The other day, driving back from work something hit me. I’m not sure if you ever felt it before, this intense desire, need, and longing. Not for a person, but for a place. A distant, humid, hot, tropical place. I almost felt the mango scent in the air, the smell of fresh coriander and pho soup, hot strong-flavored Vietnamese coffee all mixed together in my nostrils.
I’m not entirely sure what triggered this nerve in my brain and what made me remember Vietnam. Maybe the fact that I am planning my next vacation, or maybe it is getting close to the date I left for the sunny city of Ho Chi Minh one year ago, or maybe I just missed the crowded crazy streets, the clear blue water, and white sandy beaches, the only thing I know is I fell into a deep trance. And the fact that I was driving did not help, did not help at all.
What about a Vietnam 3 weeks itinerary?
I had mixed feelings about Vietnam. When we decided to go there it was only as a second choice, only because Thailand was too hot in April and because neither of us had been to Vietnam. One long stop in Belgrade and another short one in Abu Dhabi and many hours later, we found ourselves in the city of Ho Chi Minh, one of the must-see places in Vietnam. It was something entirely different from everything I had experienced up to that point but I had my heart and soul open to take it all in.
The thing that struck me the most in the first hour after landing, apart from the deep humid hot weather was the traffic. Even though we were sitting in the back seat of a taxi, once we got at the first crossroad, we felt like all the mopeds in the world were coming towards us with the speed of light. Not only once, I thought we will hit someone, fearfully covered my eyes not to witness the unstoppable horror.
In the days to come, we felt like newborns: we learned how to cross the street, we learned how to speak/understand Vietnamese English, we learned how to ride the bus with the locals, how to bargain for Buddha statues in the central market (Ben Thanh), how to savor the incredible Vietnamese cuisine (which I absolutely adore and seek out everywhere I go now) and coffee with thick sweet silky condensed milk.
Don’t miss out on more attractions if you have to spend 4 weeks in Vietnam
We stayed in the backpacker’s area and enjoyed all the bars, all the fuss, and music playing all day and all night long, but throughout out Ho Chi Minh itinerary we could not stay away from luxury (knowing me, it is really hard). So we spent some evenings at the rooftop swimming pool at the 5 stars Rex Hotel in the French district.
I had here the best mango smoothie in the whole world and the best Vietnamese massage and scrub ever! My skin was in deep need of exfoliation after one week spent in the sun and the coconut scrub did exactly the trick!
What you might need to know about Vietnam before visiting
The one most important thing when visiting a new country is knowing about its visa requirements.
In fact, the first thing you will want to do is check the visa policy of Vietnam and look for your country.
If you’re coming from the US and some of the EU countries, you’ll be eligible for an E-visa that can be obtained online and costs 25 USD. We used this site to obtain our visa when we visited Da Nang, and it was a very smooth process. Here is another option I’ve seen recommended while I was researching the visa requirements and online visa process.
However, if you want to be certain and have a visa with you, you can apply for it in your country, at the Vietnamese Consulate or Embassy in your country. That’s what we did in order to obtain our visa when we visited Ho Chi Minh and Phu Quoc Island. Look here for the diplomatic mission available where you are.
Airport transfer and getting around town
Take the bus: it is usually really cheap – around 1 USD one way. In Saigon, take the yellow bus that will leave you at Ben Thanh Market.
Take a taxi: there will be plenty available at the airport and the prices are really affordable.
Use Grab: the Vietnamese version of Uber. You should install the app on your phone before departing, have internet access, and a card linked to your account.
Book a shuttle bus: book online ahead of time a private transfer and forget about worrying about getting to the hotel. Book your transfer for Ho Chi Minh here!
Getting around town:
During your stay in the city, you can choose to walk, take public transport (yep, as expected, cheap) or take the taxi 🙂
Oh, and let’s not forget about the most common manner of transportation in Vietnam: the moped. But I guess you can rent one and venture in the hectic crowd only if you are really confident in your driving skills.
If not and still want the adrenaline rush, there is always some Vietnamese guy willing to take you from one place to the other for a few VDNs (local currency).
Get a local SIM card
I always suggest buying a local SIM card because it will come in handy to have an internet connection. Also, who knows when you will need to make a local call?!
Order your SIM card online and pick it up from the airport, that’s the easiest and most convenient way.
Where to stay in Ho Chi Minh
If you’re traveling like us, for the first time to Ho Chi Mihn, you’ll want to choose a place that will grant you fast and easy access to most of the tourist attractions.
