Saigon, officially known as Ho Chi Minh City or by the locals in Vietnamese as Sài Gòn, is easily overlooked by travelers looking to experience surreal landscapes such as the numerous limestone monoliths of Halong Bay, the cascading rice terraces in Sapa or the immense green tea hills of Dalat. What most don’t immediately realize is that Saigon has a personality unlike any other city in Vietnam described by its numerous colonial monuments, chaotic streets and tranquil parks. But most traveler’s limit their itineraries to the popular ones such as Ben Thanh Market, The Notre Dame Cathedral, Post Office, War Remnants Museum, etc. Here is a compilation of five must-see places in Saigon travel brochures often don’t mention, that visitors easily miss.
Saigon has a personality unlike any other city.
The Bird Park, Tao Dan Park, District 1
Tao Dan Park located in District 1, a favorite among both local and foreign visitors, is regarded as one of the nicest green spaces in the concrete jungle that is Saigon. In one corner of the park you will find half of Ho Chi Minh’s bird lovers who gather there every morning, especially on the weekends, when they bring their most beautiful songbirds to sing with each other.
Along with the rows of ancient trees, the bird park nearby has also found its way into people’s hearts. Perhaps, this place may even be home to most birds residing in Ho Chi Minh City. There are numerous stalls around the area selling traditional Vietnamese coffee, so you can sit on a bench with a nice cuppa while you watch on as these birds flutter about, curious about the humans watching them. Focusing on their melodious coos help you tune out the angry honking of traffic and thus offer you a peace of mind, something that is normally hard to find in the hustle and bustle of Saigon.
If you want to witness the magic of songbirds, then visit early in the morning. This is when you are most likely to run into these bird enthusiasts. This park also gathers all kinds of birds, from ordinary species such as Magpie-robin, and Lark, to rare ones such Red-whiskered Bulbul, and Canary bird, etc. Each type of bird has a unique coat of colored feathers, which creates a fantastic background for photographers to take advantage of.
Maybe in the memories of the Saigonese, the bird park has become an integral part. Everyone comes here with the same intention. They come here to listen to these peaceful birds chirping under the green trees, to forget the chaos of work, the stresses of life, the noise of the streets, and to take a break and get the peace of mind we often crave.
Things you should know
- The best time to go to the bird park is on early mornings, when the weather is cooler and the birds are more active.
- The “bird show” usually starts at 5:30AM and ends at around 8-9AM.
- Tao Dan Park is pretty big and the bird park can be found on Cach Mang Thang Tam street.
- The park is about 1 km from Ben Thanh market. Walking there should take you about 5 minutes.
Name of place: Tao Dan park
Address: 110Bis, Nguyen Du, Ben Thanh Ward, District 1, Ho Chi Minh City
Special feature: Home to most birds residing in Ho Chi Minh City
What to do when you visit: Buy a cup of Vietnamese coffee, find a seat and listen to the birds sing.
Credit: Best Ever Food Review Show
Binh Tay Market (Cho Lon)
Binh Tay Market, also known as Cho Lon, is the biggest wholesale market in Vietnam. A vast majority of the wholesale goods available here are from the southwest provinces of the country. If you intend to save some money on shopping during your stay, Binh Tay Market definitely warrants a visit.
Running since 1930, the market has a long storied past about the transformation of the city during and after the Vietnam War. Along with its reverence of historic values, the market also possesses a stunning architectural design, which all combine to make Cho Lon a great number for filming documentary pieces. Nowadays, more and more visitors flock to the site, excited to discover what treasures lay hidden in every corner of the bazaar.
Binh Tay Market houses a warren of stalls soliciting buyers with decent and fair prices, a diverse number of items, and a bustling trading atmosphere which is a true reflection of the city’s rhythm of life. Not to mention, the market’s culinary delights are another major highlight that will satisfy even the pickiest of diners. That is why most foreigners agree Cho Lon is the most remarkable market experience they have during their time in Saigon.
