Ho Chi Minh Saigon | Food and History | Vietnam on a Budget

Cheap location, delicious food, nightlife bar hopping and dripping with history, Ho Chi Minh city, otherwise known as Saigon will steal your heart and keep you busy no matter how long your stay.  Let us be your shoestring budget travel guide!

Pho Tom - Ben Thanh Street Market, Ho Chi Minh
Pho Tom

Due to our early flight, we woke up 4:30am, checked out and flagged down a taxi.  The first taxi tried to rip us off, so
we had to change taxis.  Our fare to the airport was 220 baht, but we shared with 1 other person, so it was only 120 baht?

Vietjet, the airline we have our ticket with, doesn’t want us on the flight because we do not have a ticket going back out of Vietnam. Finally they allowed us to board, based on our ticket home from Bangkok. Note: make sure you have a ticket out of Vietnam, even if you book a cheap bus ticket out or flight where the date can be changed or cancelled if you need to change dates/stay longer. Ticket cost:  bkk (Bangkok) to sgn (Ho Chi Minh) usd $54 pp

Reunificaton Palace Rooftop Landing Pad - Ho Chi Minh
Reunificaton Palace Rooftop Landing Pad

Tip: On arrival in Vietnam, before getting in the customs immigration lineup, make sure you have completed your landing visa at the counter to the left.  Take passport photos with you to speed the process. Only then proceed to the immigration line.
Note: at this point in time, visa on arrival is possible. Prices are: single entry usd$25, 3 months $50, 6 months $95. 2 to 5 years $155
⚠️Warning: I had completed a pre-visa application over the internet – it is a money grab rip off; just get your papers and fill them out at airport arrival.

Currency: Vietnamese Dong

Note: Bank atm machines in the airport did not work- none of them, all empty . Everyone was trying to get money and could not. ?

We paid for a taxi inside the terminal, but when we went outside with our ticket, got a shuttle instead. Cost 180.000 dong for the approximate 1/2 hour ride. ⚠️Tip: Use Uber instead!!!

We were meeting friends who were in town, so our first stop was the Rex Hotel Rooftop Garden where we had a light lunch and drinks on the airy open patio.

View from Rex Hotel Rooftop Bar - Ho Chi Minh
View from Rex Hotel Rooftop Bar

After going separate ways from our friends, we grabbed a taxi from the Rex Hotel to the DDA Hotel (my review) for 33,000 dong.  We booked the hotel through booking.com and it had a perfect location – basically right at the corner of Bui Vien Street.  Be sure to read the review to find out the costs, tips, positives, negatives and more.

DDA Bizu Hotel - Ho Chi Minh
DDA Hotel Room

We had lunch at the Pho Hai Thien Restaurant, which quickly became our go to favourite! Make sure to check out my review for costs, service, location and more.

Mixed Dried Pho with Chicken - Ho Chi Minh
Mixed Dried Pho with Chicken

We headed up the busy Bui Vien Street where we sat on a corner and watched the action while sipping away on 3 “Crazy” Pina Coladas 208.000 dong and 3 Tiger Beer 118.000 dong. Why 3? Happy ? Hour! Admittedly, the prices weren’t great, but the view was.

Bui Vien Street Day - Ho Chi Minh
Bui Vien Street, Day

We started the following day with a good A la carte breakfast which was included in our hotel price; there was lots to choose from. I had pho soup and my husband had fried eggs with a baguette; fruits, juices, coffee, tea and water were self serve.

At 8 am we were picked up at our hotel for 1/2 Day luxury tour (8 people or less) with KimTravel.com to the Cu Chi Tunnels.  We had booked through a wonderful agency across the road from our hotel called VN Lotus Travel for a cost of $23 usd per person.  Our small bus was very comfortable and spacious.
FYI info: Non luxury -up to 30 people – $6usd pp

Exiting Cu Chi Tunnel - Vietnam
Exiting Cu Chi Tunnel

It was a 2 hour drive with a bathroom break a little past 1/2 way, where there was also a factory called Handicapped Handicrafts you could tour; beautiful eggshell art was hand made by disabled Vietnamese and you could buy pieces if you chose. The views on the drive were wonderful.

Rice Field Workers - Ho Chi Minh
Rice Field Workers

We had an accident about 10 minutes from the tunnels. A truck drove into our bus, but rather than wait for police and commotions, we were quickly loaded into a van which drove us the remaining short distance to tunnels. Our guide from start to finish was a very informative young man named Kim. He spoke very good english, was open to all questions, did not rush us and was a wealth of information. Do not miss the Cu Chi Tunnels – they are a must see.

Truck Drives Into our Bus - Vietnam
Truck Drives Into our Bus!

Our original bus picked us up again after our tour, and we were back at our hotel by 2:15 pm.  After our late lunch, we went to Sam Spa where I had a 30 minute leg massage for USD$4, a USD$2 Pedicure and my husband had a 1 hour full body massage for USD$7, after which they threw in a leg massage for him too!

Bamboo transport on Motorbike - Ho Chi Minh
Bamboo transport on Motorbike

That night, we headed to Ben Thanh Street Food Market for dinner.

Korean Spicy Fried Chicken - Ben Thanh Street Food, Saigon
Korean Spicy Fried Chicken – Ben Thanh Street Food

We quickly returned to Bui Vien for the fabulous evening atmosphere. 158 Miss Saigon was our pub choice (and each night after). We consumed 3 beer for 100.000 dong, 2 Cherry bomb cocktails for 240.000 (very expensive) and 2 N2O balloons ? (not me!) for 50.000 dong. On the walk back to our hotel, we stopped at Via Del Gusto for a large Margherita stone oven Pizza for 120.000 dong. It was not to our liking, but we are very fussy Italian pizza fans!

