Experience The Best Of Ho Chi Minh City In 48 Hours
Detailed below, we've included a brief history of Ho Chi Minh City, a handful of the most popular tourist sites you can't miss, a couple delicious food and restaurant recommendations, tips on finding accommodation, a quick breakdown of how much this city will cost you, a 48-hour example itinerary, and information on how to get around the city - including how to get to and from the airport.
With more than 10 million tourists visiting annually, Vietnam is quickly becoming one of the most travelled to countries in Southeast Asia. From the endless rice fields in northern Sapa, the ever famous limestone islands of Ha Long Bay, and the french quarter in Hanoi, to the center of the country where you will meet Da Nang - the fastest growing city in Southeast Asia, which is surrounded by multiple UNESCO World Heritage Cities like Hue, Hoi An, and My Son. Take a trip further south through the mountains of Da Lat, the beach town of Nha Trang and make your way to the biggest, fastest and most populated city of Saigon or Ho Chi Minh City. HCM City is a metropolis of towering skyscrapers, day and evening markets, more bars and clubs than you could visit in one year, fantastic food, incredible history, and endless options to keep any tourist busy from sunrise to sunset.
Getting To & From The Airport
There are 4 ways to get into the city from Tan Son Nhat International Airport.
1. Take bus 109. This bus can be found at both international and domestic terminals in the airport. The bus runs every 30 minutes and takes about 45 minutes to get to the 23rd of September Park in the city center which is the main backpacker area. The bus is in both Vietnamese and English. The cost is $0.90 USD --> 20,000 VND one way.
2. Take bus 49. Just like bus 109, this bus can be found at both international and domestic terminals in the airport. The bus runs every 30 minutes and takes anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour as this bus will drop you off directly at your hotel or hostel. The bus is in both Vietnamese and English. The cost is $1.75 USD --> 40,000 VND one way.
3. Take bus 152 (This is the cheapest option). Just like bus 109 and 49, this bus can be found at both international and domestic terminals in the airport. The bus runs every 30 minutes and takes about 45 minutes to get to the 23rd of September Park in the city center which is the main backpacker area. The bus is in both Vietnamese and English. The cost is $0.23 USD --> 5,000 VND one way. However this bus will charge you 5,000 VND extra for each piece of large luggage you have with you.
4. Take a Grab (This is the fastest option). One of the best ways to get around in Vietnam by using the Vietnamese answer to Uber which is called Grab. Download the App and pay with cash or card. The drivers are very good about knowing where everything is and also have a map on their phone to get you directly to your hotel or hostel. Tipping is not required and there is no extra fee for having a backpack or suitcase. The cost is around $5.00 USD --> 100,000 VND one way. *Note - you may have to pay 15,000 VND ($.066 USD) extra due to the 'airport exit' fee for private vehicles.
First Things First - What To Eat?
Ho Chi Minh City is famous for many reasons, but near the top of that list is food. HCM City is the origin city of the now world famous noodle dish, Pho, the ever popular street sandwich called the Banh Mi, and the markets that offer locals and tourists alike the opportunity to try unusual local delicacies like dried squid, fish balls, the smelliest fruit in the world called Durian, or famous Vietnamese iced coffee with condensed milk called Cà Phê Dá (pronounced cafe da). This city is home to more than 1,000 street cart vendors, located on nearly every street corner of the city, selling every item already mentioned and about 2 dozen other unfamiliar, yet delicious food items. You can spend anywhere from $1 to $20 on a meal depending on your tastes. Maybe you fancy fine dining in a 5 star hotel, or a dinner on a roof-top with a city view. Maybe you prefer drinking a beer on the street spending your time people watching, or maybe you just want Pho for every meal. HCM City offers any and every kind of dining to reach the expectations and desires of short term backpackers or long term expats alike.
Must-See's Of Ho Chi Minh City
HCM City is a thriving metropolis, but with the right plan, the city can be explored and mastered in 48 hours. There are eight must see attractions in the city that have come to define the city's wide spread popularity, from iconic architecture, mesmerizing museums, historical war remnants, to the hidden urban side streets filled with surprise markets, restaurants and history - it's all broken down below.
Exploring Ho Chi Minh City On Public Transportation
Though there are city buses, they are very crowded, take a long time, and more than likely will not take you directly to where you need to go. Renting a moped in any Vietnam city is easy, cheap and super fun and is honestly your best best for betting around the city.
Safety Tips: 1) Make sure you rent from someone (or a company) that looks trustworthy. 2) Sign a contract with them that details what happens in the case of a wreck, breakdown, or flat tire. 3) Carry your passport with you when you drive - you never know if you will get into a wreck or pulled over by the police (which honestly never happens) 4) Go SLOW...traffic in HCM City is crazy and the driving in Vietnam is almost lawless - people driving the wrong way, no headlights at night, family of 5 to a scooter, running red lights, and cutting people off 5) Follow your instincts and use your blinker, brakes, and headlights.
Ho Chi Minh City Is A Party City
HCM City is the Bangkok of Vietnam. The ever famous Bui Vien Street is where most backpackers and tourists young and old flock to during the evening. Whether you're looking to suck down a couple nitrous balloons, drink a bucket of beers, rave until the sun comes up, take shots until you can't move, play "find the hooker", or you just want to watch other people do these things, Bui Vien Street is definitely the place to go. If this seems like too much for you, there are dozens of surrounding rooftop bars with a view of the city, complete with better sounding music, cocktails instead of shots, waiters instead of an overcrowded bar, and bathrooms that you won't mind using. Of course the price changes with the new scenery as well. Whatever your fancy, nightlife in HCM City is an ever present part of what makes this city so fun and memorable.
