Known as both Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC) and Saigon, this city in southern Vietnam is one of Southeast Asia’s most fascinating and energetic. Both modern and infused with old world character, Ho Chi Minh City is an essential part of any trip through Vietnam. When considering what to do in Ho Chi Minh City in 3 days, you’ll find that there is plenty to keep you busy.
Our Ho Chi Minh City itinerary is here to keep your trip planning from becoming overwhelming, it gives you all the necessary information you need to get going. We’ll not only show you the best places to visit in Ho Chi Minh City, but also share with you other useful information such as the best areas to stay in and day trips to consider.
Best Time to Visit Ho Chi Minh City
Once you’ve decided on visiting Ho Chi Minh City, the first thing you need to consider is when you plan on going. The timing of your visit can have a huge impact on your trip, especially given the tropical weather that southern Vietnam experiences. You don’t want to miss out on seeing and enjoying the best of Saigon simply because you came at the wrong time of year.
Understanding the weather patterns in Saigon is pretty straightforward, as it only has two seasons. The dry season that runs from December through to March is widely agreed to be the best time to visit Ho Chi Minh City, with December and January being high season. The later in the season you go, the hotter and more humid the weather gets. Then, you have rainy season which goes from May through October, although June to August tend to have the highest rainfall.
Though the weather isn’t ideal for sightseeing, there is still some benefit to visiting during the wet season. This time of year is low season, so you can expect prices to be a little lower and things to be less busy. The rain also tends to come in short bursts, so wet weather rarely means a full day of rain.
How to Get Around Ho Chi Minh City
Getting the most out of a destination also means knowing the best ways to get about. This Saigon itinerary will take you to different parts of the city so walking won’t always be the best or most pleasant way of getting around. Ho Chi Minh City is a big place and while you can comfortably walk around the city center, you may want to look to other options beyond that.
Saigon is home to a large network of buses which are your cheapest option for getting around. With fares as low as 300 VDN and plenty of routes, it can be quite useful for moving around the city. Just be sure to hail the bus to ensure it stops for you.
With no other public transport, your next options are taxis and motorbike taxis. Since the cost of living in Vietnam is quite low, taxis are inexpensive, but make sure you only use trusted companies like Vinasun and Mai Linh. Motorbike taxis, or xe om in Vietnamese, can be even quicker and cheaper but you’ll need to agree on cost up front. Alternatively, download the Grab smartphone app, Southeast Asia’s equivalent to Uber.
As with other travel around the city, getting from Tan Son Nhat International Airport involves one of the modes of transport already mentioned. Public bus #152 runs from the airport into the city center, not too far from Ben Thanh Market. Otherwise, you can take either a taxi/Grab or a private hotel shuttle.
Where to Stay in Ho Chi Minh City
Deciding on where to stay is a major step when it comes to planning your trip. After all, the right accommodation can make a huge difference in your enjoyment of a destination. As a major city and one that is used to tourists, Ho Chi Minh City has a huge variety of hotels, hostels, and guesthouses to suit all types of traveler. Working out where to stay in Ho Chi Minh City is then more about factors like location, cost, and comfort.
Generally, the best places to stay in Ho Chi Minh City are spots close to the city’s main attractions and markets. This means that the best places to look at in terms of accommodation are Districts 1 and 3. When in doubt, you can always look to the Backpacker District around Pham Ngu Lao Street and Bui Vien Street.
To treat yourself during you stay in Ho Chi Minh City, the Grand Hotel Saigon is a great choice. A five-star hotel housed inside a beautiful colonial building, you can expect a supremely comfortable experience thanks to the hotel’s pool, spa center, and restaurants.
For all the comforts of home during your 3 days in Ho Chi Minh City, you may want to consider staying at the Awesome CBD Luxury Apartment Icon56 Rooftop Pool. These stylish and modern apartments are equipped with kitchens, WiFi, and access to an outdoor pool, while still being within walking distance to the city center.
There’s plenty of cheap hostels in Saigon thanks to places like Himalaya Phoenix Saigon Hostel. With super affordable dorms and rooms, free breakfast and central location, it’s ideal for backpackers looking to get the most for their money.
