Ho Chi Minh City is one of the top travel destinations in Southeast Asia. Last year, it attracted more than 5 million foreign tourist arrivals in addition to a staggering 21.8 million local visits.
What makes Ho Chi Minh City so popular? Ho Chi Minh City, or Saigon, is a food city that boasts many historical landmarks, a vibrant nightlife, and of course, a rich and unique culture. If it’s your first time in Ho Chi Minh City, you’ll find out there is a whole new world to discover in the city. There are iconic attractions and museums to visit, churches and temples to pay homage to, hole-in-the-wall eateries and restaurants to try, shopping malls and local markets to explore, as well as bars, clubs, and lounges that offer the best nightlife experiences.
And yet, even if you stayed for weeks or months on end, there are plenty of activities to experience. You’ll stumble upon hidden gems that are off the tourist trail. You can do stuff that locals love to do and come across lesser-known sights in the city. And because Ho Chi Minh City is strategically located, you can even embark on day trips and sightseeing tours to attractions on the outskirts or just several hours from the city.
So if you’re looking to add more activities to your Ho Chi Minh City, here are 5 amazing experiences you should try.
Head to Chinatown
Located in District 5 in Ho Chi Minh City, Cholon is considered the largest Chinatown in Vietnam. This place is full off character and boasts traditional tea houses, a sprawling local market called Binh Tay market, old shops, and colonial-era architecture.
Bustling with activity, this is one of the less touristy areas in the city. It is easy to spend a few hours in Cholon even without having anything planned. For a more authentic Cholon experience, wander aimlessly, explore the alleys and lanes, and observe the locals go about their daily lives.
Join a Food Tour
Food is an integral aspect of the Vietnamese culture. The locals take pride in the local cuisine and if you’ve been to Vietnam, you will understand why. In Ho Chi Minh City, the food culture is what primarily draws millions of tourists every year. The city is laden with street food hawkers and the food is fresh and amazing.
If you want to fully immerse yourself in the local food culture in Siagon, join a culinary tour that will introduce you to the best local dishes and delicacies. A must-do during your trip to Vietnam is a foodie scouter tour. By taking the foodie tour by scooter, you will get acquainted with the flavours and sights of Saigon in no time at all. You will be driven around Ho Chi Minh City past iconic landmarks on a food journey that may just be the highlight of your Saigon adventure. Or you can opt for a guided walking tour that includes stops at a local market and different food stalls – a great way to discover the local food culture!
If you are not pressed for time, you can also join a hands-on cooking class. Guided by a local Vietnamese chef, learn the essentials of Vietnamese cooking and prepare traditional dishes like pho, goi cuon, banh kot, and banh mi.
Go on a mini-religious tour
If you love visiting religious buildings during your travels, you are in luck because Ho Chi Minh City has many cathedrals, temples, and pagodas.
Usually on top of travellers’ must-visit religious building in Saigon is the Notre Dame Cathedral, a spectacular structure that commands attention. Located in the heart of the city, the cathedral is a classic example of French Colonial architectural style. Another religious structure worth visiting is the Mariamman Temple, frequented by Tamil Hindus. The temple, located very near the famous Ben Thanh market and built in the late 19th century, is the only Hindu Temple in Ho Chi Minh City. The colourful building exterior features intricate architecture and is adorned with ornate statues of Hindu deities like Mariamman and Vishnu, among others.
Saigon also has a number of pagodas, most of them places of worship for the Chinese Buddhists and Taoists in the city. In Chinatown, there are 3 pagodas you can visit – the Thien Hau Pagoda, Jade Emperor Pagoda, and the Nghia An Hoi Quan Pagoda.
The 100-year-old Jade Emperor Pagoda is also called the Tortoise Pagoda. Since the ancient times, the Chinese have always believed that turtles are heaven-sent and that having one in your home protects your whole family from harm. Worshippers at the temple buy turtles to release them in the tortoise pond within the complex.
Although not exactly within Ho Chi Minh City, the Cao Dai Temple is a must-visit attraction for those holidaying in the Vietnamese capital. Located about 100 kilometres from Ho Chi Minh City, Cao Dai Temple services believers of caodaism. Adherents to this monotheistic religion believe that people should be tolerant of others, regardless of religion. They promote nonviolence and vegetarianism and have beliefs with roots from other religions.
Embark on a Mekong Delta Day Trip
Just a few hours away from Saigon is the Mekong Delta, the river that’s considered the lifeline of the region. On board a motorboat that skillfully navigates the undulating rivers and expansive rice paddies of the Mekong Delta, it is easy to get enchanted by the profoundly magnificent views you will experience. You will pass by many traditional villages during your trip so be sure to capture the pristine beauty of rural Vietnam in photos.
A tour of the Mekong Delta usually comes with a visit to the famous Cu Chi Tunnels. The elaborate underground network of tunnels was used by the Viet Cong as base of operations and hiding places during the Vietnam War. Visit the tunnels and learn about Vietnam’s long and complex war history.
Spend a day in Phu Quoc Island
Vietnam has all sorts of sights and attractions and one of them is Phu Quoc Island, a paradise a few hours away from from Ho Chi Minh City. Located in the Gulf of Thailand, this slice of tropical heaven promises gorgeous scenery and so much more.
Spend a lovely day in Phu Quoc and discover a more relaxing and peaceful side of Vietnam. The island features many different attractions, from stunning beaches to a national park, pepper farms, and even wine and fish sauce factories. During your trip, you can also engage in many activities like hiking, shopping, and wildlife encounters, to name a few.
Preparing your itinerary for your Ho Chi Minh City trip? Here are some amazing Saigon experiences you should consider.
By: Brendelyn Balaga