Top 10 Things to do in Ho Chi Minh City I’ve always loved Vietnam. Having the opportunity to work here for 3 months last 2011 and coming back for travel last 2014 with the wife is evidence that I fell in love with the country. The smell of fresh bánh mì and cà phê in the morning is invigorating for the body and soul. I’ve too many wonderful things to say about Vietnam and Ho Chi Minh City in particular but I don’t want to bore you with long trip reports as you will just skip reading it or fall asleep. So instead of doing that, I’ll just enumerate the 10 best things to do while you are in this wonderful country. So grab that coffee of yours, take a little sip because when you are in Vietnam, you’ll regret buying that overpriced coffee anyway.
10. Shopping. A no brainer. Personally, I don’t like shopping… but my wife does. I’m not into that circling around stores, trying clothes, bargaining and walking endlessly through a crowded maze and in the end, you’ll end up with an empty wallet. But I guess I’ll make an exception when you are in Ho Chi Minh. Aside from the fact that you’re a gazillionaire here, products here are cheap and with quality even the knock-offs. For men who loves shoes, HCMC is shoe heaven. Puma, Adidas, Rockport, you name it, they have it. Back in 2011, I bought a pair of Rockport leathers for my Dad for just P2000.00. They are not in a shoe box as they say they are Phantom products which means workers in the factory steals those shoes and sell it outside for much cheaper. But not all of them are phantom. There are also high end malls in Vietnam if you want to splurge a little. For me, there is no one stop shop in HCMC where you can buy all of these. Though many suggest Ben Thanh Market or Saigon Square (which btw has fewer stalls for bags and shoes now), you can actually see lots of stores along the streets of HCMC that sells these goods and even in a cheaper price. As far as I recall, there are lots of shops in District 3. Word of advice is, don’t just get stuck in District 1. Explore people!
9. Wander the streets of HCMC This is a follow-up on my post above. When travelling, you explore. You sometimes don’t adhere to your strict itinerary. Go be free and let your feet take you somewhere out of the ordinary. This is also the reason why I don’t get tours from Travel agencies because they compress your time to visit numerous places. It is always much better to DIY your travels. Having said that, HCMC is one of the best cities to do the walking. Of course, you do this either in the morning or late in the afternoon because the sun will just melt your face especially during summer. Wandering the streets of HCMC is a fun thing to do. You’ll get to see lots of shops, places to eat, funny people and spots that tourist don’t normally go to but a beautiful sight to be in. You can also do people watching while doing it. You can see what Vietnamese people do in their everyday life. But the greatest reward of wandering around are the food stalls you’ll pass by. You will learn more about this later in this post.
8. Ride an Ostrich Yes, you can ride one in Vietnam. I didn’t take note of the name of the place and its address but I do have a picture of us in the main entrance of the place and voila, it has the name there! It’s called Vuon Xoai (www.vuonxoai.vn – The English version of the site is not working though). We went there for our team building and aside from riding a huge ass Ostrich, there are also other activities there where you can do grass skiing, visit the mini zoo, eat crocs and ostrich (sorry PETA, but they insisted), boating or just simply walk around and enjoy nature.
7. Travel on a motorbike or Xe Om Xe Om is Vietnam’s motorbike taxis which literally means “Motorbike hug”. So if you don’t know how to drive a motorbike (like me), you can hire a Xe Om to take you around HCMC. Almost all of the Vietnamese people drives a motorbike for transport. So if you want to do what locals do, then try to take a drive and join the chaos. Even though you will be scared at first on the sight of a sea of motorcycles, Vietnamese people, for me, are safe drivers. They drive slow and they always honk (irrirating sometimes, yes) even you are still far away from them. I guess that’s the way they avoid accidents in a city full of motorbikes. They do offensive driving but they are not aggressive, not like here in the Philippines. At first, I was also scared even though I’m just riding a Xe Om, but after some days, I got used to it and felt comfortable in the streets. Travelling around a motorbike will take you to wonderful places in HCMC. Some examples are, beautiful coffee shops that are hidden in the streets that are only accessible by walking or motorbike. For me, one of the best thing I’ve been to while riding in a motorbike is the Thich Quang Duc Monument. My officemates and I went on a shopping in District 3 and passed this park and I thought, that is familiar to me… For those of you who don’t know, Thich Quang Duc is a Buddhist Monk who performed self-immolation as a sign of protest to the South Vietnamese government for persecuting Buddhists. The protest was photographed and quickly touched (and angered) the world. I knew this because the photograph was Rage Against the Machine’s self titled album cover. The only downside to this is when it rains. I remember one time I was drenched in the rain while riding back to my flat. My Xe Om is continuously driving even when rainfall was really hard and I knew that he doesn’t know how to speak English, so I just, oh well, I’ll just get wet. So if it is rainy season in Vietnam and you will be driving (or riding) a motorbike, then be ready and bring a raincoat with you because you’ll never know.
6. Go to Coop Mart for groceries and even gifts to take back home This is where the locals do their groceries. You obviously know why. Because it’s cheap. We’ve compared the prices of the products in Coop versus their prices in tourist spots and some products, especially the coffee, are double or even triple the price in the tourist spots. I wouldn’t say much here, but one thing’s for sure, before you buy those products in the obvious spots, think again. It might be cheaper in Coop Mart.