For more accommodation options in Ho Chi Minh City check out Booking.com. They continuously offer the best rates and their custom service is on point.
The Perfect 3-Day Ho Chi Minh City Itinerary
With three days you’ll have ample opportunity to enjoy the best of Ho Chi Minh City and what makes it special. Despite the pace of the city, you won’t need to rush to make your way through our Ho Chi Minh City travel itinerary.
Following this guide you’ll get to see many sides to the city of Saigon. You’ll naturally see all the sights in the city center with its colonial past and communist present. But our guide will also introduce you to other districts in the city, from Da Kao and Tan Dinh to the north, to the 10th Ward out to the west. Then there are all the great day trips that are possible from Ho Chi Minh City that will give you a chance to really tailor your visit to what interests you most.
However, before we get to our Ho Chi Minh City itinerary we just wanted to remind you to purchase travel insurance. You never know what will happen and trust us, you do not want to get stuck with thousands of dollars in medical bills. As a wise man once said, “If you can’t afford travel insurance, you can’t afford to travel.” So don’t leave home without it. We recommend World Nomads.
Even if you don’t get travel insurance with World Nomads, please make sure to get travel insurance from somewhere.
Now that we’ve discussed that important subject, it’s time to get into all the best things to do in Ho Chi Minh City. With them on your itinerary you’ll have no problem filling your 72 hours in Ho Chi Minh City.
Day 1 in Ho Chi Minh City
On your first day you get to jump right into the best things to do in Saigon around the city center. This way, you’ll be able to get your bearings and get a feel for the city before exploring further.
Ho Chi Minh City Hall
As good a place to start as any is with the gorgeous Ho Chi Minh City Hall in the center of District 1. Boasting a classic French colonial design, this glamorous city hall was first known as the Hôtel de Ville when it was built in 1908. While its look may not be traditionally Vietnamese, it sets the tone for what you can expect as you explore the heart of this vast and complex city.
Saigon Central Post Office
It may seem strange for a post office to be a tourist attraction, but you don’t want to miss the city’s Central Post Office. You’ll see why as soon as you spot the exterior of the building, a bright and elegant colonial building decked out in yellow and green. It’s not just the exterior that is beautiful as the inner decor perfectly matches the outer architecture. Inside, the post office is also a bit of a time warp to the turn of the 20th century, thanks to little touches like wooden phone booths.
Notre Dame Cathedral of Saigon
Sitting on the same square as the post office is the Notre-Dame Cathedral Basilica of Saigon, another major city landmark. Like the post office, the cathedral is a holdover from the French colonists and dates from the 1880s. It’s one of the most important surviving catholic churches in Vietnam and its bells still ring out across the city. With its striking red brick and classic European design you could easily convince yourself that you were no longer in Vietnam.
Down the street from the cathedral you’ll soon see your next stop, the Reunification Palace. Formerly known as Independence Palace, this was the residence and office of the President of South Vietnam during the war. The Vietnam War ended here on April 30, 1975 when a tank rolled through the palace gates, forcing the South Vietnamese to surrender. The palace is now a museum of sorts, with the interior left to look as it did in the 1960s. Walking through, you can see what the decor was like and head down into the basement tunnels which doubled as both a bomb shelter and war room.
War Remnants Museum
For a more in-depth look at the Vietnam War and its consequences, you’ll want to make the short trip over to the War Remnants Museum. Arguably the city’s most important museum, it gives visitors a candid, if one sided, look at the war through three different exhibits.
The first exhibit focuses on weapons and war machines used by the US forces, many of which are incredibly well-preserved. Another looks at the work done by journalists during the war and the sacrifices they made to report on the conflict. The last exhibit is something that some visitors might find difficult, it is a section on the use of Agent Orange during the war. You’ll see extremely graphic photographs of the effects of this chemical weapon, painting a very brutal picture of what war can be like.
Bitexco Financial Tower
So far, you’ve only seen Ho Chi Minh City at street level, but a trip over to the Bitexco Financial Tower will soon fix that. Located in the city’s business district, this skyscraper stands 262 meters high and features a panoramic observation deck on its 49th floor. From the Sky Deck you get a 360-degree view of Ho Chi Minh City which takes in everything from the city center and Saigon river, all the way to the outer districts depending on visibility. The 50th and 51st floors host restaurants, so you can also have a meal with a view if you like. You can buy your fast-track ticket to the Sky Deck here.
