Pinay Traveller checking out the Cuchi Tunnels in Siagon.
Asia | Food, Entertainment and Culture | Vietnam

TOP 10 THINGS TO DO IN VIETNAM (or How to Enjoy Saigon in 3 Days)

January 27, 2010

Before setting out for this trip, I did so much research online on things that Hubby and I can do in Ho Chi Minh City (still called ‘Saigon’ by the Vietnamese) for a very limited 3 days and 3 nights. I even joined the Vietnam Group of Couchsurfers.com just so I can get a grasp of what locals consider their Top 10 Things To Do in HCMC. But in the end, nothing beats actual experience. So despite the many travel tips and friendly advise given by well-meaning folks, we ended up discovering the Vietnamese capital on our own. So here is our version of the Top 10 Things To Do in Vietnam.

1. Eat Pho.

The Vietnamese concoction of rice noodles, chicken, pork or beef meat, various herbs and sprouts in deep bowls filled to the brim with delicious broth is surprisingly filling, and to my delight, healthy! I never thought I could eat so much Pho in my life! I’ve had it for breakfast (which in my opinion is the best time to eat it), lunch and dinner. I’ve had it in the comforts of our hotel’s restaurant; along the famous Backpackers Street while perched precariously on a stool beside a makeshift noodle stall; and inside Ben Tanh Market, slurping the hot soup among locals. A regular bowl costs about 15-20,000 dong or roughly $1 and is served with a plateful of mint herb and sprigs of spring onion. Drink with a refreshing glass of iced jasmine tea and burp with delight.

 

2. Ride a boat down the Mekong Delta…

…but book a tour through a trusted tour agency. They will take care of everything and even include lunch and a couple of food-tasting sessions for a whole-day tour. We booked our tour online two weeks prior to our trip through Sinh Café. The nice thing about Sinh Café is that they don’t ask for your credit card information. Just confirm the booking and make sure you show up and pay the fee 15 minutes before the tour.

 

Boat ride along the Mekong Delta

The Mekong Delta (Vietnamese: đồng bằng sông Cửu Long “Nine Dragon river delta”) is the region in southwestern Vietnam where the Mekong River approaches and empties into the sea through a network of distributaries.  Source.

 

Exploring Phoenix Island

A trip to the Mekong Delta will give you a glimpse of how village life revolves around the river.  Definitely a must-do for students of life.

3. Drink coffee by the roadside.

One of the most gratifying experiences I’ve had during the trip is sitting on one of those plastic stools, sipping hot but extremely sweet coffee, while watching the early morning activities unfold right before my eyes.

The minute you set foot in Saigon, the first thing you’ll notice is the hordes of motorcycles that crowd downtown. The second is the countless number of coffee shops lined up along the streets and roadsides. The Vietnamese love sharing a glass (yup, they serve coffee, hot or cold, in glasses not cups) with their friends. They brew their coffee using stainless coffee filters called phin, a traditional technique passed on to them by the French. You can also enjoy your cup laced with condensed milk and filled with ice.

Iced coffee by the roadside beats Starbucks anytime.

 

4. Walk to everywhere.

Saigon is a small city and to truly appreciate it, just slip into your most comfortable walking shoes and explore it by foot. Hidden in its little nooks and crannies are shops just waiting to be discovered.

5. Appreciate the beautiful French architecture of the Notre Dame Cathedral, Post Office and many old townhouses.

In the mid to late 19th century, Vietnam was colonized by the French. From them the Vietnamese inherited the beautiful architecture sprinkled all over Saigon. The Central Post Office was designed and constructed by the great Gustav Eiffel in the late 20th century and is one of Vietnam’s pride and joy. It’s also a stone’s throw away from the Notre Dame Cathedral, another structure built by the French.

 

The Notre Dame Cathedral

 

 

Interior of the Central Post Office

 

Beautiful tiles.

 

6. Cross the street despite the motorcycles.

It is easy to get intimidated by the motorcycles coming right at you at any given time of the day. But they are relatively harmless as long as you cross the street with confidence. Here’s the trick: cross the street in slow motion. There’s a greater chance that you will get run over if you sprint your way to the other side of the street. Walking slowly allows the bikers to slow down and thus, maneuver their way easier around you. It takes a while to shrug off the fear but once you’ve done a couple of successful crossings, you will be walking the streets of Saigon like a local pedestrian in no time.