Things you should know
- Binh Tay Market is temporarily closed for repair until November 2017 and the alternative market is built opposite to the old one.
- The market is open from 8AM to 5PM.
- Buying stuff in bulk is cheaper than buying just one.
- It takes around 20 minutes to go to Binh Tay market from Ben Thanh market. The price for Uber moto is around 35,000 VND and 85,000 VND for Uber car.
Name of place: Binh Tay Market
Address: 57A Thap Muoi Street, District 6
Special feature: This is the biggest wholesale market in Vietnam. A vast majority of the wholesale goods available here are from the southwest provinces of the country. Cho Lon is located in the Chinatown area, where you can find many tasty Vietnamese and Chinese food.
What to do when you’re there: Shop for souvenirs – Explore the biggest Chinatown in Vietnam – Try as many street food as you can.
The Antique Collector’s Market (Cao Minh Cafe)
Operating since 2009, this marketplace has caters to clientele who want to get their hands on old and used items from decades past. With an airy setting and sweet melodies wafting through the air, the cafe might give you a peaceful moment to take a walk down memory lane.
The collector’s market is only open for a small window of time every Sunday morning, from 6AM to 2PM and each visitor has to pay a small entrance fee of 30,000 VND, inclusive of a drink. Those without any knowledge of antiques may deem a lot of the inventory sold here as unusable or of having no value, but in actuality, the prices of these items begin at a mere hundred thousand VND and are valued at over thousands of USD.
Honestly, it will take you a significant amount of time and effort to get to the market from the city center. However, most antique enthusiasts admit that they can’t skip out on going to the collector’s market every time they visit the city.
Things you should know
- The antique market only opens every Sunday morning, from 6AM to 2PM
- You have to pay a small entrance fee of 30,000 VND. This is inclusive of a drink.
- Cao Minh coffee is located a little farther away from the city center. From Ben Thanh market to the Antique collectors market, it costs around 40,000 VND by Uber moto or 120,000 VND by Uber car 🙂
Name of place: The Antique Collector’s Market
Address: Cao Minh Cafe, 255/47 Bis, No Trang Long Street, Binh Thanh District
Special feature: You can find many secondhand goods and antique stuff from the past. A must-go place for the bargain hunters!
What to do when you’re there: Drink coffee – Wander around the market – Purchase some unique items that you like.
The Sea Snails Street in District 4
When asked “What is the most interesting food you have tasted in Saigon?” nine out of ten respondents would choose sea snails! Indeed, it is impossible to find any place with better sea snail platters than here, right in Vietnam’s most bustling city. From small alleys to main roads, you can easily find dozens of restaurants as well as vendors serving different plates of snails cooked in hundreds of ways. However, when it comes to the most popular spot of sea snail mushrooming happening in Saigon, the first name usually recommended is Vinh Khanh Street in District 4, a well-known paradise for seafood lovers.
From small alleys to main roads, you can easily find dozens of restaurants as well as vendors serving different plates of snails cooked in hundreds of ways. However, when it comes to the most popular spot of sea snail mushrooming happening in Saigon, the first name usually recommended is Vinh Khanh Street in District 4, a well-known paradise for seafood lovers.
Along this alleyway, you can find many servers of seafood and sea snails, from big and fancy restaurants to small and unnamed street vendors. All share one thing in common – being full of diners at all times. You do not need to wait until weekends or holidays to witness guests queuing for seats while sellers continuously serve hundreds of sea snail dishes. Only here, guests can fully capture how important cuisine is to the Saigonese.
Unlike other regular sea snail restaurants that solely operate at night, the restaurants and vendors on Vinh Khanh Street open at around 4PM until late at night. Diners can find all kinds of sea snail dishes priced roughly between 40.000 VND and 80.000 VND on average (from 2 USD to 5 USD for each dish), mainly depending on the type and size of the sea snails. Furthermore, to guarantee the quality of each dish, some owners on the street will gladly replace a dish if the sea snails are not up to customers’ satisfaction.
