Ho Chi Minh City

Known as Saigon among the locals, Ho Chi Minh has a burgeoning arts and music scene. As dusk falls, enjoy the sunset in a chic rooftop bar.

While Hanoi is the seat of government, Ho Chi Minh City – still known as Saigon among locals – is the commercial heart of the nation. What's more, its burgeoning arts and music scene means Hanoi's mantle as the cultural capital is in serious danger of slipping.

In many ways, arriving in HCMC from Hanoi feels like stepping into the country's future, if not another country entirely. Not only is the accent a million miles away from that in the north, so is the pace of life, the can-do business attitude and the nightlife scene. While the bars of Hanoi begin to close up around 10pm, the party hasn't even got started in HCMC's chic rooftop bars, mammoth megaclubs or the backpacker haven of Pham Ngu Lao.

This is a city with an inescapable buzz and definite sense of purpose. Development is happening at a frenzied pace, with large scale expansion underway across the banks of the Saigon River. The distinct shape of the Bitexco tower downtown stands proud neatly encapsulating the city's grand ambition.

Even in the face of this modernity, HCMC retains much of its heart. The grand avenues and green spaces laid out by the French remain perfect for weekend walks and the chaotic trading of Chinatown has lost none of its furore.

An intoxicating mix of old and new, Saigon has pulled off the neat trick of balancing tradition and modernity. In the process, one of Southeast Asia's most richly rewarding cities has emerged. 


When to go

The city's climate splits into the wet and dry seasons. From December to April it is largely dry, with high humidity from February to May. Expect rains, sometime very heavy but not often prolonged, from May to November. 

Visa requirements

Singaporeans and citizens of other ASEAN member states can visit Vietnam for 30 days without a visa. Visitors arriving directly from other countries must arrange for a visa in advance.


Vietnam dong. There are ATMs and a couple of currency exchange counters at the airport. In town, ATMs can be found easily, and almost all banks offer a foreign currency exchange service. 


The best way to reach the city from the airport  is by taxi. Numerous firms stand outside - look for the green VinaSun cars. All taxis run on a meter and slips are given indicating your taxi's number. In the city, cheap metered taxis are everywhere. Some are more reputable than others - stick to VinaSun. The smaller the cab, the lower the fare.  The other option is a xe om motorcycle taxi which can be found on almost every corner. Haggle your price with a smile then hang on tight for a fun and fast way to see the city. Less common, but also lots of fun are the pedicabs.  

Health and safety tips

HCMC remains fairly safe, but reports of theft are more common here than in Hanoi. Take care around the Pham Ngu Lau area late at night. The traffic is more orderly than in the capital but it still pays to be extra cautious when crossing the streets. The tap water is not safe to drink, but ice is generally fine. There is no malaria risk here, but the small risk of Dengue fever is present. 

Emergency details

The Saigon Centre, Level 8, 65 Le Loi Boulevard, District 1 (tel: (84) 8 3822 5174, www.mfa.gov.sg/hochiminhcity).

The emergency number for the police is 113. There are hundreds of small local police stations dotted around the city, each responsible for the local area. 

Basic greetings
English Vietnamese
Hello Sin chao
How are you? Moi vi-uhk te nao?
Fine, thanks Van tot, kam urn
Goodbye Tam bi-uht
Excuse-me! (to get attention, to get past) Sin choo i!
Thank you Kam urn
Yes Ko
No Kog
OK Tot
What's your name? Ten ban la ji?
My name is… Ten toi la…
Pleased to meet you Rat voo-i dew-urk lam kwen
Are you on Facebook/Twitter? Ban ko Facebook/Twitter kog?
Where’s an internet café? Internet cafe ur doh?
Where can I get a taxi? Toi ko tei goi se taxi ur doh?
Where is the bus/train station? Tram se boo-yit/tram se lur-a ur doh?
A one-way/return ticket to… Mot ve mot chi-yoh/koor hoi den…
Do you have a room for one/two? Ban ko fog kog cho mot/hai gew-ur-i?
When's check out? Ki nao tra fog?
Can you recommend a good restaurant/bar? Ban ko te jur-i ti-yoh mot na hag/kwan rew-uru gon kog?
A table for two, please Sin cho mot ban cho hai
A menu, please Cho sem tur-k dur-n
The bill, please Voo-i log cho sem hwa durn
Where's the toilet? Na vei shin ur doh?
Help! Kur-ew toi vur-i!

