With an abundance of things to see and do in Ho Chi Minh City, it can be difficult to prioritise and balance the travel budget. With these ten free things to do in Vietnam’s former capital, you’ll wish you could stay longer!
Notre Dame Cathedral
The elaborate Notre Dame Catholic Cathedral which was built by the French during the 1800s and stands next to the Post Office in central HCMC is free to enter. This is an active cathedral though so be sure to respect the attending worshippers.
Central Post Office
And just across the road from the Notre Dame Cathedral is the handsome French-colonial Town Hall building which was designed by Gustave Eiffel, who also designed the famous Eiffel Tower in Paris. The Town Hall has a classically elegant interior complete with a vaulted glass-canopy ceiling. Inside hangs a massive portrait of the great leader, Ho Chi Minh himself.
Thien Hau Pagoda
The Thien Hau Pagoda in the Chinatown district of Cholon is dedicated to sea goddess, Lady Thien Hau which features two giant turtles to guard the pagoda. There are elaborate sculptures adorning the courtyard walls and each March an elaborate festival takes place at this free to enter building.
Quan Am Pagoda
Within Vietnam's largest Chinatown in Ho Chi Minh City at Cholon is also the Quan Am Pagoda which is free to explore. This is the oldest Chinese pagoda in Saigon and is close to the Thien Hau Pagoda.
Take a walking tour
Grab a free tourist map from your hotel, wear your most comfortable shoes and head onto the streets for a leisurely walking tour. As you wander you’ll spot the locals going about their daily lives; cooking on the street, shopping for fresh vegetables and even sleeping on their motorbikes. And one essential tip for crossing the street amidst the millions of mopeds and motorbikes; walk at one continuous speed, do not run and try to make eye contact with the driver. It’s daunting at first but you’ll soon get the hang of it.
Ben Thanh Market
Browse the Ben Thanh Market on Ho Chi Minh’s Le Loi Street where the local market stall are piled high with just about everything you could imagine from spices, housewares, souvenirs, textiles and jewellery. Browse without picking anything up and you’ll not get hassled by the traders too much.
Visit the iconic Rex Hotel which became famous thanks to the ‘Five O’clock Follies’ – the press conferences that were held each day during the Vietnam War. The name originates from the journalists who nicknamed the spin that existed during the period. Admire the hotel from the street or if your budget allows, enjoy a drink (and an awesome view of Ho Chi Minh City below) at the rooftop bar.
Dam Sen Water Park
The kids will get in for free to the Dam Sen Water Park if they’re under 0.8 meters in height. There are some great water slide experiences including the thrilling Space Bowl.
Tour the Reunification Palace
Once inside the 1960s Reunification Palace there are free tours of the various state rooms. Entrance is 30,000 dong which is less than 1.50 USD and well worth the modest fee. The Palace is a shrine to all things 60s and is virtually untouched since the fall of Saigon to the north on 30 April 1975. The gates of the palace are famous in their own right as the images were beamed worldwide of the tank 843 clattered through the gate signalling the end of the Vietnam War.
Free Tourist Maps
When you leave the Tan Son Nhat International Airport in Saigon, pick up a free copy of the local tourist map which also contains travel coupons for use throughout the city.