It’s a dry and hot weekday morning and you’ve just landed at Tan Son Nhat International Airport in Saigon and your next flight is over 24 hours later, or maybe you’re just here for a quick day trip. How are you going to spend your day in this city?
If you manage your time well, you can have a pretty eventful day trying new dishes, bargaining great deals at a traditional market, visiting colonial buildings, museums and pagodas, and finally sampling the nightlife. You may even have time to venture beyond district 1, which is where you’ll probably spend the most time, to explore more sights. Here is our little guide on how you can spend your 24 hours in Saigon.
Best ways to go around Ho Chi Minh City
The great thing about Saigon is that unlike most other cities, the airport in Saigon is actually in Saigon (at least for now). Once you reach the city center from the airport, which would take you about 35 minutes, you will need to decide how to go from one activity to the other.
If you can stand the heat and are in good shape, you can probably just walk. Unlike many other cities in Southeast Asia, there are large sidewalks in the city and the streets are rather clean and safe but always practise caution, especially during rush hours when you get vehicles mounting the sidewalks to break away from the jams. Crossing the roads may also be a life-changing experience for someone not used to the intensity and chaos of the traffic here but don’t worry, just avoid making these mistakes.
If you prefer a more comfortable way to go around, you can hire taxis for a very affordable price (usually about 1 dollar for a 5 minute ride). Vinasun (White) and Mailinh (Green) are your best choices. Note that the more common 7-seater cars are slightly more expensive than the 5-seater sedans.
Alternatively, you can use Uber or Grab, which allow you to set the destination for a fixed price, which is usually cheaper than regular taxis unless there’s a price surge. The advantage of this is you get to bypass any communication issues you may encounter with a regular taxi driver.
If you’re not afraid of two-wheelers, you can zoom around on a motorbike taxi also called xe om, which is generally faster than cars but a little tricky to recognize because they don't always have a distinctive sign. Or, you can use the motorbike variants of Grab and Uber: GrabBike and UberMoto.
Vietnamese cuisine is one of the best in the World and you can find plenty of options on the streets. For about US$1-2 you can enjoy Saigon’s most popular dishes such as com tam or hu tieu. Of course, there’s alsopho, bot chien, and many others. If you like eating while on the go, you can get a banh mi, a Vietnamese sandwich that you will probably rave about to your friends back home. And of course, don’t forget to get coffee. Vietnam has a huge coffee culture. Get a ca phe sua da (iced coffee with condensed milk) or if you’re feeling adventurous, ca phe da (iced black coffee). Those things are potent.
Once you’re well caffeinated, make your way to Chinatown in District 5 to see the old Saigon. Wander the streets and alleyways until you end up at Cho Lon Market. Sure, Ben Thanh Market is mentioned in every guidebook, but you can’t beat the hidden gems at local prices at Cho Lon.
War Remnants Museum
After you’ve navigated your way through the market, head to the War Remnants Museum. Once known as the Museum of Chinese and American War crimes, this museum documents the brutality of war. The visuals over there can be pretty jarring for some but it really is all just a matter of perspective.
By this time, your feet may be a little sore. Pamper yourself by going into any of the nearby spas and relax with a foot massage. They’re cheap and well worth the time to sit back and take refuge from the heat.
Fine Vietnamese Dining.
You may have tried street food earlier, now explore the other side of the spectrum – fine dining. Saigon has plenty of fine-dining establishments with a wide range of cuisines available and since you’re here, why not try Vietnamese food in a fine-dining setting?
Experience Saigon Nightlife
After dinner, see Saigon from one of the many rooftop bars. If you’re looking for a good conversation, Level 23 at Sheraton is a good bet, but if you like music, check out Chill Skybar or for a more relaxing time, The Lighthouse or Broma. If you’re looking for a clubbing experience, Lush would be a good bet.