Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City) is an interesting place to visit, it feels quite modern and fast compared to a lot of Vietnam. People here seem to be busy catching up with the rest of the world.
The beautiful French architecture around the city makes up for the lack of old town. The Notre-Dame of Saigon, made entirely of materials imported from France, will transport you to Europe for a minute or two, while the wonderful neoclassical Saigon Central Post Office will bring you back to the most prosperous city in Vietnam.
Also if you haven’t yet, watch the film ‘Good morning Vietnam’ starring Robin Williams. It will help you understand the role Saigon played during the Vietnam war.
While exploring the city, also take a good look at the sheer amount of old buildings meeting the new. The District 1 will greet you with its skyscrapers soaring up to the sky next to derelict buildings full of fashion pop ups and vintage cafes. It’s quite a fascinating contrast of new and old.
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Arriving to Saigon
By Air: Saigon is easily reachable by air. Tan Son Nhat airport, the largest in Vietnam, is conveniently located about 8 km from the city centre.
The bus No. 152 will take you to the east end of the Pham Ngu Lao area. An additional charge of around 5000 VND ($0.23 USD) applies for your luggage. Make sure you have the exact change ready.
There are two pick up bus stops, one in front of the international terminal and the other one in front of the domestic terminal, you will need the latter. The last bus leaves the terminal at around 6pm.
You can also catch bus No.109, it’s more expensive than the No. 152. but the last bus leaves at around 1:30 am.
By bus: Futa Bus Lines is a good company to use when travelling by bus to Saigon from popular destinations such as Da Nang, Hue, Da Lat or Nha Trang. You can book a seat online or via your accommodation.
Once you get to Saigon, avoid taxis at the bus stations, if you can. The taxi drivers will rip you off. Simply walk out of the station on to the main road and catch a green taxi. We found the green taxis to be the best, they all have a meter running and throughout our trip around Vietnam, we never had any problems.
Da Lat to Saigon
If you are travelling to Saigon from Da Lat, we recommend a brief stop half way (4 hours) at Cat Tien National Park. After the visit, you will be able to arrange either a Futa or a local bus via your accommodation.
Avoid local mini vans. Even though they are way cheaper and will pick you up from your accommodation, the drivers are rather speedy. Unless you don’t mind a van full of goods over your head, sharing your seat with 2 other people, constant honking and dangerous and speedy driving.
Touristy mini vans/small busses are a much better option.
Where to stay in Saigon
On our arrival to Saigon, we had a place booked not far from the Backpacker district. However, we felt it was slightly distant from all the things we wanted to see in the city. So we made a decision to move more central, to the financial district.
We found the apartment on Airbnb (click on the link to have $20 free credit on us!), conveniently located in the ‘Wall Street’ of Saigon. Minh, our host, was very welcoming and accommodating. He met us at the cafe in the neighbouring building and showed us to our room.
It’s a comfortable, spacious and tastefully decorated studio flat, with a few funky details. I really liked the feature of the tall chairs by the window, it felt like having my own coffee corner. Sofa was also something we haven’t had for ages so it was a nice change.
The space itself is really cool and we felt very at home here. The bed was very comfortable and the bedding was very nice compared to the nylon covers in the previous place. Towels were fluffy, clean and soft.
The kitchen area is downstairs in a separate little room. It was well equipped for us to use. The fridge was stocked up with cans of beer, always handy. The drinking water was free, definitely a bonus. Minh seemed to have thought about everything, there were umbrellas, usb cables and other useful stuff we could borrow during our stay.
Across the alleyway, the neighbouring derelict building houses 2 hidden cafes and a few pop up fashion shops. Have a nose around.
5 iconic buildings you should visit in Saigon
These 5 gorgeous buildings should make to the top of your ‘things to see in Saigon’ list. All are easy to find as they are centrally located.
