20+ Awesome Free Things To Do in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam

Side of the Saigon Notre Dame Cathedral | © likeaboombox/Flickr
Side of the Saigon Notre Dame Cathedral | © likeaboombox/Flickr
Photo of Matthew Pike
Writer8 February 2018

So you’ve blown all your money at a Cambodian casino, or maybe you had a few too many Singhas in Thailand. No problem, Vietnam is an excellent place to bring your holiday back on budget. Let’s see just how much money we can save you in Ho Chi Minh City.

Visit the pink church

Church
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Pink Church in Saigon
Pink Church in Saigon | © Fayhoo/WikiCommons
This famous church on Hai Bà Trưng is a striking sight, set apart from the boutique shops and bland cement buildings around it. The church was completed in 1876 and is still a popular spot for both parishioners and tourists alike. The area also has a cool vibe, so be sure to walk around after you’ve taken all your selfies.

Spend a night at Turtle Lake

Lake is a bit of a stretch for this landmark – pond would be more appropriate. At night, hundreds of people hang out on the strange cement structure, which is meant to be a fabled sword jabbing into the back of a turtle. This is a great spot for people-watching and street food.

Turtle Lake, Ward 6, District 3, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam

Wander around Bui Vien

Even if lewd businesses and rowdy backpackers aren’t your scene, Bùi Viện provides some of the weirdest sights you’ll find in this city. The people running this street won’t be happy if you try to sit anywhere for free, but the sidewalk is always available. Be careful with your belongings, though. This area is petty crime central.

Bùi Viện, Phạm Ngũ Lão Ward, District 1, Hồ Chí Minh City, Vietnam

Chat with students at Park 30-4

Park
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The park itself isn’t all that big, but you’ll usually find it packed with young people taking a break from their studies at one of the nearby universities. Rumor has it that certain professors give assignments to their students to find foreigners and chat with them to practice their English. This is a nice way to get insights into the lives of young people living in the city.

Browse Bến Thành Market

Market, Vietnamese
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If you’re at all bothered by aggressive shopkeepers, then you should probably avoid this one. It’s interesting, but make no doubt about it, there will be women grabbing your arms and shouting at you in shrills voices to come into their shop. If you do find something you like, barter – and barter hard. A 30% markup for foreigners is pretty well expected.

Visit An Đông Market

Market, Vietnamese
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While it is worth a visit, the Bến Thành Market is basically a tourist trap these days. To see a local market, stray over to District 5 and visit the An Đông Market. It’s hectic, stuffy, warm and about a 45 minute walk from Bùi Viện, so be prepared for a sweaty excursion.

Play đá cầu on Phạm Ngũ Lão

In the small park on Phạm Ngũ Lão, where all the coach buses drop off tourists, there are usually groups of young people playing đá cầu – also known as foot badminton. The birdie has feathers and a weight, but it doesn’t hurt your foot at all. The point is to keep the birdie in the air with creative kicks. It’s a bit difficult at first, but it sure feels good when you land a solid hit.

Phạm Ngũ Lão, District 1, Hồ Chí Minh City, Vietnam

Playing some foot badminton | © Yun Hoang Yong/Flickr

Playing some foot badminton | © Yun Hoang Yong/Flickr

Walk down Đề Thám Street to the river

We see this all the time: Tourists who are looking to get away from Bùi Viện Street will turn down Đề Thám and try to find the real Ho Chi Minh City. Then they come to the corner with Trần Hưng Đạo and just stop. After a few seconds of weighing their options, they turn around and head back to Bùi Viện. Don’t stop, though. Keep walking. It doesn’t look like much at first, but you will come to neat area that really isn’t touristy at all.

Đề Thám Street, District 1, Hồ Chí Minh City, Vietnam

Head to the War Surplus Market

Market
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Dan Sinh Market, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam
Dan Sinh Market, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam | © Nalidsa / Shutterstock
If you’ve ever wondered what it would be like to shop for zippo lighters that were used by American soldiers in the Vietnam War, then the Dân Sinh Market is the place to go. You can find patches, uniforms, equipment and all kinds of tools. The shopkeepers aren’t as pushy as they are at the Bến Thành Market, so it’s less stressful.

Stray over to Võ Duy Ninh Street

To see what a real Saigon backstreet looks like, we recommend you make your way to Võ Duy Ninh Street in Bình Thạnh District. The street is narrow, crowded and lined with shops selling food and all kinds of weird things. It’s a good walk from the touristy areas in District 1, though, so you might want to consider taking a taxi.

Võ Duy Ninh, Bình Thạnh Ward, Hồ Chí Minh City, Vietnam

Lady on Vo Duy Ninh | © Sam Roth

Lady on Vo Duy Ninh | © Sam Roth

Look at the skyline from Thủ Thiêm Bridge

Bridge
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After you’ve had your fill of Võ Duy Ninh Street, make the short hike over to the Thủ Thiêm Bridge to see one of the best views of the downtown skyline. We recommend you do this in the early evening because the buildings light up with spectacular colors. This is a very popular spot for locals as well.

Visit the Flagpole as you walk along the Saigon river

We recommend you start at the Trần Hưng Đạo statue near the Bach Dang Pier and make your way south. To be honest, the river and the far bank are nothing special, but the cool breeze and the buildings of downtown Saigon sure are. There’s the Majestic, which was featured in Graham Greene’s The Quiet American (1955), as well as the Colonial City Hall down at the end of Nguyễn Huệ Walking Street. The flagpole is the same one the French used to signal ships on the river well over a hundred years ago.

Flagpole, District 1, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam

Join a free walking tour

If you haven’t had your fill of walking, then check out one of the free walking tours offered by university students and non-profits. A quick search online and you’ll find numerous such tours. The guides are usually university students looking to practice their English.

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