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Notre Dame Cathedral

Cong Truong Cong Xa Paris

The French colonial architect Pavrard designed the neo-Romanesque Notre Dame Cathedral to represent the glory of the French empire and mirror the original Notre-Dame de Paris. Inaugurated in 1880, making it the oldest church in Vietnam, this was one of France’s most ambitious projects in Indochina at the time; bricks used in the construction were shipped from Marseilles in France. Visit just before 5pm when the city's Catholics descend for evening Mass.

Jade Emperor Pagoda

73 Mai Thi Luu Street, District 1

One of the city’s most colourful and captivating places of worship is the Jade Emperor Pagoda. Built in 1909 by Cantonese Buddhists who settled in Saigon, its unique interior architectural style is heavily influenced by southern Chinese elements. A dense fog of smoke from spiral incense coils suspended from the rafters envelops a fascinating array of weird and wonderful elaborate statues – some Buddhist, others Taoist-inspired. The ornately robed Jade Emperor surveys the main sanctuary from his central altar.

Bitexco Financial Tower

No.2 Hai Trieu Street , Ben Nghe Ward

HCMC’s loftiest building, the Biextco Tower is a stunning, 68-storey creation, designed to resemble a lotus bud. It is Vietnam’s second-tallest structure after Hanoi’s Landmark Tower. Its Saigon Skydeck gives panoramic views and features a touch-screen monitor that allows visitors to call up information on major landmarks. The helicopter pad that juts out 22 metres/yds on the 52nd floor includes a bar and restaurant. A small exhibition explains how the tower was constructed, using 6,000 individually cut glass panels.

War Remnants Museum

28 Vo Van Tan Street

A visit to the War Remnants Museum is a sobering reminder of the heavy toll of war. A series of numbered exhibition halls displays the horrors of the French and American wars; these include graphic photographs, bell jars of deformed foetuses showing the effects of US-sprayed chemical defoliants, plus a guillotine used by the French and mock-up of the notorious 'tiger cages'. The poignant Requiem Hall features a large collection of photos taken by 134 photojournalists from 11 nations, themselves killed during both conflicts. Although the exhibits are distressing to see, this is one of the city’s biggest tourist attractions.

Chinatown (Cholon)

5km west of downtown

About 5km (3 miles) west of downtown, HCMC’s sprawling Chinatown, or Cholon, is a bustling place packed with Chinese shops and French architecture. 'Cho Lon' translates as 'big market', and aptly describes this endlessly buzzing maze of streets and alleyways. Ethnic Chinese (Hoa) originating from southwest China first settled here in the late 18th century. Cholon, which is largely contained within District 5, is a great place simply to wander around, taking in the sights and smells, particularly along Trieu Quang Phuc Street, where all manner of herbs are sold.

Ben Thanh Market

Ham Nghi and Le Loi Streets

Ben Thanh Market offers practically every conceivable product at countless stalls. Still a market for locals, this is more an experience than a  shopper's paradise for tourists, although ever  more tourist kitsch is being added. After browsing, head to the food stalls at the rear for some excellent, cheap dishes. Come sundown, the Ben Thanh Night Market springs into action, operating until late at night along the streets immediately surrounding the building with some fantastic makeshift food stalls serving more authentic Vietnamese fare.


