10 Unusual And Cool Things To Do In Ho Chi Minh (Saigon)
 Taking random pictures in Vietnam is cool, but not unusual. Photo: Patti Neves

Taking random pictures in Vietnam is cool, but not unusual. Photo: Patti Neves

Getting bored at Ho Chi Minh City?

If you already visited the Vietnam War Museum, the French colonial buildings and the innumerous  historical sights in Saigon, it's time to to step your game up and watch a show in the opera house, have diner in an old opium factory or even try eating a few insects! 

So let's get a bit crazier because there are plenty of unusual and cool things to do in Ho Chi Minh!

1. WATCH A SHOW IN THE OPERA HOUSE

Do not waste a lot of time turning around historical monuments: instead of just walking by the opera house you can book tickets and see a typical Vietnamese show!

A O Show, also called "Bamboo Cirque", is the rustic version of the Cirque du Soleil and features interesting aspects of Vietnamese culture.

The show combines acrobatics, dance and local choreography. We watched the show on a Wednesday night and the VIP ticket entitled us to one glass of wine each. Not bad!

 Photo:  A O Show

Photo: A O Show

Note: photography is strictly prohibited.

Where: Opera House, 07 Công Trường Lam Sơn, Bến Nghé, Quận 1

2. EAT INSECTS IN HO CHI MINH

Vietnamese food is absolutely delicious but it can also be extreme and exotic.

If you want to test your culinary limits, try the adventure at the Bo Cap Lua restaurant. They serve tarantulas, scorpions, lizards, live larvae, fried worms and other "crazy" items.

To be honest, and completely honest, I just passed by and looked at the menu. It was enough. 

 Photo:  Trip Advisor

Brave bloggers get better pictures though :)

Where: Bo Cap Moon, 17B 11th Street, Ir Vap District

3. BUY VIETNAMESE VINTAGE POSTERS

The Saigon kitsch shop sells dozens and dozens of original and atypical objects.

It is imperative to check out the endless collection of posters of all sizes, whether of the colonial era, past wars, or communist propaganda.

 Photo credit:  A ticket to ride

Photo credit: A ticket to ride

Prices are much better than in Bui Vien street (backpacker's district).

Where: Saïgon kitsch, 43 rue Ton That Thiep, district 1

4. VISIT THE FUNKY "THE CAFE APARTMENT"

The Café Apartment is a 9-storey building that formerly housed military servants. The space retained its original structure and has a cool hipster vibe. Today, the space houses coffee shops, restaurants, co-working spaces, hairdressers and even a bookstore on the ground floor.

Some of the coffee places offer amazing balconies with nice views of Walking Street and the Saigon River.

 The Café Apartment. Photo: Patti Neves

The Café Apartment. Photo: Patti Neves

A staircase leads to each floor, but there is also elevator service for 3000 Vietnamese dongs (VND), which are refunded when you pay the bill at any of the coffee shops.

The Café Apartment is a popular evening hang out among locals, but there was plenty of activity in the afternoon too.

I enjoyed this little shop below, the tea was amazing actually (yes, ok, it does look like a doll house but we are in Asia after all, everything must be "cute") isn't?

 Self proclaimed British-style tea room, Ho Chi Minh City. Photo: Patti Neves

Self proclaimed British-style tea room, Ho Chi Minh City. Photo: Patti Neves

Where: The Cafe Apartment, 42 Nguyen Hue Street (Walking Street)

5. HAVE DINNER IN AN OLD OPIUM REFINERY 

In 1862 two smart Frenchmen got the right to legally produce opium and founded the refinery "La Manufacture d'Opium". In 20 years, the trade became so profitable that the governor of Indochina decided to exercise direct control over the refining and sale of opium, which (of course) helped to manipulate the people and maintain the political power in the colonial era.

Today the Hoa Tuc (poppy flower) restaurant offers tasteful contemporary Vietnamese cuisine. The menu and service are ranked as one of the best in Ho Chi Minh City.

 Hoa Tuc restaurant in Ho Chi Minh City. Photo:  Hello Saigon

Hoa Tuc restaurant in Ho Chi Minh City. Photo: Hello Saigon

The restaurant is located in a charming courtyard, close to the Opera House.

Where: Hoa Tuc (Old Opium Manufacture of Saigon), 74 Hai Bà Trưng, Bến Nghé, Quận 1

6. GET YOURSELF SOME TAILORED VIETNAMESE CLOTHING

Have you ever heard of "ao dai"?

The ao dai, the Vietnamese traditional dress was exclusive to the aristocracy in the nineteenth century. Inspired by the French fashion in the 1930s, the artist Nguyen Cát Tuong redesigned the model as a long dress. In 1950, the designers of Saigon tightened the trim, producing the version which is used by the Vietnamese women today.

Sensation among fashionistas on Instagram, is often worn with jeans, especially the skinny.

 Random ao dai ladies in Ho Chi Minh City. Photo: Patti Neves

Random ao dai ladies in Ho Chi Minh City. Photo: Patti Neves

I highly recommend the address below, provided by a dear Vietnamese friend. 

Where: Mark & Vy Fashion 130/4 Điện Biên Phủ, P17, Bình Thạnh, 700000.

7. CHECK THE LOCAL FLEA MARKET 

Lê Công Kiêu Antique Street offers many bargains but also rare objects.

In every store there are hundreds (or maybe thousands) of real and fake antiques. You should not worry too much as the majority of the stall owners are very honest and if you ask the origin of each object, they will tell you the truth.

It's the true Ali Baba's cave, but you can still get out without buying a pig in a poke.

