10 Things to Do in and Around Ho Chi Minh City
Before my mom came to visit us in Vietnam in February 2014, I made up an ambitious list of things for us to do. We didn’t manage to check them all off, but here are my ideas of things you can do with family to show them around Saigon and the Mekong Delta.
1. Mekong Delta Day Trip
Ben Tre is one of the tourist destinations in the Mekong Delta that’s closer to Ho Chi Minh City. You could visit Ben Tre on a day trip, either by bus or by boat.
For a boat trip to Ben Tre, check out Buffalo Tour’s Mekong Delta Le Jerai Cruise.
For cheaper options to visit the Mekong Delta, check out bus trips by The Sinh Tourist. Be aware, the prices for these trips are excellent, however there may be an unexpected stop or two at a “craft center” or other souvenir shop.
For a day trip or overnight on a private boat, contact Mango Cruises. If you have enough people, you can charter a boat and go wherever you’d like.
2. Hoa Tuc Cooking Class
I’ve been wanting to take this course for a while as the food at Hoa Tuc restaurant is excellent. I haven’t gotten to try out the class yet, but the reviews online are positive. The price for a half-day gourmet tour, which includes a market visit, hands-on cooking class, and a 3-course meal is $45 per adult. Kids under 12 cost $28, and if any of the kids just want to watch and then eat the meal, the price for them is just $10.
Check website for bookings and current prices: Saigon Cooking Class
Last year one of our staff parties for ISHCMC American Academy was aboard the Bonsai Dinner Cruise. It was an evening cruise that included a full-course dinner, live music and entertainment. It’s a neat way to see the skyline at night and enjoy being out on the Saigon River. Tickets are $40 per person (kids under 6 free); you need to book 72 hours ahead of time. You can book through travel agents, but you can also book directly here: Bonsai Cruise Bookings
4. Cu Chi Tunnels Day Trip
I visited Cu Chi Tunnels before by bus, and the trip by road is pretty long and unexciting. It made the trip tedious to be done in one day, however I’ve come across two options to do the trip by boat. You can go by speedboat with Buffalo Tours / on the way there, and split up the road time with a visit to a cricket farm on the way back.
Or you can go by boat both ways with Saigon River Express. It costs $80 per person, and breakfast and lunch are included. Kids under 4 are free. The tour departs at 7am.
5. Can Gio Mangrove Forest
To get a bit further afield, you can take a whole day trip to Can Gio Mangrove Forest. This is a biosphere and crocodile reserve. The trip leaves at 7:30am and costs $100 per person with Saigon River Express. The tour includes “fishing”, a visit to a bat sanctuary, and feeding crocodiles. Read a thorough review by expat Mom Rebecca Swanson over at Swanson Family Travels.
6. Water Puppet Theatre
One of the most popular tourist activities is to go the Golden Dragon Water Puppet Theater. There are three 50-minute shows each day, at 5:00pm, 6:30pm and 7:45pm. We made a botched attempt to bring Gabriel to see this when he was a toddler. He refused to sit in his chair and wanted to jump into the water himself. His brave Auntie successfully brought him to the water puppet show in Hanoi when he was age 3.5; he sat through the whole thing and loved watching videos of it afterward.
7. Thao Dien Village
My mom and I actually made it to Thao Dien Village resort and spa in District 2. If your hotel doesn’t have a pool, the one at Thao Dien Village could be worth the splurge for the daily use fee. The pool is located next to the river and has some small, shallow pools at one end for little ones. We went there to get spa treatments, and the ambiance was relaxing. The on-site restaurant has open-air seating with riverside views.
8. Shopping at Taka Plaza or Saigon Square
These are two markets where you can find a lot of reasonably priced clothes and accessories in a variety of sizes. I find that even though I’m petite, many of the boutique clothes don’t fit me because they are made for the typical Vietnamese woman’s body type. At Taka Plaza and Saigon Square, you can find clothes made for export that match up to western sizes. I tend to buy more casual clothes, like sundresses and t-shirts, at Saigon Square, and dressier things at Taka Plaza. Both markets also have a good selection of purses, jewelry, sandals, and belts.
Taka Plaza is located at 102 Nam Ky Khoi Nghia St. District 1. Saigon Square number 1 is within walking distance of Taka Plaza on Nguyen Thi Minh Kai St. There is another Saigon Square, number 2, which has a slightly different selection. It’s not as crowded at Saigon Square number 1, and it’s closer to District 2 on Ton Duc Thang Street next to the river. The expectation at these markets is to bargain. If you buy more than one item at any shop, you should be able to get a discount from the stated price.
To read more about shopping opportunities in Saigon, click over to Hello – Saigon!
9. Motorbike Tour by Night
One of the best ways to experience Ho Chi Minh City is to take a motorbike tour at night. My sister and I did the XO Tours 4.5-hour “Foodie Tour” this past July. Each tour participant rides with a female driver who is dressed in a traditional ao dai. The tour goes all over the city, and the food was amazing. I want to go again just to eat the food!
10. A2 Costume Shop
It seems there are always opportunities in Saigon to dress up. Just off Truong Dinh street at number 107A, you will find a small, unassuming storefront labeled “A2 costume shop.” Inside, you will find an array of handmade costumes for children and adults. I really like this shop because many of costumes are made of cotton, so they are comfortable in the hot and humid weather. The majority of styles are for kids, so this is a great place to pick up a unique present for any children in your life.
They also have adult costumes, although they don’t have as many of those in stock, so if you’ve been searching for a Batgirl costume for your next company masquerade party, contact A2 shop ahead of time and order one in your size.