Antique Street

Le Cong Kieu Street

Whether the prices in the Le Cong Kieu Street shophouses fall into the budget category depends on your bargaining skills. Most stores along this charming narrow stretch sell mainly mass-produced repros which can be picked up cheaply. However, the vintage oriental and Indochina bric-a-brac, objets d’art and furniture fetch far higher prices. The street is worth a wander simply to browse.

Budget $

Diamond Plaza

34 Le Duan St, District One

Diamond Plaza is an upscale department store with sophisticated, open-plan interiors, retailing mainly high-end international brands including jewellery, watches and cosmetics. Men’s and women’s fashions, home ware, electronics and sports goods also feature in addition to a café, food court and supermarket.

Budget $$$


54-56 Bui Vien, Ho Chi Minh City

Gingko trades in quirky, original T-shirt designs printed on high-quality cottons. Design cues are taken from iconic Vietnam images such as tangled electricity wires, chaotic traffic and the national flag.

Budget $

Khai Silk

107 Dong Khoi St, District One

Vietnam’s most exclusive silk boutique chain, Khai Silk offers top-notch silk clothing (both ready-to-wear and custom-made) for men and women in a wide range of styles. Also retails luxurious silk accessories, including ties, kimonos, embroidered scarves, lingerie, brocade shawls and bed quilts.

Budget $$$

Mekong Quilts

68 Le Loi, District One

A non-profit organisation, Mekong Quilts produces high quality bed-wares accessories and gift items. The first quilts were sold in the homes of friends. There are now seven shops and over 340 women in full time employment. They all receive training, a good wage and enjoy a safe and comfortable environment. Vietnamese designers work with those from overseas to create unique pieces.

Budget $$

Nguyen Freres

2 Dong Khoi, District One

Nguyen Freres is an atmospheric store resembling a traditional-style northern Vietnamese house. Inside is a veritable Pandora’s Box of bric-a-brac and vintage items like restored French Indochina-era furniture. A great place to hunt out something unique.

Budget $$


Banh Xeo

46a Dinh Cong Trang St

Established in 1941, Banh Xeo is one of the city’s most popular eateries. Frantic at night-time, the house speciality is banh xeo – crispy folded pancakes stuffed with pork, beansprouts and shrimp – cooked over open fires out front. Other Vietnamese dishes are served, too, but the banh xeo is king. Basic, open-air street dining.

Budget $

El Gaucho Argentinian Steakhouse

5D Nguyen Sieu St, District One

El Gaucho takes steaks seriously. Very seriously. A wide variety of cuts imported from Argentina, the US and Australia are grilled to perfection. The exposed brickwork decor is sleek and creates a cool but comfortable atmospehre. The service is just right and an excellent wine list plus well-mixed cocktails help make this a highlight of the city's dining scene.

Budget $$$

La Habana

6 Cao Ba Quat St

La Habana is a little corner of Cuba that just oozes atmosphere. As if the 50-plus types of tapas and mojitos weren’t enough, there is live music, perfect paella and the quintessential cigar to round the night off in style. For those who visit earlier, there is high-tea time when cakes and pastries are served. Close to the Opera House – just look for the Cuban-Spanish architecture and listen out for the sounds of salsa.

Budget $$

Pho Hoa

260C Pasteur St

Pho Hoa is an unbeatable place to tuck into a bowl of the classic Vietnamese noodle soup. The broth is light and fragrant, the beef tender and every bowl is served with a huge mountain of fresh herbs. Pho Hoa also serves perhaps the biggest quay (fried dough sticks) in Vietnam. Not a place to linger as the decor is extremely basic – Pho Hoa is all about the food.

Budget $


Caravelle Hotel, 3rd Fl, 19 Lam Son Sq

Reflections intimate, old-world interior plays second fiddle to the innovative and sophisticated European cuisine – such as red wine-braised veal cheeks with tomato onion jam – created by its European chefs. Be sure to leave room for the outrageously sinful ice creams.

