100 tips for backpacking in Saigon (Ho Chi Minh city) about transportation & food
Vietnam is in the top favorite destinations of backpackers because of its diversified nature from north to south and safety for solo traveler. Saigon (Ho Chi Minh city) at the south has only 2 seasons: Rainy & Sunny. More than 60K places for food and drink in this city not including the street food stores.
There are some survival tips that you may need to know:
NOTES ABOUT THIS ARTICLE
English is my 2nd language so feel free to ask any question if you don’t understand my English.
The rating below is My personal rating. It’s 99.9% emotional. It’s updated monthly.
I live in Saigon more than 10 years and most of the time wandering around coffee shops & restaurants in town to discover new place & good food or spending a few days to backpack along the coast.
This is for new travelers who want to avoid the crowd, travel on budget in Saigon as well as Vietnam.
Cheap & premium options are in the list. Remember, good things are not cheap.
2 IMPORTANT NOTES WHEN BACKPACKING IN SAIGON
If you want to go backpacking in Saigon (Hochiminh city), always be careful to keep your bag, wallet & phone when walking/traveling on the street in Saigon. I heard also observed many cases of bag/phone snatching from friends every month. Sorry I don’t remember details to tell you but be careful. Hope you travel wise & safe. Traffic in Ho Chi Minh city is very heavy & crazy, make sure you choose the safest way to commute.
Vietnamese shops only accept Vietnam dong in the circulation. The 20,000 VND banknote has the same color with 500,000 VND. Don’t get fool with the color. The size of a bigger banknote value is also bigger.
HOW MANY DAYS IS ENOUGH FOR BACKPACKING IN SAIGON?
At least 3 days. If you want to travel around to the west or Mekong Delta, you need 2 days more.
From Tan Son Nhat airport, you can take a taxi (Mai Linh Taxi, Vinasun taxi) or Grab car in the Grab app. OR, the cheapest way is to take the airport bus that normally parking near the entrance/exit door, just ask the information desk. The bus will go to District 1 (city center).
Should go backpacking in Saigon With a smartphone & 3G/4G:
Backpacking within the city:
Grab (car & bike) or Go Viet (bike) app (Cheap, clean & convenient)
Taxi: Mai Linh taxi +84 28 38 38 38 38
Taxi Vinasun: +84 28 38 27 27 27
Note: pls notice the meter, only agree to move when the meter works. About 100,000–120,000 VND from Airport to city center.
Can rent a motorbike to get around, about 70K-120K/day. Rent a motorbike that included helmet.
Backpacking from Saigon to another city
Going backpacking in Saigon is also counted with amazing trips to the West or Mekong Delta by bus (Futa bus, Thanh Buoi bus, Kumho Samco,…). By boat to Ben Tre (You can find a few interesting options or 1-day tour by Googling). By renting a motorbike (70–100K VND/day) to get around, pls notice that you should always have a translator with you in case your bike is broken on the way because no one speaks English.
Go backpacing to the north by train, bus, air, private car (check the ticket on the official train website(English) https://dsvn.vn/#/ Note: Peak season is from Jun to Aug (train is very full). This website doesn’t accept foreign credit card so when you got enough information about your ticket, you can go directly to the nearest train station “Ga Sai Gon” to buy the tickets. Baolauis another online option for train ticket & flights that accepts credit cards. Or ask your host to help.
Buses: I recommend Futa bus (To Central Vietnam), Hoàng Long bus (To North), Lộc Hương Bus (to Quy Nhon)… check the online bus tickets at Baolau (This is the most convenient option for South East Asia transportation booking) or within Vietnam, you can checkout vexere.com Air: Vietnamairlines, Cheap flights: Vietjetair, Jetstar.
South East Asia (SEA) is Budism land so you easily do a search with “pagoda or temple” key word in any city in SEA, a long list of pagodas will show up. To me, it’s an interesting to discover religion activities of local people also the special architecture. And good new for backpackers is that all the temples & pagodas are free to visit and you need to dress properly.
Only the Ho Chi Minh City Museum of Fine Arts is worth. The war museum is for someone who wants to know more about the Vietnamese war history. Some of my American friends felt sad after giving it a visit. I don’t recommend an emotional trip.
You may want to see the area of Historical places: Saigon Notre-Dame Cathedral, Independent Palace & Post office (French architecture).
Photo: Saigon Notre-Dame
Tip: 1 day Mekong Delta trip (by boat) to Ben Tre is worth if you has a short time.
