Notre Dame Cathedral
This twin-towered cathedral is one of the most prominent architectural marvels in the city. It was built in 1877, made 100% from imported French materials. The streets outside are always bustling with tourists, austere, the church comes alive during services. The only English mass is on Sunday at 9:30am.
Add: Cong Xa Paris, D.1
Time: 5:30 am – 5:00pm/Sunday
Local insight: The Cathedral is fenced in due to renovation, but mass is still held normally.
Saigon Central Post Office
Designed in beautiful French-colonial style by no-one less than Gustave Eiffel, the post office was built between 1886 and 1891. Generally filled with tourists, it is still a working post office. Get your postcards at Couleurs by Réhahn and send them off here.
Add: 2 Cong Xa Paris, D.1
Time: Mon – Fri: 7am – 7pm/ Sat – Sun: 7:00am – 6pm
Local insight: Have a talk with famous 90-year-old letter writer and translator Duong Van Ngo, usually sitting in the back of the building.
The pedestrian book street has been open to the public since 2016. Most books are in Vietnamese, but there is a small selection of English and French books. After browsing, head to one of the cafes for some people-watching.
Add: Nguyen Van Binh, next to Saigon Central Post Office
Time: 8:00am – 9:00pm – Cafes: 6:00am – 11:00pm
Local insight: Get your English books at the lovely Boa Bookstore (Room C26, 6 Cong Truong Quoc Te, D.3)
Dong Khoi Street
Known as Rue Catinat during the French colonial days, this street was reborn during Doi Moi as the heart of Saigon’s commercial district. It has local boutiques, international restored French colonial building, As well as historical venues such as the Grand hotel and Hotel Majestic. It runs from Notre Dame Cathedral to the river.
Local insight: Most of the story of Graham green’s world-famous novel “The Quiet American” takes place here.
The Opera House
Great photo ops await those who seek out one of the city’s most prominent landmarks. The Opera House was built in 1897 by French architect Eugene Ferret. Now classical concerts and operas are held here weekly. It is only open to the public during events, so be sure to check their current schedules. The prices are very reasonable
Add: 7 Lam Son Square, D.1
Local insight: The critically acclaimed AO Show is performed at the Opera House.
This grand building was designed by Ngo Viet Thu for South Vietnam’s former President Ngo Dinh Diem during the time of the American War. The official handover of power took place here on the 3
April 1975, and the palace became a monument to that historic date.
Add: 135 Nam Ky Khoi Nghia, D.1
Time: 7:30am – 11:00am & 1:00pm – 4:00pm
Fee: 40.000VND (adults); 20.000VND (students); 10.000VND (5 – 7 years old)
Local insight: Don’t forget to watch the historical film on your way out in the dedicated cinema room.
Nguyen Hue Street
Visit Saigon’s first pedestrian street at night and go all the way from the river to City Hall and the Ho Chi Minh statue. The glittering lights and cheerful hustle and bustle are sure to lift tour spirits. If you’re lucky enough to be in town during Tet, Vietnam’s Lunar New Year, Nguyen Hue gets transformed into a massive flower street.
Local insight: Watch the crowd from The Marker café on the third floor of the iconic 42 Nguyen Hue building.
City Hall – Architecture
At the top of Nguyen Hue walking street, you’ll see the magnificent offices of the Ho Chi Minh City People’s Committee. Completed in 1908, the design of former Hotel de Ville is based on the original in Paris. It’s one of the most stunning monument in the city, especially when lit at night.
Add: Le Thanh Ton and Nguyen Hue, D.1
Local insight: Interior is not open to the public. Marvel at the City Hall from the rooftop of the adjacent Rex Hotel. Happy hour: 5 – 7pm
Ho Chi Minh City Museum
Built around 1885, the beautiful French-colonial building is well worth a visit, yet the exhibits – archaeological artifacts, city maps and the like – are only averagely interesting. The building was once the center of the city government after Reunification Palace was destroyed by a bombing.
Add: 65 Ly Tu Trong, D.1
Time: 8:00am – 5:00pm
Fee: 15.000 VND
Local insight: Beneath the museum is a network of tunnels that goes as far as the Reunification Palace.
National History Museum
The National History Museum is devoted to Indochinese architecture. Definitely also pass through the Charm section, which include some relics taken from Cambodia’s Angkor Wat. Note that you’re asked to pay 40.000VND extra to take photos in the museum.
Add: 2B Nguyen Binh Khiem, D.1
Time: Tues-Sun 8:00am-11:30am & 1:30pm – 5:00 pm
Local insight: Outside the rear entrance enormous bronze panels detail Vietnam’s history
Ben Thanh Market
It can be a bit daunting to make sense of this market with its more than 3,000 vendor stalls. Luckily, we laid everything out in an organized gird (see opposite page)! Put on a steely demeanor, as sellers here are particularly persistent with tourists. Go to the fixed-price area for some hassle-free souvenir shopping and check the night market after 6pm for a quick dinner.
