Travel Guide to Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) for First-Timers - PARKROYAL Saigon

Travel Guide to Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) for First-Timers

First Time in Ho Chi Minh? We've Got You Covered.

One of Indochina’s most exciting cities, Saigon offers an eclectic mix of bustling urban sprawl intertwined with themes of war, resilience, heritage and art. Add to the mix some of its creative culinary concoctions like “waterfall chicken” (certified legit by popular food blog Migrationology) and you’d find a rather intoxicating mishmash.

Welcome to Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC)! If it’s your first time here, be prepared to dodge motorbikes, slurp noodles on the sidewalk, and meander through a maze of alleyways.

Here, crossing the road is a bit of an art form – you have to take a deep breath, start walking into the traffic slowly, and without any sudden starts or stops, heave a sigh of relief as the traffic around you parts like the Red Sea. If the mere thought of this makes your knees shake, follow a local tightly and use him or her as your shield. (Or refer to this video for tips.)

While Hanoi may be the official capital of Vietnam, Saigon remains its largest city, and a bustling one at that, complete with a thriving coffee, culinary, and start-up scene.   

To help you make the most of your holiday in Saigon, the PARKROYAL Saigon team has compiled this travel guide to Saigon to help you feel

1. The Best Time to Visit Saigon

Saigon is hot throughout the year, with an average temperature of about 28°C. It has two distinct seasons. The dry season, which runs from December to April, is considered the best time of the year to visit Saigon. The wet season, which is from May to November, is characterised by high humidity and tropical storms. 

While the majority of Vietnamese are Buddhists, the country does celebrate Christmas and New Year's Day. Hence, you can still enjoy a festive vibe during the December to January period.

Do take note of the Tet holiday season (Vietnamese Lunar New Year), which usually falls between the end of January and early February. While it provides a glimpse into some of Vietnam’s more colourful traditions, many food and retail establishments will be closed for the first few days of the Tet festival.

2. How Much Cash to Bring

The currency in Vietnam is the Vietnamese Dong (VND). Food and lodging are relatively inexpensive here – you can budget around VND 3,000,000 (USD 135) per day, which should cover your hotel room, meals, transportation, museum/attraction entrance fees, and light shopping. 

You can exchange major currencies almost anywhere in Vietnam. However, banks and airport money changers may offer less attractive rates relative to gold or jewellery shops, so it pays to shop around. Some of the larger hotels also offer competitive rates.

While cash rules in Vietnam, credit cards are accepted in larger restaurants, hotels, and shops. Credit cards are also handy when paying for bigger ticket items such as hotel accommodation and allows you to avoid carrying too much cash around. 

3. Where to Stay in Saigon

Ho Chi Minh City is split into 19 inner districts and 5 suburban districts. District 1 is where all the action is, with the hippest restaurants and bars, plus must-see attractions like the Reunification Palace, Notre Dame Cathedral, and Ben Thanh market.

Located just a 15-minute drive from these places of interest, and a stone’s throw away from the city’s main airport, is PARKROYAL Saigon. Slightly away from the hustle and bustle of the city centre yet close to the action, the hotel offers top-notch service in comfortable settings. After all the sightseeing, you can opt to wind down the day with a relaxing massage at its award-winning St Gregory’s Spa. The hotel also provides a complimentary shuttle service to and from the city centre.

4. Where to Eat in Saigon

Address
B3 Steakhouse
90 Nguyễn Huệ, Bến Nghé, Quận 1, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam                                                                                                  
Phone Number
+84 166 519 9846

Saigon’s food makes its presence felt at every turn. If you’re there for just a few days, skip the restaurants. Make a beeline for its legendary street food (remember the waterfall chicken mentioned earlier?) and sample the city’s must-try signature dishes.

If you do feel like splurging on good food, check out B3 Steakhouse – where four French Michelin-starred chefs dined at over three consecutive nights when they were in Saigon. (With such unexplainable dining behaviours, you’d simply have to find out for yourselves why.)

