1-day Self-Guided Walking Tour of Ho Chi Minh City

This is the second in a series of self-guided walking tours in Ho Chi Minh City. In my first tour of Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam’s largest metropolis and capital of South Vietnam, I mapped out a route between many of the major tourist attractions in the popular District 1. They included:

      • Tao Dan Park,
      • The War Remnants Museum,
      • Reunification Palace (AKA Independence Palace,)
      • Notre Dame Cathedral of Saigon (officially Basilica of Our Lady of The Immaculate Conception)
      •  Saigon Central Post Office
      • Dong Khoi Street,
      • Ho Chi Minh City Hall (AKA People’s Committee Building,)
      • Ho Chi Minh City Municipal Theatre (AKA Saigon Opera House,)
      • Nguyen Hue Walking Street,
      • Apartment Block Cafes
      • The Rex Hotel,
      • Ho Chi Minh Statue, and
      • Benh Thanh Market.

You can find that first self-guided Ho Chi Minh City free walking tour HERE

Street Scene with traffic in Ho Chi Minh City

What You Will See on this Ho Chi Minh City Walking Tour

This second tour, while centrally located, covers more off-the-beaten track sites and hidden gems in District 1 and diverts briefly across the river to District 4 to see the historically significant  (President) Ho Chi Minh Museum.

The route that I’ve plotted for this self-guided walking tour helps you to discover Saigon’s diversity and introduces you to:

  • The Saigon Zoo and Botanical Gardens
  • A typical Vietnamese temple, (Temple of King Hung Vuong)
  • Saigon Central Mosque,
  • A Hindu temple, – Mariamman Hindu Temple
  • Several excellent museums – the Museum of Vietnamese History, President Ho Chi Minh Museum, and the French Colonial Museum of Fine Arts
  • The second tallest building in Ho Chi Minh City – Bitexco Tower and Saigon Skydeck, and
  • The central tourist market in town – Benh Thanh Market.

I’ve also added a couple of suggestions for short breaks, refreshments, and meals. But on this route, you’ll be spoilt for choice when you need a Vietnamese coffee shop, cafe, restaurant, or bar. And of course, you’ll see plenty of Saigon street food as you walk around the city too.

Old cafe in Ho Chi Minh city

How Long Will This Self-Guided Tour of Ho Chi Minh City Take?

Google Maps says the tour is about 5 km. I’d add a couple of km for wandering about the Botanical gardens. So make sure you wear comfortable walking shoes. It’s also advisable to take water, wear a hat, use sun protection, and have something to keep your valuables safe while walking around. You can read more about staying comfortable and safe when walking around Ho Chi Minh City HERE.

If you feel the distances between the different sites are too long, it’s simple to jump in a cab or on the back of a Xe Om (motorbike taxi) to get to the next point. It shouldn’t cost you more than $1 or $2 for any of these trips. None of the distances should take you more than 20 minutes to walk directly to, even if you walk quite slowly. There are lots of diversions you can make. However, that will make your day longer. I’ll mention some of those choices at the relevant point.

What Does This Saigon Walking Tour Cost?

This tour is completely FREE except for entry fees listed for:

  • Entry fees for the individual sites which I’ve noted in the text,
  • Transport you take instead of walking, and
  • Whatever you choose to eat and drink.
One of the bridges that cross the canal between Districts 1 and 4 in Ho Chi Minh City

What Will I See on This Ho Chi Minh Sightseeing Tour?

For this second walking tour in Ho Chi Minh City, I suggest you visit the sites in this order:

  1. Saigon Zoo and Botanical Gardens
  2. Temple of King Hung Vuong
  3. Museum of Vietnamese History
  4. Saigon Central Mosque
  5. Bitexco Tower
  6. Ho Chi Minh Museum
  7. Ho Chi Minh City Museum of Fine Arts
  8. Mariammen Hindu Temple
  9. Ben Thanh Market

So let’s get started on this tour of some Ho Chi Minh City highlights. But first, here’s a tour map of all the sites you’ll see plotted on Google Maps:

1 Saigon Zoo and Botanical Garden

2 Museum of Vietnamese History

3 Saigon Central Mosque

4 Bitexco Financial Tower and Skydeck

5 Ho Chi Minh Museum

6 Ho Chi Minh City Museum of Fine Arts

7 Mariammen Hindu Temple

8 Ben Thanh Market

Black and White photo of the entry to Saigon Zoo and Botanical Gardens

Entry to Saigon Zoo and Botanical Gardens

Saigon Zoo and Botanical Gardens

Start your day at the Saigon Zoo and Botanical Gardens.