1. Saigon Skydeck
Right in the heart of the financial district, the Bitexco Financial Tower houses the 360 degree viewing platform – Saigon Skydeck. The glass tower is an impressive piece of modern architecture sticking out way above the other buildings in the area.
Go there just before sunset to catch the views in the daylight and in the dark. The entrance to the tower costs around $9 per person.
2. Saigon Opera House
Restored in 1995 the Saigon Opera House (Ho Chi Minh Municipal Theater) is a beautiful structure and a fine example of the French Colonial architecture in Vietnam. If you have time and budget, pretend you are in Vienna and watch a current performance.
3. Saigon Central Post Office
We were hugely impressed with the striking yellow structure of Saigon Central Post Office. Designed by the famous Frenchman Gustav Eiffel (of tower fame), constructed in the late 19th century the building is a must visit sight.
Do wander inside to admire the beautiful interior of the building, have a seat and soak in the atmosphere.
4. Saigon Notre-Dame Basilica
Across the road from the Post office, you can’t miss the Saigon Notre-Dame Basilica, constructed between 1863 and 1880. It stands tall and proud in the middle of the main road not minding the crazy traffic at all. An interesting fact is that the cathedral foundation was designed to carry 10 times the weight of the cathedral.
While you are wondering around the cathedral, pop into the tree shaded promenade of book stores and cafes parallel to it (on your right hand side walking away from the Post office, just past McDonalds).
It’s a nice and tranquil spot for a brief stroll, a coffee or some light reading.
5. Binh Tay Market (Chợ Bến Thành)
You will find this iconic building in District 6 on Thap Muoi Street (Đường Tháp Mười). The architecture is gorgeous with its smooth pale yellow facade.
It wasn’t too crazy inside on our arrival (June), but this must be due to the low season. The market is predominantly wholesale, but souvenir, clothing and food stalls are also available. It’s notorious for high prices so bargain hard.
The 5 iconic buildings of Saigon on Google Maps:
Hidden cafes in Saigon
There’s plenty of choice for coffee in Saigon, from local hidden cafes to modern spacious coffee shops and even Starbucks. Personally to me, local cafes are the most interesting. If you have a chance, simply stop at any local tiny cafe and sit with the locals. We loved it, the local chaps were friendly and a pint of ice coffee cost me just $0.40.
As you take a stroll along the ‘Walking Street’, pop into one of the old apartment buildings on your right hand side (when facing the Town Hall). The building is hard to miss as it has neon signs, lanterns and also lights up in the dark. Climb the staircase right to the top floor following the Boo Coffee signs on the walls. You can also take a lift as it’s quite a climb.
Boo Cafe is a funky little place overlooking the Walking Street, which looks very cool in the dark. The signature drink of the cafe is the candy floss ice tea. The tea itself is lovely and reminded us of Thai tea, but beware the candy floss can be messy. It melts too fast in the humidity!
Apart from traditional coffee they also sell a gimmicky Matcha Latte as well as other refreshing drinks.
Mockingbird Coffee Shop
We stumbled upon the Mockingbird Coffee Shop only because we lived across the alleyway. Again, housed in a derelict feeling building, the cafe adopted a vintage style like many arty coffee spots in Saigon.
They make quite nice hot ham & cheese sarnies and happily made a cheese only sandwich for me. When ordering coffee here, make sure you specify whether you want hot or cold drink. If you don’t, you will receive iced drink which is a standard choice as oppose to hot coffee.
The cafe is located on the 4th floor. There’s no lift in the building, but the climb is not too strenuous. There are lots of fashion and arty pop up shops along the way, so have a nose around.
Boo Coffee and Mockingbird Coffee Shop on Google Maps:
Where to find great smoothies in Saigon
Just round the corner from the famous backpacker street you will find a place called Papa Garden. It’s a very chic air-conditioned juice bar/cafe with plenty of seats. Although we didn’t find Saigon to be too hot, it was nice to enjoy our morning smoothies in a cool place.