Motorbikes all over!

7. Squat-walk a few meters inside the Cu Chi Tunnels.

But if you’re claustrophobic, forget it! The Cu Chi Tunnels, which was for a time the home and base of operations of the Viet Congs, are so small that spending a few minutes inside may render you breathless. So if you’re not fond of narrow spaces, just enjoy the Cu Chi Tunnels tour from above ground.

Trying it out

The tunnels of Củ Chi are an immense network of connecting underground tunnels located in the Củ Chi district of Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon), Vietnam, and are part of a much larger network of tunnels that underlie much of the country. The Củ Chi tunnels were the location of several military campaigns during the Vietnam War, and were the Viet Cong’s base of operations for the Tết Offensive in 1968. Source.

A guide demonstrating how the Viet Cong traps work.

 

Entrance to the tunnel. Looks like a bottomless pit.

 

8. Visit the War Remnants Museum.

You can’t pass this one up. But be prepared for an emotional experience. Let’s put it this way… if the War Remnants Museum was given another name, it would be this: the Look-At-What-The-War-Has-Done-To-Vietnam Museum.

Definitely not for the faint of heart, the exhibits scattered all over the building’s four floors let one get a glimpse of how gruesome war can be. But please, keep your eyes and mind open as the exhibits project very anti-American sentiments.

 

9. Drink snake-laced gin.

From the moment he set eyes on them, Hubby, who always loves a good drink, was instantly mesmerized by the bottles of gin filled with angry-looking snakes (I brought home a couple of bottles from my last two trips). That’s why drinking at least a jigger of the evil-looking concoction ended up on his Vietnam to-do list.

Gin tonic with snake, anyone?

 

10. Support the local entrepreneurs…buy local products.

Vietnam has a wide variety of products—beautiful embroidered linens, intricately hand-woven fabrics from indigenous tribes, lacquered bowls and trays, handcrafted souvenirs and a whole universe of candies, biscuits, tea and coffee products. It will be a shame if you can’t bring home any one of these. Understandably, tourists are often intimidated to shop for souvenirs especially since haggling can be so stressful. That’s why I suggest that you stay away from Ben Tanh Market. I know, I know… Ben Tanh is often on the list of must-visits but you don’t need to blow all your money there. There are smaller shops that offer the same prices, if not cheaper. If you’re staying for a couple of days, window-shop first to find out where you can get the best deal.

 

Sampling the local products.

Saigon is a wonderful, developing city electric with rapid changes. And no matter how many times I’ve been there, it seems that there’s always something new to see and discover.

For more information, you can read the comments section below. If you like this post, please share it with your friends! And if you haven’t yet, follow me on Twitter and Facebook!

[su_button url=”https://www.facebook.com/PinayTraveller/” target=”blank”]Like Pinay Traveller on Facebook![/su_button]

  1. you forgot our favorite restaurant ” COM TAM 77″ @ 77 Bui Vien Quan I. Their grilled pork is to die for!! also the roadside sandwiches along backpacker st.

  2. Really helpful! 🙂 Okay, I’m bookmarking it (well, more clicking the “like” button) since Peejo and I plan to do Cambodia next year, but fly in from Saigon. I doubt if I can do the tunnels though. My claustrophobia is kicking in, just looking at the photos.

    1. hey mabel! saigon is something else. and it’s so cheap! i’m sure you’ll like it there. as for the tunnels, maikli lang siya. you won’t have time to be claustrophobic haha!

