1 Day In Ho Chi Minh : Making The Most of 24 Hours in Saigon

Created by Colleen Sims * 3 April 2024

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Ho Chi Minh is the bustling business capital of Vietnam and we kicked off our two-month Vietnamese adventure here.  Wow! The city more than exceeded our expectations and we loved our time here.

Many travellers bypass Ho Chi Minh but they’re missing out! The city  offers a crazy, busy street life, a rich wartime history, incredible street food and colour and noise and shopping and parks and walking streets and waterfronts and a captivating blend of old and new.

Even if you only have one day to spare, read on and we’ll show you how to make the most of your 24 hours in Ho Chi Minh. We’ll pack in the must-see sights and experiences so that maybe you’ll fall in love with Ho Chi Minh like us.

Ho Chi Minh Skyline at Night

24 Hours in Ho Chi Minh City

Ho Chi Minh City is a vibrant modern city, with a population of 9 million (forecast to grow to 12 million in the coming years).  It has a rich albeit chequered history, a delicious food scene, stunning architecture and some of the most exclusive looking shopping areas we’ve seen.

The city is very different than its northern sister Hanoi but it’s becoming more and more, a popular tourist destination in its own right offering lots to see and do. 

We spent a week in the city but what if you only have 1 day? Fear not, we’ve created this guide to ensure that you get to see the very best of Ho Chi Minh City in your 24 hours.

Top Tip : Looking for more things to do for a longer stay, check our our favourite things to do in Ho Chi Minh.

Our Perfect 1 Day Itinerary For Ho Chi Minh City

This day is busy but not overly. We’ve listed things that we feel gives you a great overview to see what makes Saigon tick and that are perfectly do-able in 1 day without leaving you exhausted.

1. Don’t forget Breakfast

Vietnam starts its day with phở (pronounced fuh) a noodle soup. It’s a light yet flavourful soup like dish and a good way to start your HCM day. You can find it everywhere as you walk around the city.

If pho isn’t your thing (it wasn’t mine) there are plenty of wonderful cafes bakeries; a remnant of the French Colonial days.  And Vietnamese Coffee is perhaps some of the best in the world so finding your morning cuppa will not be a problem.

2. A 9am City Walking Tour

We love a city walking tour and if you only have 1 day then this is really the perfect way to cover a lot of ground and learn a great deal in just a few hours. We took a GuruWalk as it visited some of the most iconic sites and gives a great introduction to the city.

The walk stops off at :

  • Bitexco Financial Tower
  • Nguyen Hue Walking Street
  • Government City Hall
  • Saigon Opera House
  • Former CIA Building
  • Central Post Office
  • Notre Dame Cathedral
  • Central Book Street
  • Independence Palace
  • Tao Dan Central Park

★★★★★

WALKING TOUR OF hO CHI mINH

  • We LOVE a Guruwalk! A great introduction to the city!
  • Excellent English speaking guides
  • Visit some of the iconic spots of downtown Saigon
Tet celebrations in Saigon. Around 100 Vietnamese on bikes liked up in colourful national dress in front of government building

3. The Best Bahn Mi Lunch Break in Ho Chi Minh

Lunch is the perfect time to discover the perfect little Vietnamese lunch; a delicious bánh mì (bahn mi). This is like a Vietnamese version of a filled baguette. You can choose a range of fillings with meats, sauces and pickled vegetables.

It’s the perfect street food if you’re not vegetarian or gluten free, although sometimes you can choose veggie options.

For the best Bahn Mi in the city visit Bánh Mì Bảy Hổ. It looks like a simple street food vendor but everyone recommends them and it’s always busy with a queue of waiting customers!

Vietnamese Banh Mi.  A small baguette style sandwich with a choice of fillings.

4. A Must-see Visit to The War Remnants Museum

After lunch we recommend you first visit the War Remnants Museum. No visit to Ho Chi Minh would be complete without a glimpse into the Vietnam War from the Vietnamese perspective. Neither the French or the US cover themselves in glory in the museum and the horrors of war are laid bare for all to see. 

There’s a lot to see so allow a good hour to wander the displays and information and to make sense of what you see.

