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How to See the Best of Ho Chi Minh City in Just 3 Days

Last Updated on May 1, 2024 by Natalie

Prepare to see the best of Ho Chi Minh City in 3 days. Here’s the ultimate 3-day Saigon Itinerary to plan the most epic trip to Vietnam!

3 days in Ho Chi Minh City

3 Days in Ho Chi Minh City is the perfect amount of time to taste one of Southeast Asia’s most noteworthy cities. 

As you walk through the alleys of Ho Chi Minh City, you can’t help but feel as if every street corner tells a story and every bite is an adventure. With 3 days in Ho Chi Minh City, you’ll explore the highlights of Vietnam’s most buzzing metropolis, from its historic landmarks to its culinary gems.

Catch a glimpse of the city’s complex past as you crawl through the Cu Chi Tunnels and read the biographies of the War Remnants Museum. 

As you pass through the Saigon Central Post Office and the Reunification Palace, marvel at the inspiring architecture. 

Taste the sizzling local food in the delicious restaurants that line the city, or perhaps a more traditional street food experience at Ben Thanh Market. 

And of course, we can’t leave out the spectacular cafe culture and nightlife experiences on the Nguyen or Bui Vien walking streets.

Here’s how to see the highlights of Ho Chi Minh City in 3 days.

Cut to the Chase – Ho Chi Minh City in 3 days (short version)

You won’t hurt my feelings if you don’t want to read this entire blog post! Here’s the quick version of 3 days in Saigon: 

Day 1: 

  • Grab coffee and breakfast at a cafe. I loved OKKIO!
  • Shop Ben Thanh Market
  • Visit the Independence Palace
  • Saigon Central Post Office
  • Notre Dame Cathedral of Saigon
  • Ho Chi Minh City Opera House
  • Nguyen Hue Street 
  • Bui Vien Street

Day 2:

  • Take a day trip to Cu Chi Tunnels & Mekong Delta

Day 3:

  • Coffee at Tonkin Specialty Coffee
  • Stroll through Tao Dan Park
  • War Remnants Museum
  • Dinner at Hum Cafe & Restaurant
  • Rooftop drinks at Chill Skybar 

Optional itinerary additions:

  • Saigon Botanical Gardens
  • Dinner cruise on the river
  • Half-day trip to Cao Dai Temple
  • Water puppet performance
  • Bitexco Tower Skydeck
  • Fine Arts Museum
  • Visit Buddhist temples like the Jade Emperor Pagoda 

Your Free Saigon Checklist

How Long to Stay in Saigon

To see most major tourist sites and museums, I would recommend spending a full 3 days in Ho Chi Minh City. If you want to take advantage of the foodie scene, night culture, and extra day trips – consider 5 full days.

Where to Stay 

District 1 is considered one of the best places to stay for first-time travelers in Ho Chi Minh City. By basing yourself in District 1, you’ll have easy access to many hostels, restaurants, museums, and tour meetup points. 

Within District 1, there are different neighborhoods that you may prefer to stay in: 

Ben Thanh

Near the Reunification Palace and the Notre Dame Cathedral of Saigon, Ben Thanh is in the heart of the city and very close to all the main tourist attractions. Additionally, you’ll have so many fabulous restaurant options and local markets like Ben Thanh Market. 

Ben Nghe 

While I may be biased because I stayed in this area, I think this is the best place to base yourself while exploring Ho Chi Minh City. Decorated with gorgeous colonial buildings, quaint cafes, and some of the finest cocktail bars in the city – you’ll have no shortage of culinary delights or things to see.

You’ll also be near the noteworthy Opera House, Notre Dame Basilica, and Nguyen Hue Walking Street.

Pham Ngu Lao

Often referred to as the “backpacker district” here you will find ample hostels, nightclubs, and of course – the Bui Vien Walking Street. 

Hotels and Hostels in Ho Chi Minh City

where to stay in saigon
Meander Saigon Hostel

From luxury hotels to budget hostels, there are no shortage of quality stays in Saigon. Here are a few places I recommend for every budget: 

Best hostel to stay in: Meander Saigon 

Moderate budget hotel: La Opera Boutique Hotel

Luxury hotel: Hotel Nikko Saigon

Best time to visit 

December through April is the best time to visit Saigon. While battling high temperatures and the potential crowds, you’ll be missing that heavy rainfall that comes around August through November. 

Another good time to visit Vietnam is May-July. While this is considered the beginning of the rainy season, it’s still early enough to beat the worst of the weather. During my one-month Vietnam backpacking trip, I only got caught in a couple of heavy rainstorms. 

What to Wear 

As a general rule of thumb in Southeast Asia; wear light layers. I stuck to long linen pants or lengthy skirts with a crop top and always kept a white button-up cardigan in my purse. This way, I was always prepared just in case I stumbled upon a church or historical monument that required to cover up.

