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Side of the Saigon Notre Dame Cathedral | © likeaboombox/Flickr
Side of the Saigon Notre Dame Cathedral | © likeaboombox/Flickr
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20+ Awesome Free Things To Do in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam

Picture of Matthew Pike
Writer
Updated: 8 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.
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Visit the pink church

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.

Tan Dinh parish church, 289 Hai Bà Trưng, District 3, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam +84 28 3829 0093

Pink Church in Saigon | © Fayhoo/WikiCommons

Pink Church in Saigon | © Fayhoo/WikiCommons

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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

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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

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Photo op at the Saigon Notre Dame Cathedral

This is a must see in the city. It really is an impressive building, and with the colossal trees in the adjoining park, you do feel a sense of old world charm. The inside of the church is not all that impressive, so don’t worry if it’s closed.

Notre Dame Cathedral Of Saigon, 01 Công xã Paris, District 1, Hồ Chí Minh City, Vietnam +84 28 3822 0477

Unmistakably French | © Terrazzo/Flickr

Unmistakably French | © Terrazzo/Flickr

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Chat with students at Park 30-4

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.

Park 30-4, Pasteur Street, District 1, Hồ Chí Minh City, Vietnam

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Look at Independence Palace through the fence

Getting into the compound isn’t free, but you can still take some nice pictures through the front gate. For history buffs, this is the exact gate that came crashing down when a tank rumbled through it during the Fall of Saigon.

Independence Palace, 135 Nam Kỳ Khởi Nghĩa, District 1, Hồ Chí Minh City, Vietnam +84 90 991 34 81

View from the front gate | © Kars Alfrink/Flickr

View from the front gate | © Kars Alfrink/Flickr

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Browse Bến Thành Market

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.

Ben Thanh Market, Lê Lợi Street, District 1, Hồ Chí Minh City, Vietnam +84 28 3829 9274

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Visit An Đông Market

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.

An Đông Market, An Đông Market, Ward 9, District 5, Hồ Chí Minh City, Vietnam +84 28 3097 5864

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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

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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

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Take in Nguyễn Huệ Walking Street

At night, Nguyễn Huệ Walking Street is alive with crowds out enjoying the cool evening air. There’s intriguing architecture, street artists and enough people-watching to keep you happy for hours. Don’t bother in the middle of the day, though. It’s too hot and nobody’s there.

Nguyễn Huệ Walking Street, District 1, Hồ Chí Minh City, Vietnam

Nguyen Hue looking toward the river | © shankar s./Flickr

Nguyen Hue looking toward the river | © shankar s./Flickr

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Head to the War Surplus Market

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.

Dân Sinh Market, Yersin, District 1, Hồ Chí Minh City, Vietnam +84 28 3825 1130

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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

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Look at the skyline from Thủ Thiêm Bridge

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.

Thủ Thiêm Bridge, Bình Thạnh District, Hồ Chí Minh City, Vietnam

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Stroll through Little Tokyo

Little Tokyo is loaded with seedy massage places and little backalley haunts. This neighborhood has a distinct vibe, and if you’re a night owl type, then there’s plenty to keep you entertained. You might get a sense of criminality, but it’s actually safe.

Little Tokyo, Lê Thánh Tôn Street, District 1, Hồ Chí Minh City, Vietnam

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Take in the sights and sounds of Tôn Thất Đạm Street

Hiding in the shadow of the Bitexco Tower, Tôn Thất Đạm Street is a lively little market that seems like a holdout from a different Saigon, lined with stalls selling every kind of Vietnamese fruit and vegetable. This street is as dingy as it is colorful, and we love it.

Tôn Thất Đạm Street, District 1, Hồ Chí Minh City, Vietnam

Veggies for sale | © takeaway/WikiCommons

Veggies for sale | © takeaway/WikiCommons

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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

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Walk over Eiffel’s Bridge

A bit farther down Võ Văn Kiệt Street and you’ll find a bridge designed by Gustave Eiffel. The bridge is a popular photo spot for young couples and provides for nice views of the downtown.

Cầu Mống, District 4, Hồ Chí Minh City, Vietnam

Underside of Mống Bridge | © Tokeisan/WikiCommons

Underside of Mống Bridge | © Tokeisan/WikiCommons

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.