Top Tip : Not once in our 2-month long stay did we ever hear or notice any animosity towards any visitor.  Indeed the opposite was true and we were told over and over that the war is in the past and people look forward to a bright future.

5. Enjoy a Walk Through Toa Dan Park

After all the talk of war it would be a good time to explore one of the cities famous parks.  Toa Dan Park is a glorious 10 hectare green space in the heart of the city.  I love big city parks and this is one of the best (followed closely by some of the city parks we visited in Japan.)

This is a popular spot in the early morning as locals gather for exercise classes.  We were there just before Tet and the paths were lined with row upon row of yellow chrysanthemums and an array of plants and flowers adorned in yellow and red blooms and ribbons

during Tet the parks and gardens in Ho Chi Minh were full of yellow and red plants like these enormous yellow blooms; almost as tall as Gerry

6a. Visit The Reunification Palace

After visiting the park head to the neighbouring Reunification Palace.  There’s a café at the entrance in the grounds of the palace if you feel in need of refreshment; Gerry can recommend the Lemon Soda.

There were iconic newsreels of the Palace during the fall of Saigon as Viet Cong tanks rolled through the gates.  Today you’ll find a peaceful site, pretty much left as it was in 1975.  You can visit independently or you can take a guided tour of both the Palace and the War Museum. We didn’t spend too long here but it was good to see.

Reunification Palace during the fall of Saigon and today as a peaceful garden with a cafe and visitor centre

6b. Ben Thanh Market

I could not choose between the Palace or the market so I’m giving you the choice. If you love to shop then head to Ben Thanh Market. It’s a bit of an institution in the city and a really popular tourist destination.

With over 6,000 small business here and perhaps 10,000 visitors a day, there really is something for everyone.  Whether looking for clothing, souvenirs, local delicacies or fresh produce you’ll find it here; you can even find traditional lacquerware! But if you’re shopping do be prepared to barter!

The market is a fabulous place to fully experience the sights, sounds, colour and smells of Vietnam and perfect for those who love exploring a market!

7. Time For Coffee

After all this sight seeing it will be a good idea to have a pause and stop for a cold drink; in my case a glorious iced coconut coffee.  I fell in love with Vietnamese coffee and wrote a post about my favourites

But if it’s too late for a caffeine hit then just stop for a cold drink and people watch. Propaganda was one of our favourite coffee stops.

8. Bamboo Theatre and The A O Show at Saigon Opera House

When we researched things to do in Ho Chi Minh so many guides recommended the Bamboo Theatre in the Saigon Opera House  We secured our tickets on-line in advance which is just as well as they sell quickly.

The show lasts 45 minutes and we’re really glad we booked; it was the last show before Tet and was sold out.  This is a performance of dance, acrobatics and music to tell the story of Vietnam through the ages. It’s a crazy mix of dance and balance and movement.

Arrive 30 minutes before the show starts and you can grab a free cold drink and look out across the street to the Hotel Continental (site for the foreign correspondents during the Vietnam War) and the infamous 5 O’clock Follies at the Rex Hotel

Top Tip : When booking your seats don’t choose the cheaper seats like we did; there are large pillars that separated us and obscured the view a little.

waiting for the show to start; bamboo theatre props arranged on a black stage

9. Dinner at Hum

We ate some wonderful meals in Ho Chi Minh and there is a restaurant to suit every palate but our standout meal by far was at Hum.  It felt like we were eating at a Michelin star restaurant and they cater for vegans and gluten free too.

If your budget can’t quite stretch to this then a close second favourite was Be An in Walking Street. This little restaurant doesn’t get many reviews but it should; it was first class!

Dinner at either of these restaurants will be wonderful!

delicious coconut custard desert at Hum Restaurant in Saigon

10. head to the waterfront and Ba Son Bridge

Our guide told us to head to the waterfront for the best free view of the city.  Walk along the promenade until you reach Ba Son bridge; Cầu Ba Son.

We walked across one side and back the other but be warned, you need to walk quite a distance away from the bridge to be able to cross the road and go back; I’m not sure the view was worth the effort to see the other side.  You just need to walk to the middle to see the glorious glorious Ho Chi Minh skyline at night. Trust us; it’s worth the view!

