Restless and ever-changing, Ho Chi Minh City is one big rush of urban energy that whisks you along for the ride. In sharp contrast to the sleepy vibe of the Mekong Delta villages, Vietnam’s economic hub (still known as Saigon to many) operates at full-throttle and it can take a while to adjust to the pace. Whether you’re only stopping for a day or two or planning to stay longer, our team have shared their ideal 24 hours in HCMC to maximise your experience of this jam-packed destination.
(from) 6am: Early bird breakfast
Making the most of the cool mornings is essential in Vietnam where the heat and humidity intensify throughout the day. These quieter hours are also a good opportunity to acclimatise to HCMC’s traffic and bustle.
Grab a bowl of steaming pho – Vietnam’s national breakfast staple - from any streetfood stall, and jump start your engine like a local with a cup of sweet ca phe (Vietnamese coffee) at the city’s hippest coffee shops.
If a walking breakfast isn’t your thing, tuck yourself away in one of the many cafés and restaurants that pepper this foodie-culture capital. Try ‘twisted’ banh mi buns at the much-hyped Propaganda Bistro, European classics at quirky L’Usine café, or Market 39’s lavish Sunday brunch at the Intercontinental Asiana Hotel.
9am Spend the morning looking up...
Having set yourself up with breakfast (and possibly mega amounts of caffeine), burn off some energy by wandering through the streets admiring Saigon’s unique architectural heritage. From the grand bastions of the French-Colonial era, such as the pink-and-white wedding cake edifice of the Saigon Central Post Office (designed by Gustav Eiffel) and the enduring Notre-Dame Basilica, to the historic Reunification Palace and the modern triumph of the Bitexco tower, there is plenty to keep your neck craning towards the sky.
When you need a little respite from the clamour, take time out in one of HCMC’s public parks where the contrast between the bustle outside and the green spaces within makes them even more haven-like. The ‘old growth’ trees at Tao Dan and April 30th act as shady inner-city forests for escaping the heat, while the water features and striking sculptural structures at Hoang Van Thu create a welcome oasis in the busiest part of the city. You might even be lucky enough to witness the mesmerising movement of the tai chi enthusiasts who gather in the city’s green spaces to practise.
12pm …and the afternoon collecting treasures
After a quick lunch alongside the locals at Com Nieu Sai Gon, spend the afternoon exploring off-the-beaten-track in search of authentic Saigon culture. Let mood and moment direct your feet as you choose where to head first:
Sharpen your bargaining skills at Ben Thanh Market, the oldest in the city, and find a memento amid the vast array of local crafts, textiles and spices. If you’ve got room, we recommend sampling a few tasty snacks as you browse, or fighting off the mid-afternoon dip with a top-up of Vietnamese coffee.
Rediscover the cooler, calmer side to the city with a self-guided tour of the Fine Arts Museum and explore their collection of significant Vietnamese artwork and artefacts.
Both 42 Nguyen St and 14 Tom That Dam are urban-legendary examples of café-apartments: a particularly Ho Chi Minh City phenomenon. Formerly residential flats, these higgledy-piggledy units have been converted over the years into vertical labyrinths of cafes, shops and galleries. Though fascinating examples of living social history, they exist under the constant threat of demolition so spend a few hours exploring them while you can.
All this sightseeing is thirsty work, so why not take time for a pint at the achingly-hip Pasteur Street Brewery tap rooms and learn about Vietnam’s up-and-coming trend for craft beer.
As the shadows grow long, it’s time to decide where to spend your evening. We suggest either...
6pm A Night at the Circus
Highly-praised by many, including a director of the Los Angeles’ ‘Cirque de Soleil’, Lune Production’s ‘A O Show’ is an extraordinary fusion of circus and theatre which shares that more-famous production’s energy and vision. Immerse yourself in an evening of dance, comedy, drama and acrobatics which explores the history and culture of Vietnam through fresh eyes.
or... Speed-dining with a Vespa street-food tour
After sunset The traffic in HCMC is pretty fast and furious, and crossing the street can seem like taking your life in your hands! As the saying goes, ‘if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em’, and there’s no better way to experience Saigon like a local than with an evening Vespa streetfood tour. Let you driver zip you through the neon streets to find the very best streetfood on offer, while you hold tight and enjoy the ride.
10pm Skyline silhouettes and cocktails
Celebrate the end of your whirlwind day by heading up for panoramic skyline views at the Level 23 bar. This uber-stylish nightspot is the perfect place to chill out and enjoy a few drinks after keeping up with frenetic HCMC life. Try a couple of their signature cocktails, such as the Tan & Tea or Zacapa Sensation, or a classic Aperol Spritz, and make a toast to time well spent.
There is much more to explore in and around HCMC than we have crammed into our ideal 24-hours, so if you feel inspired then give our Destinations Specialists a call and talk through your ideal itinerary.