Budget $$$


71/7 Mac Thi Buoi St

Warda is hidden down a narrow alleyway; find it and expect an authentic Middle Eastern experience – from its music and stunning Arabic interiors to its regional Gulf cuisine. The menu features tajines, barbecued meats and fish, kebabs and meze, plus sticky sweet desserts. Enjoy an infused Martini while dragging on a shisha pipe at the terrace under a Bedouin-style canopy.

Budget $$


Asiana Saigon

Corner Hai Ba Trung St. & Le Duan

The Asiana Saigon offers pure luxury right in the heart of downtown, just minutes away from many of the biggest attractions. The in-house dining options are excellent, the rooms and suites beautifully appointed and the service shines. The gym comes complete with a sauna and steam room – just the ticket after a day pounding Saigon's streets. The glass-sided pool is another highlight.

Budget $$$

Elios Hotel

233 Pham Ngu Lao St

Located in the heart of backpackerville, Elios Hotel is a favourite of many – and justifiably so, as it’s a 3-star with slightly higher standards than others in this price category. The rooms are bright, comfortable and modestly sized; superior rooms are a bit larger. The rooftop restaurant-bar offers good views and is a great place to unwind. There's also a gym, meeting rooms and lift.

Budget $$

Long Hostel

373/10 Pham Ngu Lao street

For rock-bottom prices and the friendliest welcome in town, Long Hostel takes some beating. Located on the edge of the backpacker district, the very simple rooms are spotless and come with a TV, WiFi and clean white linens.

Budget $

Novotel Saigon Centre

167 Hai Ba Trung, District 3

The Novotel Saigon Centre offers sleek modern rooms with floor-to-ceiling windows; the buffet breakfast is a cut-above and the rooftop bar affords wonderful views over the city. It also serves an eclectic array of cheeses to complement a fantastic wine list. Also has a great open-air swimming pool.

Budget $$

Park Hyatt Saigon

2 Lam Son Sq, District One

The elegant Park Hyatt Saigon evokes a nostalgic feel from the city’s French Indochina era, while offering all manner of modern facilities. With a vantage point overlooking the Municipal Theatre, this 5-star hotel oozes class and luxury. The rooms feature colonial touches like four-poster beds and modern amenities like rain showers and huge flat-screen TVs. The hotel’s exquisite Xuan Spa, Park Lounge and two restaurants are all highly recommended. Its room rates are probably the highest in the city, but justifiably so.

Budget $$$

Yuli's Homestay


A stand-out spot amongst the many guesthouses in Kuta, Yuli's Homestay is a family-run place. Pretty little bungalows sit in a tidy garden with a pair of small swimming pools. The rooms are simple but spotless, with air-conditioning and plenty of natural light. Generous breakfasts are included in the price, and there’s a kitchen in case you want to rustle up something for yourself.

Budget $


25 December

Christmas is becoming big business in Vietnam and HCMC's malls are decked out with more impressive decorations every year. Local teenagers find it hard to resist a photo opportunity and as a result the Christmas displays are magnets for shutter-happy youngsters.

Flower Street Festival


To coincide with the Lunar New Year, Nguyen Hue street is transformed into a riot of colour with all manner of creative flower displays competing for visitors' attention.

Mid-Autumn Festival


Second only to Tet, the Mid-Autumn festival, or Moon Festival, is largely geared toward kids. Expect to see dragon dances across the city and parents travelling on motorbikes laden with gifts.

New Year's Eve

31 December

HCMC is the place to be in Vietnam for New Year's Eve. Competition is fierce among the city's best bars and restaurants, which put on lavish parties to pull in the crowds.



The Lunar Year is a major event in Vietnam on a par with Christmas and New Year rolled into one. For weeks leading up to it the city is a shopping frenzy, but then most businesses shut for a week, leaving the city unusually quiet. Massive fireworks shows take place around the city on New Year's Eve.


HCMC is an easy place to keep little ones entertained and there are plenty of options that are fun for big kids too. Start your day at Saigon’s tallest building, the iconic Bitexco Tower. The Skydeck on the 49th floor gives unparalleled views across the sprawling metropolis. From here you can point out your next destination – the Saigon Zoo and Botanical Gardens. 


