48 Hours in Ho Chi Minh City

If ever a city felt as though it’s on the brink of massive transformation, it has to be Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC). Cranes dot the skyline and the construction of luxury apartments and shopping malls consumes
the city.

Alongside all this change sits the old-world charm for which Saigon, as it’s still called by many, is famous. It makes for an intoxicating blend and a great city break. Here’s how to make the most of 48 hours.

Related article: What to do and see in Ho Chi Minh City

Ho Chi Minh City
The stylish pool at The Reverie Saigon



Check into the most luxurious hotel to ever open in HCMC, The Reverie Saigon. Four of Italy’s leading design houses are responsible for the interior, and no expense has been spared on the design. The service is incredible – from the wait staff at five dining outlets to the concierge team – and it’s hard to imagine a more convenient location, with the hotel within walking distance of all the major sites.


Time is of the essence with so much to do and see, so head straight out to HCMC’s hectic, motorbike-filled streets and two of Saigon’s essential sights. Reunification Palace, where 30 years of war officially ended on 30 April, 1975, is a must-see, while not far away is theWar Remnants Museum, formerly known as the Museum of Chinese and American War Crimes (warning: the exhibits are not for the fainthearted).


After a quick change, it’s time to meet Vu from Saigon Street Eats. Vu and his Australian wife Barbara started their street tours in 2008 to give visitors the chance to get off the main tourist streets and delve into the guts of areas many would not otherwise visit. The three-hour Street Food 101 tour navigates some of the best local stalls, where you can feast on cheap and cheerful Vietnamese food, and indulge in tastes you probably wouldn’t otherwise be confident enough to try.


Not far from The Reverie is the Rex Hotel– the hotel’s rooftop garden was where US army officers imbibed during the Vietnam War. A drink here is a rite of passage while visiting Ho Chi Minh City, so a nightcap is the perfect way to end your first night. Although it’s one of the lowest rooftop bars in the city you can still see most of the beautiful period buildings from the bar.

Ho Chi Minh City
Chill Skybar



You can’t come to HCMC and not see the Cu Chi Tunnels. Forego the usual hours on a tourist bus in favour of a much more upmarket and convenient option: arriving by speedboat with Les Rives Authentic River Experience. As you cruise by you’ll see life on the riverbanks and, bonus, you’ll arrive before most other tourists. After a guided tour through the tunnels and lunch by the river, you’ll be whisked back to HCMC for an afternoon exploring the city.


While HCMC doesn’t offer the same atmospheric shopping as Hanoi’s Old Quarter or Hoi An’s character-filled streets, a visit to Ben Thanh Market in the centre of District 1 is a must. You’ll find cheap clothing, trinkets and souvenirs, and plenty of street food stalls. Grab a Vietnamese coffee (ca phe su da), before heading to Taka Plaza. This market-style mall offers what seem to be genuine branded goods – although some are questionable. You’ll need to rummage to find the gems.


Take a wander past the nearby Notre Dame Cathedral. Finished in 1880 by the French (who brought all of the building materials from their homeland), back in the day it was one of the most beautiful sacral buildings in all of the French colonies – today it remains one of the top tourist sites in HCMC. Not far from here is the Saigon Central Post Office, an architectural jewel built between 1886 and 1891 by architect Villedieu and his assistant Foulhoux. If you get there before 5pm you can enter and even send a postcard from this iconic landmark.


A restaurant named after Shakespeare’s epic romance, Romeo and Juliet, has to be on the itinerary of any couple visiting HCMC, so book a table atR&J Italian Lounge & Restaurant for what will be one of the most memorable nights of your Vietnam holiday. A dress code applies, and it’s a little pricey, but with slick service and a comprehensive fine wine list to accompany the divine food (and a no-kids policy), it’s worth every cent.


Since opening in late 2011, Chill Skybar has been one of the city’s most highly rated venues for views and stylish cocktails. Located on the 26th floor of the AB Tower, you will get an amazing view of Ho Chi Minh City. Chill was the city’s first real rooftop bar and remains popular with local high-rollers and expats alike.

Ho Chi Minh City
Cuc Gach Quan – image credit www.globetrottinggourmet.com



Eat breakfast like a local at Pho Hoa Pasteur located in District 1 – it’s said to be one of the best places in Ho Chi Minh City for southern-style pho. Run by successive generations of thesame family, their recipe for Vietnam’s most famous dish is a family secret. Popular with locals and expats alike, there’s even an English menu.


When Brad and Angelina decided to dine at the (then) little-known restaurant Cuc Gach Quan, it changed everything. Today, it’s on everyone’s culinary must-list, serving some of the best Vietnamese food in HCMC. Set within a French colonial building, the atmosphere is homely yet quirky at the same time – the perfect spot for a last leisurely lunch in the capital. Situated on the outskirts of District 1, most taxi drivers know how to get there, thanks to the Brangelina connection… back when they were Brangelina.


There’s one last indulgence to squeeze in before leaving Ho Chi Minh City: The Spa at The Reverie Saigon. Located on more than 1,200 square metres and two floors, The Spa’s comprehensive range of treatments stems from both eastern and western therapies. Ranked as one of the best spas in the world, there’s even a Himalayan pink salt sauna, colour therapy steam room, and an invigorating ice fountain.

Inspired? Find out more about Vietnam here.

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