24 hours in Saigon, Vietnam

by Audrey on December 11, 2012 · 17 comments

Today’s guest post from Kian takes us all the way to Saigon where he shows us what to eat, drink, and see if all we have is one day in Vietnam’s largest city!

Frenetic moped-strewn streets, an incandescent skyline, hundreds of street-stalls cooking up local delicacies and bicycles laden with goods all bound together by a perpetually humid climate. Whether you’ve already booked yourself onto an escorted small group tour of Vietnam or you’re going to backpack or flashpack your way around the country, this is your quick guide to 24 hours in Vietnam’s largest and most cosmopolitan city!

Eat me…

Breakfast: hit one of Saigon’s many street vendors, grab a small plastic chair, hunch over a hobbit-sized table and tuck into a traditional bowl of Pho for around $2! A broth-like dish, Pho is made up of Vietnamese spices (cardamom, fennel, star anise, coriander and more), noodles, beef (or veg) and often garnished with mint. Quick, cheap, refreshing and incredibly healthy!


Lunch: Wrap and Roll is a particular favourite of mine and they’ve now expanded their operation to round 10 stores in Vietnam (yay!). They serve a huge collection of traditional Vietnamese wraps which consist of rice paper crammed with fresh herbs, salad, noodles and meats, all served with a range of delectable dips. The Saigon branch is (climatically speaking) extremely cool making it a perfect retreat from midday heat.

Another good lunch option is the new KOTO Restaurant (run by an NGO with an established sister restaurant in Hanoi) which serves excellent Western and local dishes.

Dinner: Located in district 1, explore Vietnam’s French Heritage with a trip to Le Toit Gourmand which serves incredible French cuisine in welcoming and intimate surroundings. Other great options are Lemon Grass which is an established favourite amongst locals and Westerners alike, or 3T Quan Nuong which knocks up some sterling BBQ flavours. Both restaurants are orientated around traditional Vietnamese cuisine so prepare for a treat!!


Snacks: are bountiful across Saigon. Grab some deep friend treats from a street vendor; try the delectable chocolate offering from a traditional patisserie or – a favourite of mine! – pull up a chair at a street-side vendor for a glass of delicious iced coffee made with condensed milk which will exceed your RDA of sugar by about 150%.

Drink me…

Lunch: do the tourist thing and get yourself to The Rex hotel which has been one of Saigon’s most recognisable landmarks for the past 80 years. Located in the central District 1, the hotel has an incredible rooftop bar with solid views of the city and a great cocktail menu, all of which make for the perfect budget-busting treat!

Evening: Pham Ngu Lao street and around is home to the backpacker district. Bursting at the seams with budget accommodation, this is also the place to head for cheap eats and evenings of cut price beers and cocktails. Stick to the local brews (Beer Saigon, Huda Beer, and Beer Hue) and avoid the European lager and you’ll manage to stretch your buck that bit further. A local beer will set you back $2+ or so and a street-side meal start from as little as $3pp. Many establishments will stay open until the small hours but this relationship is capricious so be prepared to be turned out early or allowed to stay late.

See me…

War Remnants Museum is located in District 3 of Saigon, just off Vo Van Tran Street. Although offering a robustly partisan depiction of events, this quite modern museum offers an invaluable insight into Vietnam’s most recent conflicts with the United Stated (and its allies) as well as the one time colonial rulers, France.

As well as real-life artifacts such as tanks and weaponry, the museum has an extensive collection of photography from the war years. Drawn from all the major publications you can follow the war through the conflict via the museums many (and deeply moving) photo-journals.


Reunification Palace can best be described as one of Vietnam’s handful of truly kitsch constructions. Built in 1962 the palace was the main residence of South Vietnam’s government throughout the American war. Set in grassed grounds and unmistakable from the street, the palace has been largely left as it was when the American’s left in 1975. The old command desks, conference rooms and tunnels remain as they were – there’s even a Huey Helicopter perched on the roof from the final evacuation by American officials.