What to Wear in Ho Chi Minh:

How to Get Around

Grab is the most common app to use while getting around in Ho Chi Minh City (or any city in Vietnam). With Grab, you can get around the city for very cheap via car or motorbike!

Alternatively, many motorbike rental shops around the city will rent to tourists if you would prefer to drive yourself.

Detailed itinerary – Ho Chi Minh City in 3 Days

Day 1

On your first day in Saigon, the ideal way to explore the city is by taking a self-guided walking tour to see all the famous landmarks.

To start your day, head to a coffee shop first. I suggest Okkio, situated in the Ben Tranh district. You’ll spot the café in a modest building that almost seems to have a hidden entrance.

Once you head up the enchanting spiral staircase, you’ll enter the teal-tiled coffee oasis of Okkio.

This cafe is so aesthetic, that you might think you’re in Tokyo or a Wes Anderson movie.

With such beautiful restaurants and cafes, they can sometimes lack in taste – but I’m happy to report that Okkio has top-notch coffee and mouthwatering pastries. 

Vietnam is the second largest coffee exporter in the world, making Ho Chi Minh famous for its legendary coffee culture. There is practically a coffee shop on every corner of the city, so allow plenty of time in your itinerary to consume caffeine!

If Okkio isn’t accessible, a few other creative cafe spaces are the Cafe Apartments, Soo Kafe, or Padma de Fleur. 

After you’ve enjoyed a coffee and pastry, head around the corner to the Ben Thanh Market to marvel at the thousands of souvenirs and goods that seem never-ending.

3 days in Ho Chi Minh City

This bustling market traces its origins back to the 17th century but was later relocated inland due to structural concerns. Despite the move, much of its original charm remains intact, making it a prominent fixture in the heart of Ho Chi Minh City.

By day, the market offers an eclectic mix of souvenirs and fresh produce. As night falls, it transforms into a lively food-centric night market, showcasing local delicacies.

Just a short walk from the market stands the Independence Palace, also known as the Reunification Palace, a site of immense historical significance. It stands as a symbol of the end of the Vietnam War and the country’s reunification.

The Fall of Saigon, a pivotal event marking the war’s conclusion, is closely associated with this palace. When a Northern Vietnamese tank breached its gates, it marked the symbolic reunification of the nation, leading to the palace’s renaming.

Continuing your journey, you’ll encounter the Saigon Central Post Office, an architectural gem designed by the same mastermind behind the Eiffel Tower. Built in 1891, it remains fully operational, serving both locals and visitors. Don’t miss the chance to send a postcard from this historic site!

Afterward, check out some of the city’s most remarkable masterpieces of French-Colonial architecture like the the Notre Dame Cathedral and the Opera House. These are prominent landmarks in the city center that are a must-see when you are strolling through Saigon.

Start your first big evening out with dinner and cocktails near Nguyen Hue Street, one of the most beautiful streets in the city!

3 days in Ho Chi Minh City

I recommend seeing this flower-filled lit-up street both during the day and evening. The colorful city hall dominates the block with its bright yellow decor and lights illuminating the night.

If you’re looking for specialty cocktail bars in the area, check out Krystalini Hidden Cocktail Bar.

Finish your night off experiencing Pham Ngu Lao Street/ Bui Vien Walking Street.

3 days in Ho Chi Minh City

As you approach the go-to after-dark tourist street, your senses will slowly start to welcome crazy neon lights, unusual smells, and loads of nightlife hustlers.

This is undoubtedly one of the grimiest and touristy things you can do in Saigon, but it is a fun and interesting experience, no doubt.

Think of Bui Vien as the Bourbon Street of New Orleans, the Times Square of New York, or the Broadway of Nashville – it’s not like you can go to any of these places and miss it!

Day 2 

Spend your day immersed in Vietnam’s important history with a full-day small group Mekong Delta and Cu Chi Tunnels tour.

3 days in Ho Chi Minh City

Out of all the tours I booked during my 3 months in SE Asia, this by war was my most memorable (and best value). My tour guide was fantastic and I was in awe of the history and artifacts.

3 days in Ho Chi Minh City

I booked this exact Cu Chi Tunnels and Mekong Delta Tour.

Your day kicks off bright and early with a pickup from your accommodation or a designated meeting spot in a mid-sized tourist van. The journey from the city to the Cu Chi Tunnels typically takes just over an hour, but it can vary depending on traffic and any planned stops along the way.

Upon arrival at the tunnels, your first stop is usually at a shooting range located on-site.

I’ll be honest, this part of the tour wasn’t my favorite, and I was eager for it to wrap up quickly. Fortunately, none of my fellow travelers were keen on shooting, so we swiftly moved on. The noise from the gunfire can be quite overwhelming, but it’s part of the experience aimed at enhancing the overall atmosphere.