The main entrance to the Zoo and Botanical Gardens is on Nguyen Binh Kiem Street, directly opposite Le Duan Street.

Entry is 20 000VND (less than 1 USD) for adults.

By international standards, it’s not brilliant. But it does have ample places to sit and relax, stop for a cold drink, or rest in the shade to people-watch. The complex is very popular with Vietnamese families and couples. If you are not keen on visiting the animals in their rather cramped conditions, check out the map almost directly as you enter and avoid the animal enclosures, concentrating instead on the gardens and lake area.

Outside of the Museum of Vietnamese History near Saigon Zoo and Botanical Gardens

Museum of Vietnamese History

Another good reason to begin the walking tour at this location is the Museum of Vietnamese History, directly across from the temple. This well-curated museum traces the tumultuous history of Vietnamese people throughout the ages.

The Museum of Vietnamese History (Also known as the Saigon National History Museum) is open from Tuesday to Sunday 8.00 -11.30 am and then 1.30-5 pm. Tickets are 15,000 VND (Less than 1 USD).

I also recommend you drop off at the Temple of King Hung Vuong on the way in or out of the main entrance.

Picture of Jamia Al Musulman Mosque (Saigon Central Mosque)

This free self-guided walking tour of Ho Chi Minh City, covers more off-the-beaten track sites and hidden gems in District 1 and diverts briefly across the river to District 4 to the Ho Chi Minh Museum.

Jamia Al Musulman Mosque (Saigon Central Mosque)

After exploring the zoo, botanical gardens, and museum, head towards the center of District 1. Cross the road directly in front of the Zoo’s main entrance, and walk straight down Lê Duẩn  Street until you reach Tôn Đức Thắng. Then turn left. The route has good shade in places, and as you walk further down the street, bars and cafes will become more prevalent.

Handy hint: If you look up, you should see the top of the Bitexco Financial Tower, the 2nd tallest building in Saigon. You can use this as a marker to keep you on track.

Keep walking along Tôn Đức Thắng until you reach Lê Thánh Tôn. Turn right and go straight ahead.

Lê Thánh Tôn and the surrounding streets are filled with both International and Vietnamese restaurants and cafes. It’s part of what’s called ‘Little Japan Town’, so in addition to Vietnamese cuisine, you’ll find plenty of Sushi and Izakaya restaurants if that takes your fancy. This area is a great place to stop for a rest and something to eat.  A couple of my favorites include Quan Bui – Original in Ngô Văn Năm Street, Pizza 4P’s,  L’Usine, and Pasteur Street Brewing Company taproom. but there are loads of others we’ve yet to try.

Keep walking down Lê Thánh Tôn until you get to the intersection with Hai Bà Trưng Street. It’s the busy street right before you reach the large Vincom Shopping Centre. Turn left and keep walking straight until you reach Đông Du Street. Turn right and walk about 50 m where you’ll reach the Saigon Central Mosque (Jamia Al Musulman Masjid) at number 66. It’s one of several mosques that serve the Muslim community of Ho Chi Minh City. There’s a cheap Halal restaurant on site and some street vendors around the entrance if you are still hungry.

Sharyn Nilsen looking at the drinks menu at the Helio Bar at the top of Bitexco Tower.

The drinks are pricey, but it's still cheaper than the Skydeck!

Bitexco Financial Tower

After admiring the mosque, keep walking straight down Đông Du for another 60 m and turn left when you reach Đồng Khởi Street. I highly recommend you check out some of the classier art galleries and souvenir, clothing, and accessory stores.