5. Visit Cu Chi Tunnels and the War Remnants Museum. This is also a no-brainer. As we all know, Vietnam has a bloody past. Actually, if you will observe the people, you will seldom see old folks since lots of Vietnamese died during the war. There are lots of young people in Vietnam and they are vibrant and optimistic for the future. But when you’re travelling, you have to know the country and its history. The war has a big impact on Vietnam up to now and it is a must that we learn from this terrible time in their country. There are two places that can teach you that. The Cu Chi Tunnels and the War Remnants Museum. In Cu Chi Tunnels, you will get to see and experience the ingenuity of the Vietnamese people. From their traps, how they cook, eat and prepare for war is just simply amazing. No wonder they beat the all powerful Americans by just using their skills and brain. For fun, you can take pictures in one of their hiding spots or crawl under their hidden passages. I did both and the crawl was no joke.
You can book a half-day tour here in Klook.
Now, the War Remnants Museum. It’s very sad to describe what’s in the War Museum. I went here last 2011 and then went again with my wife last year and I felt sadder the second time I went there. War has never done anything right for humanity. You will get to see here lots of photographs and most of them are disturbing you will get teary-eyed the moment you see it. Aside from Vietnamese people, lots of journalists and photographers also died while doing their job. Also sometimes, there are Agent Orange victims outside the museum that needs help. Please give them any amount you can as some of these people are born with the disease. I know this visit will somewhat not a joyous one, but an enlightening one. So make sure to allot some of your time to visit these places as it will make you feel how lucky you are right now.
4. Go on a trip outside Ho Chi Minh City When in HCMC, it is also best if you’ll explore other places near it. HCMC can also be the starting (or last) point of a backpacking travel around South East Asia. There are several awesome places near HCMC to travel to. Though I haven’t been to all of them, you’ll want to dedicate a day or two for a travel in nearby provinces in South Vietnam. For cheap tours with no hassle, I recommend Sinh Tourist (thesinhtourist.vn). You can find in their website their tours in HCMC and outside of HCMC. We booked our Cu Chi Tunnels, Cao Dai, Cai Be and Vinh Long tour with them. If you want to stretch it out, you can also go on a trip to Cambodia and Angkor Wat or even in Bangkok! If you want to bum in a beach, you can go to Mui Ne. I heard it’s beautiful there. Back in 2011, we went on our company team building in Vung Tau. The place has beautiful beaches and the food was awesome! Fresh seafood, fruits, beer and good company are the most vivid memories I had there. If you are thinking where to travel to, I recommend the place where you think you’ll enjoy the most of your time.
You can also book a full day Mekong Delta River tour here in Klook.
3. Drink… Vietnamese Style There’s nothing like drinking with the Vietnamese people. If you get to befriend a Vietnamese, make sure that he/she will take you to one of their drinking joints or in their house or anywhere that there’s good food and beer. In the Philippines, we drink slow because we want to savor the moments, talk or discuss anything under the sun and sometimes we do the “tagay” rounds and slowly we get drunk till the a.m. But in Vietnam, you each have a beer mug or glass, you pour beer there, you clink each other’s mugs, you all shout in the top of your lungs “Mot Hai Ba…. Yo!!” and you finish your drink all at the same time, bottoms up! I’m a beer drinker, but I admit, I can’t keep up with these people when it comes to beer drinking. They drink very fast like there’s no tomorrow. But what I can say is, they are great to have fun with and good food is a major plus in every drinking session. I swear, you won’t regret it. Maybe a little, because of that hangover. 😉
2. Befriend a local Like Filipinos, Vietnamese people are very hospitable. They are humble, friendly, outgoing, smart and really good in sports. Actually, apart from Vietnamese food, the best experience I had when I was in Vietnam is the experience I had with its people. My first trip in Vietnam is actually my first trip abroad. I have really no clue about the country at all at that time, but my officemates there offered all their help for me to adjust. They took me to places, acquainted me with their friends, we drank and got wasted, went on a trip, discussed religion/politics, played football and basketball, ate pho together, everything you wish your friend would do to you, but in my case, they were strangers but offered their sincere friendship to an outsider. This is the reason I always wanted to go back to Vietnam. To drink with them again and chat till the wee hours of the morning. So I’m pretty sure that if you’ll get to have a Vietnamese friend, you’ll definitely have a good time. In my stay there, I can definitely say, I was a local.
1. Eat their food, no excuses. I love to eat and no wonder this is my top 1 of the best things to experience in Vietnam. Vietnam is known for its supreme cuisine and they are not just known for their national dish, Pho but it’s not just what Vietnam offers. There are lots of delicious dishes in Vietnam and I can’t name them all. And If you are in Vietnam, don’t be picky with the food and don’t just eat in restaurants. Heck, in my experience, the food offered in the streets are even a lot better than in fancy restaurants and of course, a lot cheaper! Please try all of them as much as you can because you’ll never know what you’re passing up. There are lots of dishes/drinks I love in Vietnam, but in my post here, you can check out my top 10 must eats in Saigon! I’m sure you’ll enjoy the foods I listed as much as I do. So what are you waiting for, go grab a Vietnamese food now!
So I think that sums up the best things to experience when you are in HCMC. I’m sure there are more than 10 things, so I’m opening up the comments section for you to share your experience as well. Post away!
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