  3. thanks for this post. will try some of those interesting things you listed. where did you stay? any hotel recom please?

    thanks in advance

  4. Hey mabes, hmmm good question. It was okay (the hotel) I guess. Nothing fancy and very basic. If you’re particular about the bathroom, I wouldn’t recommend it, though. They don’t have seperate cubicles for the toilet and bath.:( As for the flight, we came in around 2am, if I remember correctly. So we had to pay for one night in the hotel. But if you’re willing to kill a little time in the airport, pwede rin naman and just check in at 10am.:)

  5. Your blog is great…. love it… very detailed and photos are great… We are staying at the Saigon Mini Hotel5 at this moment… Will start exploring by foot tomorrow and we are actually moving to NN99 Hotel.tomorrow as well.. at 99 Bui Vien.. Very clean and Very nice room…. bigger bed and new building…. love it the decor is very chic… check it out…Definitely nicer than the Saigon Mini Hotel 5. As well there are so many cheaper rooms here, if you just walk around the area and check the rooms… they will let you look at it before booking a room, you will see alot of new building poping up all the time… and ya… they are catering for the tourist and backpackers… its definitely dirt cheap here… but yes crowded and noisy… but its worth the experience…. Thanks again for a great Blog….

  6. Hi Tessa, thank you for your kind words. And thanks for the tip about NN99 hotel. Will check it out next time. Enjoy your stay in Saigon. It’s a lovely city! Happy travels!

  7. Hi Cee,

    Really? I haven’t heard of that issue but thanks for the info. In any case, the only way to know that it’s the real Sinh Cafe is if they don’t make you pay online. You only pay the fees once you get to their office.:) Here’s Sinh Cafe’s contact info:

    TheSinh Tourist Head Office
    (Formerly well-known as Sinh Cafe)
    Add: 246-248 De Tham St., Dist. 1, HCM City , Vietnam
    Tel: 0084 8 8369420 – 8376833 – 8367338 Fax: 0084 8 8369322
    Hot Line: 0084 8 38389597
    Email: nhithb@thesinhtourist.vn
    Website : http://www.thesinhtourist.vn

    Hope this helps. Happy travels! 🙂

    1. Hi Pol, I was able to book and pay online with the sinh tourist/cafe and it was the real thing. showed my eticket at the de tham office (same address) when i checked in before the trip and it was all good 🙂

      1. Hey Mabes. That’s good. When we went there 2 years ago so, they really didn’t accept online transactions (maybe their system wasn’t set up yet). At least now it’s more convenient for travellers.:) Where did you go pala?

  8. wow that’s nice. so i can actually book online without having to give out cc details. i checked their site.. did you avail of their city tour as well? did you also stay overnight at mekong delta?

    sorry to bother you with lots of questions 🙂 thanks again

  9. hi cee, we did the half day city tour only because we didn’t want to get hassled with commuting from place to place. for the mekong delta, we just did the day tour.:) no problem with the questions. i’m happy to help! have fun! 🙂

  10. great info! Beautiful site! I will be spending 2 weeks in Vietnam in April…starting in Hanoi and heading to Saigon. May I ask what you wore while there. I am from Florida so am used to humid heat, but want I know i can’t wander around in my bathing suit like I can at home:0) Are skirts and shorts at knee length acceptable? I know women must cover their legs to enter some places. Does that mean ankle length or calf? Any info would be appreciated. I plan to only have my backpack, so trying to make do on just a few things.
    The trip up on the Mekong sounds like a must do!

    1. Hi there! I’m glad you’re going to Vietnam.:) April will definitely be hot. For the city, calf-length shorts and skirts are acceptable anywhere. For temples, though, some might ask you to remove your footwear upon entering. For the more rural areas, bring cotton pajamas or genie pants if you can (everybody wears them).:) Sleeveless shirts are okay, too, but make sure to bring a shawl for a quick cover-up when the situation calls for it. Have fun in Vietnam and make sure to eat lots of noodles!

  11. hi! i will be going to saigon . was wondering if you know of any door to door delivery from Saigon to Manila for balikbayan boxes? want to buy lacquer, etc, but don’t want to carry them around with me…help!

  12. Hi Anna! You can try Fedex or DHL. They have branches in Saigon/HCMC. But to save money (I mean if this is what you want) I suggest you just ask your hotel to keep your box in their storage or luggage room until you’re ready to leave. 🙂 Good luck!