As I’ve said, we chose to stay in District 1 (Downtown) in the cheapest area possible: backpacker’s area. If you are looking into this area, you must know that here is where you’ll find the busy nightlife scene, thus it is always crowded and hectic. On the other hand, you’ll have plenty of restaurants to choose from at every step of the way.
However, there are plenty of other options, and I would recommend booking a hotel in this area because you will be within walking distance from most of the important attractions of Ho Chi Minh.
For some help, here are a few options you might want to look into:
Luxury: Park Hyatt Saigon – a French colonial-style hotel in the heart of the city, offering 5* services. With a 20m pool and a luxury spa, you won’t want to leave this place! Check availability and prices!
Mid-Range: Alagon Plus Hotel & Spa – boasting an outdoor rooftop swimming pool, a fitness center, and a bar, this hotel offers the right price and quality combination. Guests staying here appreciated the delicious breakfast and friendly and helpful staff. Check availability and prices!
Budget: Saigon Bed Station – really close to the central market, offering great conditions at a very affordable price. Check availability and prices!
Other worth-knowing information
- people are very friendly and hospitable, you won’t ever be in any danger (I will come back to that in a future post) and they will go out of their way to make you feel welcomed in their country
- prices are really low and a meal can cost you around 5-10 EUR (depending on your appetite)
- if you think that a day at the 5-star pool located within walking distance from the central market would cost you a fortune, better think again. Even though it offers great service and a most exceptional view of the skyline of Saigon, a whole day of relaxation and pampering would cost you only around 7.5 EUR.
- gecko lizards are everywhere, you don’t need to fear them, just accept them as your friends against insects
- the same goes for rats :)) they are everywhere
- there is air conditioning anywhere and everywhere, from every single taxi to supermarkets, hotels. And they like it cold! So if you are sensitive, it might be good to have a jacket just in case
A local market in Ho Chi Minh City
Your perfect Ho Chi Minh itinerary – 3 days in Saigon
Day 1 of your Ho Chi Minh itinerary
Start your day with a pho
Go at one of the best pho places in town or taste one of the many delicious and fresh dishes the local Vietnamese cuisine has on display.
All sorts of soups, from the thick ones to the very light and spicy ones; spring rolls, hot pot dishes, you name it! And you will love it!
Also because being rice-based, it is really light and you can eat all you want to without gaining weight.
If you want to learn more about the local cuisine and delight your taste buds with many dishes, don’t miss out on a Steet Food tour. Book it online and get the best price, while planning your 2 days in Ho Chi Minh to the minute!
Visit the historic sights
Notre Dame Cathedral, War Remnants Museum (focusing on the Vietnam War), Ho Chi Minh City Museum (focusing on the struggles for independence, developments in the city and revolutionary movement), Museum of Traditional Vietnamese Medicine (well, the name says it all, don’t miss it if you are into that or at least curious), Reunification Palace should all be crossed off the list.
Another option if you want to step a bit outside of Saigon, the Cu Chi tunnels are well worth a visit used in several campaigns during the Vietnam war and will take you way back in the past.
Spend the afternoon by the pool
If you’ve followed my suggestion you’ll have a swimming pool waiting for you at the hotel. If not, you will find that most hotels offer access for a small fee.
And what else would be better than spending a few hours on a rooftop with a cocktail in hand, by a pool?
Do a bar crawl
If that is what you’re into, you don’t need to necessarily drink your way to the city, but it can be a fun way of meeting a lot of people from all over the world.
So, spend your first night in town with a pub crawl or you can also choose a craft beer tour with food pairing on a vintage Vespa. No matter what you go for, one thing is true: you won’t get bored!
Day 2 – explore the Mekong Delta
Our experience in the Mekong Delta was unique for sure, and I would recommend to anyone looking to live something unique, even if you only have 2 weeks in Vietnam.
From listening to the traditional local songs sung by girls in their very beautiful dresses to rowing our way through the narrow delta, and eating at a crocodile farm, these are things you simply cannot find anywhere.
In these remote villages, you’ll see how people really live, taste some tropical fruit, get to take a picture with a huge anaconda wrapped around your neck.
This is a day trip you will want to add to your Ho Chi Minh itinerary, trust me.
Book your tour online and avoid having to wander around and look for the best price! And if you want to skip the 3rd day in the city, go for the 2-day unique Mekong Delta & Cai Rang floating market tour.
Get seduced by one of the many Pagodas and temples
Emperor Jade Pagoda, Giac Lam Pagoda, Vinh Nghiem Pagoda, Ba Thien Hau Temple, Mariamman Hindu Temple and so on, the list could go on forever, the only thing you need is time and patience to stir out the city.