Where We Stay
There are tons of accommodation options in HCM City, from hostels, Airbnb, bed & breakfasts, or many five-star hotels.
We choose to stay at Vy Da Backpackers Hostel in District 1. "Vy Da Backpackers Hostel is a hub for travelers who wish to meet new people and share stories of their journey around the world. We are located in the heart of Saigon, only a 3-minute walk from Ben Thanh Market and Reunification Palace, the most happening area in the city. Staying at our hostel, you will have full experience of the local perspective as you will get to explore around easily."
($9/night for a 10 bed mixed dorm or $47/night for a private twin room).
Travel Tips & Helpful Hints
Do I need a visa? Apply for an E-Visa before your visit. At the beginning of 2017, Vietnam started their E-Visa program (for 25 countries) where you apply for your visa online from anywhere in the world. Before that you would have to go to a Vietnamese embassy somewhere to apply for your journey. It will cost around $25 and only needs 3-5 days for processing. After 3-5 days you can log back into the website and find your approved letter from the government. Print this out and bring it with you upon your arrival into the country.
What is the power voltage? Vietnam uses the same power plug as in the United States and Europe. I.e. any plug from the US or Europe will work in Vietnam. The voltage is 220v whereas the US is 110V - so your devices may get a little warm while charging.
What about smoking weed or drinking in the streets? Though people may smoke it, weed is illegal. As far as drinking goes, it is permissible to drink in public but make sure you pace yourself.
Can you really get clothes hand-made for you in a day/Is it really as cheap as everyone says? Oh yeah! Vietnam is the place to get literally anything you want hand made. Clothes, suits, shoes, belts, purses, robes...literally anything. Any of the major markets will have stands advertising their services for this. There are 3 easy rules to follow to guarantee you don't get ripped off: 1) Make sure your barter your price as they will start high 2) Come back at least once for a fitting 3) Make sure the material they made your clothes out of is the same material you picked at the begining of the process.
What is the currency and its value? The currency used in Vietnam is called the Dong (VND). The current value (at the time writing) is 23,000 VND = $1 USD.
48 hours in Ho Chi Minh City Example Itinerary:
Wake up hungover from your crazy night bar-hopping around Bui Vien Street.
Grab breakfast and some local coffee at any of the coffee shops located in the city. *We recommend the famous local Avocado Smoothie for hangovers.
Head back to your hostel and shower and wait to be picked up for your trip to Cu Chi Tunnels. (This is a tour you need to book during day 1. It is a bit far out of town and not possible to do without a tour)
Spend the next few hours exploring the tunnels.
Grab dinner at any of the many Pho restaurant near the Ben Thanh Market.
Head back to your hotel or hostel.
Grab some breakfast.
Take a walk around District 1 and check out the Notre Dame Cathedral, the Post Office, Independance Palace, and nearby Book Street.
Grab lunch from the Post Office Restaurant, located right next to the Post Office. It is a charming outside French restaurant where you can people watch and enjoy a nice meal for relatively cheap.
Visit the War Remnants Museum. Give yourself about 2-3 hours for this. It is within walking distance from where you just grabbed lunch. Use Maps.Me App for directions.
Head to The Ben Thanh Market after sundown to check out the shops, maybe get a suit made for cheap and grab some local dinner.
Head back to your hotel or hostel and get ready for a crazy night in Bui Vien Street.
So What's It Going To Cost?
Here is how much we spent, and what we spent it on, in 48 hours.
Food: Breakfast: We spent an average of $5 USD each morning as we went to the Post Office restaurant and a nice restaurant in the mall near book street.
Lunch: We spent $3 USD each day at local Pho restaurants.
Dinner: We spent an average of $5 USD each evening. On the first night we went to a local restaurant (which is super cheap) and feasted on 4 different dishes and on the second night we had street Pho which cost $2 each.
Total for Food = $20 USD each/per day.
Beer: Beer is super cheap anywhere you go. $0.20 Bia Hoi on the street, $0.70 beer from a convenience store, or $2.00 beer at a bar on Bui Vien Street.
Total for Beer = $5 USD each/per day.
Accommodation: Vy Da Backpackers Hostel is one of the best in town.
For 2 people to stay 2 nights, we spent $36 total.
Transportation (Including getting to and from the airport): We stayed in District 1, which is where most of the sights are. We walked pretty much everywhere, only taking a Grab to and from the airport, and to get to the 3D Art Museum.
Total for Transportation = $5 USD each.
Activities: Admission ticket for the 3D Art Museum cost $10 USD, and the War Remnants Museum was $0.75. We also spent time in Bui Vien Street, watching the madness of the crowd, but this cost is included above in the Beer section. Besides that, we walked around a bunch and found the free activities to do: like exploring the local markets, checking out the Post Office, Book Street, Notre Dame Cathedral, and the walking around the city, exploring the side streets and French architecture. Unfortunately we were not able to visit the Cu Chi tunnels as we had to spend time getting some documents notarized from the US embassy - time we would have spent at the tunnels. (If you are going to the Cu Chi tunnels, make sure you book your trip with a tour company or your hostel 1 day ahead of time to make sure you get a spot and can plan the rest of your itinerary accordingly).
Total for Activities = $10.75 USD each.
So, What Did We Spend In 48 Hours?
$167.50 USD for 2 people. That's about $41.50 USD per person, per day.