As one of Vietnam’s younger cities, Ho Chi Minh City has infectious energy. When experienced like a local, this massive, fast-paced behemoth is a wonderful place. Plan for three action-packed days around town, whizzing past the city’s sights and enjoying all the sounds, smells, and vibrancy of life in Vietnam’s largest metropolis.
Start your adventure at the Reunification Palace with a free guided tour. When you’ve finished, stroll through 30-4 Park, stopping for a ca phe bet (sidewalk coffee) if you need a caffeine fix, or popping into one of the posh air-conditioned cafés nearby. The opposite end of the park opens onto Notre Dame Cathedral and the Central Post Office. From here, walk up toward Turtle Lake for lunch. There are plenty of options overlooking the roundabout and on the side streets surrounding 30-4 Park. You can also head west to Khoai or …hum before spending the afternoon at the War Remnants Museum.
Head back toward the backpacker district as the day winds down, passing through Tao Dan Park en route. Stop by Chill Skybar or OMG for cocktails and bird’s-eye views of the city, or simply rest up before heading off for dinner. District 1’s Tan Dinh neighborhood is a good choice. For street food, Banh Xeo 46A offers a great introduction into local cuisine, while Cuc Gach Quan adds an upscale environment to its delicious Vietnamese menu. Not far from this area, seafood lovers will also appreciate Quan Mien Cua 94 Cu.
After dinner, return to the backpacker neighborhood for cheap street beers or a laid-back drink at The View. Dance floors are abundant throughout this area, with live bands playing nightly at Universal Bar and Thi Cafe.
Jet out to Cho Lon first thing in the morning to explore Chinatown’s enormous wholesale market. You can grab breakfast from one of the many market vendors before hitching a xe om ride over to Thien Hau Pagoda, stopping in at the nearby Chaozhou Congregation Hall and Cho Lon Mosque while you’re there. When you’ve had your fill of District 5, head back downtown to bustling Ben Thanh Market for shopping and lunch. Wander down Le Loi street, passing by the city’s charming colonial Hotel de Ville building and the Opera House as you reach a more upscale part of town.
Enjoy a sunset drink from the rooftop of Broma or grab a cocktail at the swanky Racha Room. Dinner in this neighborhood is an international affair, with Ciao Bella, The Refinery, and Pizza 4Ps within walking distance, as well as a few local eateries, such as Bo Tung Xeo and the Temple Club.
For a night on the town, Last Call, a classy cocktail lounge, is nearby, as is Phatty’s, an expat sports bar, and the dance floor of Apocalypse Now. The city’s best live music venues are Yoko and Saigon Ranger.
Spend your last day in the city with a local. Art enthusiasts can sign up for Sophie’s Art Tour to learn more about Vietnam’s history through the eyes of its artists. Foodies will appreciate Back of the Bike Tours, which go around town, savoring all the best local fare. If you prefer an activity, you can spend the morning honing your culinary skills with a cooking class or treat yourself at one of the city’s spas.
When you’re ready for lunch, pay a visit to the famous Lunch Lady for one of her tasty soups before walking to the Jade Emperor Pagoda nearby. From here, spend the rest of the afternoon unwinding at a café or wandering around the city.
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