Ho Chi Minh City (or Saigon to most of the locals) is a joyful, energetic, cosmopolitan city that showcases Vietnam’s history and culture, and also offers a glimpse of its future. Here you’ll find ancient pagodas and temples, ramshackle markets and ornate French Colonial civic buildings, along with towering skyscrapers, urban malls, and chic cafes and bars (pictured: HCMC as seen from the Financial Tower). Volunteers on our IVHQ Vietnam - Ho Chi Minh City Program will have no shortage of things to do with their free time, but we’ve listed some suggestions below.
In and Around Ho Chi Minh City
Ben Tanh Market
No trip to Ho Chi Minh City would be complete without experiencing the chaotic and colorful Ben Thanh Market. Here you’ll find everything you could possibly want (and never even knew you wanted) under one roof. Test your bargaining skills or try some of the fresh Vietnamese cuisine on offer from the various vendors and food stalls.
Visit the Reunification Palace, the former presidential palace of South Vietnam and the site where North Vietnamese tanks smashed through the gates on April 30 1975, marking the end of the Vietnam War. This impressive palace, holding huge significance for its role in the Vietnam conflict, is now preserved as a museum for visitors to explore the many fascinating rooms. While you’re in museum mode, take a look at the War Remnants Museum. Although it could be said that the museum does not offer the most politically balanced account of the Vietnam War, the collection of machinery, weapons, photos and documentation offers visitors an insight into what the Vietnamese people went through during the war and how this affects them today. Also, don’t miss the History Museum (located next to the Zoo and Botanical Gardens), which houses a fantastic collection of artifacts from the ancient cultures of Vietnam, dating back to the Bronze Age.
The Jade Emperor Pagoda
If you only get a chance to visit one temple in Vietnam, we recommend this one. It’s spectacularly ornate, full of statutes depicting deities, saints and fallen heroes. The lore behind all these figures is positively fascinating. There’s also a lovely little courtyard pond outside which is home to dozens of turtles!
Cu Chi Tunnels
A remnant of the Vietnam War, the Cu Chi tunnels once served as supply and communication routes, hiding places, food and weapons storage areas, hospitals, living quarters and operations bases for Viet Cong fighters. There’s also a gun range out there where you can pay (a rather exorbitant fee) to take a shot with a real live AK47 or a machine gun. Take a tour bus from Ho Chi Minh City to the town of Ben Dinh (or alternatively, go a little further to Ben Duoc). You’ll be looking at about $5 USD for the bus ride and another $5 for admission to the tunnels.
Mui Ne Beach
About a 5 hour bus ride from Ho Chi Minh City is the lovely Mui Ne Bay. There are plenty of reasonably priced tourist resorts to be found here, but the place still retains its local charm! The beaches are gorgeous, although the sand does shift up and down the coast with the seasons, so it can be a roll of the dice as to which hotel is closest to the best beach. This area is heaven for surfers, kite surfers and wind surfers, but if relaxing on a beach with a book and watching the people go by is more your pace, then you’ll be happy at Mui Ne!
Hoi An is a gorgeous, easygoing port town, steeped in history, blessed with fabulous architecture and overflowing with some of the best cuisine around. Explore the stunning Japanese Covered Bridge, the Assembly Hall of the Fujian Chinese Congregation, and the Tan Ky House. Spend a relaxing day at one of Hoi An’s many health and wellness spas. Take a cooking class, or just pig out on street food! Whatever you choose to do, you’re likely to leave wishing you had more time to stay.
The Mekong Delta
The iconic Mekong Delta is a lush, watery network of rice paddies, fish farms, orchards, flower markets and quiet villages, connected by the slow and strong Mekong River. Life here continues more or less as it always has, and the people of the Mekong Delta are renowned as being hard working and welcoming. The Delta covers a huge area, and there are many towns you can use as a base for your Mekong exploration but we’d recommend taking a look at Vinh Long to see the floating markets, or Tra Vinh for a quiet, picturesque escape from the hustle and bustle. Alternatively, for an island retreat try Phu Quoc island - it’s technically part of the Mekong Delta, but feels completely different, and is fast becoming a favorite tourist spot!