Come prepared for shopping
Wake up early in the morning and head up to the Ben Thanh market, ready to practice your bargaining skills.
Just keep in mind that if you are really early and the first customer you won’t be able to come out empty-handed since it is considered to draw bad luck to the shop if the first customer does not buy anything.
Vietnamese Spas and massage
It is impossible to miss out on all the spa’s and I am not making any reference to the “all-inclusive” message, I wouldn’t care about that.
I personally have tried the 5-star spa in Rex hotel and a foot massage in one of the salons in the backpackers’ district. You will need this after a day of hustling and bustling for life in this big city.
So here are a few places you could try in Ho Chi Minh.
Go fancy at one of the many sky bars
Be it the exclusivist and very expensive sky bar located in the tallest building of Saigon, Bitexo Financial Tower, or any other of the so cool and lively sky restaurants and bars, this is a must-do in Saigon.
Pick your preferred one from the list below:
Chill Sky Bar – Address: AB Tower, Tầng 26, 76 Lê Lai, Bến Thành, District 1, go out for a fancy dinner or simply for a night out above the city on the 27th floor of the AB Tower in District 1, the Chill bar looks amazing and offers great modern cuisine
Breeze Sky Bar – Address: 1 Đồng Khởi, Bến Nghé, District 1, located in the Majestic Hotel, this place is not that high in the clouds (located only at the 5th floor) but it still offers a unique view over the river at any time of the ay or the night, since it is open 24/24
Air 360 Sky Lounge – Address: 136-138, Lê Thị Hồng Gấm, Nguyễn Thái Bình, District 1. The pictures say mostly everything about this place
EON 51 Heli Bar in the Bitexo Financial Tower – Address: Bitexco Financial Tower, 2 Hải Triều. located on the 51st floor, this place is the highest bar there is, offering a breathtaking view over the entire city.
Please note that it is rather an exclusivist and frequented by business people coming from the financial area of the city, thus a more fancy dress code might be required.
Take into consideration also the fact that a cocktail here costs around 10 EUR and dinner well, much much more. The cheaper version would be to go there for lunch and admire the town view and a Vietnamese meal at around 7.5 EUR.
Tip: if you just want to admire the view from above Saigon at the 49th floor of the skyscraper, you can only take the “tour” up to the Saigon Sky Deck, which will cost you around 9 EUR if you book the skip the line ticket online ahead of time.
Rom BBQ Restaurant – Address: 2, Lưu Văn Lang, 1, BẾN THÀNH. A nice place with a nice view conveniently located close to the central market, where you can grill your own barbecue.
You get to choose what you want to eat and have the pleasure of cooking the meal yourself on the bbq in the center of your table.
Other things you could do in town
Have a day of fun at the Aquapark
For me only getting to the Dam Sen Water Park has been an experience in itself.
Getting the bus from the end of the line in the center of the city and crossing the whole city to get to the park, it is quite unique and offers you an insight into the life of the locals and offers you the chance to see the not very touristic places of Saigon.
We were not very lucky (or inspired to check online before going) and went to the park on a day when it was closed. For you to avoid that, keep in mind that every Tuesday the park is closed.
Taste and learn all about the incredible tropical fruit Vietnam has on display
From ripe juicy mangoes to pink dragon fruit and intense passion fruit, don’t miss out on anything.
Jackfruit, durian (the smelly fruit), avocados, pineapples, are only a few others you need to try during your stay here.
Unfortunately, only on the last day, I have found the Happy Juice Bars with a display of tens of juices and smoothies prepared on the spot, incredibly tasty and refreshing.
Go on a water puppet show and a dinner cruise
A 4-hour tour with a traditional water puppet show and a scenic dinner on Saigon River from where you will admire the town lit up.
Book your tour online and save!
Explore the hidden gems on an Instagram Tour
Take the town by storm and create lots of content for your Instagram account. You’ll see some of the most popular attractions, but also hidden gems.
Best time to visit?
Vietnam is a really big country having huge differences between the North and the South regions and Ho Chi Minh, located in the South has a rather tropical climate, thus making some periods of the year really rainy and humid while still incredibly hot.
The best time to visit is during the dry season lasting from December until April.
But that does not mean that you cannot take a leap of faith and try visiting from May to November.
While the weather during these months can get really hot, rain does not typically fall for long hours and a big plus is the prices which will, of course, be lower than in the dry season.