  13. thanks for sharing this Pol 🙂
    suddenly, i remembered how walking on the streets of Saigon brought me to some of the places you already mentioned, also to La Fenetre Soleil, an eclectic Parisian style restaurant tucked just around the corner and to the
    Fine Arts Museum. i also enjoyed stopping by the roadside to get a booze of their famous coffee, pho and sweet soup 🙂
    i hope to be back there!

    1. Hi Lani, sad to say I missed La Fenetre Soleil last time I was there (a couple of weeks ago). Maybe next time.:) Vietnamese coffee is famous for a reason– it’s one of the best I’ve tasted in all my travels. Sarap talaga! I got a kilo of their local beans and that’s what I’ve been drinking every morning for the past 2 weeks. My supply is running out! *panics*

  14. hi, i just found out im pregnant so i will be arnd 4months when we get to hcmc.

    i have crossed out the cu chi tunnels fr my list. but do u think i can still do the mekong river tour?

    and we are looking at a boutique hotel which is about 15mins from city center. ok lang ba yun or will we be losing out due to the travel time?

    1. Hi Andie!

      Wow, congratulations!

      I think you can do most of the activities from this list, even the Cu Chi Tunnels tour. You can skip walking through the tunnels but that’s just one small portion of the tour. The rest of the activities are done above ground (like the demonstration of the VC traps, the reconstruction of the camps etc).
      As for the Mekong River tour, the only “balancing act” that you need to do is when you go on the small paddle boats. But it’s pretty safe and there will be lots of people assisting you.

      Re: your hotel, 15 minutes from the city center is not so bad. Taxis are available 24 hours and it’s not so expensive. Traffic is bad lang naman during rush hour because of all those MOTORCYCLES 🙂 But I noticed that cab drivers are already experts when it comes to navigating their way around those bikes.

      As for night life, I haven’t really gone to any night markets. The only thing we’ve really done at night was to have wonderful dinners and maybe have a couple of beers (which you cannot do pala;) ). And to be honest, I’d really rather sleep by 9pm hahaha.

      Enjoy your trip! Ingat!

      1. thanks for the comprehensive answer!!

        i had so many reservations about ‘moving around’ so i’m very happy to hear that i dont have to worry naman pala.

        thanks also for mentioning the sinh cafe. i almost booked with other travel organizers which charged as much as US75/pax for the cu chi tunnels tour! thanks to you, we were not ripped off. =)

        thanks thanks! i’m getting excited by the day!

        1. $75?!!! Grrrr… That’s why it really pays to do a little research before committing to anything.:) Hey, it’s my pleasure to help. I’m sure you’ll love HCMC. Happy travels!

  15. Hi,

    Can you please recommend a family package tour (normal/budget) to Halong bay (2days/1night) that we can get when we are already in Saigon or before arriving Saigon. I will go with my wife and 2 daughters (teenagers) this coming September. Thanks

    Davie

    1. Hi Dave!

      I can only recommend the travel agency I’ve tried which is Sinh Cafe. Please visit their website (above). They have tour packages for almost any destination in Vietnam. Their Ha Long Bay day tour is just USD29/person (with lunch). But if you find something cheaper, please tell us about it!

      How do you plan to go to Hanoi? By train or by plane?

      By the way, your family will love Ha Long Bay. It’s quite a sublime experience.:)

      Have fun!

      Pauline

  16. Hello there, I just read your blog . I just wonder if the Saigon have a mall or like our divisoria here in Manila to buy some souvenirs which is Mura din ☺

  17. This is really really helpful! 🙂 I got more excited when I saw your blog. 🙂

    My boyfriend and I are going to Vietnam this September, I would just like to ask, how much did you pay for your mekong delta tour? 🙂

    1. Hi Marty,

      I don’t remember anymore. 🙁 Sorry! But I think it was relatively cheaper than the others (otherwise, I wouldn’t have booked it haha). Check out the website to see the prices:

      TheSinh Tourist Head Office
      (Formerly well-known as Sinh Cafe)
      Add: 246-248 De Tham St., Dist. 1, HCM City , Vietnam
      Tel: 0084 8 8369420 – 8376833 – 8367338 Fax: 0084 8 8369322
      Hot Line: 0084 8 38389597
      Email: nhithb@thesinhtourist.vn
      Website : http://www.thesinhtourist.vn

  18. we’re going to vietnam nxt year and we’re planning to buy some stuffs.
    do you know where to get balikbayan boxes? and do u have idea if travellers are allowed to use balikbayan boxes or is it only for ofw? we just want to save from customs fee…

    1. Hi Zendy, I don’t really know about the balikbayan boxes. But if you’re bringing in a lot of brand new items, then the customs might really ask you to pay tax.