If you’ve longer then get yourself out to the Mekong Delta, visit the war-time Cu Chi tunnels, or spend a day getting lost in Saigon’s expansive street network!

Kian is part of the digital team at Travel Indochina and has visited Vietnam three times. Twice with his colleagues on research trips with Travel Indochina and once as part of a year-long backpacking trip across South East Asia and New Zealand. His favourite Asian city remains Phnom Penh and next on the cards is Burma or a cycling trip across Japan! Follow him on Twitter @41jessi or check out Kian’s Google+ profile.


{ 17 comments… read them below or add one }

David @ That Gay Backpacker December 11, 2012 at 10:35 pm

A lovely wee guide, Kian. I have a feeling I’m going to really enjoy visiting this city next year.
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memographer December 12, 2012 at 10:14 pm

This is a nice list of places. Will definitely use it when in Saigon. Love the last photo!
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Kian December 13, 2012 at 6:46 am

Hey @memographer thanks! Saigon has got loads going on. Best advice is to grab one of those little street site chairs (normally plastic, disconcertingly weak and coming in bright colours) and just sit with your beverage of choice. You’ll see loads! Like your post on umbrellas in Loas……..too true!


Kian December 13, 2012 at 6:48 am

Hey @thatgaybackpacker thanks! Ping me any questions on Twitter @41jessi if you’ve any questions at all!


Agness December 15, 2012 at 4:35 am

I am missing a Vietnamese pho a lot! Wish I had another 24h there :):)
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cody markin December 17, 2012 at 1:10 pm

Awesome! I def have to go to Vietnam in the near future. Love the website :)


Ryan @Treksplorer December 19, 2012 at 10:36 am

That picture of the pho just made me seriously hungry! Thanks for the excellent tips about Saigon, Kian. I hope to check some of this out when I finally get over to Ho Chi Minh!
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Ruth (Tanama Tales) December 19, 2012 at 10:39 am

Ahh, how delicious! Can’t wait to visit Vietnam and have the opportunity to try all these dishes. I can’t get enough of Vietnamese food.
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Kian December 19, 2012 at 3:33 pm

Hey @Ryan that’s good to hear. Have to admit when I first saw a bowl of Pho I thought it looked just like hot beef broth and, honestly, not that appealing. Long story short, I was wrong. Quick, easy and tasty dish :-). Hope you enjoy HCMC – its a great city with loads going on!


Lauren H. of Sobremesa In Spain December 27, 2012 at 8:54 pm

So happy to have stumbled upon this list! I’m on my way south from Hanoi, stopping in HCM after the New Year. Look forward to experiencing it, and hopefully getting a pho photo as cool as yours : )
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Audrey December 30, 2012 at 9:02 am

Enjoy your time in HCMC! You can’t go wrong with pho there. 😉


Michael January 3, 2013 at 7:26 pm

I love Vietnamese Wrap &Roll so much. I will order this dish almost every meal in Saigon. By the way, the rice noodle in Vietnam is also very popular.


Event Traveller January 25, 2013 at 8:38 pm

I also loved the bowl of Pho when I was travelling through Saigon and would definitely recommend it to others to try.


vietnam68 April 17, 2013 at 4:21 pm

When reading your guide about Saigon, i found that i don’t have the same eyes to see the same fact in Saigon. I’m from the north of Vietnam but i usually went to Saigon to work ( normally i short time ( 3-4 days ) . I don’t like Saigon in day time ( hot, noisy, nothing to see ) but i really like the Saigon by night . This is beautiful , fresh and live !
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Karthik May 4, 2013 at 2:38 am

Hello Audrey, I am not a person who would like to visit museums and historic places. What can I do when I go to Saigon?
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Audrey May 4, 2013 at 11:12 am

If you like eating, Saigon is full of great restaurants and bars. The local markets are also fun places to check out.


Giles June 22, 2013 at 9:32 pm

Saigon looks amazing, especially the food! Hope to visit this year.


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