The place serves all sorts of smoothies, from the Luminous Bliss made from mango, passion fruit, yogurt and cardamon to the refreshing Unstoppable made from strawberry, banana, apple and yogurt.
The coffee here is also nice, although it had a tad too much condensed milk, I still enjoyed the flavour.
Papa Garden on Google Maps:
Where to eat
It really depends on your taste, how long you’ve been travelling around Vietnam and how much you’ve missed comforting food. There are plenty of high end and western restaurants in Saigon, or simple carts selling Banh Mi by the road.
We try to mix it up. One day we eat locally, the next day we will try a little more expensive option and on the third and fourth we might venture into a western food serving restaurant.
If you are looking for a cheaper option, the sandwiches are usually under a dollar, but mind you sometimes they can be quite small.
Quán “Ngói” – funky restaurant with a rooftop terrace
We stumbled upon this restaurant with a rooftop terrace on our first night in Saigon. There is no English version of the menu so we struggled a little. The waitress though was very helpful and tried to explain what the dishes were.
The tables and chairs are a little squished in, but the atmosphere is quite chilled. This was Charlie’s top restaurant. He said the meat fresh from the hotplate on the table was excellent.
Nhu Lan – Vietnamese street food
Nhu Lan turned out to be one of our favourite places to come for lunch or even dinner sometimes. The food here is simple and delicious. The Pho Ga (chicken noodle soup) here is really nice served with plenty of chicken, fresh basil and sprout. Try their smoothies, they are really good.
The place is always busy on weekdays during lunch time, but there are plenty of seats. We never struggled to find one. Around the restaurant, there are lots of snack stalls where you can purchase baguettes and other various snacks. Look out for grilled banana with sticky rice. It comes wrapped in a banana leaf, accompanied with coconut milk and peanuts. Smelled just like peanut butter. Delicious.
Uptown District Banh Mi Express – sandwiches
Uptown District Banh Mi Express is a cute sandwich shop located in the financial district of Saigon. It’s a cosy little shop with a sandwich bar and a few seats at the back. The Bahn Mi (sandwiches) here are freshly made, tasty and reasonably priced.
I really liked the relaxed atmosphere. You can have your sandwich in or have it wrapped to take away. The shop is closed on weekends.
! This place is not marked on the Google Maps originally, so the location on the map below is approximate.
Baba’s Kitchen – best Indian in town
Not a Vietnamese fusion, but if you feel like having a good quality Indian food, head to Baba’s Kitchen in the backpacker district. The food here is more than great and the service is excellent. The staff are very friendly and attentive. We really enjoyed our visit to this restaurant and ironically even came back here to cheer our final night in Vietnam.
Ngoc Chau Garden – Home Cooked Vietnamese Restaurant
Authentic Ngoc Chau Garden is a nice place to indulge in traditional Vietnamese cuisine. We had a selection of food which was well prepared and beautifully served. We found the menu a little confusing though.
It’s not the cheapest place to come for food if you are on the budget, but the overall experience was very pleasant.
Hun Khoi BBQ restaurant
You will find quite a few pub-ish looking places in the financial district. The one we popped in was a mix of a traditional wooden interior and flashy neon lights. It was empty when we walked in, but soon after the working hours the place was buzzing with the office workers having a social meal and a pint.
The food at Hun Khoi BBQ is quite decent. Charlie enjoyed his beef burger and I loved the boneless chicken wings with Chilli Sambal. The Sambal sauce was beautiful. The food is BBQ’ed outside the restaurant on the street by a few skilful local guys.
Kichi-Kichi – hot pot chain restaurant
Kichi-Kichi is like a Sushi bar but with a hot pot. You get lots of veg, raw meat, fish and tofu on a conveyor belt and then cook it in your own hot pot. Not cheap, but good fun. The meat is served frozen and cooks very quickly in the boiling pot. The clams were beautiful and well recommended!
Food places on Google Maps:
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