 Next door to the Museum of Vietnamese History (far from a child-friendly attraction), the Saigon Zoo and Botanical Gardens has a vast  collection of animals, with 800 specimens of 120 species, many of which are endangered. Most popular with kids are the tigers, giraffes and elephants. Time your visit with the mid-afternoon feeding times. Another highlight is the dedicated children’s centre with its  goats and sheep. 


 Next up, head to Dam Sen Park, where theme park rides will keep the whole family happy for hours. Expect a haunted castle, 4-D cinema, Ferris wheel and roller-coaster. Kids will also enjoy a ride in the 2km (1-mile) -long monorail and checking out the sea life centre. 


 When the afternoon heat picks up, cool off in the ever popular Dam Sen Water Park.  A series of pools, slides and wave machines provide hours of fun. Thrill-seekers should shoot down the Kamikaze Slide or brave the darkness of Black Thunder. 


 If you have any energy left, spend the evening at the Golden Dragon Water Puppet Theatre. Daily shows run at 5 and 6.30pm. 

Places to visit:
Bitexco Tower, Saigon Zoo and Botanical Gardens, Dam Sen Water Park , Golden Dragon Water Puppet Theatre.


Start your day soaking up some of the culture of 18th-century Saigon in the form of Cholon, aka Chinatown. Take a walk along Trieu Quang Phuc Street where spice shops and medicine traders still ply their trade, and the smell of incense wafting from richly decorated Chinese temples creates plenty of atmosphere. 


Next up, head back downtown to soak up some art at the Fine Arts Museum. Here, cultural influences from France are evident in both the classic colonial architecture and the impressionist works on show. Recent efforts to restore the building have gone some way to bringing back its former grandeur, although its slightly ramshackle nature lends it a certain endearing charm. 


Continuing your cultural quest, head north to the Museum of Vietnamese History. Also housed in a glorious colonial building, it tells the story of Vietnamese history and culture from its birth right up to 1945 – the year the Democratic Republic was founded. Visitors also gain an insight into the Cham and Cambodian civilisations and how their history and culture are entwined with Vietnam's own. 


For something more up-to-date, grab a slice of modern Vietnamese culture at San Art (3 Le Minh). This modern gallery and centre of collaboration is dedicated to promoting and showcasing contemporary art. Last up, for one more art fix, end your day back in District One at Galerie Quynh, where modern art from Vietnam and overseas hangs in a cool converted factory space. 

Places to visit:
Cholon (Chinatown), Fine Arts Museum , Museum of Vietnamese History, San Art , Galerie Quynh.


The best way to start the day is with a fragrant bowl of the national dish – pho bo (beef noodle soup). It can be found on almost every street in the city, but Pho Hoa, on Pasteur Street, is worth seeking out.  


Next up, head further into town and work up an appetite browsing the stalls at Ben Thanh Market before hitting the outlets at its rear selling all manner of cuisines from the central coast to Saigon. Take a look at what others are eating and when you’ve found something you like the look of, simply point and take a seat. The bun thit nuong (grilled pork with fresh herbs) and banh canh cua (thick noodle soup served with crab and prawn) are two dishes not to miss. 


From here, take a walk over to the Opera House and the General Post Office. Once hunger strikes, drop in at L’Usine (Dong Khoi Street), the city’s coolest café and haunt of the hipster set. Alongside the retail store selling a select group of labels, L’Usine is famed for its range of cupcakes which taste every bit as magnificent as they look. 


To finish your day with some serious feasting, book a night with XO Tours or  Vietnam Vespa Adventures. Both companies run whistle-stop group motorcycle tours around the best of the city’s night food spots and you’re sure to see parts of Saigon you wouldn’t reach on your own. 

Places to visit:
Pho Hoa, Ben Thanh Market, L’Usine , XO Tours, Vietnam Vespa Adventures.