Walking around the tunnels and the surrounding forest while hearing gunshots throughout the day can be quite unsettling, but that’s the point of the experience.

Following that, your guided tour will lead you through the woods, pointing out tunnel entrances and explaining various aspects of their construction, maintenance, and concealment. I found it fascinating to learn about the ingenious methods the Vietnamese used, such as crafting fake termite nests with holes for ventilation.

3 days in Ho Chi Minh City

I also learned they used Western personal care items like shampoo and lotion to mask the tunnel entrances with human scents, confusing the war dogs. These kinds of little details are so interesting to me!

Later on, you’ll be given the option to crawl through the tunnels. There are different routes available: a brief, medium, or lengthy crawl. Given how tight and claustrophobic the tunnels are, most visitors choose the shortest route.

Once your time exploring the tunnels wraps up, you’ll enjoy lunch before embarking on the Mekong Delta leg of your tour. Initially, I was uncertain about the value of the Mekong Delta tour, but I was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed it!

Immersing myself in the local culture of the Mekong Delta through a traditional boat ride on vibrant wooden boats (known as xuong) was truly unforgettable.

Your Mekong adventure begins aboard a larger boat, ferrying you to an island along the river. Here, you’ll meander through village streets lined with vendors, delight in live music performed by locals, and sample regional cuisine and beverages, including the infamous snake wine!

After your time on the Mekong, you’ll begin your journey back to Ho Chi Minh City, which will take about 2 hours.

Day 3

Begin your last day in Ho Chi Minh at of course, another beautiful cafe. If you haven’t already crossed off Vietnam’s specialty coffees like egg coffee, coconut coffee, and Vietnamese iced coffee with condensed milk – now is your last chance!

For this day, I recommend Tonkin Cafe – a stylish and quaint apartment cafe with a calming atmosphere and terrace overlooking the city.

After indulging in a pastry and your favorite coffee, take a leisurely 10-minute stroll to Tao Dan Park. This expansive park, nestled in the city center, boasts over 1,000 trees, creating a serene green sanctuary.

Tao Dan offers a moment of peace from the hustle and bustle of Vietnam’s largest city and can serve as a short break from the exhausting sightseeing. Be sure to check out one of the park’s main attractions, the collection of ornamental plants and bonsai trees.

Next on your itinerary is a visit to the War Remnants Museum, conveniently located just a 10-minute walk from Tao Dan Park. Renowned not only in Vietnam but throughout Southeast Asia, the museum houses a comprehensive array of exhibits, including photographs, artifacts, documents, and multimedia presentations depicting various facets of the conflict.

From the enduring suffering of the Vietnamese people to the devastating impact of chemical warfare like Agent Orange, the museum offers poignant insights into the Vietnam War. Outside, visitors can observe an array of military hardware, including tanks, helicopters, and planes used during the conflict.

Allow a minimum of 3 hours to fully take in everything this museum offers, as it’s not something you’ll want to rush through. 

3 days in ho chi minh city

I learned far more going through this museum than I ever did in any of my history classes in school. It is a sobering experience and will be one of the most important things you do during your Vietnam adventure.

Entrance to the War Remnants is just around $1.60 USD. 

Near the War Remnants Museum, is a delicious restaurant called Hum that serves some delightful vegetarian Vietnamese fusion! Its romantic setting, creative cuisine, and mouth-watering flavors make a great last meal to end your time in Ho Chi Minh City. I had the crispy rice noodles with bean sauce and still dream about it today.

3 days in ho chi minh city

End your epic 3 days in Ho Chi Minh City with a cocktail at Chill Skybar. Offering a breathtaking panoramic view of the city, Chill Skybar is the most famous rooftop bar in all of Saigon. Experience Ho Chi Minh’s nightlife with a specialty cocktail in hand while you look over the dazzling nightscape. 

If you’re looking for a unique bar with delicious cocktails to follow up after Chill Skybar, check out COI Saigon. This mysterious jazz-themed cocktail bar was one of my favorite I went to in Vietnam and they make a mean espresso martini! Check out their Instagram for their live music schedule. 

3 days in ho chi minh city

The Ultimate Saigon Itinerary

A city filled with such a rich history can be intimidating to organize an itinerary for, especially with only 3 days. Hopefully after reading this 3-Day Ho Chi Minh Itinerary, you’ll have a better idea of prioritizing the best things to do, where to stay, and what day trips are worthwhile. 

I hope you have an amazing 3 days in Ho Chi Minh City! 

3 days in ho chi minh city

Where to go After Ho Chi Minh City

During my 1-month backpacking trip in Vietnam, I started in North Vietnam, flying into Hanoi, and worked my way down to central Vietnam and then south. This is the most popular backpacker route. However, there’s no right or wrong way to experience the country! You’ll find many backpackers going in the opposite direction, from Southern Vietnam to the North.