Bui Vien Street Night - Ho Chi Minh
Bui Vien Street Night

After breakfast the next day, we flagged down a Taxi Vinasun to take us to the War Remnants Museum. Although our driver did not speak any english, he was very kind and considerate. The taxi cost was 30.000 dong. It cost 15.000 dong for entry to the Museum and it was worth every penny. A vietnamese perspective of horror, death and pain experienced during the  Vietnam war, truly heart wrenching.  You will need at least 2 hours.

View into Jail Cells - War Remanants Museum, Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam
View into Jail Cells – War Remanants Museum

The Quán 176 Restaurant is within walking distance. It was our lunch choice as we waited for the Palace, closed for the lunch break, to re-open.

Chicken with Mushroom - Quán 176 Restaurant, Ho Chi Minh
Chicken with Mushroom – Quán 176 Restaurant

After lunch, we walked the short distance to the Independence Palace or also known as the Reunification Palace – opening hours are 8am to 12pm and 1pm to 4pm; entry fee: 40.000 dong per person. This place has lots of history & information through documentary films and information plaques, as well as museum rooms.

National Security Chamber - Reunification Palace, Ho Chi Minh
National Security Chamber – Reunification Palace

From there we walked 5 minutes to the noteworthy Notre Dame Cathedral Basilica of Saigon and the historical Post Office before taking a taxi back to our hotel.

Historical Post Office - Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam
Historical Post Office

The following day we were supposed to fly to Hue, but the weather report forcast one week of straight rain. So, we cancelled our plans and booked back into our DDA Bizu hotel for 2 more nights before flying on Sunday February 12th to Phu Quoc where supposedly the sun is shining. Weekend at Bui Vien is slightly different than during the week – the street is full with pub crawls, locals, and weekenders.

Mother Daughter Bike - Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam
Mother with Daughter on a Bike

On Day 5 we ordered an Uber Car for 31.ooo dong to go to Quoc Tu Pagoda. The very friendly driver arrived to pick us up in within 1 minute; clean car, no English but lots of smiles. The Buddha Temple was 7 stories high – 281 steps to top of the pagoda where we had a gorgeous view of the city. Our Uber back to the hotel was 32.000 dong (3.99 km / 13 minutes).

Quoc Tu Pagoda - Ho Chi Minh
Quoc Tu Pagoda

At Bazzan Coffee, a little coffee shop a few doors down from our hotel, we had 2 Milk coffee ice blends (Ca Phe Da Xay) for 40.000 dong each. They were soooo good and it felt great to just sit by the road sipping away on the luxurious drink!

Vietnamese Coffee - Ho Chi Minh
Vietnamese Iced Coffee – Ca Phe Da Xay

On our last evening in Saigon, we went to Bui Vien street for drinks with some new friends. We had a wonderful time with lots of laughing and of course, overspent. Our bill came in at a whopping 525.000 dong, but it was worth it! We said our goodbyes as they headed to Cambodia and we were on our way to Phu Quoc Island.

Modern Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam
Modern Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam

Day 6 we had breakfast at our favourite restaurant Pho Hai Thien and then grabbed an Uber for 79.000 dong to the airport. Much cheaper than a taxi!!! At the Airport, we stopped at McDonald’s for an iced coffee, burger & fries. Coffee was expensive, but the burger and fries were cheap. Our bill came to 150.000.

Market Stall - Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam
Market Stall – Ho Chi Minh
Note: special coffee: Weasel Coffee or Civet coffee - Most expensive coffee in the world - ethical concerns (farmed weasels force fed); animal eats the cherries and then defecates; feces is collected and processed. Interest: in Vietnam they also chemically create / simulate the coffee.

⚠️Warning: If you are unsure how long you want to stay in Vietnam, take a long visa. It is complicated to get an extension, which is very unfortunate because you may fall in love with this country! Next time we will take the longest Vietnam Travel Visa possible!

Costs for 5 nights (6 days):
Flight from Bangkok to Ho Chi Minh: €51.25 pp
Flight from Ho Chi Minh to Phu Quoc €32.30 pp
Taxis & Ubers: €19.16
Food and Drinks: €145.38
Laundry: €5.00 (washed twice)
Excursions & Museums: €26.40
Spa Treatments: €12.34

Total cost per person for 6 days: €186.45 or €31 per day (excluding flights) ⚠️Could be a lot cheaper with less party, lighter meals and using Uber right from the start.

If you would like to see more photos of what we did, click here.

NEXT STOP: Phu Quoc Island, Vietnam

Links of Possible Interest:
→ Ho Chi Minh Photos
…..⇒ Top 12 List of Things to See and Do
.….⇒ Stay: DDA Hotel
…..⇒ Eat: Ben Thanh Street Food Market
…..⇒ Eat: Pho Hai Thien
…..⇒ Eat: Quan 176 – Cửa Hàng Ăn Uống 176
…..⇒ Eat / Bar: Rex Hotel Rooftop Garden

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Diane Misol

Canadian living in Germany - Enjoying Travel & Documenting as I go! My goal is to bring you honest reporting based on my experience. As blogging took over the internet, so did glossy photos and life is perfect mentality. The world is now officially viewed through rose coloured glasses. I aim to bring you a truer, more realistic version. Hope you enjoy and please share if you do.

Reader Comments

  1. Laura

    Great blog Diane! I’m looking forward to reading it as I move through SEA. It was nice to meet you and your husband today.

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