The Cafe Apartment
For a nice break and a change of pace, find your way to 42 Nguyen Hue street to see the undeniably cute Cafe Apartment building. Once an ordinary residential building, this apartment complex now hosts a variety of cafes and shops inside each of the once apartments. This is a fun concept and you could spend quite some time seeing what is in store on each level of the building. Then there are the balcony views, where you can look down on the city streets, with coffee or tea in hand.
Ben Thanh Market
If you’re looking to practice your haggling skills, Ben Thanh Market in the heart of the city, is the place to go. This large market isn’t the only major marketplace in Saigon, but it certainly is the most well-known. Set inside a historic landmark, local produce, souvenirs, and clothes are sold in over 3,000 stalls across the marketplace. Whatever you’re looking for, you have a good chance of finding it here.
As is common in Southeast Asia, be prepared to haggle here and still potentially overpay. The only stalls that are fixed price are the ones around the edge of the market, where staff wear light blue shirts. In the rest of the stalls you can and should haggle down the price. For a less touristy alternative, consider instead heading to Binh Tay Market over in the city’s Chinatown district.
The other side to Ben Thanh Market is the Night Market that springs up at 6pm. Countless food stalls and open-air restaurants fill the space outside the market hall, perfect for a drink or dinner.
Recommendation: We highly recommend you book a street food tour. Not only will you learn more about the world’s most exciting food culture but you also get to visit some hidden street food vendors that you would otherwise probably miss.
Day 2 in Ho Chi Minh City
Having seen the sights in the very center of the city, your second day in Ho Chi Minh City will take you to other parts of the city. While there are more places to visit in the center, you’ll also explore neighborhoods like Da Kao and Tan Dinh.
Jade Emperor Pagoda
Over in the Da Kao neighborhood of the city, the Jade Emperor Pagoda is one of the most important shrines in town. Known in Vietnamese as Ngọc Hoàng Pagoda and commonly as the Tortoise Pagoda, this is an active place of worship for both Taoists and Buddhists. While there, you will see plenty of worshippers approach a statue of the Jade Emperor in the main chamber. But there are also many other statues and figures representing gods which worshippers approach to pray and give offerings to. Outside the pale pink pagoda lies an unsettlingly full tortoise pond, from which it earns one of its names.
Tân Định Church
Curiously, the Jade Emperor Pagoda is not the only pink place of worship in this part of Saigon. To find its Christian counterpart, you’ll need to find the Tân Định Church. Not that this bright pink church is easy to miss, thanks to its color palette and 60 meter high bell tower. The Tan Dinh Church was built in 1876 with a mix of Gothic and Renaissance features that make it look like it would easily fit in at Disneyland.
Vĩnh Nghiêm Pagoda
Continuing our tour of places of worship in this part of Ho Chi Minh City, it’s onto another significant shrine, the Vĩnh Nghiêm Pagoda. Situated in District 3 but not far from the Tân Định Church, this shrine actually has the largest pagoda of any temple in Saigon. That size makes up for the fact that it is actually quite new, having only been built in 1971 and is made from concrete.
Still with its combination of Japanese and Vietnamese design and the additional four-story tower behind it, it’s quite a picturesque temple. Add in the atmosphere of worshippers coming to pray and seek blessings and visiting Vĩnh Nghiêm Pagoda makes for quite the interesting temple experience.
Giac Lam Pagoda
Even though the Giac Lam Pagoda is located a fair way from the city center and you’ve visited several already, this is one temple not to skip. Said to be the oldest temple in the city, dating back to 1744, that alone would be reason enough to go. But the sight of this pagoda and its seven story stupa set inside wonderfully peaceful gardens is what makes it so special. While it is a Buddhist shrine, it also incorporates elements of Taoism. Throughout the pagoda there are over a hundred statues that have been painted gold, giving the interior a particularly lavish look.
