Looking for your next Asian destination to discover? Whether it’s a solo travel or you’ll be with friends, your next adventure should be a blast! There are tons of great destinations to choose from but if you want to visit a place that is full of rich history and culture, Vietnam would be on the top list. So in this article, we’ll be talking about a city in Vietnam that played a pivotal role during the war. This is Ho Chi Minh City.
Aside from giving you a quick background about its history, we’ll also be talking about its tourist spots and best and cheapest accommodations. Other things included on this post would be the best time to travel in Ho Chi Minh City, where to get sim cards, and other travel tips that you must consider before or during your stay in this city.
So if it’s your first time to visit Ho Chi Minh City, this article is definitely for YOU! Let’s get started!
Previously known as Saigon, Ho Chi Minh City or HCMC is home to more than 8.5 million people and is considered as the most populous city in Vietnam. You probably have an idea already that Vietnam has a LOT of motorbikes and here’s a fun fact: “a lot” is equivalent to around 8 million motorbikes. Wow. And I don’t even know how to ride a bike. Lol!
Saigon was colonized by France in the 1860s and the city was heavily-influenced by the French in terms of their architecture. When the Vietnamese people wanted to be independent, the Việt Minh Independence Movement was formed and was led by Ho Chi Minh (real name is Nguyễn Sinh Cung). He was a key figure during the Vietnam War (1955-1975) and his actions led to their victory and the reunification of North Vietnam and The Republic of Vietnam (South Vietnam) in 1976. To honor him, Saigon was renamed as Ho Chi Minh City.
Currently, Ho Chi Minh City is now the financial center and business hub of Vietnam. It’s streets are busy, crowded, and everything is fast-paced. Their airport, Tan Son Nhat International Airport, is the busiest airport in the country with more than 36.5 million passengers in 2018.
Here are the other important things we need to know about HCMC:
1. Climate – HCMC has a tropical climate with two seasons, same with the Philippines. Rainy season is from May to November. The best time to visit Ho Chi Minh City is during the dry season which covers the months of December to April.
2. Language – The official language of Vietnam is Vietnamese and is spoken by more than 76 million people as of 2009. English is spoken in tourist spots but to set your expectations, a lot of them are not fluent.
3. Currency – The currency in Vietnam is đồng (VND). Their banknotes are 100, 200, 500, 1,000, 2,000, 5,000, 10,000, 20,000, 50,000, 100,000, 200,000, 500,000 and the coins are not in use anymore. Exchanging 50 USD will make you an instant millionaire. Here’s the current exchange rate in US Dollars.
Here’s the exchange rate in PHP to Dong:
Where To Stay in Ho Chi Minh City
There are tons of cheap accommodations with great amenities and finding the best one will all boil down to its accessibility to the city center. District 1 in Ho Chi Minh City is a great place to stay because of its proximity to tourist spots, restaurants, and bars. Cheap accommodations can be found here, making it a backpacker’s favorite.
Let’s look at the top places to stay in Ho Chi Minh City:
1. 9 Hostel and Rooftop Bar
Address: 9 Bui Thi Xuan Street, District 1, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam
We stayed here! As of writing, 9 Hostel and Rooftop is rated 8.9 with 912 reviews. It’s near almost all the major landmarks in the city including Saigon Notre Dame Cathedral, Saigon Central Post Office, Ho Chi Minh City Hall, Ben Thanh Market, and more. Here are the other perks you can get in staying in this hostel:
One thing I don’t like about my stay here in this hostel is the airconditioning on the dormitory room. I’m not sure if its being turned off or someone’s changing the temperature. It was not too hot though so it was not a big deal.
They also offer private rooms that can host 2 people and more.
2. Vy Da Backpackers Hostel
Address: 64 Ly Tu Trong, Ben Thanh Ward, District 1, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam
3. City Backpackers Hostel
Address: 7/1 Nguyễn Trãi, District 1, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam
Here’s another favorite hostel in Ho Chi Minh City that’s near its most popular landmarks. You can expect the following at the City Backpackers Hostel:
How To Get To Ho Chi Minh City
Traveling to Ho Chi Minh City (SGN) is easy. You can book a flight via Cebu Pacific, Philippine Airlines, and AirAsia. Travel time from Manila is around 2 hours and 50 minutes. During the seat sale, we secured our one-way flight to HCMC for P851 each.
