Nestled in the heart of Vietnam, Saigon, officially known as Ho Chi Minh City, beckons travelers with its pulsating energy, rich history, and delectable cuisine. Formerly the capital of South Vietnam, this metropolis has evolved into a bustling modern city while still cherishing its cultural heritage. As you navigate through its labyrinthine streets, you’ll encounter a kaleidoscope of sights, sounds, and flavors that create an unforgettable sensory experience. From historical landmarks that tell tales of resilience to mouthwatering delicacies that tantalize the taste buds, Saigon offers a treasure trove of delights that will leave you enchanted. Here are five things to see, five things to eat, and five drinks to try in this electric city as you begin your journey further into the region.
Top 5 Things To See in Saigon:
1. Cruise the Saigon River:
Escape the city’s energy and take a relaxing cruise along the Saigon River. Enjoy stunning views of the city’s skyline and witness the juxtaposition of modern skyscrapers with historic landmarks. Cruises often include cultural performances, traditional music, and the opportunity to indulge in a delectable dinner on board.
2. Marvel at the Magnificence of Notre-Dame Cathedral Basilica:
Prepare to be mesmerized by the exquisite beauty of the Notre-Dame Cathedral Basilica, an architectural gem that stands as a testament to Saigon’s historical and religious significance. This stunning cathedral, constructed in the late 19th century, features a neo-Romanesque design with striking red bricks imported from France. The interior is adorned with beautiful stained glass windows and intricate decor, creating a serene and awe-inspiring atmosphere.
3. Step Back in Time at Reunification Palace:
Wander through history at the Reunification Palace, a grandiose building that played a crucial role in Vietnam’s history. Once the presidential residence during the Vietnam War, the palace witnessed significant political events that led to Vietnam’s reunification. Take a guided tour through its well-preserved rooms, including the war command center, and gain insight into the country’s past and the changes that shaped its future.
4. Embrace the Vibrancy of Ben Thanh Market:
Immerse yourself in the vibrant energy of Saigon by visiting the bustling Ben Thanh Market. This iconic marketplace is a central hub for shopping and dining, where you can find a wide range of local crafts, textiles, souvenirs, and more. It’s an excellent place to experience Saigon’s street food culture, with an array of delicious dishes to tempt your taste buds.
💡 Insider Tip: With a hand from our guide, you’ll get a chance to shop the local market where the wares range from incense to flowers to betel nuts on our Vietnam, Laos & Cambodia Cultural Walking Adventure
5. Venture into History at Cu Chi Tunnels:
Embark on a fascinating historical journey to the Củ Chi Tunnels, located just outside of Saigon. These intricate underground tunnels served as a strategic military base during the Vietnam War, and exploring them offers a glimpse into the resilience and ingenuity of the Vietnamese soldiers. Walk through the narrow passages, learn about the tunnel network’s significance, and gain a deeper appreciation for the nation’s history.
Top 5 Things To Eat In Saigon:
A true Vietnamese classic, Pho is a must-try dish in Saigon. This beloved noodle soup features a flavorful and aromatic broth, tender slices of beef or chicken, rice noodles, and a medley of fresh herbs and condiments. The combination of hearty flavors and comforting warmth makes Pho a staple that locals and visitors alike can’t resist.
💡 Insider tip: Follow your guide by bicycle to visit the proprietor of a rice noodle factory and a tasting of Hu Tieu noodles, one of the most popular dishes in the region on our Vietnam, Laos & Cambodia Cultural Walking Adventure.
2. Banh Mi:
Another iconic Vietnamese dish, Banh Mi, has gained global fame. This delicious sandwich is a fusion of Vietnamese and French influences, featuring a crusty baguette stuffed with an assortment of fillings like grilled pork, cold cuts, pâté, pickled vegetables, and fresh cilantro. The balance of textures and flavors makes Banh Mi an irresistibly delicious street food delight.
3. Goi Cuon (Vietnamese Spring Rolls):
Embrace the refreshing flavors of Goi Cuon, commonly known as Vietnamese spring rolls or fresh spring rolls. These translucent rice paper rolls are filled with a delightful combination of shrimp, pork, fresh herbs, rice vermicelli, and sometimes a hint of mint and basil. Dip them in a tangy peanut sauce, and you’ll experience a light and healthy appetizer that bursts with vibrant tastes.
4. Com Tam (Broken Rice)
Com Tam is a popular Vietnamese dish that features fragrant broken rice, typically served with grilled pork, pickled vegetables, and a fried egg on top. The grilled pork is marinated to perfection, infusing the dish with savory and slightly sweet flavors. Com Tam is a satisfying and hearty meal that’s beloved by locals and visitors alike.
5. Bun Thit Nuong (Grilled Pork Vermicelli):
A delightful combination of flavors and textures, Bun Thit Nuong is a dish that will leave you craving for more. It features grilled pork that’s marinated to perfection, served over a bed of vermicelli noodles, and garnished with fresh herbs, crushed peanuts, and fried shallots. Drizzle with nuoc cham (a tangy fish sauce-based dressing), and you have a dish that embodies the quintessential Vietnamese taste.
Top 5 Things To Drink In Saigon:
1. Ca Phe Sua Da (Vietnamese Iced Coffee):
Start your day the Saigon way with a refreshing glass of Ca Phe Sua Da, a quintessential Vietnamese iced coffee. Strong Vietnamese coffee is brewed through a drip filter, combined with sweetened condensed milk, and poured over a generous amount of ice. The result is a creamy, robust, and energizing beverage that will keep you invigorated as you explore the city’s sights and sounds.
2. Rice Wine (Ruou):
A traditional Vietnamese alcoholic beverage, rice wine, or “ruou,” is a staple in many regions of the country. It is made by fermenting glutinous rice with yeast and water in large ceramic jars. The result is a potent and clear liquid that is usually enjoyed during festive occasions and celebrations. Different regions in Vietnam have their own versions of rice wine, each with distinct flavors and alcohol content.
💡 Insider tip: You’ll stroll along spectacularly scenic rice fields and even visit a working rural rice farm and meet the family who operates it on our Vietnam, Laos & Cambodia Cultural Walking Adventure.
3. Sinh To (Vietnamese Fruit Smoothie):
Beat the heat with a delicious Sinh To, a Vietnamese fruit smoothie made from a blend of fresh seasonal fruits, condensed milk, and crushed ice. Whether you choose mango, avocado, or other tropical fruits, Sinh To is a heavenly concoction that bursts with natural sweetness and indulgent creaminess. It’s a perfect treat to cool down and enjoy the tropical flavors of Saigon.
4. Bia Hoi (Fresh Beer):
Embrace the local drinking culture by trying Bia Hoi, fresh beer that’s light, crisp, and typically brewed without preservatives. Bia Hoi is a beloved beverage among locals and visitors alike, often enjoyed at roadside stalls or small pubs. It’s a social experience to share a glass of Bia Hoi with friends while taking in the lively ambiance of Saigon’s streets.
5. Nuoc Mia (Sugarcane Juice):
Quench your thirst with a refreshing glass of Nuoc Mia, freshly squeezed sugarcane juice. Vendors extract the juice from sugarcane stalks, producing a natural and revitalizing drink that’s both sweet and earthy. It’s a delightful and hydrating choice, especially on warm days, and a great way to taste a unique local specialty.