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Formerly known as Saigon, Ho Chi Minh City is the capital of Vietnam and the second most populated city in Southeast Asia. Although there is plenty to see in the city itself, many tourists use Ho Chi Minh as a jumping off point – flying into the city and exploring only a couple days before traveling north to places like Hoi An, Ha Long Bay or Hanoi. Although I agree it’s not necessary to spend a ton of time in Ho Chi Minh City, it’s definitely worth a short visit. Keep reading for my weekend in Ho Chi Minh itinerary!
Full disclosure: I actually spent much longer than a weekend in Ho Chi Minh…almost nine days to be exact. Since I was still recovering from an infected cut on my foot, I used most of my time in Ho Chi Minh to work from cafes, recover and try as many new Vietnamese dishes as possible! (Which is why there are so many restaurants on this list). As far as museums and tourist activities go, I fit everything I wanted to do in a single weekend.
For more tips on traveling solo to Southeast Asia, visit my Asia Travel Guides.
My Ho Chi Minh Itinerary
Visit the War Remnants Museum
If you Google, “things to do in Ho Chi Minh City,” chances are the first thing that will come up on every single blog or tourism site is a visit to the War Remnants Museum.
The War Remnants museum was first opened in 1975 under the name “The Exhibition House for the Crimes of America and Its Puppet Government.” It houses 20,000 artifacts, documents, films and photos from The Vietnam War or, as it is known in Vietnam, “The War of American Aggression.”
Although the museum is very well-done and should absolutely be on your Ho Chi Minh itinerary, keep in mind that it is an extremely sobering experience. The wing about American war crimes against civilians and the effects of Agent Orange on Vietnamese children is particularly grave.
Opening Hours: Daily from 7:30 – 5:00PM
Entrance Fee: 40,000 VND per person
Tour the Independence Palace
Construction of the Independence or Reunification Palace in Ho Chi Minh City started in 1868 and finished in 1871. Throughout the 19th and 20th centuries, many French Governer-Generals used it as both an official residence and workplace.
During the Vietnam War, the Independence Palace served as the residence and office of the President of Southern Vietnam, Nguyen Van Thieu. The palace was recognized as a National Cultural and Historical Relic in 1976. Today, it is one of Ho Chi Minh City’s top tourist attractions.
Located around the corner from the War Remnants Museum, a tour of the Independence Palace should definitely be part of your Ho Chi Minh City itinerary. With tickets priced at less than $3…there’s no excuse not to visit!
Opening Hours: Daily from 8:00 – 4:30PM
Entrance Fee: 65,000 VND per person
Cu Chi Tunnels Tour
If you have a half-day to kill in Vietnam, make sure the Cu Chi Tunnels make their way onto your Ho Chi Minh itinerary. Although the tour takes seven hours, which is a pretty big chunk of your weekend in Ho Chi Minh City, you’ll learn some seriously interesting history about Vietnam and the daily life of the Viet Cong soldiers.
In order to stand a chance against the better-supplied American soldiers, Vietnamese communist fighters (the Viet Cong) used the best resource at their disposal: camouflage. Throughout the war, they dug thousands of miles of tunnels in the area northwest of Ho Chi Minh City. These tunnels had many functions including housing troops; transporting supplies, weapons and communications; laying booby traps and executing surprise attacks against their enemies.
Although many times I prefer doing it myself to organized excursions, the Cu Chi Tunnels is one tour I would recommend taking. For $19, it’s a steal. You can book a Cu Chi Tunnels tour on Viator here.
Take in the Views from the Bitexco Financial Tower
The first thing I do in any city is look for the best views in town. In Ho Chi Minh, this means a visit to the Bitexco Financial Tower.
A ticket up the 68 floors of the Bitexco Tower to the Skydeck will set you back 200,000 Dong ($8.50). At the top, you’ll be rewarded with some seriously amazing view of Ho Chi Minh City. Unfortunately, due to COVID, the EON Heli Skybar is currently closed.
Eat Snails on Vinh Khanh Street
Two of my favorite words are “cheap” and “seafood” – even better when they’re put together! Vinh Khanh Street is a famous street where you can find delicious and affordable street food in Ho Chi Minh City. Specifically, it’s known for fresh seafood and snails!
Since I find everything that lives under the sea absolutely delicious, I had to go check it out. I feasted on chili crab (oh my god whatever you do don’t touch your face), grilled octopus and snails in butter sauce. It was actually one of the most expensive meals I had in Vietnam (around 700,000 dong or $30), but it was also one of the tastiest.
For an incredibly detailed guide to eating seafood in Ho Chi Minh, check out Will Fly For Food’s blog post on Vinh Khanh Street.
