Formerly known as Saigon, The Ho Chi Minh City is the business and financial centre of Vietnam. It is a city with a disturbed past, as it fell to North Vietnam in the Vietnam War. But today it stands tall as a vibrant and a lively city with a rich culture, attracting tourists from all over the world.
Its rich past ensures that along with interesting history, it is home to spell bounding art and architecture, along with cuisines that will surely make your mouth water. Catering to every kind of travellers, this large city has neighbourhoods with a distinctive feel for themselves.
Being a large city, it is divided into 24 districts, each with their unique feel and experience. However, only a few of them are interesting and are good for travellers travelling to Ho Chi Minh City during their vacation. Given the size of the city, it can be a headache to plan your stay here. So, to help we let us look at different districts first before we go into the neighbourhoods.
Ho Chi Minh City’s District 1 is the centre of all the action of the city. It is the commercial hub of the city, rich and beautified by French architecture, with a lot of shopping and eating options. It has most of the city’s major attractions that attract lots of tourists every year. Its popularity amongst tourists also ensures you can get accommodations that fit your budget- be it an affordable guesthouse or a lavish five-star hotel. District 1 is the backpacker’s area with great location and a busy loud crowd, perfect for shopping and an active nightlife lifestyle.
Dong Khoi Street of District 1
Perfect for the first-timers in the city, Dong Khoi Street in District 1 is right at the heart of the city. Likewise, Dong Khoi Street is the area with a lot of historical past and has gone through a lot of changes. History says that because of its glamour, the Dong Khoi Street was called the Rue Catinat during the French colonial times, and then later came to be known as Tu Do, meaning 'Freedom Street', during the Vietnam War. After the war ended and Saigon was captured, it was further renamed to Dong Khoi which stood for total revolution.
Even with a colourful past of the war-torn era, this neighbourhood is now the commercial hub of the Ho Chi Minh City. If you are in the area, you will find yourself amidst several old and historic colonial buildings. In contrast to all that history, you can find good food options in stylish restaurants, pretty cafes and shop from retail shops of international brands. You can also check out the local boutiques as they sell several excellent items as well.
Dong Khoi Street has a rich and colourful history. Even with passing time, Dong Khoi Street has maintained its gifts from the past, which you can see if you visit places like the City Hall building. Formerly known as the Hotel de Ville, it is famous for its marvellous architecture and attracts lots of tourists every year. Along with the City Hall building, Notre Dame Cathedral’s architectural works are equally impressive if not more. If you would like to know more about the era of the Vietnam War, you can visit the Reunification Palace or War Remnants Museum and look at the war from a different perspective. Once here in this neighbourhood, you should visit the historic Saigon Central Post Office, and buy postal stamps or send a letter to someone as a souvenir.
After having your fill of history, do make sure you walk around the Ben Than Market and go through the things they have here for sale. Things here are mostly cheap and of nice quality. You can also spot some delicious, yet cheap food joints here. This neighbourhood has several new shopping malls and luxury boutiques where you can shop. If you are hungry and looking to have a quick bite, step into the pretty cafes and fast food joints. Dong Khoi Street has lavish dining options as well, as it has several restaurants and diners. You can also try the Vietnamese coffee at Kita Coffee House. To spend a peaceful evening after an evening day, you can visit the Bitexco Financial Tower and enjoy beautiful panoramic views of the city from the Saigon Skydeck.
Most of Ho Chi Minh City’s luxury hotels are in this neighbourhood. Around Nguyen Hue, you can find several classic luxury hotels of the French colonial era. You can find several modern hotels as well that is perfect for those who prefer a luxurious lifestyle.
Pham Ngu Lao of District 1
If you are on a budget, Ho Chi Minh’s Pham Ngu Lao is your best option, and with a promise of a beautiful and eventful stay. Although being cheap, and a lot cheaper than the other neighbourhoods, Pham Ngu Lao is known for its lively and active nightlife. Also called the “backpacker district,” Pham Ngu Lao is every budget traveller’s favourite place to stay, thanks to its affordable dining and drinking prices, along with cheap accommodations. It is a bustling, busy neighbourhood near the District 1 centre.
Running parallel to the Bui Vien street, Pham Ngu Lao is a street in the Ho Chi Minh city, where you will find anything and everything, including shops, spas, hotels and restaurants, giving you a vibe of Bankok’s Khao San Road.
Known for its nightlife, Pham Ngu Lao attracts lots of tourists and locals for its lively ambience post-sunset. With lots of bars along the street and restaurants that serve cuisines from all over the world, there are lots of drinking and dining options here in this area. If you are someone who wants to try street food, you can find your choices amongst the numerous food carts here. With such variety in food options at such low prices, your expenses are bound to stay well within your budget even if you are someone who loves to party.