Tip: when buying anything, ask for receipts stating that the item can be exported. Theoretically, the Vietnamese government can control the exit of antiques in the airport.

 Flea Market in Ho Chi Minh City. Photo:  Saigon Free Day Tours

Flea Market in Ho Chi Minh City. Photo: Saigon Free Day Tours

Where: Antique Street, 38 Lê Công Kieu, Phuong Nguyen Thái Bìn, Quan 1

8. EXPERIENCE THE TRỨNG VỊT LỘN

The trung vit lon is a very popular food in Vietnam, similar to the "balut" of the Philippines. The fertilised bird egg  is incubated for a period of 14 to 21 days.

In the Vietnamese version, the egg is incubated until the final stage, i.e. until the baby duck is fully formed, which takes 21 days. 

Although most people find that the dish is the same as the balut, in the Philippines the eggs are incubated at 16 days (but generally the embryos can be eaten at any stage of development).

The locals usually consume the weird snack accompanied by beer.

We, humans are really strange animals. 

 Trung vit lon. Photo:  Aterux  via Wikimedia Commons

Trung vit lon. Photo: Aterux via Wikimedia Commons

Where: Hot Vịt Lộn Kim Thảo, 104 Xuân Thủy, Thảo Điền, Quận 2

9. EXPLORE THE CURIOUS SAIGON BUILDINGS - 14 TON THAT DAM

A modernist utilitarian building where residential apartments, small thrift shop and cafes co-exist in a strange, but symbiotic, mix.

The five-storey harbors a  maze of shabby stairs displaying graffitis and rundown hallways leading to private apartments next to vintage cafes. 

Mismatched worned-out objects (and cats) seems to be everywhere in that place. Good luck to distinguish the residential apartments from the few small business located in between floors.

A sense of decay may strike at times. Specially on the creepy stairs!

 Ready for some urbex in Ho Chi Minh? Photo: Patti Neves

Ready for some urbex in Ho Chi Minh? Photo: Patti Neves

I have read somewhere that there was a coffee shop for every personality at this address, but anyone who passes in front of the 14 Ton That Dam  would never suspect it.

It does looks like a messy residencial building! I was standing at the entrance for some time, wondering if I was in the right place.

After a bit of hesitation in between floors, I found a few coffee places and small thrift stores.

Please note that the xmas tree below was hanging on the wall at mid-March...

Well. It seems that in Vietnam this just means "decoration". Who knows?

 Ho-ho-ho, watch the deco! Photo: Patti Neves

Ho-ho-ho, watch the deco! Photo: Patti Neves

Maybe the trend among foreigners started some time ago when a mysterious retro-styled café called Banksy started to be frequented by expats.

I saw the image below at Jimmy Eats World (excellent website) and since then I kept dreaming about finding it.

I confess that my first goal at  14 Tôn Thất Đạm was to chill there by the afternoon to escape the heat but... I was not so lucky, as I couldn't find that place :(

 The Banksy Cafe. Photo:  Jimmy Eats World

The Banksy Cafe. Photo: Jimmy Eats World

Actually, if you do, please post an update! I am super curious to see if this place is still there.

I found out with the locals that the shops are constantly opening and closing there, so in every new visit, you may find a new surprise. And if you don't, the "URBEX" expedition is always worth anyways.

Where: 14 Tôn Thất Đạm, Nguyễn Thái Bình, Quận 1

10. FLEET HCMC AND BOARD THE FIRST FLIGHT TO PHÚ QUÔC

Alright, you started reading this article hoping to find things to do in Ho Chi Minh, but if you start getting desperate (and the chaos of Asian cities can get you there pretty fast), it's good to know that a stylish escape to one of the most beautiful Vietnamese islands only costs 100 US$ (and an one-hour flight).

And why Phú Quôc? White sand, turquoise water and under developed tourism are some good reasons. 

Read also: Bai Tu Long Cruise, the amazing alternative to Halong Bay!

 Little islander dog coming to greet us at the beach, Phú Quôc (Vietnam). Photo: Patti Neves

Little islander dog coming to greet us at the beach, Phú Quôc (Vietnam). Photo: Patti Neves

It is always interesting to note that the first big chain of hotels only arrived in Vietnam in the 90's, so tourism is still a developing activity in the whole country.

For more "must visit" ideas in Vietnam, please check the excellent list of Our Travel Lifestyle

Where to Stay in Ho Chi Minh City?

We stayed at the Park Hyatt Saigon and while I always give preference to local guesthouses and charming petit hotels (after all, promoting small businesses is always more interesting to the community), this time I did differently.

 Park Hyatt Saigon, Vietnã. Photo: Patti Neves

Park Hyatt Saigon, Vietnã. Photo: Patti Neves

Positive points of Park Hyatt: The absolutely perfect location in District 1, right next to the Opera House and the Hoa Tuc (restaurant). 

The rooms are tastefully decorated (with a vietnamese twist) and the amazing breakfast offered local options.

Try their super “aromatic” Pho! It’s to die for ♡

 Pho from Park Hyatt Saigon. Photo: Patti Neves

Pho from Park Hyatt Saigon. Photo: Patti Neves

However, I would like to recommend other lodging options, considering individual budgets.

As usual, my choice of lodging is always based on the best cost-benefit ratio (based on reviews, distance from the center and amenities offered).

Below, selected establishments classified as "very good to the superb", all of them with an excellent location:

Backpacker

From US$3 to 10/night

Click on the images to see the details on Booking:

Mid range:

Between US$ 40 - 80 / night

Splurge:  

From US$ 350 / night

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Other activities:

Hotel deals:

Booking.com

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