- Download our Ho Chi Minh City Schools Guide
Expats moving to Ho Chi Minh City will soon find that the city is packed with entertainment options and caters for all tastes and budgets, from couture clothing and flashy malls to bustling markets and aromatic street-food stalls. Ho Chi Minh City offers an enviable lifestyle, where boredom is highly unlikely.
Shopping in Ho Chi Minh City
Ho Chi Minh City has a number of shopping districts and is a fun place to shop, especially for bargain hunters.
District 1 and the markets are the best places for those after variety and bargaining power. An Dong Market and Ben Thanh Market are great places to hone one's bargaining prowess. Each has an assortment of products ranging from spices to silk scarves and more. It is always best to browse a bit before buying, as vendors will tend to mark up their prices for Western customers.
Large department stores can also be found in District 1. These house all sorts of things, such as the latest CDs and DVDs, perfumes, and colognes.
Diamond Plaza is a popular shopping choice for designer wear, leather goods and interior decor materials. As far as clothing is concerned, many expats choose to make use of one of the numerous, incredibly skilled and cheap tailors around town.
Nightlife and entertainment in Ho Chi Minh City
Ho Chi Minh City is packed full of clubs and bars which range from small, dark pubs to upmarket music lounges and cocktail bars. Expats will find that most of the nightlife in Ho Chi Minh City centres on District 1. Party-goers will soon become aware, though, that imported drinks sold in the exclusive bars are typically more expensive than local beverages, so opting for the latter is a good way to save money.
For those who enjoy cultural activities, Ho Chi Minh City is steeped in history. It is home to several fascinating museums which document various elements of the country’s history and diverse culture. Expats with children should be sure to catch a traditional Vietnamese water puppet show, which is great fun for the whole family.
Eating out in Ho Chi Minh City
Expats in Ho Chi Minh City tend to head to Pham Ngu Lao Street for nightclubs, restaurants and bars. Ly Tu Trong Street in District 1 is another popular late-night spot. The city has a wide range of restaurants catering to all palates, and expats may find that Vietnamese street food is often just as good as the food found in the more expensive restaurants.
For authentic street food, it's best to hit the markets and ask Vietnamese friends what their favourites are, as word-of-mouth always wins. Some dishes to try include pho bo (beef noodle soup), Saigon nem (fresh spring rolls) and bun cha (barbecued pork with noodle soup). Saigon is a port city and the seafood dishes, particularly seafood spring rolls, are mouthwatering.
Last but not least, Vietnamese coffee is potent and tasty. Coffee shops abound, and it is easy to see where the Vietnamese get their zing from. The best way to have coffee, according to the locals, is served with condensed milk over ice. There are coffee shops or kiosks on just about every street corner and the coffee served is cheap and strong.
See and do in Ho Chi Minh City
Ho Chi Minh City is a loud, exciting and vibrant destination. From the city’s delicious street food, its bustling bars and energetic open-air night markets, to its more peaceful pagodas, temples, churches and parks, Ho Chi Minh City has something to suit any mood.
Below is our list of the best things to see and do in Ho Chi Minh City.
Reunification Palace (Independence Palace)
Originally built in 1962 as the home and workplace of the South Vietnamese president, this Ho Chi Minh City landmark was made famous in 1975 when a tank belonging to the North Vietnamese Army crashed through the front gates of the palace, effectively ending the Vietnam War. Visitors can view the tanks involved in the capture of the palace and can explore its secret rooms, command bunker and lush garden.
War Remnants Museum
This museum showcases artefacts that act as a stark reminder of the cruelty that took place during the Vietnam War. While the museum provides a somewhat biased view of the war, expats interested in military history can spend hours looking at the fascinating displays.
Notre-Dame Cathedral Basilica of Saigon
This cathedral serves as a reminder of Ho Chi Minh City’s French colonial past. The beautiful basilica dates back to 1880 and is located in the heart of the city. A visit to the Notre-Dame Cathedral Basilica of Saigon provides a peaceful break from the hectic pace of life in Ho Chi Minh City. The cathedral is currently closed for renovations until 2027.