    2. Balikbayan boxes are available one block from notre dame cathedral, pag nakaharap ka Sa front view ng cathedral nasa left side mo yong street sa likod ng cathedral, walking distance lang, sa Kanto sya 2 shops. Then yang perpendicular road naman walking distance then to the office of Cebu pacific,, opposite sya ng malaking hotel building.

      1. Hi there.. may I ask what’s the name of this company that sends balikbayan.boxes.. thanks for ur help.. u

  19. Hi. Thanks for your very informative blog. My friends and I will visit Ho Chi Minh then Cambodia in Jan. Can you recommend a nice place where we can stay in Ho Chi Minh? And are their overnight trips from Ho Chi Minh to Phnom Penh? Thanks

    1. Hi Meps,

      The last time I was in HCMC was 4 years ago! 🙂 We stayed at the Saigon Mini Hotel 3. I don’t know if the hotel is still the same in terms of accommodations or service but I remember that it was okay when we stayed there years ago. Re: overnight trip from HCMC to Phnom Penh, sorry but we haven’t tried that yet. Maybe next time! 😉

      Happy travels!

      Pauline

  20. Hello there!

    First, thanks for the detailed and very hepful info.

    I, my sister and a cousin will trvel to HCMC next month. With all the activities you had and a little of pasalubong, how much money do you think should each of us bring?

    Lastly, some of my folks asked me to buy shoes for them. Around 6 pairs perhaps, do you think the customs will have me pay the tax for those even if i remove the tag and the box? Is it better to sent it through FedEx?

    Thanks and God bless!

    1. Hi Lenard! I think about 200 dollars pocket money is more than enough. About the shoes, if you’re putting the shoes in your check in luggage (minus the tags and boxes) I think that’s fine. You can say they’re pasalubong.:)

      1. Last na po, ok lang ba na don na kami maghanap ng hotel pagdting? That will be around 2am mag taxi kami going to the city. Di naman po kami choosey i just heard mas mura pag ganon instead of online booking. Total kabikabila naman daw ang hotels :))

        1. Hmmm… I would advise against it kasi that’s 2am. Baka mahirapan kayo dahil alanganin ang oras. Maraming murang hostel kahit sa online mo i-book.:)

          1. Sige thank you po ng marami. Your pieces of advice are really helpful to us. I might check agoda tomorrow and book right away. Friday (april24) na po kasi alis namin hehehe..

  21. Hi there ! Great article ! I just arrived in Saigon and I started working there, life is pretty sweet living here full time !

    I discovered something that might interest anyone coming to visit Ho Chi Minh soon : Urban tales.

    “Halfway between a life-sized investigation, an original city-tour and a treasure hunt, Urban Tales invite you to solve a mysterious case of murder that took place in the thick ambiance of Cholon”. I really liked it as you can enjoy an unusual self-guided tour of Cholon, the chinese district of Saigon.

    It’s a half day excursion (8:30 AM – 1:30 PM) that has been especially designed for individual travelers willing to discover the city by themselves. “The scenario leads the visitor to some of Cholon best kept secrets: century-old temples and pagodas, traditional Chinese medicine boutiques, votive paper shops and hidden lanes”. Plus, at the beginning and at the end, you get in awesome vintage cars for a ride around town ! Pretty sweet !

    The price is 50$ approximately, which is a little expensive but totally worth it !! You get a full meal and experience something completely unique in Saigon !

    Cheers to you all and happy travels !

    Clara.

    1. Hi I just did this urban Tales tour as well and I have to say this is really good. We really enjoyed it as you really discover hidden places and see things we would not have seen otherwise. Plus it was fun thanks again for the tip. Fabrice

Leave a Reply to Zendy Cancel reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *