Vietnam's Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC) has a range of exciting activities and historical landmarks to explore. While this capital city might be best known for its war history, it has a lot more to offer on top of its informative war memorials and museums. This includes beautiful architecture, culturally-impressive temples, a variety of markets, and great restaurants and bars.
Luckily for those wanting a quick trip, you can enjoy all of the city's popular spots by spending just 3 days in Ho Chi Minh City. HCMC, and Vietnam more generally, is also an excellent location for all types of travelers, including families with kids and solo, budget-conscious travelers.
When planning your trip to Ho Chi Minh City, I would also recommend seeing as much of the country as you can to explore the complexities between the north and the south. So consider spending at least two weeks in Vietnam, visiting some of its best places, such as Hanoi, Hoi An, Dalat, and Hue.
If you think Ho Chi Minh City sounds like the right place for your next trip, then keep reading my 3 day Ho Chi Minh City itinerary.
Using the map of Ho Chi Minh City, you can explore all the days and stops.
You'll spend your first day in Ho Chi Minh City visiting iconic markets and temples. You'll also get to view the city from up high at Bitexco's SkyDeck.
Your day will begin in Pham Ngu Lao. This street has many shopping malls and street markets to venture through, plus lots of street food stalls. You'll then head to Thien Hau Temple where you can reflect or simply admire the architecture of this Chinese temple.
Your next stop is at the modern Bitexco Financial Tower. This office building is the tallest in Ho Chi Minh City. It also has shops, restaurants, and the well-known glass SkyDeck where you can take in views of the city and the Saigon River. Get some lunch here too, or visit a local pho restaurant like Pho 1954.
Your afternoon will be spent at another temple, the Hindu Mariamman Temple. You'll then visit Ben Thanh Market. This market has a chill vibe and is good for those on the hunt for bargain goods or freshly-cooked Vietnamese food.
Snack your way around the food stalls, or get dinner and drinks at a nearby restaurant. If you're still in the mood to stay out, check out some bars here, or return to Pham Ngu Lao.
Pham Ngu Lao street is a vibrant and busy area. It’s definitely worth a visit during your 72 hours in Ho Chi Minh City. Also known as Backpacker Street, you’ll find many budget hostels, motels, and guest houses here. There’s a vast array of bars, clubs, and restaurants as well.
Pham Ngu Lao has several street markets along with shopping malls. You’ll find stalls and shops selling clothing, souvenirs, candy, and even conical hats, the unofficial national symbol. The area is also home to many street food stalls if you want to try some quick, cheap, and tasty Vietnamese dishes. There are additionally lots of pho restaurants here that stay open until late.
If you want to come later in the day to experience the nightlife in Pham Ngu Lao, you won’t be short of options. The View Rooftop Bar is a cool place to check out. It offers a relaxed atmosphere and incredible views.
You can choose from an extensive list of cocktails or enjoy traditional bar offerings like beer and wine. They also have some fun blended drinks like their KitKat smoothie. Accompany your drink with Vietnamese-inspired bar food. Adventurous eaters can even try frog porridge here!
The Thien Hau Temple, or Ba Thien Hau Pagoda, is a Chinese-style temple dedicated to the Chinese Sea Goddess, Mazu. It’s believed that Mazu protects ships and those traveling the seas.
The design of this temple is heavily inspired by Chinese architecture. It features colorful dioramas that hang from the ceiling, plus many statues, sculptures, and artworks. The focal point of the temple is the collection of three Lady of the Sea statues that sit at the main altar.
You can additionally see porcelain figurines that allude to Chinese religion and mythology on the roof of the temple. The burning incense in the courtyard and around the altar add to the experience by delicately scenting the air.
Enjoy views of Ho Chi Minh City from great heights at the Bitexco Tower Sky Deck during the day or at night. The building itself is a financial tower with company offices. It also houses shops and restaurants, and there’s even a helipad on the roof.
Bitexco Tower is the tallest building in the city at 262 meters tall. Head to the 49th floor to enjoy 360-degree views of Ho Chi Minh City and the Saigon River from the glass observation Sky Deck.
Once you’ve taken in the views, you can try one of the tower’s restaurants or cafes. Enjoy food and drinks with even more stunning views.
Your three days in Ho Chi Minh City wouldn’t be complete without a taste of the famous national dish, Pho. Made with noodles, broth, and beef or chicken, plus beansprouts and garnish, it’s a delicious must-try.
You’ll find a large selection of Pho restaurants across the city. Pho 1954 is a popular spot where you’re guaranteed to get a tasty bowl of authentic Pho. This particular restaurant has been serving locals and tourists since 1954, hence the name!
Mariamman Temple, or Temple Goddess Mariamma, is a beautiful Hindu temple. Notably, it’s the only Hindu temple in Ho Chi Minh City. The temple is dedicated to the Hindu Goddess of Rain, Mariamman. She is seen as the protector of the temple who blesses visitors with luck and wealth.
The inside of the temple is covered in intricate details and shrines with statues of gods and goddesses throughout. The main altar features a statue of Mariamman and her deities. Another interesting feature is the praying stone. Here, worshippers can whisper their wishes and be blessed by the goddess.
Offerings for the gods and goddesses can also be purchased at the temple. If planning to visit in the afternoon, note that the temple is closed between 12 pm and 1 pm.
Ben Thanh Market is one of Ho Chi Minh City’s oldest and most well-known markets. It’s a great place to explore and find many local Vietnamese crafts and other items.
You’ll discover handicrafts, Vietnamese souvenirs, and even traditional Ao Dai garments here. Ben Thanh Market is also popular for its hawker-style food stalls. You can enjoy Vietnamese cuisine and street eats that are all cooked right in front of you. Eat-in restaurants are open at the market during the evening as well.
The bustling market has a lively atmosphere during the day and night. I would recommend that you avoid visiting the market during the middle of the day though as the midday sun can make exploring it hot and tiring!
Having looked around the market, I suggest a stop at the nearby Chanh Bistro Rooftop. Enjoy delicious lunch or dinner dishes along with yummy cocktails at this stylish rooftop bar and restaurant. Chanh Bistro also has boozy brunch on weekends and a daily happy hour from 2 pm to 6.30 pm.
The second day of your short trip to Ho Chi Minh City will be spent outside of the city. You’ll start the day by going close to the Cambodian border to visit Cao Dai Temple. The followers of Caodaism, a religion indigenous to Vietnam, built this beautiful Caodaist temple.
Your next stop is the Cu Chi Tunnels. This historical attraction allows you to go down into the 120km of tunnels once used by the Viet Cong. You can also try the shooting range and other above-ground attractions here if you wish. Using a tour company is recommended for both the temple and the tunnels. Some tours even add the Mekong Delta to the trips, too.
You’ll finish your day by heading back to the city to wander around the night market at the Rubik Zoo. Here, you can taste authentic Vietnamese street food and listen to live music. If you like, you can then visit one of the many bars or nightclubs to experience Ho Chi Minh’s exciting nightlife.
Get a glimpse of authentic Vietnamese architecture by visiting the Cao Dai Temple. Built in 1947, the temple is dedicated to Caodaism. Caodaism promotes global tolerance of all and teaches that all religions are similar and equal.
The temple itself is an exquisite piece of architecture. The exterior is built in a traditional Vietnamese way. The design includes multiple towers, archways, balconies, and sloping roofs, all complete with intricate details.
The inside is equally as beautiful. The colorful temple has stained glass windows and pillars covered in dragon sculptures and patterns. The focal point of the temple is the Divine Eye, which is a Caodaism emblem that symbolizes God and features the Ying Yang symbol in the center.
Daily services are held at the temple and are very interesting to view. They include prayer, chanting, and choral singing. The practicing Caodists also wear traditional white or colored robes. Services are every six hours, starting at midnight (12 am, 6 am, 12 pm, 6 pm).