TOO MANY PLACES for food & drink in Hồ Chí Minh city (over 60K places not count the street vender stores), it’s hard to say which one is the best choice.
As a backpacker, trying a random thing is counted as a MUST experience. Need to try Vietnamese street food at least once in your life and to me that only once is enough :))
Don’t fall in the tourist traps. My list below is trustful options:
Must-have food: Bánh mì (Vietnamese baguette), bánh cuốn (steamed fresh rice flour rolls), gỏi cuốn (srhimp & pork rice paper rolls), Bánh xèo, Bánh bèo, Cơm tấm (Vietnamese broken rice), Phở bò (beef noodle), bún bò Huế, chả giò/ chả ram (spring rolls), chạo tôm, gỏi ngó sen (Lotus stem salad with shrimp), gỏi xoài (mango salad), đậu hủ kho xả (lemongrass tofu), xôi gà (chicken sticky rice)…
Must-have drink/dessert: cà phê sữa đá (Vietnamese milk coffee), coconut coffee (The best is at Santorino coffee & veggies), coconut matcha, milk tea, sữa chua nếp cẩm, fresh coconut on the street or local market, Chè (traditional dessert of sugary soup with different toppings) chè chuối nướng, chè bắp, chè đậu đen, chè sương sa hạt lựu…
Bloom Saigon Restaurantis my no.1 favorite because of the good foods & warm service. Home cooked authentic Vietnamese and
Asian Fusion Cuisine with no MSG added. By ACWP.
Quan An restaurant(Mac Thi Buoi st.) Hue food/ vegan food. Expensive. A Very Authentic Vietnamese Restaurant. You can most of the mentioned “Must have” dishes here in a nice setting. Try Banh Beo there. It’s the best Banh beo of Vietnam.
Saigon grill on Pasteur st. Go for good view, good ambiance and grill
Indian Food: Papa’skitchen at the backpacker area
Au Parc Saigon (Han Thuyen st.) & Propaganda: They have 2 menu (Vietnamese & Western). I like the atmosphere there. Honestly, food is just above average and overcharged.
The 2nd floor area is spacious with nice view of the park. It is crowded at lunch time.
DON’T try Ngon Restaurant, Pho 24, Món Huế Restaurants which are just average…
If you wanna try PHO: Pho Hung and Pho Quynh are good.
A Northern street food restaurant names Ngõ 89 on Nguyễn Du street is a good option for you to try a few popular dishes.
TO HAVE A COFFEE
I’m also a coffee lover.
My favorite one is sitting in the little Greek style Santorino Coffee & Veggiesin the morning to enjoy fresh & delicious veggies & eggs breakfast while listening to Jazz. Their Arabica coffee bean’s really a good highlight, and mushroom shaksuka is to die for.
A young & trendy one is 38 degree Flower market, 43 Ly Tu Trong st. dist1. Nice concept and good drinks.
You can try Vietnamese milk coffee “Cafe sữa đá” made of robusta beans. It’s sweet & strong to me. My taste is Italian coffee or coffee from Arabica beans. Can consider Shin coffee on Nguyen Thiep st, Dist.1. Don’t miss the coconut coffee and the matcha coconut coffee.
The most special thing in Saigon is the coffee shop in old building in the middle of the city.
Check out the cafe building on 42 Nguyen Hue st., Dist.1. Don’t miss the view to walking st. from the this old building.
A hidden gem is the little Shelter coffee on Le Thanh Ton street. They have good bánh mì, good coffee at reasonable price.
The Workshop coffee, 3rd F, 27 Ngô Đức Kế, dist.1 (gotta take the next to window seat). Crowded & Expensive though.
Coffee 8/10 (strong)
L’usine coffee(French style): way little expensive but spacious, popular among expats, coffee & food are OK.
The Snap café in D2 has open space, nice atmosphere, craft beer and decent food.
M2C coffee Dong Khoi st. with balcony, amazing drink & food menu, more reasonable price (10% discount for HSBC Visa owner). There are 3 M2C coffee shops in the city.
Unique concept: 1st Garden coffee (3rd Floors, Number 26 — Ly Tu Trong St.), kind of hide-away place, small and lovely garden with balcony, good view. Food & drink are O.K. The building is interesting.
Don’t try Coffee in Phuc Long tea stores. Their OoLong milk tea or green tea latte are good.
VEGETARIAN & VEGANS
Tips: in almost every pagoda or next to a pagoda, there’s always a local vegan restaurant.
Sân Mây cafe restaurant
Santorino coffee & veggies
Bông Súng Restaurant
TO HAVE A NICE CITY VIEW
Above rooftop bar at Liberty Central Saigon. Spectacular view & not expensive. Price for a draft beer is about 80,000 VND.
