and is home to the Backpacker area of Pham Ngu Lao (a great place to get tour buses anywhere). We spent six weeks here, in an apartment in the Binh Thanh district ($380/month), and rented a scooter for $2/a day. We visited pretty much every coffee shop in town, and spent in total (including apartment and scooter) $30/pp a day. While HCMC is definitely a livable, and very Westernized city, we found the pollution overwhelming and were happy to leave after spending so long here. Having said that, there is so much to do. Here is our 24-hour-guide to the city.
24 Hours in Saigon
You’re most likely staying on Pham Ngu Lao, and if not, then somewhere nearby. Grab a street baguette and a smoothie (the best are near ABC bakery on Pham Ngu Lao). The big tourist must-see in Saigon is the Cu chi Tunnels, with minibuses leaving any one of the many tour companies along Pham Ngu Lao. The minibuses depart at 8am, so arriving by 7:15 should give you enough time to find a company you like. The bus stops at a “handicapped worker’s factory” that supposedly employs veterans; but just felt like a scam because the workers are very young and aren’t making handicrafts, but rather polishing already made stone workings. Somehow it felt very sad, with the tourists gawking and taking photos like we were at a circus. After this, you are taken to the location of the tunnels, where the guide from your bus takes you on a tour. You are able to climb into the crawlspaces to take a photo, shoot a gun, marvel at the creativity of the Vietcong’s traps, and finally crawl through the tunnels, which have been widened for Westerners. On our tour, we only crawled about 200 feet, and did not see more than the first layer (there are four), but I have heard that others were allowed to explore more. Though this might sound disappointing—and it was—it is still worth going. After this, you are able to observe the different rooms, such as the kitchen, which is still cooking the tapioca that you are able to enjoy and some exceptionally good green tea (this is the “meal” included in the price). To end the trip, the bus stops at a “secret” tea shop, equipped with tour bus parking. Only to find out later that the Vietnamese don’t drink tea at all.
You have the option to be dropped off at the War Remnants Museum, which I would highly recommend. This is really the only other tourist attraction that is necessary to visit. Be prepared for some seriously graphic images. It will be early afternoon once you exit the museum, and in order to satisfy your hunger, you have many options. If it is before 2pm, there are numerous sushi restaurants that have a set-lunch (Tokyo Deli is a popular chain), Au Parc offers exceptional French food and is right next to the Notre Dame and Post Office, or if you’re adventurous, get some street food on the sidewalk across from the Post Office.
In the evening, make sure to see a Water Puppet show. The Golden Dragon Water Puppet Theatre (55B Nguyen Thi Minh Khai | Labour Cultural House, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam) is most popular. It has two daily shows at 5pm and 6pm, and adds a third show at 8pm when there are enough people. Try and sit towards the front and bring earplugs if you are sensitive to loud music.
To end the day, get a massage for $6/an hour or a mani/pedi for $6. Be careful, as not all the massage parlors are PG, so if it seems sketchy, don’t try it. For some of the best Indian food in the world, head to Ganesh. If you want a nightcap and don’t mind spending $10-15 for a fabulous view of the city, go to Rex Hotel (141 Nguyen Hue Blvd | District 1) or Caravelle (19 Lam Son Square | District 1).If you’re on a budget, go to the Highlands next to the Rex hotel to enjoy a view and a $3 Cafe Freeze or $2 beer.
While these things are not exactly worth doing if you only have one day in the city, they are fun (and cheap) if you get bored:
Day trips to the Mekong Delta—which I found quite underwhelming—can also be arranged at any of these companies and I highly recommend doing a one-day tour, since even the biggest town (Can Tho) gets old after two days.
The Fine Arts Museum (97A Pho Duc Chinh, District 1) isn’t breathtaking, but still fun and located in a formerly chinese palace. It is open: Tue-Sun 09:00-4:30.
The Southern Women’s Museum (202 Vo Thi Sau, District 3) is open: Daily 08:00-11:00, 1:30-5:30.
Ice Skating at the youth cultural house (04 Pham Ngoc Thach Street) costs less than $4/person and is open: 6 a.m. to 9:30 p.m.
Bitexco Financial Tower (Ha Trieu, Ho Tung Mao, Ngo Duc Ke streets, District 1) is open: Daily 1pm-9pm
and has a great viewpoint, which costs $10.
The Dam Sen Park is an amusement and water park (3 Ð Hoa Binh, District 11) has a great cooling off igloo, and is open: Daily 7am-9pm.