Due to the temple's location near the Cambodian border, it's recommended to book a tour if you plan to visit. You'll also have to remove your shoes to enter and make sure you wear something that covers your knees.
The Cu Chi Tunnels is a network of underground tunnels that were once used by Viet Cong soldiers. Visitors can access the safer parts of the tunnels that were expanded to accommodate crowds. Some tunnels still fit only one person at a time, and the ceilings are quite low. So if you’re claustrophobic, this might be one to skip!
If you do want to explore the underground passages, there are over 120km of tunnels to venture through. You’ll get to see trap doors and underground living quarters, hospitals, and armories, all used by the Viet Cong. You’ll additionally learn more about the tunnel’s use in the war and the threats that the soldiers faced.
Once you leave the tunnels, you can try out the shooting range where you can fire Ak-47s. Multiple vendors also sell souvenirs.
It’s recommended to use a tour company to get to the tunnels. Most tours are half a day long (morning or afternoon.) You can even take a VIP tour and visit the Mekong Delta too. This package includes transportation in a luxurious limousine complete with wifi, cold drinks, and snacks. You also get lunch and will be collected and dropped off at your hotel.
Rubik Zoo is a fun and trendy weekend night market in Ho Chi Minh City. It is known for its vibrant nightlife with food stalls, cafes, and shopping. The open-air market features quirky converted shipping containers and lots of outdoor seating areas.
Start by exploring the stalls selling clothing and trinkets. Then move around the many food stalls selling authentic Vietnamese dishes. Some nights here also have live music performances to enjoy.
After the market, you can head to one of several bars or nightclubs in the area. The ATM Cocktail Bar & Kitchen is recommended and is just a three-minute walk from Rubik Zoo. This speakeasy-style bar has fantastic cocktails, including their signature Mekong Negroni, as well as beer, mixed drinks, wine, and snacks.
Lush nightclub is an excellent spot for dancing and craft cocktails. They also have a ladies night every Tuesday with free drinks until midnight.
The last of your three days in Ho Chi Minh City will be spent visiting some of the city’s most iconic landmarks and learning about Vietnamese war history. Your day will begin at the War Remnants Museum. You’ll be able to view exhibits on the First Indochina War and the Vietnam War. You can even see war machinery and fighter planes.
Next, you’ll visit another landmark related to the wars, the Independence Palace. Built by the French during their rule of Indochina, it’s most well-known as the site on which the Vietnam War ended. Here, you can learn more about the Palace’s history and explore its five floors and gardens.
Before your next stops, take a break for lunch at Pizza 4P’s. It’s a great place to refuel for the rest of your day!
Your afternoon will give you a glimpse of France’s influence on Ho Chi Minh City. Start at the Saigon Central Post Office. The French built this still-functioning post office in the 19th century.
Next, visit the Notre-Dame Cathedral Basilica of Saigon. This beautiful church was constructed with materials sourced from France and still holds daily prayer and Sunday Mass. End your day at the Saigon Opera House. Explore the stunning building alone or stay to catch a performance as well.
A visit to the War Remnants Museum is a compelling and worthwhile trip. The museum houses exhibits on the First Indochina War and the Vietnam War.
The museum is easy to get to, being right in the heart of the city. Once inside, you’ll get to explore a range of exhibitions on life and battle during the wars Vietnam has faced.
Some of the displays are quite graphic, especially those with images from the Vietnam War. However, they serve as an essential reminder of the damage war does and help provide a complete picture of life during the Vietnam War. While at the museum, you’ll also get to view Huey helicopters, F-5A fighters, and a guillotine.
The Independence Palace, or Reunification Palace, is a center point of Vietnam’s history. The palace was built on the site of the former Norodom Palace. The original palace was built in 1868 for the French Governor-General of Indochina.