Mbar on Majestic5 stars hotel (Dong Khoi st.) It’s LOVELY with the Philippineno music band. River side view. Wine/ beer is not expensive. Sorry, I don’t like mixed drink so I have no review about cocktail.
Pasteur Street Brewing Company (slightly opposite the Above, is kind of small pub where they brew some special kinds of beer. Often crowded but it’s worth a shot. You may find some interesting buddies there.
The crowded backpacker area, can pick up any pub/bar that matches your taste. My only favorite restaurant there is Five Oyster restaurant(upstairs). More and more restaurants are opened in this area including Papas kitchen — Indian food.
Area rating: 6/10 (I don’t like that area)
Restaurant Rating: 7.5/10
Carmen bar — Ly Tu Trong st. (live band — Flamenco music) won’t let you down. Friendly atmosphere, lovely music band. My favorite drinks there are French Heineken, Margarita & red wine.
Broma Not a Bar, rooftop at 41 Nguyễn Huệ, Bến Nghé, Quận 1, Hồ Chí Minh
Love Jazz? There’s one on 28 Le Loi st. named Sax N Art Jazz Club
Rating: 9/10 for a rainy day.
Air 360 Sky Lounge: go for view view view. Lady night every Thu 8pm — 10pm.
My favorite pub is Indika Saigon (go further inside behind B.O.C) — A place where you can find a very good Pesto pasta & fried potato, where you can easily talk to people or simply grab a beer to enjoy your own. To give compliment is not because of the chef there is my friend but because of all the combination of atmosphere, space, food, price, staffs & music. Love the fried potato wedge (not French fried) and the pesto pasta there. YUM!
TO EXCHANGE MONEY
86 Mac Thi Buoi st., dist.1 (good rate)
Bến Thành market: Phuong Su exchange
Those places (near each other) are famous among tourists because of fake branded stuffs with reasonable price. You can find some really good one there. It’s way more expensive in Ben Thanh market (most of them are China products).
Massage is not my favorite thing to do in Saigon so doesn’t try so many places.
A good one is Uri Foot Therapy Spa at 95/44 Nguyễn Văn Trỗi, P12, Phú Nhuận
My Korean Friends recommemded the Golden Lotus Spa & Massage Club on Thai Van Lung st. Of course, it’s tourist price.
On Ton Duc Thang st. 1 brand new one opened looks good “7 days Spa & Massage”
TO BUY WINE, THINGS FOR COOKING
Go backpacking in Saigon for a long time may lead to the urge to cook your favorite meal. Not everything you need is available in the market or super market. Here is the list to keep just in case:
An Nam Gourmet on Hai Ba Trung st. quite expensive & decent. You can find most of different kinds of baguettes & imported ingredients there.
Another one is Phuong Ha shop on Ham Nghi st. spicialized in ingredients for Baking, Italian dishes…
And little French bakery “Une journée à Paris” Sai gon if you miss French breakfast & croissant
Forgot that you said u loved nature. Saigon is the crowded city, only small botanic garden has some big trees & animals left. You can consider 3 days 2 nights trip to An Giang province in Mekong Delta. Tra Su Cajuput Forest, Cam Mount…
CHECK OUT THE LIST OF ENGLISH SPEAKING HOSPITAL HERE
Traveling as a packpackers in Saigon that means you accept the adventure, riding a motorbike in the heavy traffic, surfering the rain or not avoiding flooded, facing bag snatching, getting drunk… Get ready for all of them.
BACKPACKING IN VIETNAM FOR A SHORT TIME
1st suggestion: HOI ANancient town
2ND suggestion: HOI ANancient town
3RD suggestion: DA LAT
BACKPACKING TO THE CENTRAL
DALAT (coffee land)
HOI AN(The best place to travel in the world 2019)
QUY NHON (My favorite about non-touristy beaches & mountain)
DAKLAK — BUON ME THUOT (coffee & pepper land)
BACKPACKING TO THE NORTH
Avoid the crowded commercial Ha Long bay & consider Cat Ba or Ninh Binh instead — My favorite French friend Catherine called it Ha Long bay in land. Mộc Châu, Mai Châu, Cao Bằng & Đồng Văn are hidden gems in North.
That’s all for Saigon. If I remember something else, will update this list.
Before I forget, AO Show is an impressive traditional Vietnamese show only in Saigon. Ticket price is from 30–60 USD depending on the seat choice
By Winnie H