Once you’ve finished browsing, keep walking down Đồng Khở towards the river and turn right onto Ngô Đức Kế Street. Look up, and you’ll see the commanding edifice of Bitexco Financial Centre, currently Saigon’s second-tallest building. (It used to be Vietnam’s largest until they built a taller one in Hanoi, and LandMark over in Binh Thanh district.) Walk straight, crossing over Nguyen Hue (Walking) Street to reach it. You are now at your next destination, the Bitexco Financial Tower.

Once here, you now only have one option. Entry to the Saigon Skydeck on the 49th floor is ~ 240,000 VND (2023) to get a bird’s eye view of Saigon.

Unfortunately, the old hack of going to the  EON 52 Helibar on the 52nd floor is no longer an option as the bar has closed.

But you can Skip The Queue by pre-purchasing your ticket for the same cost.

If it’s lunchtime by now, there’s a selection of restaurants in Bitexco and the surrounding area. Everything from upmarket sushi to cheap and delicious local food from the market close by.

The next leg of the itinerary will take you over the water to District 4 to visit the Ho Chi Min Museum at Dragon House Wharf. But, if it’s between 12:00 am and 2:00 pm the museum is closed for lunch. So I highly recommend you take some time to explore the afore-mentioned market that runs along Ham Nghi Street, Đ. Hồ Tùng Mậu Street,  (right near Bitexco) and Tôn Thất Đạm Street.

This market is an authentic Vietnamese wet market and not touristy at all. Here you’ll find lots of color, cheap eating stalls, and an authentic Vietnamese market vibe. Also NOTE: the Ho Chi Minh Museum is CLOSED on Mondays and Fridays, so skip the next destination and move on to the Fine Arts Museum.

Mosaic of President Ho Chi Minh in the Museum of the same name.

Ho Chi Minh Museum

To get to the museum from Bitexco, head back a little to Nguyễn Huệ (Walking) Street and turn right. Walk straight down to Tôn Đức Thắng Street along the Saigon River. Cross to the river side of the street and look to your right. Head towards the large wooden Junk “Elisa” you should be able to see at Dragon House Wharf. Walk down a little and cross to the footpath leading to the bridge.

Pro-Tip: Take a photo of the museum complex from the top of the bridge as it’s a little hard to get one once you are on the grounds because of the large trees.

The museum has a comprehensive and informative collection of everything related to Uncle Ho (ex-President Ho Chi Minh), Vietnam’s most famous and popular leader. It includes some of his personal possessions, a shrine, and several amazing historical pictures of him leading the North Vietnamese army in the Vietnam War to reunify the Republic of Vietnam. Make sure you head down to the river to get a picture of Elisa in all her glory.

Tickets:  40,000 VND. Opening hours: Monday and Friday – Closed. Other days: 8:00 am – 12:00 am and 2:00 pm – 4:30 pm

The front of the French Colonial Fine Arts Museum in Ho Chi Minh City

Ho Chi Minh City Museum of Fine Arts

The route now provides an opportunity to view District 1 from the other side of the Ben Nghe Canal (rạch Bến Nghé.)

Head out the front gates of the museum and turn right on to Nguyễn Tất Thành. Head towards the bridge you came over (about 100 m). You need to go under this bridge, so turn left onto the footpath. Walk about  200m until you reach the walking bridge that crosses the canal back towards Ho Chi Minh City center. Cross back over into District 1. It’s a little tricky to cross the road at the other end, so take care.  Once safely across, turn left along Võ Văn Kiệt Street. and walk about 270 m until you reach Đức Chính Street on your right. You will pass the Saigon Stock Exchange on the way with its sculpture of the bull beating up the bear. Turn right onto Đức Chính and follow it straight down until you see the Fine Arts Museum on your left.

The museum is located over several floors in two beautiful French colonial buildings. The main building houses permanent collections and the building to the left as you enter has special exhibits. Art from across the ages is presented in well-labeled displays. The building is fresh and airy and a welcome respite from the heat and humidity outside. There are beautiful shots of the well-maintained architecture from windows on the higher levels.