If you want to look around the area, visit the Cu Chi Tunnels and learn about the interesting stories of how the villagers protected themselves during the War. You can know more about Saigon’s history and disturbing past from the Museum of Ho Chi Minh City.
Hotel prices in this area are quite reasonable as well. Being a competitive scene when it comes to hotel pricing, you can negotiate and get yourself a pretty good deal. If you are looking for a quiet and a peaceful stay, maybe Ho Chi Minh’s Pham Ngu Lao is not perfect for you as it is a busy neighbourhood with an exciting lifestyle. However, if you are someone who wants your stay to be right where the action and life of the city is, that too at an affordable price, this area is perfect for you.
District 2 is perfect for those who want a peaceful stay and are escaping from the rush and noise of district 1. Filled with apartments, villas and schools, along with cafes and restaurants District 2 is mostly a residential area with a neighbourhood vibe, making it family-friendly.
If you are visiting Ho Chi Minh with your family, Thao Dien in District 2 is your best place to stay. Thao Dien is a lot different from what it used to be before. As the Saigon River separated District 2 from District 1, Thao Dien’s economy was heavily affected. But with changing times, Thao Dien is currently a flourishing area with large buildings and high-rise apartments with pretty cafes and nice restaurants.
With a large number of healthy dining options all over the neighbourhood, because of the large number of health and fitness classes like yoga and pilates, this place is perfect if you are health conscious.
With the construction of Metro Line 1 starting in 2012, it is scheduled for completion in 2021. Once complete, travelling to and from Thao Dien will be a lot easier as the planned route connects all the major areas of the city.
Its close proximity to District 1 ensures its close resemblance but with a laid back approach. Likely so, District 3 is a bustling neighbourhood with a residential area. It is also a shopping district with an active nightlife. Along with the authentic vibe of Saigon and Vietnam, you can enjoy homemade foods and items from local shops that are unique to this place only.
Ho Chi Minh City’s District 4 is a foodie’s paradise. Along the river and just south of the District 1 lies a neighbourhood with an endless number of food options. With a bustling hip crowd of residents, District 4 is known for its street food and Vietnamese culture.
District 5 is known as the Chinatown. With Chinese temples as prominent landmarks, it has an array of restaurants that serves authentic Chinese food. With a rich war history and religious importance, District 5 is a great shopping district as well because of the Binh Tay Market. Prefered by travellers on budget and history buffs, District 5 is known for its local Buddhist culture. Along with several low budget and mid-range hotels, you can find several restaurants offering food at affordable prices.
Cholon is the coolest place in the city, and if you are someone who wants to stay in the trendiest part of the Ho Chi Minh City, Cholon is the best option for you to look for accommodation during your visit here. Meaning “The big Market”, District 5 of the Ho Chi Minh City is all about Cholon. This place stands true to its name as this is where you will find the Binh Tay Market, which happens to be the largest market in the country.
Since 1778, ethnic Chinese people have been settling in the area making this area Ho Chi Minh’s Chinatown. History suggests that they came here to sell Chinese products and have settled here since then, leading to the big market present here today. Even during the war, this market was a black market that sold American Army issue supplies.
The Chinese influence here in this neighbourhood is quite obvious as in the modern-day, many Chinese temples and pagodas stand tall throughout the neighbourhood. Along with the religious food, you will find several food joints selling Chinese cuisines, which are delicious and are a must-try if you are a foodie. You can also try the Vietnamese dishes at the food court of the Binh Tay Market. Food will not be something you will have to worry about here as there are vendors and food stalls everywhere.
If you want to spend a peaceful time here in Cholon, you can visit the shrines at the Thien Hau Temple. Also visit the Phuoc An Hoi Quan, which is a Chinese Taoist Temple with spell bounding decorations on the walls. Tam Son Hoi Quan Pagoda is a quite famous Buddhist temple in this neighbourhood as locales often come here to pray to the goddess of fertility. If you want some time for yourself, you can take the spend your time at the banks of the pond at Quan Am Pagoda.
If you are someone who loves to explore the city when you visit a new place, you will love Cholon. You can also take a traditional cycle ride around the neighbourhood. Your habit of exploring will bear fruit as well, as you can learn a lot about the culture and the history of this neighbourhood once you start interacting with the locales. Also, many chefs come here to learn about the recipe and ingredients of several Chinese and Vietnamese dishes. Do not forget to explore the narrow alleyways as this is where you will find delicious dim sum. Once you start exploring, make sure you visit the Cha Tam Church. This is a historic place as once you visit here you can see where Ngo Dinh Diem, the first president of Vietnam was arrested.
Make sure you go through the stalls at the Binh Tay Market as you can find unexpected things and unique finds at sale. If you are someone who is into shopping, you can find handmade jewellery, clothing fabrics, homewares, craft goods, and hand-carved woodwork at An Dong Market.