Hồ Chí Minh City Museum
Back in the center of the city, go learn about Vietnam’s struggles with foreign nations in the Ho Chi Minh City Museum. Through exhibits full of artifacts and photography, the museum takes you through Vietnam’s quest for independence. That means the 20th century conflicts with the French and American forces are the main focus, although there are some displays that concentrate on the history of the city itself and the culture of southern Vietnam.
Bui Vien Street
While Pham Ngu Lao is generally known as the “Backpacker Street”, that title truly belongs to Bui Vien nearby. Lined with an excess of hostels, bars, pubs, go-go bars, and souvenir shops, there’s no denying that this is one of the city’s most touristy corners. This street really comes to life once evening hits and is pretty much a rite of passage for foreign travelers. With cheap drinks and meals, you can simply come, have a drink in some plastic chairs and watch the street buzz to life as the night goes on. There’s a more adult/darker side to the area as is to be expected but you can just sit and relax if that’s what you want to do.
Day 3 in Ho Chi Minh City
Having spent your first two days in Saigon seeing what the city has going for it, your last day provides the perfect chance to explore beyond the city limits. Ho Chi Minh City is a perfect base for traveling around the south of Vietnam and there’s plenty to go out and see. Here are some of the fun day trips from Ho Chi Minh City which will help complete your visit.
1. Cu Chi Tunnels
Many visitors to Ho Chi Minh City are curious about the Vietnam War, making a day trip to the famed Cu Chi Tunnels a natural choice. These tunnels to the north of the city were built by the Viet Cong soldiers to help fight the US forces. Very much a maze of narrow tunnels, the soldiers didn’t just use the tunnels for combat, but also as living spaces and supply routes.
Nowadays, the Cu Chi Tunnels have been turned into an open air museum, where you can learn about their use during the war. Displays show you how the network of tunnels were laid out, as well as the types of traps the Viet Cong soldiers used on unsuspecting soldiers. You’re shown just how well hidden entrances to the tunnels were, not to mention how narrow they are.
Last but not least, you can actually experience what one of these tunnels was like by going down into one and walking through.
2. Mekong Delta
South of Saigon lies the Mekong Delta, a huge network of rivers and islands inside a swamp at the mouth of the famed river. On a visit here you can experience the rural atmosphere and culture of those who live locally, while appreciating the gorgeous nature which surrounds you.
Visits here typically start with a boat ride around the small islands within the delta which have great names like Tortoise Islet and Unicorn Islet. While there, you can see what life is like for local communities and experience parts of their culture like their folk music and food. Plus, after the bustle of Ho Chi Minh City, the serenity of these islands is a nice break.
Often the most popular part of a visit to the Mekong Delta is the chance to explore the region’s canals in a traditional rowing boat. Gliding between the large fronds of water coconut trees, you get your best look yet at this remarkable landscape. Other options of things to do here include cycling along the waterways or simply sitting in a hammock and chilling out.
3. Cao Dai Temple
Up to this point, you’ve visited quite a few churches and shrines in Saigon which speak to Vietnam’s religious diversity. But while you can find Catholic churches and Buddhist temples elsewhere, the religion of Caodaism can only be found here in southern Vietnam. To see where this fascinating religion was founded, you’ll need to make a day trip to the Cao Dai Temple in Tây Ninh.
The religion of Caodaism only began back in 1926 and selectively took elements from major world religions like Buddhism, Christianity, and Confucianism. Just as the religion incorporates ideas for other religions, the Cao Dai Temple interestingly borrows features from temples, churches, and shrines. Although it is shaped much like a church from the outside, step inside the Cao Dai Temple and you’re overwhelmed with a vibrantly colored and ornate interior, complete with beings that look like dragons circling up the pillars.
Visiting the temple, you also have the opportunity to observe a religious service from the upper balcony. With worshippers in robes and sitting on the ground, it looks a little like Muslim worshippers praying in the mosque. The music though that plays throughout the service is Vietnamese, really making it unlike anything you have experienced before.
It’s a lot, but you now have all the information you need to make the most of your time exploring Ho Chi Minh City in 3 days. With this guide at your fingertips, you’ll have no problem getting ready for your Saigon trip and have a blast while you’re there.