The museum is open from 8:00 – 17:00 from Monday to Sunday. Tickets are 30 000 VND.

Mariammen Temple in District 1 Ho Chi Minh City

Mariammen Temple sits on a side street close to Ben Thanh Market

Mariamman Hindu Temple

As you exit the Fine Art Museum turn left and head towards the huge round-a-bout in front of Ben Thanh market. Hug the right-hand side of the road as you navigate the round-a-bout across Hàm Nghi, Huỳnh Thúc Kháng, and Le Loi streets. (Use my safety tips for walking Ho Chi Minh City to get across in one piece).

Once safely across Le Loi, head straight down Phan Bội Châu on the right side of the market until you reach Lê Thánh Tôn Street at the back, then turn left. Walk along past the fruit and flowers section and keep heading up the street until you reach Trương Định Street. Turn right and you will see Mariamman Hindu Temple a little way up the street on your left.

Indian traders built this ornately decorated temple in the early 19th century. Incense wafts around you as you enter and colorful sculptures adorn the walls. A large sign explains the various deities in detail, but unfortunately, it isn’t in English. There is no problem in entering this temple or taking pictures of the interior. In fact, I was ushered in by an elderly lady sitting on the steps and welcomed by one of the gentlemen inside.

It is a fully functioning temple, however, so please be respectful. Wear appropriate clothing and take your shoes off before you step onto the platform. The temple is open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. and is free to enter. There are plenty of donation boxes around to show your appreciation.

Woman getting a head massage.

Beauty salons offering massages services are plentiful in downtown Ho Chi Minh City

Relax for a While before the Night Market

The night market at Ben Thanh doesn’t start humming til later in the evening, so you have a couple of choices until then. There are loads of coffee shops, ice cream shops, and restaurants in this area so take a break before getting into shopping mode. There are also bars if you need something a bit stronger by now. Or better still, if you’re getting a little tired, get a massage at one of the many beauty salons in the area. Doesn’t a relaxing foot massage and hot rocks and oil sound amazing right now?

Ben Thanh Market in Ho Chi Minh city

Ben Thanh Market/Night Market

If you are still full of energy, dive into the market’s central area for a spot of souvenir hunting.  Make no mistake; you will be hassled at this market, and the prices will start far higher than things are worth. Bargain hard but stay polite. Once you agree on a price, count your money carefully before handing it over. As I’ve mentioned previously, some of the different denominations of Vietnamese Dong look remarkably similar especially if you are a little bit rushed. My cousin handed over a 500 000 VND note rather than a 20 000 and it disappeared pretty damn quickly. Also, stay alert and watch your bags and wallets. There are a lot of tourist police in this area for a very good reason.

If you are looking for a great place to have dinner, one of our favorite restaurants, is just down the road – Barbecue Garden. To reach it, take a short 200 m walk up Lê Thánh Tôn Street, to the corner of Nguyễn Trung Trực Street. Chill out in the fairy-lit garden and cook yourself a BBQ over a couple of drinks. Our favorite dish is the beef rolls stuffed with cheese, but they also have vegetarian options, chicken, food, and seafood to suit every palate. You can also choose a number of platters with a mix of meats and seafood on offer if you can’t decide on a particular dish. Have a bite to eat here and then head back to the night market to shop till you drop. By that time, I’d say you might just be ready for bed! I know I was after completing this rather tiring but hopefully, interesting walking tour around Ho Chi Minh City.

Ho Chi Minh City skyline at dusk

Concluding Your Ho Chi Minh City Walking Tour: What’s Next?

At the end of this walking tour in Ho Chi Minh City, you’ll realize you’ve only seen a fraction of what this incredible city has to offer. After living here for many years, I can assure you there’s much more to see and do. That’s one of the reasons I put together two more self-guided walking tours of Saigon.

Ho Chi Minh City Free Walking Tour number one focuses on District 1 and the most popular sites, including The War Remnants Museum, Reunification Palace, Notre Dame Cathedral, Saigon Central Post Office, the Saigon City Hall,  The Saigon Opera House, Nguyen Hue Walking Street, the Rex Hotel, the Ho Chi Minh Statue, and Ben Thanh Night Market.