3 days in ho chi minh city

If you’re just beginning your trip in Vietnam, you can take a 5-6 hour bus to Mui Ne or Nha Trang. Afterward, you can continue your journey with a 13-hour bus ride to Hoi An. 

Alternatively, and what I chose to do, is fly from the Tan Son Nhat International Airport (Saigon’s Airport) to Da Nang or Hanoi. 

Da Nang (central Vietnam) will give you access to Hue, Hoi Van Pass, Da Nang City, Ba Na Hills, and Hoi An.

Hanoi (northern Vietnam) will lead you to the city of Hanoi, Sapa, Halong Bay, and Ninh Binh.

If you’ve already traveled most of Vietnam and are continuing your travels through Southeast Asia, you can catch a bus to Phnom Penh Cambodia. This is where I continued my backpacking journey!

Vietnam – FAQ

Here are just some frequently asked questions I often get about my travels in Vietnam.

Sim Cards

If you’re in Vietnam for less than a week, I recommend getting an e-sim through Airalo, which is just an app you download on your phone. Airalo is not the most economical situation for long-term trips, so if you’re in Vietnam for a while – get a Viettel sim card at a mobile store at the airport or city center (they are everywhere). 

Travel Insurance

You ALWAYS need travel insurance when traveling abroad. Some people never need to use it, or there are others like me who have used their travel insurance on EVERY trip they’ve been on! I’ve been in urgent care in France, Ukraine, Thailand, and beyond. While not everyone is prone to sickness like I am, accidents can happen to anyone, anywhere and travel insurance is worth it. I like Allianz.

Visas

To some, it’s a surprise, but Vietnam requires a tourist visa for many countries. I ran into quite a lot of problems with my visa process and I met a ton of other travelers who did as well. Many websites state to apply two weeks before you arrive in Vietnam, however this was not enough time for me! Apply a month in advance to prepare for application errors and delays. 

How to Dress

Vietnam is hot, and casual wear like shorts, crop tops, and sandals are totally fine. However, when you’re exploring – whether you’re on a walking tour or a day trip, you never know what kind of temple or church you might end up at. As a precautionary, I typically wore long skirts or dresses that covered my knees and always kept a button-up thrown in my tote bag. 

Is Vietnam Safe for Solo Female Travelers? 

Yes! I didn’t feel uncomfortable at all during my 4-week backpacking trip in Vietnam. I would recommend Vietnam as a beginner backpacker destination for solo female travelers. 

Do I need Malaria Medication? 

Many travelers do not take malaria pills when traveling to Vietnam, however, it is technically recommended on their government website (and by my doctor) especially if you are traveling to rural parts of the country.

While I took the pills at the beginning of my trip, I stopped when I left the rural area because I had such bad reactions to the pills. The reactions I had to the pills did not justify the low risk of Malaria. So I would just recommend doing your research in the parts of the country you’ll be exploring. 

Is tap water safe to drink?

No, tap water is generally not safe to drink in Vietnam. I recommend traveling with a lifestraw water bottle. This has been such a game-changer for me while traveling as I often used to get ill when drinking water in a foreign country (even when it was considered safe). 

How are the hostels?

Vietnam has some of the nicest and cheapest hostels in SE Asia. For $10-$12/night you can easily score a nice hostel with free breakfast in a prime location. Also, many of the hostels were very social and fun!

What are sleeper buses?

Sleeper buses are night buses that will take you to your next destination. They often have beds and bunkbeds in them or seats that lay back. Some are nicer than others and it’s almost always worth the extra cost to pay for an upgraded bus, especially if the journey is very long.

Sleeper busses are common all over Asia and if you’re backpacking you will certainly have to get used to them! You can book sleeper buses through your hostel or 12GoAsia

Is Ho Chi Minh City worth it? 

I can’t tell you how many times I heard that Saigon was not worth going to! While initially minimizing my days to 3 in Saigon, I extended my stay. Ho Chi Minh City is one of top 50 most populated cities in the world. If you aren’t a city person you might not love it. As a city gal myself and a history lover, I’d consider it a crime to miss out on one of Vietnam’s most historical cities.

3 days in ho chi minh city

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5 Comments

  1. Great overview of Ho Chi Minh City in just three days. I spent two weeks in Hanoi for a job and didn’t have time to head south. I’ll have to go back!

  2. Great advice! I love posts like this that are well organized and include meals (restaurant recs are my fav) thanks for including etiquette like dressing and technology, too

  3. Interesting itinerary for Ho Chi Minh City. Such variety to explore, I love wandering through a city, so if there are different things to do it’s even better.

  4. Vietnam in general has been on my bucket list for a while, but now I’m adding Ho Chi Minh City so I can experience some of these things for myself!

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