If you’re coming from Cambodia and you prefer to travel by bus, it’s possible too. We recommend booking your bus tickets with Cambodia’s top bus operator, Giant Ibis, because they offer spacious legroom, reclining seats, and free WiFi. They will also give you a bottle of water and bread during the trip. Travel time is 6.5 hours and with our experience with Giant Ibis all throughout our Indochina trip, they were never late.
Aside from this, their attendant speaks English well and he/she will give directions on how the immigration process works. Filipino travelers can do well just with their passports since we are visa-free in Vietnam and Cambodia. No additional fee is required. You can book with them via Klook here.
For other bus companies that travel from Phnom Penh to Ho Chi Minh City (or even from Thailand to Siem Reap to Phnom Penh), you can check out their rates and schedules here:
Sim Card, Data & WiFi
Worried on how to get a sim card in Ho Chi Minh City? Well, let me tell you that it’s easy to get a sim card in Saigon. When you arrive at the airport, there are stalls offering sim cards and they will assist you in activating it on your phone. You just need to present your passport for documentation purposes. I have not experienced getting a sim card from the airport so I cannot give you a review about it.
What I can share though is the sim card we got from Klook. I read most of its reviews and most of the people who bought it (if not all), recommended getting the sim card because its speed is fast and reliable. Another thing that I like is that they will deliver the sim card to your hotel/hostel so when you check-in, you can already use it. This is recommended for travelers who will arrive late from their flight.
There’s no need to modify the internet settings on your phone; just insert the sim card and you’re good to go. You can choose from 2.4 GB, 5 GB data or 2 GB data per day. Check it out the price here:
Arriving at the airport between 7pm – 7am? You can pick-up your sim card from directly from Klook at the Tan Son Nhat International Airport Arrival Hall, Counter 1.
You can also get a portable WiFi device if you want to share your internet with friends. Same with the sim card above, you can have it delivered straight to your hotel:
Things To Do In Ho Chi Minh City
1. Ho Chi Minh City Tour
Some of Saigon’s most popular landmarks can be reached by foot and just by walking around, you can visit a lot. If you wish to do this, we recommend that you bring water and umbrella to hydrate and protect yourself from the sun because walking around Ho Chi Minh City can be exhausting. Here are the tourist spots you can visit:
War Remnants Museum
MUST VISIT! From its name, the War Remnants Museum explains a lot about the Vietnam War and its aftermath. They have tons of photos and the you can also see the types of machinery used during the war. What’s really moving for me are the photos of the victims because you can truly see the innocence in their eyes. No one was saved and until now, some of the Vietnamese people still face the consequences of the Vietnam War.
Address: 28 Võ Văn Tần, Phường 6, Quận 3, Hồ Chí Minh 700000, Vietnam
Operating Hours: Open everyday, 7:30am–6pm
Entrance Fee: VND 40,000
Saigon Notre Dame Cathedral
Saigon Notre Dame Cathedral is a 15-minute walk from War Remnants Museum. It was under renovation when we visited and picture taking can only be done outside. Its beautiful Romanesque architecture was established by the French colonists between 1863 and it was completed on 1880.
Address: 01 Công xã Paris, Bến Nghé, Quận 1, Hồ Chí Minh, Vietnam
Operating Hours: Open everyday, 6am–8pm (might be affected during the construction)
Entrance Fee: None
Saigon Central Post Office
Built during the 19th century, Saigon Central Post Office was built during the French colonization and was constructed between 1886 to 1891. Now, it has become a tourist destination and you can buy pasalubong inside at a decent price. The post office is located beside the Saigon Notre Dame Cathedral.
Address: 2 Công xã Paris, Bến Nghé, Quận 1, Hồ Chí Minh 710009, Vietnam
Operating Hours: 7am–7pm
Entrance Fee: None
Ho Chi Minh City Hall (People's Committee of Ho Chi Minh City)
Also called as the Ho Chi Minh City People’s Committee, Ho Chi Minh or Saigon City Hall is just a few minutes walk away from the Notre Dame Cathedral. Tourists cannot go inside but you can take pictures outside of the French colonial style building. Its recommended to visit here at night when the lights are lit up.
Address: Số 86 Lê Thánh Tôn, Bến Nghé, Quận 1, Hồ Chí Minh 710212, Vietnam
Operating Hours: Monday-Friday, 7:30am–5pm (tourists cannot go inside so they can visit anytime)
Entrance Free: None
The Cafe Apartment
Calling out the coffee lovers out there because this is for YOU! The Cafe Apartment is home to numerous coffee shops and restaurants that will give you a taste of legit Vietnamese cuisine. One tip though before visiting here. Research first for the coffee shop or restaurant you want to try.