Other Vietnam travel resources
- Start packing with the help of my comprehensive Vietnam packing list – all the essentials you’ll need for your trip
- Plan for the perfect 5 days Da Nang itinerary with beautiful day trips to Hoi An and Hue
- Spend some days on the tropical Phu Quoc island
- Where to stay in Hoi An – choose the best area to stay in Hoi An
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I am going to Vietnam later on this year with my friend who is Vietnamese!! I cannot wait. I had no idea about some of the things you mentioned though like rats everywhere. Gross. I understand though and will definitely keep my eyes peeled. It’s crazy to me that such a beautiful place like this could be so freaking cheap!! I am beyond excited!
Well, i wouldn’t say everywhere but i had some experiences :)) just don’t imagine rats running around town 🙂 it is actually a lovely city with a lot things to offer! Enjoy your trip! You will LOVE it!
Andrea Mujica says
this is great! I have a friend who is currently traveling in this area! Im going to send it her wy! thanks
Thank you for that! Hope she/he will find it helpful as well!
Kate Eller says
I love how inclusive and detailed this guide is! There are so many reasons Southeast Asia sounds amazing, and your descriptions of your time there make it even more real.
Thank you so very much for the kind words! Happy you found this helpful!
Melissa Downham says
We adored Vietnam too and saw tons of Geckos! 🙂 We did Hanoi instead but I think it we go back, it’s all about Saigon!
You should! We are also thinking about returning and going also to Hanoi and in the Northern part of the country. What would you recommend seeing?
Reading the Book says
Fabulous post and I love your writing style – are you really Romanian? You sound like a native English speaker! Anyway, this is a great informative post, and brought back many of my own memories of Vietnams – especially the mopeds!!!!!!!!!! It’s also made me discover a few other places to see if I am ever back in HCMC. Great writing!
Oh my, that’s the greatest compliment someone has made! Thank you so much, really appreciate it! Happy you liked the article!
I’ve never been to Vietnam, but I would like to go! The tropical fruit especially looks tempting. I like how you managed to combine some “backpacker” experiences with some more luxurious experience. I would be curious to know how Vietnamese communism differs from Romanian communism. (I am Romanian on my father’s side.)
Hi there! Glad you liked the article. About the differences between the 2 types of communism, well let’s say that the one in Vietnam is a more capitalist communism, while in Romania we had a dictatorship. I’m not entitled to talk about the economic system or any other systems for that matter in Vietnam but there are some easy to notice differences: abundance in goods that are traded and are available for everyone (in Romania there weren’t a lot of options), free traveling outside of the country…only to name a few 🙂
Gone With A Whim says
Great pictures and excellent guide. Vietnam is high up on my list of places to visit. I have Pinterested this post for when I make that trip happen. Happy travels Xx
happy you found it helpful! Wish you a great trip whenever you will get the chance to visit this beautiful country!
I’ve heard so many great things about Vietnam. The sky bars, spas, and historic places are my cup of tea. That rooftop pool at the Rex sounds heavenly. I love a pool that overlooks the city. I can deal with the lizards because had to in Miami, but you lost me at rats! I don’t know how I’d survive!!
Well, just don’t imagine a whole lot of rats running around everywhere…I just have seen some running around in the park close to our hotel and then some more in the Mekong Delta. But I guess it is kind of normal taking into account the climate.
I love that the first thing you list is how safe someone would feel traveling to Vietnam. In planning my travels I’ve gotten mixed reviews but hearing it from a fellow female traveler makes me feel more comfortable. Sky bars are right up my alley – love how you listed those. And I CAN’T WAIT to delve into the Vietnamese cuisine!! It looks delicious!
have great fun and enjoy Vietnam!
I’m planning a trip to Vietnam next year to visit my friend when she moves back home there! I’m excited to explore Ho Chi Minh through her eyes, as a local, as well as getting to grips with the more touristy side. The fact about the rats is a bit alarming, but I once read a fact that here in the UK you’re never further than 10 feet from a rat — you just can’t see them! Maybe in Vietnam they’re just more obvious because they want to catch a bit of sun in the great outdoors? 🙂 Fruit is the best part of any country in my opinion! Here in the UK we can only really grow a handful of boring fruits here so anything exotic is the best!
True that, I have seen rats myself in many European cities, I guess the abudence of fruit and the weather play a role in this as well. I am sure you will love Vietnam and Ho Chi Minh city, there are so many incredible places!
I was in HCMH in 2015 but sadly was only there for two days. I had time to see the historical things, but no time to experience the city and the bars.
Maybe next time LOL.