I find that when settling in one place after being on the move for a while it becomes very easy to get stuck into the day to day routine.
Whilst living and working in Ho Chi Minh City (formally Saigon), it was easy to think I’ve got plenty of time here, until it got very near to the end and I realised there was still a lot I hadn’t done. What’s great about living in a place is you get to see the local side of it but perhaps don’t get round to all the main ‘tourist’ attractions.
Luckily, my parents were coming out to visit before we headed back to Hoi An so I excitedly got planning a 3 day itinerary for when they were here.
Here’s a list of the fun things we got up to during my last 3 days in Ho Chi Minh City, including a mixture of those I’d already done and was dying to show them, plus sites I’d yet to visit.
ID cafe – for cà phê sữa đá and bánh mì
Ok lets skip to the good stuff, food and drink! ID cafe is one of my favourite cafes in Ho Chi Minh City. When it comes to comfy seating, warm atmosphere, good wifi and tasty treats, this place ticks all the boxes.
ID cafe was the first place we took my parents for their first taste of Vietnamese coffee. It was a perfect introduction to Vietnam and a much needed pick me up after their 13 hour flight. The also serve the best free iced tea refills.
~ Vietnamese drip coffee with its very strong and distinct taste
I usually go for a sweet cà phê sữa đá (iced milk coffee) over the strong, traditional drip coffee, but both are amazingly good. They also serve a number of traditional dishes including bánh mì, for when you fancy a slightly more civilised setting over street food. I can vouch for the vegetarian version (bánh mì chay), which is sometimes hard to come by.
~ Bánh mì chay – crispy baguette filled with tofu (pork substitute), pickled carrot and cucumber, chilli and soy sauce
Saigon Notre-Dame cathedral
Whizzing past the cathedral on Adam’s bike was a weekly occurrence on the way back from one of my teaching jobs, but we’d not actually stopped by to check it out yet.
This famous landmark was built by the French around 1877 and is one of Ho Chi Minh City’s top tourist spots.
We made a stroll over there from ID cafe as it’s walkable and a great way to get straight stuck into the hectic, motorbike filled streets!
~ Saigon Notre-Dame cathedral and re-unification palace
Saigon Central Post Office
Right next to the Cathedral is the grand post office. Again something we’d driven past numerous times, but not entered. It was built a short time after the Cathedral by architect Gustav Eiffel. So It’s no surprise it’s probably more popular as an attraction over its intended use. You can buy postcards inside to send home, though the choice wasn’t too inspiring when we looked!
Right opposite these sights is the re-unification palace. We didn’t go in but admired the architecture from the outside.
~ Saigon central Post Office
Roof top bar
After a bit of a recharge following their long flight, we met my parents at their hotel rooftop bar for a drink before dinner.
The rooftop bar at the Pullman Hotel offers insane views across Ho Chi Minh City. The lychee mojitos were delicious and a bit of a treat for us on a backpacker budget.
~ Pullman hotel rooftop bar
An alternative is Chill Skybar, which has a circular bar so you can see for miles, it really shows just how massive the city is. It’s best to arrive here before 8pm for happy hour and to get a good spot before the crowds roll in.
~ The view from Chill Skybar
One of our favourite bars was Broma Not a Bar. Whilst not the highest rooftop bar, it does offer some incredible views over the Bitexco tower and surrounding neon-lit buildings.
5 Oysters restaurant
The house Adam and I lived in was in district 1, within walking distance of Bui Vien, the bustling backpacker area full of cheap bars and restaurants. The hotel my parents were staying in even closer proximity, so it was only right I showed them a few of our local hang outs.
5 Oysters restaurant serves some tasty Vietnamese dishes and not just oysters as the name may suggest. I’ve lost count of the number of times we ate there during our time in Ho Chi Minh City as it was a firm favourite amongst our household.
I’d been saving taking a trip down to the Mekong Delta for when my parents got to Vietnam as I knew it would be something they’d love to do. It’s only a couple of hours drive from Ho Chi Minh City so can be done as a day trip, although there are lots of overnight ones on offer.
I hadn’t really heard great things from people and had read lots about overpriced tour companies and in-authentic floating markets.
We did the Mekong Discovery tour with Intrepid Travel in the end. I think most trips are pretty similar, including visiting local villages, a tropical island where you taste tropical fruit, a coconut candy factory, a cruise along the tiny canals and then an absolute feast at a traditional family restaurant.
~ Cruising the canals of the Mekong Delta
It was pretty touristy and a lot of people would say it isn’t a must do if you’re short on time, but we enjoyed it and for me it was nice to get out of the city after a few months!
Phở for dinner at Phở Quỳnh
Pho is traditionally eaten by the Vietnamese for breakfast, but can be eaten whenever you fancy. A great place to get a tasty bowl of phở gà (chicken noodle soup) or phở bò (beef noodle soup) is Phở Quỳnh on the corner of Đỗ Quang Đẩu and Phạm Ngũ Lão.
It’s always busy with a good balance of both backpackers and locals chomping on their £2 bowls and washing it down with 30p Bia Saigons. I couldn’t wait for my parents to try their first phở and I think they were pretty impressed.
~Bui Vien nightlife
War remnants museum
I’d already visited the war remnants museum with one of my private students and went again with my parents. Even after a second time it was hard to take it in. Although not for the faint hearted as it openly displays the brutalities of the war and the impact on Vietnamese civilians, this one’s not to be missed.
Shopping at Saigon Kitsch, L’usine and Mayhem
I’d highly recommend skipping Ben Tanh Market, well known for being an overpriced tourist trap on high alert for pick pockets and scamming cyclos.
It took me some time to discover their whereabouts but there are some great little shops dotted about the city for souvenirs and clothes. Saigon Kitsch is the place to go for your vintage propaganda posters, Vietnamese history related stationary, note books, bags, mouse mats, you name it.
L’Usine is a lovely little cafeteria and shop, selling a beautiful collection of clothes, accessories and homeware. Even if you don’t go home with any purchases it adds to the cafe experience.
For vintage clothing, Mayhem is a quirky hidden gem where you can pick up outfits for a fraction of the price back home.
The Jade Emperor Pagoda
Last but not least on the itinerary was the Jade Emperor Pagoda, also know as the Tortoise Pagoda or Chùa Phước Hải. As we had to catch a flight to Hoi An on the 3rd day, I didn’t get round to taking my parents here but it was on the list. This Pagoda is one of Ho Chi Minh City’s most famous religious buildings, built by the Chinese in the early 1900s.
There’s a pond at the entrance absolutely full of tortoises, who are apparently set free once it gets too full (I hope the rumours are true). Whilst the grounds could benefit from some upkeep, it’s an atmospheric and peaceful place of worship amongst the chaos of the city.
~ Jade Emperor Pagoda
It was a pretty awesome last 3 days in Ho Chi Minh City. I left feeling like I’d finally made the most of my time there and saw everything I wanted to see.
Have you visited Ho Chi Minh City? What are some of your top recommendations?