Do you know that Vietnam is the world’s second largest coffee exporter behind Brazil? Coffee is said to be a national obsession here. Don’t miss out on sipping a Ca Phe Sua Da, literally translated as Iced Milk Coffee; plus points if it’s done at one of Saigon’s top secret cafes. Made with a sweetened condensed milk that helps balance the strong, bitter taste that Vietnamese coffee is known for, one mouthful will make you forget all your road-crossing woes instantly.

Get directions to B3 Steakhouse

5. What to Do in Saigon

Addresses:

Independence Palace
135 Nam Kỳ Khởi Nghĩa, Phường Bến Thành, Quận 1, Hồ Chí Minh, Vietnam

War Remnants Museum
28 Võ Văn Tần, phường 6, Ho Chi Minh City, Quận 3 Hồ Chí Minh, Vietnam

Ho Chi Minh City Museum of Fine Arts
97A Phó Đức Chính, Phường Nguyễn Thái Bìn, Quận 1, Hồ Chí Minh, Vietnam

Ben Thanh Market
Lê Lợi, Bến Thành, Quận 1, Hồ Chí Minh, Vietnam

Tan Dinh Market
48 Mã Lộ, Tân Định, Hồ Chí Minh, Tân Định Quận 1 Hồ Chí Minh, Vietnam

Cu Chi Tunnels
Đường tỉnh lộ 15, Phú Hiệp, Phú Mỹ Hưng, Củ Chi, Hồ Chí Minh 733814, Vietnam

Visit historical sites and museums: For culture and history buffs, the Independence Palace and War Remnants Museum, which offer an almost-eerie close-up look at Vietnam’s war-torn history, are definitely not to be missed.

Housing Vietnam’s most extensive collection of artworks, the Ho Chi Minh City Museum of Fine Arts is a must if you love Vietnamese art. Even the building itself is an exhibit of sorts, with elegant period details, colourful, retro tiles, and an antique working elevator. These stand as poignant reminders of the institution’s cultural significance; as an article published on the Guggenheim blog puts it, "the museum was host to numerous important works and events that shaped the development of contemporary art in Ho Chi Minh City."

Shop at the markets: With more than 3,000 stalls, District 1's Ben Thanh Market is the most famous market in Saigon. It is especially popular in the evening, when food vendors set up their stalls and locals and tourists gather to eat and shop.

Warning: prices can be inflated for tourists, so put your bargaining prowess to good use. An alternative market to visit is District 1's Tan Dinh Market, which specialises in silks and cloth materials.

Take a day tour: If you opt for a day tour, make it an exploration of the Cu Chi tunnels, an extensive network of tunnels stretching some 250 kilometres long built during the French Occupation. Be prepared though: The tunnels are dark, low, and extremely narrow at parts – definitely not for the faint-hearted.

For more on what to do in Saigon, check out our 48-hour itinerary here.

Get directions to Independence Palace

Get directions to War Remnants Museum

Get directions to Fine Arts Museum

Get directions to Ben Thanh Market

Get directions to Tan Dinh Market

Get directions to Cu Chi Tunnels

6. How to Get Around

Taxis: Taxis are a cheap and convenient way to get around Saigon. According to Nomadic Notes (run by digital nomad James Clark), Mai Linh and Vinasun are the most reputable taxi options. Whichever cab you choose to take, do ensure that the driver starts the meter once you get inside. 

Moped: Mopeds are undoubtedly the king of the roads in HCMC. They are also the easiest way to get around. If you’re in an adventurous mood, hire an UberMOTO from your phone. It’s cheaper and quicker than a regular taxi.

Walk: Despite the chaos on the streets, it is possible to traverse Ho Chi Minh City by foot. The streets are designed in a grid and lined with beautiful trees, and there are lots of alleyways to get lost in.  

Safety tip:
 If you find yourself wandering the streets, do be aware of what’s happening around you. As with most busy and crowded cities, thefts can be common. In HCMC, thieves may swing by on a motorbike and snatch your bag or mobile phone right out of your hand. Do take out your phone or wallet only when you’re in a sheltered area, or within the confines of a shop.