Saigon Central Post Office
Ho Chi Minh City’s most famous post office is the Saigon Central Post Office that was constructed when Vietnam was still part of French Indochina in the 19th century. Full disclosure, I went here only to add it to my blog post. If you’re into really architecture you might want to add a trip to the post office to your Ho Chi Minh itinerary…but if not it’s probably something you can skip.
Notre Dame Cathedral
I was laughing when I got a look at the Notre Dame Cathedral. This photo was taken on May 28th, 2022. Hopefully when you visit there will be a little more historical cathedral and a little less scaffolding.
This cathedral was designed and built by French colonists in the late 19th century and looks absolutely stunning in the Google pictures…not so much in person currently.
Opening Hours: Daily from 8:00 – 11:00AM and 2:00 – 4:00PM (once it reopens)
Entrance Fee: Free
Ho Chi Minh’s Craft Brewery Scene
I was pleasantly surprised to learn that Ho Chi Minh actually has quite the bustling craft brewery scene! If you love trying some local brews, make sure to hit up these happening spots around town.
Pasteur Street Brewery
Pasteur Street has a couple locations around Ho Chi Minh, all serving tons of delicious craft beers on tap! I sought refuge on a rainy afternoon in their Xuong Bia Taproom and enjoyed a delicious Jasmine IPA and Nitro Irish Stout. Seriously, how cute is this baby beer?
Winking Seal Brewery
Another great find in Ho Chi Minh’s brewery scene, Winking Seal has the cutest logo of them all. This tiny brewery is so tucked away you might just miss it, but it’s definitely worth a visit because they serve some seriously delicious beer.
Heart of Darkness
I have a love/hate relationship with the Heart of Darkness brewery. On one hand, I enjoyed it so much that I spent two full nights there working on my laptop. On the other hand…I’m 80% sure the burger I ordered gave me food poisoning.
Great atmosphere, delicious beer…maybe just eat dinner somewhere else?
Ho Chi Minh Coffee Scene
It’s not just beer! Ho Chi Minh City is also known for their hipster coffee scene. Vietnamese take their coffee seriously…and you’re sure to enjoy a lot of delicious coffees around the city.
The Workshop Coffee
The Workshop Coffee is serves delicious coffee in a very trendy environment…but fuck it’s hard to find. I walked past it the first time and ended up spending most of the day in the wrong coffee shop! Look for a small entrance that looks like private parking and then walk up a few flights of stairs to find it.
Ben Thanh Street Food & Shopping Market
Looking through my notes for this blog post, I had one thing written about Ben Thanh Market…”stressful as FUCK.” I stand by this initial assessment.
Ben Thanh is one of the most famous markets in Ho Chi Minh City, but it’s also an extremely high-stress shopping environment. Imagine rows and rows of vendors selling street food, jewelry, souvenirs, handbags, cloth and more…and all of them are yelling at you to buy something. In the end, I stopped at a food stand for a few fresh spring rolls and then noped the hell out of there.
If you have more patience for constant heckling, then Banh Thanh Market might be the shopping experience for you.
Restaurants to Add to Your Ho Chi Minh Itinerary
All right, let’s get to the part we know you all care about the most – where to find the best Vietnamese food in the city. If you want to eat some insanely tasty and 100% authentic Vietnamese cuisine, add these places to your Ho Chi Minh itinerary.
*I’ve included links to the locations on Google Maps, since many of these street food stalls can be difficult to find.
Disclaimer About Vietnamese Cuisine
If you weren’t already aware…people still eat dogs in Vietnam. Speaking with some locals, I got the impression that it’s becoming less common, especially among the younger generation. However, as of 2022, dog is definitely still a part of Vietnamese cuisine.
If you present as an obvious tourist, I believe it’s unlikely that you would be served dog without specifically asking for it or seeking it out. However, if the thought of eating dog absolutely horrifies you (like it does for me) make sure to avoid ordering anything called “Thit Cho.”
Oc Oanh Seafood Snail Restaurant
Remember earlier in this blog post when I mentioned eating snails on Vinh Khanh Street? Oc Oanh was the restaurant that served aforementioned snails!
A meal at Oc Oanh Seafood Restaurant is less of a meal and more of an experience. The space is piled high with fresh seafood and you’ll observe chefs grilling octopus right in front of you, heaps of snails in baskets and fresh fish and seafood swimming around in tanks. You might pay more than you normally do for a meal in Vietnam, but it doesn’t get much fresher than this.
Banh Mi Bay Ho
Before I traveled to Vietnam, I thought there was no such thing as a bad banh mi. Let me be the first to tell you…not all banh mis are created equal. That means, when you get a really good one, it stands out.