Visiting The Cafe Apartment for the first time without research can be very time consuming, confusing, and tiring because for sure, you’ll find it hard to choose the best restaurant to try. We got to experience the food in Downtown Steakhouse and Hanoi Day where we tried the famous Vietnamese coffee, egg coffee, and coconut coffee. Definitely a MUST TRY!
Address: 42 Nguyen Hue Street (Walking Street), Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam
Opening Hours: Open everyday, 8am–10pm
Entrance Fee: None
Other Tourist Spots To Visit in Saigon
Since you’re already in Ho Chi Minh City, might as well visit the following tourist spots.
- Independence Palace (Reunification Palace) – home and office of the President of South Vietnam during the Vietnam War, located near Ben Thanh Market
- Ho Chi Minh City Museum – learn more about the culture, traditions, history, and rise of Saigon during the old times (We went here and to be honest, you can skip this. Nothing much to see here)
- Ho Chi Minh City Museum of Fine Arts – features Vietnamese artworks, sculptures, paintings, etc.
- Bui Vien Street – also called the Backpackers’ street. Visit here around 11pm onwards if you want to party!
Did we miss something? Please let us know in the comments section so we can update this article!
2. Mekong Delta Tour
MUST VISIT! Your Saigon trip would not be complete if you will not visit the Mekong River. We got the Full Day Excursion To Mekong Delta tour from Klook, and it’s a tour with other activities. There’s an English-speaking guide who will explain to you the history of the tourist destination and some must know facts about Buddhism. Here’s what we visited while on the tour:
3. Cu Chi Tunnels
MUST VISIT! During the Vietnam war, thousands of Vietnamese dug and created a tunnel system to fight the Americans. The Cu Chi Tunnels has a distance of 250 kilometers (reaches up to Cambodia) and was only dug by hand with no machinery used. We availed the Cu Chi Tunnels Half Day Tour from Klook and here, we got to experience walking inside the Cu Chi Tunnels. Watch this 2-minute video below to get a glimpse of our experience:
Budget & Sample Itinerary
Whether it’s about food, accommodation, or buying pasalubong, Ho Chi Minh City has a lot of cheap finds. Your $200 would go far and you might still have spare money before you leave. Just be careful from those who would try to scam you; from people offering tours from the street or hawkers who would suggest taking you a picture and will end up selling you something for a bigger price.
Also, when shopping in Ben Thanh, do not buy from the first store immediately. Ask for the price first and use that as a basis if the next stall offers better or not. Here, you can buy a LOT from ref magnets, key chains, you know, the typical pasalubong stuff. We also bought a backpack (more of like class A) for only P200. Rattan bags which costs thousands in the Philippines can be bought at P400-P500 there.
When you arrive at the airport, you can exchange a few dollars there so you’ll have money while on you’re first day. Once you have checked in and everything’s settled, you can go to Ha Tam Jewelry (2 Nguyễn An Ninh, Phường Ben Thanh, District 1) to exchange the rest of your money. Their rates from USD to VND are pretty decent but please ask them for the exchange rate first. English is not spoken there so it’s better to counter check the rates in Google before giving your money.
Now that we have discussed the budget, here’s the 3-day itinerary that we followed during our stay in Saigon. After that, we went to Phnom Penh, Cambodia. If you’re looking to do the same thing and reach up to Bankok, Thailnd, you can read our Indochina Travel Guide for more tips.
Other Travel Tips in Ho Chi Minh City
You can also check out this video below to learn more about our Ho Chi Minh City experience.
Are You Ready for Ho Chi Minh City?
Now that we have discussed almost everything about Saigon or HCMC; from history, tourist destinations, budget, itinerary, sim cards and many more, you are now Ho Chi Minh-ready! You just got to book that flight and make it happen! But if you already have your flight, accommodation, and tours book, then wow, you are the best!
To be honest, staying in Ho Chi Minh City for 3 days is not enough to explore the whole city. There’s just so many things to do and so many activities to try. We haven’t even talked about food yet, right?
Overall, our trip to Saigon is one of the best that we did so far. It wasn’t just to get Instagrammable pictures. It was more than that. I learned more about their history and unique culture. With everything I saw and from the stories told, I truly respect their resiliency and admire their kindness to everyone. This makes Vietnam a country to be added in everyone’s bucketlist and Ho Chi Minh is the best city to start exploring.
*Keep in mind that we may receive commissions when you click our links and make purchases. However, this does not impact our reviews and comparisons. We try our best to keep things fair and balanced, in order to help you make the best choice for you.*