A Day in the Life,  Activities,  Vietnam

What To Do In Ho Chi Minh City; Saigon For The Cool Kids

We haven’t so far been too much in love with cities, but Saigon has broken this pattern. Both of us really love this city. There is so much going on all the time and it really feels like a well oiled machine, where tourists and locals can co-exist naturally.

Not much to see on this side of the riverfront.

The best way to see this vibrant city is by walking. You can spend an entire day walking around and discovering new things and that is what we did. The clash of classic and modern architecture, saturated in history and culture with a vibrant pulse, really makes this city feel alive. I never got bored and never stopped being amazed.

A doctor’s office

Emma’s favorite Banh lady. She definitely started to recognise us. We had breakfast there and most of the time a snack from her as well. The mystery ingredients just taste so good. I’m getting hungry just thinking about it. Between 10’000 and 20’000 dong, this is a great deal!

They are always different and almost always taste awesome and they are so cheap.

Ben Thanh market is a busy place, especially on the weekends. Locals and a lot of tourists are scrambling for bargains and the lanes between the stalls are sometimes less than a meter wide. The stall owners stand in this lane and really want you to buy everything. For a market experience, this is a great one. The wet market is like many in Asia, but they are always worth strolling through.

There are a lot of people and this is where the tourists get their market fix.

So many colours and different things to waste money on, it is really difficult to refrain. There is also food, which is cheap and very tasty. This is where I had my first Vietnamese ice coffee and boy do I love them!

The shop girls would hold the T-Shirts up to me as I pass them.

The endless exploring opportunities took us to some really small and tangled alleyways. I think we accidentally walked into private driveways and almost people’s homes many times. They are always friendly, but thought we were lost and showed us the way back to the main streets.

Such a cool city, relaxed, intense, ancient and modern all at the same time.

Life here really happens in the street. They are cooking, playing, washing, gambling, chatting, resting, arguing and all of it outside their homes in the alleyways. Of course motorbikes pass through here as well and the walls are often scratched at the handlebar height as the alleys are rarely wider than a motorbike.

Local residents going about their day

At night you can street watch. Many places in the backpackers streets will put plastic seats out the front facing the streets and serve cold Saigon Green. A great pastime. You can wave down street food vendors and they will serve all kinds of cheap and incredibly delicious delicacies. We had grilled squid and dried cuttlefish, which tastes a little like fish jerky, so good with cold beer. We witnessed a motorbike crash (should have been a sign) and it is just generally fascinating to watch the street night life.

A savory snack to go with our sweet fruit shakes. Yum!

There are also really nice and grand streets with classic buildings and luxury brand shops. It feels really good to walk through this area. For once we didn’t have life stock and dusty streets. It was a welcome contrast to Cambodia.

..so I fixed it for the photo.

I’m sure the actual fountain is a little more impressive, but, just for you dear readers.

These were really good.

Once again, waiting to order some incredibly delicious fruit shakes and trying not to get flattened by the bikes zooming in and out of the alley. Banana, Mango and Strawberry is the best. There are actual fruit chunks in it!

Really cool building and interesting inside. You can join a free tour.

Vietnam has such a rich history, that you don’t have to go searching for it. The Independence Palace is an obvious choice to commence historic immersion in Vietnam.

A common street scene

The streets are never quiet. Only for a few hours in the early morning hours, they calm down a little. We constantly got offered stuff to buy. This is just how it is here and for the first time, we really loved it.

Great nightlife and we felt safe the whole time.

Usually the tourist street is not a great place to hang out, but there are so many locals still living here that it was really awesome. You can’t avoid touts and touching motorbikes in motion, but this gives it the intense feeling, and here somehow it does not destroy the charm.

An adventure of smells, sounds and sights.

Venturing out of district 1 is well worth the time. We walked through a local wet market in the street and it was very pleasantly surprising to know that the city does have places like it and the culture is ingrained in it.

Fish were still twitching on the plates – so fresh.

It may look a little brutal and basic, but I’m certain that the food you buy here is fresh and the street food vendors we bought from buy there ingredients here.

People were really friendly and helpful for a big city. A very pleasant surprise.

Another venture into the alleys to find a head shampoo for Emma. This is a thing that she wanted to do in Vietnam and apparently it is awesome. They washed, shampooed and conditioned her hair, gave her a face massage, head massage and all that for just under $3 US dollars. The girls in the shop felt sorry for me waiting, so they gave me free bananas. Watching the process however was plenty of entertainment.

This took a good 30 minutes, with face slapping and all.

Street food in the local alleys for lunch is the best and cheapest option. There may be some sign language required to order the thing you want, but once it arrives and you eat it, it is well worth it.

They were excited and confused that we came to eat here.

At night, you can retreat to one of many rooftop bars, escaping the street life and heat both at once. To our positive surprise the prices up here are not more than down at street level. What an awesome place. I miss it and I will definitely be back.

Saigon skyline by night


  • Jenia from HTL

    Hi there – you have a lovely blog! Looks like we’ve done lots of similar stuff in Vietnam. We haven’t been up north in Hanoi and Sapa yet, but look forward to it. Saigon, really really impressed us. We found this local blog with a link to Saigon’s indie cafes, and were totally blown away by how “Brooklyn” these establishments are. If you are ever back in Ho Chi Minh — we highly recommend! đŸ™‚
    PS: directions are here: vietnamcoracle.com/best-hidden-cafes-saigon/

    • lionel

      Hey Jenia, glad you enjoy our blog! Vietnam was an amazing adventure and we loved the coffee đŸ™‚ Thanks for the link, we’ll be sure to check them out when we get back to HCM!

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