Banh Mi Bay Ho served some excellent banh mis. In terms of the traditional recipe*, this was my favorite banh mi in Vietnam. The bread was perfectly crispy on the outside and chewy on the inside and there was the perfect amount of pate, pork, veggies and fresh coriander filling.
*I had a few banh mis I liked more, but they were spin offs of the traditional Vietnamese banh mi.
Speaking of non-traditional banh mis, Phuc Hai is a banh mi stand not to be missed on your Ho Chi Minh itinerary. Where most banh mis are filled with grilled pork, Phuc Hai fills their banh mis with crispy pork belly. I can’t even describe the deliciousness that crunch adds to this traditional Vietnamese sandwich.
Unfortunately an absolute downpour ruined my photo opp with the Phuc Hai sandwich cart…so I had to take an impromptu shot in my hotel room.
If you ask any HCMC local where to find the best pho, they’ll give you one answer – Pho Le. There used to be two locations, but unfortunately the one in the city center closed (I’m assuming due to COVID).
Although it’s a bit of a journey on a Grab bike, it’s definitely worth the trip. I decided on the pho with filet mignon and meatballs for 85.000 dong ($3.65). It was absolutely delicious, although I didn’t really care for the texture of the meatballs.
Mien Ga Ky Dong
Alongside Pho Le, Mien Ga Ky Dong is another well-known spot for pho in Ho Chi Minh City. The interior of this traditional Vietnamese street food stand is enormous, honestly it gave me cafeteria vibes with the rows and rows of tables and all the stainless steel.
Although the pho from Mien Ga Ky Dong was delicious and it’s definitely worth a visit, I wouldn’t say it was my absolute favorite pho I had in Vietnam. They were out of beef (which is very odd for a pho restaurant) and the ratio of chicken to noodles was a bit off. However, the flavor itself was mouthwateringly delicious!
Bun Thit Nuong Kieu Bao
Do I know exactly what it is? Nope. Was it delicious? Hell yes.
This was the common theme of me trying restaurants in Vietnam. Bun Thit Nuong consists of rice noodles, fried spring rolls, meat (which I believe was pork), fresh herbs and lettuce. There is a communal bucket of some sort of broth or sauce which you are supposed to add to the bowl of noodles and combine all the ingredients.
It’s incredibly tasty and, like most street food in Vietnam, very affordable.
I visited Co Lieng in the hopes of trying the Bo La Lot that JB & Renée of Will Fly For Food Travel Blog raved about in their Saigon Restaurants blog post. Their blog is incredibly detailed and this is where I got the inspiration for a lot of the restaurants that I tried in Ho Chi Minh City!
Bo La Lot is beef grilled in betel leaves served with rice paper, lettuce, veggies and dipping sauce. It’s essentially a deconstructed spring roll that you roll yourself before eating. Although I’m 99% sure I pointed to the right thing on the menu, I received something else entirely (pictured below).
I did still get to try the seasoned beef grilled in leaves, but it was served over rice noodles and fresh veggies. Whatever it was, it was still delicious and I left full and happy!
Ca Phe Do Phu
Ca Phe Do Phu is notorious for being one of the best spots in the city for com tam suon nuong, or “broken rice.” I asked for my meal “with the works.” This included a fried egg, pork skin and stuffing as well as rice and pork chop.
Although the meal was very filling and tasty, broken rice is not one of my favorite Vietnamese dishes. Vietnamese cuisine is usually very flavorful and I find this dish to be a little bland.
However Ca Phe Do Phu is more than just broken rice and coffee. The site actually used to be the house of a Viet Cong supporter and played a big part in the Vietnam War. There’s even an underground bunker beneath a trap door!
Bun Rieu Ganh
I stumbled upon Bun Rieu Ganh on a happy accident as it was located down the street from my hotel. When I say “stumbled” I mean literally – I still have a hole in my foot. I had tried a lot of Vietnamese food at this point, but Bun Rieu was unfamiliar to me so I was excited to try it.
The broth was extremely flavorful and I really enjoyed the pork sausage and tofu in the soup. Although I tried the dark purple shape that translated to “blood,” I decided that part wasn’t for me. It’s served with a side of shredded banana flower, sprouts and greens. However, the rest of the meal was very tasty and I would 100% order it again!
Hopefully, this blog post gave you plenty of inspiration for activities and tasty restaurants to add to your weekend in Ho Chi Minh itinerary. If you enjoyed this post, you might enjoy the related posts below. And don’t forget to follow along for the adventure on Instagram @madisonsfootsteps!