Nothing can compare with the charm of a river tour – to hear the waves lapping with a drink in hand and a cool breeze on your skin. Even if you’re on a budget, there are options, and if you have money to spend, this is one activity we highly recommend you splurge on. The more reputable companies offer amazing dinner and drinks packages, and on boats you have to see to believe. We love the range of views you get from the river as well, from the skyscrapers of downtown to the lush jungle foliage mere minutes up the river. This is a very cool way to see this city.
Saigon Notre-Dame Cathedral
If you only have one day in Ho Chi Minh City
, make time to visit this building. The elegance of this area is something to see, especially next to the colossal trees in 30-4 Park and the colonial post office next door. The cathedral itself was built in the late 19th century, with materials imported from France, and offers a beautiful glimpse of a bygone era in this historic city. And since this cathedral is walking distance from the next item on this list, you can fit a lot of sightseeing into one afternoon.
For history buffs, the Independence Palace, also known as the Reunification Palace, is an absolute must. This is the site of those famous images of tanks crashing through gates during the Fall of Saigon
in 1975. Aside from the stunning grounds and impressive architecture, the inside of this building almost feels like you’ve gone back in time. You can see where the southern government operated the executive branch during the Vietnam War – even the bomb bunker in the basement, where the maps still hang on the walls.
Nguyen Hue Walking Street
Alright, so you’ve had a somber visit to the War Remnants Museum, now it’s time to lift your spirits again. For one of the best looks at social and dating life in Ho Chi Minh City
, head to Nguyen Hue Walking Street. Here you’ll see families enjoying time together and young couples chatting away, taking more selfies than you ever imagined possible. This is a scene to behold at night, when thousands of people come to mingle and enjoy a cool, downtown evening, surrounded by some impressive architecture: the looming Bitexco Tower, the wall of cafes at 42 Nguyen Hue, the statue of Ho Chi Minh and even the old colonial city hall.
Despite the massive influx of new vehicles, Vietnam is still a motorbike nation – so get out of the taxi and onto two wheels. There’s no other way to really feel the manic vitality of this mega city – and no other feeling can quite match the raw adrenaline of flowing along in crazy traffic. But driving in Saigon is also lethally dangerous, so let the professionals do it for you. There’s many tour companies with experienced drivers who are also fluent in English. You could head out on your own, but we highly recommend you let someone else drive until you understand how the traffic flows here.
Drinks with a view
If you find that the streets are too hectic for your liking, escape the madness by elevating your evening. There are so many excellent rooftop bars, so you’ll probably have a hard time deciding. If you’re in the backpackers area and don’t want to stray too far, The View is exactly as advertised. But if you have some extra money to spend and want one of the best experiences in the city, check out EON51 in the landmark Bitexco Tower. To see most of the better options, go to this article and check out the section on rooftop bars.
Bui Vien Street
When the night is winding down and the respectable places are shoving you out the door, you’re just in time for the peak weirdness of Bui Vien. This notorious stretch of lewd behavior never shuts down, and even if you want nothing to do with the seedier aspects of Bui Vien, this street is a sensory overload that’s worth taking in at least once. There are fire breathers, strange foods, sidewalk bars, dubious massage parlors, beady-eyed “friends”, gangsters and enough bars to keep you hopping all night long. Keep your phones and cameras in safe places, though, as this is also the petty crime capital of Vietnam.