How to Spend 24 Hours in Ho Chi Minh City
Think bustling streets, non-stop noise and chaos. At the same time, think beauty, good food and history. Here’s how to spend 24 hours in Ho Chi Minh City.
The email from our airlines came a couple of months before our upcoming trip to Cambodia. Our flight home had been changed, and we now had a 24-hour stopover in Ho Chi Minh City, landing at 8pm and departing at 9pm the next evening. I went through several phases of emotions following this.
My initial reaction being something along the lines of ‘great, I get to visit another new place’, to ‘oh my god, I can’t believe I have to pay over $100US dollars for a Vietnam visa for less than 24 hours’. But hey, it is what it is. Sometimes things don’t always go to plan when travelling, and my motto is to see everything as a blessing.
In this case, yeah, it would cost me a whole lot more money than I had originally budgeted for the trip, but I’d also get a taste of Vietnam, which I had been planning to visit in the future anyways. So, armed with our extremely expensive visas, accommodation booked right near the airport and a nice suntan following a week on the Cambodian island of Koh Rong Samloem, we stepped foot outside of Ho Chi Minh airport.
Ho Chi Minh City (also known as Saigon), the world-famous city in Vietnam, is a major transit hub for many international flights in and out of Southeast Asia. It’s a crazy, chaotic city. Featuring French Colonial Architecture, history and exotic food, visiting the city is an experience to say the least. You can expect the constant smell of Vietnamese food cooking, crazy traffic and a whole lot of haggling, but at the same time, you can expect history, good vibes and friendly locals.
A 24 hour stop over isn’t really that long – by the time your account for sleeping and travel time, you aren’t left with much. So, pick how you spend your time wisely! Here’s how to spend a well-rounded 24 hours in Ho Chi Minh City!
What to Do in Ho Chi Minh for 24 Hours?
A morning of sightseeing
Highlights: Central Post Office, Notre-Dame Cathedral and Independence Palace
Start the day with a stop at Saigon Central Post Office. Easily the most impressive post office in the world, the Central Post Office was built in 1886 was designed by French Architect Gustave Eiffel. Inside you will find an impressive doomed roof decorated maps, portraits and elaborate tiles. Stop by at one of the shops inside to pick up some souvenirs.
Next, head across the road to the Notre-Dame Cathedral. A short walk from the cathedral sits Independence Palace (often referred to as Reunification Palace) and is filled with history. Open to the public as long as there are no receptions taking place, you can explore inside with a guide or opt to admire the palace from the outside.
An afternoon of local eats & market shopping
Highlights: Ben Thanh Market, Saigon Square and street food.
The Ben Thanh Market is the most famous market in Ho Chi Minh, if not the whole of Vietnam. With over 3000 stores, featuring everything from souvenirs to local eats, prepare to haggle here as prices are often inflated to rip off tourists.
As a general rule, don’t pay more than half of the original asking price. With the huge number of stalls, food being cooked and large number of people, it can get very hot, and very overwhelming. Head to Saigon Square for a less crazy experience afterwards, which features a large number of stores in, get this, AIRCON!
Little over a 10min walk from Ben Thanh Market, getting to Saigon Square is easy, and a good way to top off an afternoon of shopping. Stop for some local eats on the way, with choices a plenty.
Afternoon drinks & Dinner with a view
Exhausted from an afternoon of haggling at the markets, not to mention the humidity, we headed back to our hotel mid-afternoon, and hit up the rooftop restaurant and bar for an early dinner as we would have to head to the airport soon.
We were not expecting the view over the city when we got up there. Sitting back with a drink, some good eats and a view over the high rises of Ho Chi Minh City is a pretty good way to finish the day. The rooftop bar at Saigon Ibis Airport hotel is amazing, or you can try the Caravelle Hotel’s Saigon Rooftop bar.
Note: one of the most famous things to do in Ho Chi Minh City is to visit the Cu Chi Tunnels,a site filled with history. Being a little way out of the city and due to our time constraints, we opted to fill our day with a range of smaller activities rather than one big one, saving this for another trip to Vietnam. You can find out more about the Cu Chi Tunnels here.
The weather in Ho Chi Minh City can often be rainy, but there’s still plenty do to! Read about 11 fun things to do in Ho Chi Minh during the rainy season.
What You Need to Know Before You Go Ho Chi Minh City
The local currency is the Vietnamese Dong, and the smallest note you will find is VND 10000 (about 0.50c US). The local currency is required for most places, although some higher end hotels may accept US Dollars.
ATM’s are readily available, and banks will change any major currency to VND. Tipping is generally not expected but is appreciated. If you receive good service, round your bill or tip $1 or $2, which will go a long way.
Organise your Visa before you go using the E-Visa options. Leave yourself plenty of time to organise your visa in advance.
There are numerous taxi companies operating in Ho Chi Minh City, although Vinasun are known to be the best option, and always make sure taxi’s use meters otherwise you are likely to get ripped off.
Check if your hotel offers an airport pick up or drop off service, otherwise you will find the Vinasun taxi service left outside of the arrivals. You can expect to pay between 10US and 20US depending on where you are heading to in the city.
When navigating the city, you can get around by foot as long as your keep your focus. The roads are crazy, and there is no such thing as a pedestrian crossing. Wait for a gap in traffic and get to the other side of the road as quickly as possible.
Getting to and from Ho Chi Minh
Being a major transport hub in South East Asia, many airlines will fly direct to Ho Chi Minh, depending on where you are coming from, furthermore you will often find yourself with a stopover in Ho Chi Minh if you are travelling elsewhere in South East Asia. For the best flight deals I recommend Skyscanner, which searches all of the major airlines and servers to find the best deals on flights.
Generally speaking, Ho Chi Minh is warm all year round, with the average temperature sitting at around 28degrees, although humidity is high, so it often feels a lot hotter. The rainy season is from May to November, where you can expect a shower each day in the late afternoon, while the dry season runs from December to April. We visited in November, and just had a late afternoon shower that lasted only 5 minutes – hardly enough to even notice!
Where to stay in Ho Chi Minh City
For a location friendly hotel for a stopover, try Ibis Saigon Airport. Almost directly across the road from the airport, this hotel offers a rooftop bar and pool (as mentioned above), a great buffet breakfast, and offers day trip services. For a more centrally located hotel, Bay Hotel offers a rooftop bar, restaurant and swimming pool, while being centrally located to most of the popular tourist attractions.
For a budget friendly stay, try Hideout Hostel, where you will be at the heart of all the action among fellow backpackers. If you aren’t looking for a party hostel but are still on a backpacker budget, try Skygon Hostel.
Looking for more accomodation options? Find accomodation options in all of Ho Chi Minh’s districts in this guide for where to stay in Ho Chi Minh City!
Ho Chi Minh City is the perfect stop for a stopover city break, or to start and end your travels through South East Asia. It’s easy to fall in love with the chaotic, fast pace of the city, and the French Colonial Architecture, history and exotic food is an experience you won’t forget.
For day tours and more to do in Ho Chi Minh. Vietnam has so much to offer, so make sure you check out other places such as Hanoi, Hue and Hoi An! If you are heading to South East Asia? I strongly recommend heading to Cambodia while you are there.
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