The Independence Palace is equally as historic as the Norodom Palace. It’s most well-known as the building in which the president of South Vietnam lived and worked during the Vietnam War. Notably, it was the last target of the Vietnamese Liberation Army during the conflict. The running of tanks into the palace grounds marked the end of the Vietnam War in 1975.
A visit to the Independence Place will allow you to witness all this history. The palace is preserved as it would have been in 1975. You can explore all five levels of the building, including the basement area complete with tunnels and war rooms and the fourth-floor casino. There are also many secret rooms and lush gardens.
Exhibits focus on Vietnam’s and the palace’s history. You’ll also find displays on war propaganda materials and old telecommunications devices. Feel free to explore by yourself, or get a complimentary tour guide.
This Italian-style pizza restaurant chain serves some of the best pizza in the city. They utilize fresh farm-to-table ingredients and make the cheeses they use themselves, including the mozzarella and burrata.
Pizza 4P's serves a selection of pizzas with both traditional and more unique toppings. These include classic margarita and parma ham pizzas, or try the salmon with miso cream or calamari with seaweed among others. A popular and decadent choice is their Signature pizza line. These classic pizzas are topped with a whole ball of creamy burrata.
You can additionally enjoy appetizers and salads, and choose from nine pasta dishes. Be sure to save room for dessert, too! Options include the famous Tiramisu or more innovative dishes like matcha creme brûlée.
Also known as the Ho Chi Minh City Post Office, the Saigon Central Post Office is a lovely historic landmark. Visiting the post office is one of the best things to do in Ho Chi Minh City in three days. While you may not spend much time here, you’ll get to enjoy this beautifully-preserved building. As it’s still a working post office, there’s also a busy and lively atmosphere.
The post office was constructed during the 19th century when France ruled Indochina. The building is an excellent piece of French colonial architecture and is unchanged since the 1800s. It features high ceilings and arched windows with wooden shutters, among other vintage design elements. The exterior is known for its unique and happy yellow color.
While at the post office, pick-up a postcard or two along with stamps to send home to friends and family. You could even send one to your house as a reminder of your visit, complete with Ho Chi Minh City postmark.
The Notre-Dame Cathedral of Saigon is a well-known Catholic cathedral located in Paris Square. French colonists established the Cathedral in the late 1800s. Its Romanesque design was modeled on the Notre Dame de Paris, and construction materials were even shipped in from France.
Having appreciated the exterior design, head inside the Cathedral to view the stain-glass, high-ceilings, and other beautiful design elements.
A now-famous feature of the Cathedral is the Virgin Mary statue that stands outside the Cathedral. It’s said that in 2005 visitors saw a single tear run down the Virgin Mary’s face. This sighting caused hundreds to flock to the Cathedral with the Catholic Church having to intervene eventually.
The Cathedral is open for viewings and prayer daily. Mass is held every Sunday morning in both English and Vietnamese.
Also known as the Municipal Theatre of Ho Chi Minh City, the Saigon Opera House has been an iconic landmark since 1898. The stunning French colonial-style building is even certified as a National Relic.
The three-story opera house still hosts many performances today. I highly recommend that you visit to appreciate the architecture and even check out a show if one appeals to you. The performances being held are posted outside the opera house. You can also visit the state-operated tourist information center to get a show program.
Shows put on at the Saigon Opera House include cultural performances, concerts, bamboo cirque, ballet and other dance shows. No matter what is on during your visit, watching a show here is sure to be a memorable experience.
Ho Chi Minh City is a beautiful and fascinating city to visit. It's full of culture, history, and exciting attractions. Through learning about Vietnam's history, exploring its markets and landmarks, and enjoying the best nightlife, you'll feel like a local even after just three days!
Using my Ho Chi Minh City itinerary means that you won't miss out on any of the most popular sights and attractions the city has to offer. You'll also be able to try some great bars and restaurants. Although if you don't go with my recommendations, you're still sure to find fantastic food, drinks, and clubbing no matter where you go in the city!
This article was edited by Loredana Elena and was first published on Jul 3, 2020 12:44 UTC.
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