Oc Oanh here is the best of the best. Although the restaurant’s space is not really a highlight in itself, inside each plate of sea snails is a world full of flavor, especially in their signature dish – the salted roasted crab claws.
Tasting the sea snail dishes here are as close as you will ever get to enjoying the full bounty of the sea. Vinh Khanh Street turns many foreign one-timers into regulars from their very first try.
Tasting the sea snail dishes here are as close as you will ever get to enjoying the full bounty of the sea.
Things you should know
- Evening is the ideal time of the day to eat sea snails and drink beers.
- The salt, pepper and lime dipping sauce is something you don’t want to skip when eating seafood!!!
- From Ben Thanh Market, it costs around 10,000 VND by Uber motor or 24,000 VND by Uber car to get to Vinh Khanh street.
Name of place: Sea snail street
Address: Vinh Khanh street, District 4
Special feature: There are more than 10 eateries that sell seafood and sea snails along this alleyway.
What to do when you’re there: Eating some greatest dishes such as mud creeper sea snails fried in a mild green curry-style coconut sauce (Oc len xao dua), scallops grilled with spring onions and peanuts (So diep nuong mo hanh), areola Babylon sea snails fried in chilli and salt (Oc huong rang muoi ot) and clams steamed in lemongrass and chilli (ngheu hap xa).
Read more: Eating Sea Snails (Ốc) In Saigon
Saigon Outcast – District 2
Those who love rock climbing, skateboarding or BMX will love spending time at Saigon Outcast in district 2. This place is where many locals and expats gather together to share their street art hobbies with each other.
3 years ago in 2012, 2 creative (yet crazy) young officers, Linh and Ha, spent their savings on buying 3 shipping containers to live in and host some cool events at the grassy yard in front of their “house”. With time, Saigon Outcast gained a loyal following. Many interesting events are hosted there – from music concerts, and art exhibitions to workshops or networking events. Furthermore, you can find some blank walls to create your own graffiti masterpiece! A climbing wall is there if you feel adventurous, or if you want to stick a little closer to the ground, try your hand at skating on the custom built concrete half pipe. An outdoor pool cinema is also set up to serve you. Really, how could you ask for anything else?
On weekends, you can go to the garage sale that take places at Saigon Outcast to find some unique items from clothing to furniture and decor stuff to bring home. To anyone who just simply wants a place to sit down and chill on a do-nothing day, Saigon Outcast also have a bar section that caters food and beverage for you to enjoy while listen to good music in the air.
Saigon Outcast is a perfect place for the social butterflies to meet up with new people in town or for those creative introverts who just want to be around art.
Things you should know
- The venue is truly a self-service space. So if you are looking for a fancy place with great service, this is not a place for you 😉
- There are plenty of events being host at Saigon Outcast. You should follow Saigon Outcast Facebook page or website to keep track of all the upcoming events.
- You will need to buy ticket for climbing service. Click here to check out the prices.
- Saigon Outcast is 10 km from district 1. Iit costs around 42,000 VND by Uber motor and 86,000 VND by Uber car to get there.
Name of place: Saigon Outcast
Address: 188 Nguyen Van Huong, Thao Dien Ward, District 2
Special feature: Saigon Outcast have a cool bar section, a climbing wall, a concrete half pipe and an outdoor pool cinema. They also host many fun and good events there.
What to do when you’re there: Bring your skateboard and try skateboarding – Test your limit with the rock climbing activity – shop ’till you drop on the garage sale
That being said, these five places above have won the hearts of both locals and newcomers. Try out these experiences in your next trip to better understand the reason why there are more and more wanderers flocking to these sites. Perhaps you will soon join them time and time again. Let us know what you think or if you have found a must-see place in Saigon most travelers miss that is not included in this list.
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Read more: The Ultimate Guide to Shopping in Saigon