Xa Loi Pagoda
The Xa Loi Pagoda, or Temple of the Buddha’s Relic, is the largest pagoda in Ho Chi Minh City and can be found in District 3. Those interested in gaining insight into Vietnam’s Buddhist culture will find a visit to this beautiful temple worthwhile.
Cao Dai Temple
Visit this tranquil temple to learn about one of Vietnam’s modern religions, Caodaism, which combines elements of Buddhism, Taoism, Confucianism and Christianity. Visitors have the opportunity to watch the brightly dressed Cao Dai worshippers carry out their daily worship rituals.
A trip to this observation deck, located in the Bitexco Financial Tower, is a must for all expats living in Ho Chi Minh City. This iconic structure stands tall in the middle of the city centre and offers visitors the best view over the bustling city.
Cong Vien Van Hoa Park
This green space provides a tranquil escape from Ho Chi Minh City’s hustle and bustle. Those who arrive early enough in the morning will have the opportunity to see the park full of tai chi practitioners. It also has a small sculpture garden which may be of interest to art lovers.
Van Thanh Park
Van Thanh Park is one of the most tranquil spots in Ho Chi Minh City. It is located on the banks of the Thi Nghe River and is a great place to relax. Try visiting in the morning before the tour groups begin arriving.
Dai The Gioi Water Park
A visit to the Dai The Gioi Water Park is a great option for expats living in Ho Chi Minh City with children. It is also an ideal spot for anyone wanting to cool off after a day in the city’s heat. There are a number of fun slides and pools to keep the whole family entertained.
What's on in Ho Chi Minh City
Ho Chi Minh City's local festivals are not only a guaranteed great time, but also offer interesting insight into various aspects of Vietnamese culture and provide the perfect opportunity to rub shoulders with the local population.
Here are some of the main festivals and annual events in Ho Chi Minh City.
Tet Festival (January/February)
The Tet Festival, or the Lunar New Year, is the most celebrated event in Vietnam. It falls between late January and early February each year and lasts a whole week. A series of events are held to grandly celebrate the occasion, including massive fireworks displays and street processions. Locals make a huge effort to dress in their finest clothing and visit family and friends at this time of year.
Buddha’s Birthday Festival (May)
The festival held to mark the birthday of Buddha falls on the 15th day of the fourth lunar month. In Ho Chi Minh City, major celebrations are held at the Nghia An Hoi Quan Pagoda. This Buddhist temple is beautifully decorated with colourful lanterns in celebration, and Buddhist monks can be seen leading prayer processions along the streets throughout the city.
Ho Chi Minh’s Birthday (May)
Each year on 19 May, events are held in Ho Chi Minh City to celebrate the birthday of Vietnam’s former president, who was a key figure in helping gain freedom for the people of Vietnam. He is a national hero and is still highly honoured by the Vietnamese, especially in the city that was named after him.
Tet Nguyen Tieu (September)
Each September, the skies above Ho Chi Minh City are filled with colour and light as the residents release lanterns. This breathtaking sight is not to be missed. There are also many street processions held to mark the occasion.
Ho Chi Minh City International Food Festival (November)
A perfect opportunity to get a taste of home and other far-off places, the food fair brings together the best cuisine from all around the world. Foodies will be in seventh heaven here, and everyone is sure to find something that tickles their taste buds.
►Find out about the ups and downs of expat life in Pros and Cons of Living in Ho Chi Minh City
"Going to malls, parks, swimming pools and doing outdoor activities are the main things you can do if you have kids in Vietnam. Some locations such as Mekong Delta (countryside), Ho Tram (coastal city) or Dalat (mountain area) are not that far from HCMC. These destinations can be chosen for a weekend away outside the chaotic city."
Learn more about the lifestyle in HCMC in our interview with French expat Guillaume.
Are you an expat living in Ho Chi Minh City?
Expat Arrivals is looking for locals to contribute to this guide, and answer forum questions from others planning their move to Ho Chi Minh City. Please contact us if you'd like to contribute.
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