When you’ve taken in the city lights retrace your steps and stop off at one of the bars that line the waterfront; a gin and tonic never tasted so good after such a busy day!

Colleen and Gerry on the bridge with the Ho Chi Minh night skyline behind them

Alternative Ideas for your 1 Day in Ho Chi Minh

We get that some of our ideas won’t match yours. So here’s a couple of swaps that we’d recommend. But if you’d like more ideas take a read of our post about many more things to do Ho Chi Minh.

Where to Stay for 1 Day in Ho Chi Minh

For a short visit to Ho Chi Minh City we definitely recommend you stay centrally with easy access to the major attractions and cafes and restaurants.  For us that option is District 1.

  • District 1 (Downtown) is the bustling heart of Ho Chi Minh City and the main tourist area
  • It’s home to many hotels, guesthouses and hostels catering to various budgets
  • District 1 is within walking distance to popular attractions such as Ben Thanh Market, Notre Dame Cathedral and the Opera House
  • It offers a wide range of dining options, from street food stalls to upscale restaurants

Ultimately, the best area to stay in during your visit will depend on your preferences, budget and what you want to experience during your trip. However, bearing in mind your time is limited our recommendation would be District 1.

P.s. Choose somewhere close to the fabulous and ever popular Nguyen Hue Walking Street.

★★★★★

WE LOVED SILVERLAND JOLIE HOTEL

  • Check the reviews on Booking, TripAdviser and Google; they’re great!
  • Excellent location within easy reach of the sights
  • We love a rooftop bar and afternoon tea; there’s even a small pool
  • Check expectations; rooms in Vietnam are smaller and beds are harder

Good To Know : Ho Chi Minh Or Saigon?

Both! Ho Chi Minh City is the official name for the city and the area, but Saigon was the historical name for the downtown area and used by many locals, especially older generations. 

It was interesting that during our Ho Chi Minh walking tour our guide called the downtown area of the city Saigon.  When we were in Hanoi the walking guide there explained that Saigon is never used these days? 

I guess the answer will depend on who you ask but we have been assured that you will not offend anyone with either name

1 Day In Ho Chi Minh : Is It Still Worth Visiting for One Day?

Absolutely! Even with just 24 hours, you can experience the energy, culture, and delicious food that Ho Chi Minh City has to offer.

One of the things that we absolutely loved about our trip to Vietnam was that each area was so very different.  Ho Chi Minh and Hanoi are different but equally the Mekong Delta, Hue, Danang, Ha Giang and Hoi An were all so un-alike (or maybe Same Same Different as they say so often in Vietnam).  Every new destination was like opening a gift; Vietnam is full of wonderful surprises.

Ho Chi Minh City has so much to offer a visitor and one day will give you a flavour for what is on offer. If your flight goes through Ho Chi Minh or you have the chance of one day to explore then it’s definitely possible to see the city’s highlights in 24 hours.

If you have more time, you can delve deeper into the city’s museums, explore the Cu Chi Tunnels, or take a day trip to the Mekong Delta.  And if this is you then do look at our more details post about places we visited in Saigon during our time in the city.

Ho Chi Minh will make a great introduction or a superb finale to your Vietnam Itinerary.   We say get ready to fall in love with Ho Chi Minh; you’ll be glad you added in that extra day!

busy narrow street lined with colourful lights and restaurants in District 1 Ho Chi Minh

Don’t Forget Travel Insurance

Whenever you travel overseas it’s imperative to travel with a good travel and medical insurance policy.  None of us expect anything bad to happen, but in the event of an incident, you want to be sure that your insurance will be there for you.

I’ve had the mis-fortune to end up in hospital in Peru, Indonesia, Portugal, Japan and Ireland; every time my insurance took care of everything. I would never leave home without full and comprehensive insurance.

Globelink : We have used and recommended Globelink for years and we’ve not heard of any issues. They are a great choice for European and UK Residents.

TrueTraveller : We have this policy now for an extended global trip and we are very happy with the cover, especially considering our ages and pre-existing conditions

Safety Wing : Many of my travelling buddies from the USA have recommended this company to me, although we’ve not used them personally.

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