Add: Intersection of Le Loi, Ham Nghi and Le Lai, D.1
Time: 5:30am – 6:00pm
Local insight: Climb up the staircase hidden behind Shop 94 in the south corner and escape the market madness at the in-house shrine.
Bitexco Financial Tower
Opened in 2010 the 262.5m-high Bitexco Financial Tower was the tallest tower in Saigon until the Landmark 81 surpassed it in 2018. Bitexco’s design was inspired by Vietnam’s national flower, the lotus. The Saigon Skydeck, found on the 49th floor, offers breathtaking panoramas of the city for 200.000VND. The building is also home to three bars and two restaurants on the 50th floors. We recommend for EON51 for a dinner with a view.
Add: 45 Ngo Duc Ke, D.1
Time: 9:am – 9:30pm
Local insight: The helipad on the 52nd floor was shipped to Vietnam in one piece from Korea.
Huyen Sy Church
At over 100 years old, this church is the oldest and second largest in Saigon. It was named after Huyen Sy, grandfather of Vietnam’s last queen. You can find the tombs of Mr and Mrs Huyen sy off to the side of the nave.
Add: 1 Ton That Tung, D.1
Time: 5:00am – 5:30pm Sunday, Mass is held at 5:00am; 6:30am; 4:30pm; 6:00pm; 7:30pm
Local insight: Go at night – the neon lights provides a unique and dazzling exterior.
Jade Emperor Pagoda
Built in 1990 by Saigon’s Chinese population, this atmospheric Cantonese pagoda features the Jade Emperor (heaven’s keeper), who keeps watch over the incense-filled rooms and their hidden chambers, altars and wood carvings. One of the halls honors the most important deity of fertility, Kim Hua, while the second story represents heaven and features the goddess of Mercy, Kwan Ying.
Ad: 73 Mai Thi Luu, D.1
Time: 8:00am – 5:00pm
Local insight: The turtles in the pond next to the entrance are said to bring good luck.
Jamia Al Muslin Mosque
One of the 12 mosques serving the city, Jamia Al Muslin Mosque was constructed for southern Indian worshippers. Muslims from all over the world now come here to pray, though the shaded veranda makes an ideal place for anyone to sit during the heat of the day. Dine at the compound’s halal restaurant, which offers cheap Indian and Malay food.
66 Dong Du, D.1
6:00am – 9:00pm
Local insight: Remember to dress modestly covering your shoulders and knees.
Mari Amman Hindu Temple
This temple seems out of the place with its colorful façade that jumps out from its surroundings. Inside, incense fills the air, completing the tranquil setting. The temple was built by traders from Tamil Nadu and is named after the goddess Mari Amman, worshipped for her miraculous power, which include romantic matching abilities.
Add: 45 Truong Dinh, D.1
Time: 7:00am – 7:00pm
Local insight: Remember to remove yours shoes before stepping onto the raised platform.
Saigon Zoo & Botanical Gardens
The gardens feature a wide range of animals including rare snackes, elephants, giraffes and birds, but beware – many nimals look visibly uncared for. We recommend you stroll through the lush botanical gardens for a retreat into nature or catch a theatre performance instead. Also, visit the butterfly garden!
Add: 2B Nguyen Binh Khiem, D.1
Time: 7:00am – 6:30pm
Fee: 50.000VND (adults); 30.000VND (children over 1.3m)
Local insight: Inside the main gate you’ll find the Temole of King Hung Vuong, built to hounour the legendary founder of Vietnam.
Pham Ngu Lao & Bui Vien_Western Streets
There’s no place in Saigon quite like Pham Ngu Lao & Bui Vien. Somewhat endearingly termed “the Backpacker District”, this area in the lower half of District 1 lives up to its name. Backpackers fresh off the bus and ready to make merry flock to Pham Ngu Lao, and especially the infamous Bui Vien Street. Here you’ll find the city’s most affordable hostels and 2 to 3-star hotels, international cuisine, plenty of duious and less dubious massage parlours and pretty much everything in between.
Formerly a busy and anxiety-provoking thoroughfare for cars, taxis and motorbikes, travelers and locals can now enjoy Bui Vien as a walking street every weekend.
Besure check out The view at Duc Vuong Hotel (195 Bui Vien) for a very low-key rooftop bar experience. The crazy Dutch (189 Bui vien) is considered a go-to place for expat English teachers who like to drink; and dozens of Vietnamese-run beer parlours line the streets.
However, it’s not about drinking here – travelers also delight in the wide array of food options in the area as well. For Indian cuisine, Baba’s Kitchen (164 Bui Vien, D.1)
Can’t be beat; if you fancy Thai, be sure to try Five Oysters (234 Bui vien), the bestpho eatery is Pho Quynh (323 Pham Ngu Lao), and Bun Cha 145 (145 Bui Vien) has just the right food to accompany a beer or two.