Ho Chi Minh City Free Walking Tour number three explores even less well-known tourist attractions in the Cholon district, otherwise known as Chinatown. This third self-guided walking tour winds through colorful local markets, historical temples, unique shops, and another unique Ho Chi Minh City Museum in Districts 5 and 10.

However, I understand not all of you want to go it alone. So, if you’d prefer to take a guided tour for your  Ho Chi Minh City exploration, there are plenty to choose from. I’ve listed a few below, but if you hit the links and customize your requirements, you’ll have access to many more.

Free Walking Tours of Ho Chi Minh City

My favorite tour guides for a FREE tour around Ho Chi Minh City are the students from Saigon Hotpot. You can choose any of their informative FREE walking tours around town for zero cost. The young locals are proud to show you their hometown, introduce you to Vietnamese culture, and tell you about the history of the city.

Taking a Saigon Hotpot tour is a win-win experience. You get an insider’s view of the city and they get to practice their already excellent English skills. Any tips you give them will usually go to the organization’s current charity.

Paid Walking Tours Around Ho Chi Minh City

If you don’t want a free tour, there are plenty of paid walking tours in Ho Chi Minh City as well. Check out Get Your Guide and Viator to see what’s on offer. Very few, if any, will cover all of the spots I’ve included in this free self-guided itinerary around Saigon, so you may have to combine a few or customize a private tour.

Three people enjoying a traditional lunch in Ho Chi Minh City

Enjoying lunch with our Saigon Hotpot guide and now friend.

Non-Walking Tours Around Ho Chi Minh City

f you’re not up for walking around this crazy city, there are plenty of other ways to explore Ho Chi Minh City. I’ve added a few below:

1 Take a Saigon City Tour by Cyclo. Due to prevalent scams by private SOME unscrupulous cyclo drivers, I highly recommend an organized tour if you want to travel around the city by cyclo.

2 Take one of the many motorbike sightseeing tours around the city. While the traffic looks completely nuts, it’s not quite as bad as it looks if you know how it works. I have had a Vietnamese motorbike license for many years and never had an accident. But if you want to travel on two wheels, and aren’t an experienced rider on Asian city streets, I recommend having an experienced driver to quell some of your nerves.

3. If that all sounds too scary, there are many companies that will provide a private AC vehicle to shuttle you around on your Ho Chi Minh City exploration of the sights.

Sharyn Nilsen on a food tour by motorbike at night.

Other Amazing Experiences in Ho Chi Minh City

1. Take a cooking class. I’ve actually done three of these over the years, and all have been fabulous. Try to get one with a trip to the market beforehand and private cooking stations.

2. Take one of the many excellent food tours around town. Once again, I’ve been on several and had no fault with any.  Saigon Street Eats is run by a fellow Aussie and her Vietnamese husband and has won a load of awards. But if you can book with them, (they are very popular) there are loads of others available. Take a look HERE.

3. You can combine a couple of these experiences and take a food tour by scooter at night and tick off two Ho Chi Minh City highlights in one. Once again, I’ve been on a couple of these, and they don’t disappoint. A bit of an adrenaline rush, great food, and great company.

Day Tours from Ho Chi Minh City

If you’ve thoroughly explored the city and have a few more days to spend, there are plenty of day trips from Ho Chi Minh City on offer. Don’t miss:

    1. Take a trip to the Cu Chi Tunnels
    2. Explore the Saigon River and Mekong River by boat all the way to the Mekong Delta
    3. Book a history tour to Vũng Tàu, a favorite resort town of the locals and chock full of war memorabilia.

Last but not least,  I’ve added some extra resources for visiting the Socialist Republic of Vietnam and Ho Chi Minh City. Visit the section below for links to travel resources for flights, accommodation, travel insurance, transport, and more.

And if you want to see what else I’ve written about Ho Chi Minh City and Vietnam, then head over HERE to our Vietnam Page. You’ll find plenty of information to assist with your entire Vietnam tour and with lots more to add as I get time.

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