1. Start the day with a Vietnamese coffee
Ho Chi Minh is full of energy and you’ll want to be too, if you’re going to tackle all it has to offer. Start with a Vietnamese coffee and you’ll be fully charged for the day ahead. The secret is a thick layer of condensed milk. Stir it up through the strong, drip filtered coffee to sweeten it to your taste. Introduced to the country by the French, cafés serving good brews are ubiquitous throughout the city. Grab a cup to takeaway from a stall near Tan Tao Park and stroll along as you people watch for a gentle awakening.
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Strong but sweet Vietnamese coffee © Tongchana Hongcharoen / Shutterstock
2. Admire French colonial architecture
Next on your list of things to do in Ho Chi Minh City? A visit to District One, the city’s historic French area. Its wide tree-lined boulevards were planned in meticulous detail in the 19th century. Wander past chic boutiques and cafés then make your way to the magnificent Central Post Office. Inside its yellow exterior, the walls are adorned with hand-painted maps of the city as it was in colonial times. Next, head to the nearby Saigon Opera House. If you’d like to experience more than a peak into its opulent interior, book tickets to see the A O show. This popular performance tells the tale of the urbanisation through dancing, traditional music and acrobatics. Finish up with a look at Notre Dame Cathedral, created in the 1800s to emulate the Parisian icon.
Ho Chi Minh's historic French area © Prasit Rodphan / Shutterstock
3. Step back in time at Reunification Palace
Preserved almost exactly as it was in 1966, Reunification Palace (also known as Independence Palace) was the official residence of the president of South Vietnam during the war. On the morning of the 30th of April 1975, the North Vietnamese forces drove their tanks through the palace’s gates and forced Saigon's surrender. Reunification Palace is also located in District One so see if you can squeeze it in before 4 p.m. when the gates close. You’ll need an hour at the very least to explore the opulent state rooms at your leisure. Alternatively, opt for one of the free guided tours that run every 15 minutes.
4. Raise your spirits at the Bitexco Tower
No doubt at this stage you’ll be keen to get off your feet. The antidote? Take a load off by spending some time with your head in the clouds at the Bitexco Financial Tower. Bypass the Skydeck viewing platform on the 49th floor and make your way straight to the EON Helibar on the 52nd. Entry to the Skydeck will cost you roughly the same as a drink at the bar above so it really is a no brainer. Luxury cocktail in hand, admire sunset views over the city through floor-to-ceiling windows. Stay until after dark and you'll see why we're listing it as one of the best things to do in Ho Chi Minh City – the neighbouring skyscrapers put on quite the light display.
Take in the whole city from the top of the Bitexco Tower © Efired / Shutterstock
5. Brave the War Remnants Museum
The War Remnants Museum deserves a few hours and a fresh head, so schedule a visit for the following morning. This vast exhibition is a harrowing account of brutal war. Originally named 'The Museum of Chinese and American War Crimes', it's not exactly an objective display. Nor does it pull any punches. Notorious 'tiger cage' prison cells, bamboo torture instruments and graphic photos of chemical weapon victims are laid out over several floors. It's definitely hard going, but it's one of the best things to do in Ho Chi Minh City if you want to understand the terrible suffering of the Vietnamese. Save the lower level for last and let the global anti-war movement display help you leave on a brighter note.