How to Spend 48 Hours in Saigon
Follow Our Insider Guide to Saigon's Best Holiday Sights and Scenes
Formerly known as Saigon, Ho Chi Minh City is the pulsating cultural and commercial hub of Vietnam. Infused with the spirit of its French colonial past, its fascinating heritage buildings, dizzying alleyways, warped telephone lines, and manic moped filled streets are a sight to behold.
From market breakfasts and war museums to unforgettable foodie and art tours, let the PARKROYAL Saigon team let you in on what to do in Ho Chi Minh City in two days. We will show you the places to visit and things to do in Saigon to go to for you to make the most of the 48 hours!
Day One, Morning
||Ben Thanh Market, Đường Lê Lợi, Bến Thành, Quận 1, Hồ Chí Minh, Vietnam
||7:00am - 6:00pm daily
Start your day right with a spicy beefy bowl of bun bo at Ben Thanh market. Hailing from Hue, bun bo is a popular Vietnamese soup made with rice vermicelli (bun) and beef (bo). Unlike its more popularly known Northern counterpart pho, the beef shank, lemongrass, and spicy sate chili sauce that goes into the bun bo broth provide a distinct umami taste and gives the dish a stronger kick.
After you are energised, you can wander around Ben Thanh to survey all manner of Vietnamese goods - touristy souvenirs, clothes, sports shoes, bags, to fresh seafood and locally grown spices and herbs. Just be prepared to put your bargaining skills to the test.
When you’re done, hop over to L’Uisine, a trendy one-stop shop for coffee, art and fashion. Enjoy an authentic Vietnamese coffee while picking up some funky gifts and oh-so-hipster accessories.
From here, it’s a 10-minute walk to the Saigon Notre Dame Basilica. One of Saigon’s top attractions, its colonial red brick walls are popular with tourists as well as locals, who flock here to take wedding photographs.
Opposite the cathedral is the 19th-century Saigon Central Post Office whose intricate art deco interiors are a sight to behold. Be sure to gawk at the historic city maps adorning the walls near the entrance. Go ahead and send out a postcard or two – you know you want to.
On the right of the Post Office lies Book Street, a quaint literature-filled street that has been described as a “paradise for book lovers.” You can relax at a book café here and make your selection unhurriedly. With the range of genres available here – from magazines and comics to fiction, literary publications and poetry – you will definitely be spoilt for choice.
Get directions to Ben Thanh Market
Day One, Afternoon
||Bun Cha, 145 Bùi Viện, Phạm Ngũ Lão, Quận 1, Hồ Chí Minh, Vietnam
||11:30am to 3:00pm, 5:30pm to 8:00pm daily|
Now that you’ve satisfied your literary needs, it is time to hop into a taxi and get over to Bun Cha for some serious Bun Cha. Endorsed by culinary extraordinaire Anthony Bourdain, this aromatic rice noodle dish of grilled pork and garden fresh herbs is best washed down with a Saigon beer. Remember to toast your friends with the customary “yo!” (cheers) in South Vietnamese style.
After lunch, visit the War Remnants Museum. Some may feel that the displays showing the gruesome aftermath of Vietnam’s wartime experience are one-sided. However, a Lonely Planet review justly puts it that “few museums anywhere convey the brutal effects of war on its civilian victims so powerfully.” A visit here is undoubtedly confronting and sobering, so allocate a good two to three hours to absorb and reflect.
Not far from here is the Reunification Palace, where you can view the F5E fighter plane which bombed the palace in 1975, and the original tanks belonging to the North Vietnamese Army. With furniture, setting, and décor left in its original condition, visiting the Palace is a haunting experience and remains one of the most popular attractions in Ho Chi Minh City.
Get directions to Bun Cha
Day One, Evening
||+84 93308 3727 (XO Tours HCMC)
||5:30pm to 10:00pm (Foodie Tours)
Before sundown, hop on the back of a moped and eat your way through Saigon’s hidden alleyways and lesser-known districts with the XO Foodie Tour. Voted by Forbes as one of the world’s top nine food tours, you’ll get to zigzag through the streets like a local and savour the best Vietnamese flavours.
If you’re not in a food coma after the tour, head to Acoustic Bar for drinks and live entertainment. It’s one of the best bars in Ho Chi Minh City to catch talented local acts.
Day 2, Morning
|Start At||Cholon, District 5, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam
Start your second day early at Cholon, Saigon’s bustling Chinatown. Tuck into another local breakfast at the Binh Tay market before checking out its many stalls filled with dried herbs and snacks, clothing and fabric, and Vietnamese cookware. This is one of the best places to shop for local goods and produce.
Wander over to the gorgeous Thien Hau temple nearby and admire the large coils of incense hanging from the temple’s roof. This temple is dedicated to the Chinese goddess of seafarers, Mazu, who is believed to quell troubled seas and fly on clouds to save seafarers in danger.
From here, catch a ride to the Fine Arts Museum. The museum, which spans three colonial era mansions built in the late 1920s and early 30s, showcases modern and contemporary artworks as well as an impressive array of sculptures and ceramics. The grand colonial buildings sport colourful vintage tiles, and an interesting mix of French and Chinese design influences, making it a worthy exhibit in itself.
If you prefer an insider look at the burgeoning Saigon art scene, Sophie’s Art Tour is your best bet. Its founder, Sophie Hughes, has designed a half-day art tour that will take you to museums, galleries, contemporary art spaces, and private collections. It is suitable not just for art aficionados, but also those who would like to understand Vietnam’s history and culture through art.
Get directions to Cholon
Day 2, Afternoon
||Banh Mi Huynh Hoa, 26 Lê Thị Riêng, Bến Thành, Quận 1, Hồ Chí Minh 700000, Vietnam
||+84 28 3925 0885
||2:30pm to 11:00pm daily
Hop across town for what might just be the best Banh Mi in District 1 – Banh Mi Huynh Hoa. Be prepared to jostle and queue with the locals though! After tucking into the crusty and savoury meat-filled Vietnamese baguette, head to the 3A Alternative Art Area, a creative mishmash assembled within a few abandoned warehouses. You can photograph the street art here or check out the area’s galleries and cafes.
Wrap up the afternoon of wandering with some pampering at St Gregory Spa. Opt for the Chinese Tui Na (which means push and pull in Mandarin), an ancient Chinese therapy combining massage and acupressure to enhance the flow of ‘Qi’ in the body, or the Balinese, which is a deep-tissue massage that helps to relieve muscle aches.
Get directions to Banh Mi Huynh Hoa
Day 2, Evening
||Quán Ụt Ụt - American BBQ & Craft Beer, 168 Võ Văn Kiệt, Cầu Ông Lãnh, Quận 1, Hồ Chí Minh 700000, Vietnam
||+84 28 3914 4500
||11:00am to 10:30pm daily
Quan Ut Ut means “oink oink,” and slow-smoked pork is what you’ll be getting at this down-to-earth American-style eatery. The burgers are huge here, and the ribs, divine. These are perfectly complemented by the diner’s craft beers.
End the night by nursing a cocktail at Air 360 Sky Lounge while taking in 360-degree views of this grand dame of a city. For gin lovers, the White Knight is a wonder.
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