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Backpacking Ho Chi Minh City Travel Guide (2024)

CEO Tinh Phung
Ho Chi Minh City is a vibrant and budget-friendly destination in Vietnam that offers a plethora of experiences for backpackers. From its affordability to its delicious street food, there are plenty of reasons to visit...

Ho Chi Minh City is a vibrant and budget-friendly destination in Vietnam that offers a plethora of experiences for backpackers. From its affordability to its delicious street food, there are plenty of reasons to visit this bustling city. In this travel guide, we'll explore the best ways to make the most of your trip to Ho Chi Minh City on a backpacker's budget.

Daily Costs in Ho Chi Minh City:

Ho Chi Minh City is known for being an incredibly affordable destination for budget travelers. With as little as $20-25 a day, you can comfortably explore the city. Booking a dorm bed in a cheap hostel, indulging in street food and local markets, using public transportation, and enjoying the city's free or cheap activities will stretch your money.

If you want to upgrade your experience and increase your budget to around $35-40 a day, you can book a double room, rent a motorbike for easier transportation, and treat yourself to a bit more expensive food and drinks.

Ho Chi Minh Budget Backpacking Tips

While Ho Chi Minh City is already a budget-friendly destination, there are always ways to save even more money. Here are a few budget backpacking tips for your trip:

  • Rent a motorbike: If you're an experienced rider, renting a motorbike is the most cost-effective way to explore the city. However, keep in mind that the traffic can be chaotic, so it's not recommended for beginners. If you're not comfortable riding a motorbike, stick to public transportation.
  • Eat where the locals eat: As with any destination, eating at local street food stalls and markets is not only cheap but also allows you to taste delicious and authentic Vietnamese cuisine.
  • Take advantage of free or cheap activities: Ho Chi Minh City offers plenty of free or very cheap activities, including parks, museums, and temples. Take time to explore these attractions and immerse yourself in the city's culture.
  • Try bia hoi: Bia hoi, the local draft beer, is incredibly cheap, costing only around $0.25 for a small glass. Enjoy the affordable and refreshing local beer while immersing yourself in the city's vibrant nightlife.

Why You Should Travel to Ho Chi Minh City with a Water Bottle

In a bid to protect the environment and reduce plastic waste, consider traveling to Ho Chi Minh City with a reusable water bottle. By doing so, you not only contribute to keeping the city clean and beautiful but also save money by avoiding overpriced bottled water. Embrace responsible travel and be part of the solution, not the problem.

Where to Stay in Ho Chi Minh City

When choosing where to stay in Ho Chi Minh City, most backpackers opt for District 1. The popular area of Pham Ngu Lao is filled with hostels, street food stalls, and vibrant nightlife options. For a quieter experience in District 1, consider finding accommodation on Dong Khoi Street.

To save you time and make the decision easier, I have narrowed down the top three hostels in Ho Chi Minh City:

Overall Best Hostel in Ho Chi Minh City - The Hideout

The Hideout hostel has consistently been recognized as the best hostel in Ho Chi Minh City on Hostelworld. With a variety of amenities, including a comfortable chill room, free breakfast, and even two free beers each night, it's no wonder this hostel receives rave reviews from travelers. Take advantage of their facilities and socialize with like-minded backpackers during your stay.

Best Party Hostel in Ho Chi Minh City - The Hangout HCM

If you're looking for a vibrant party atmosphere, The Hangout is the perfect hostel for you. With two free beers or a mixed drink every night, a bar offering fun games like Jenga and karaoke, and an exciting pub crawl, this hostel knows how to keep the party going. Enjoy a comfortable stay and make unforgettable memories with fellow travelers.

Best Hostel for Solo Travelers in Ho Chi Minh City - Himalaya Phoenix

If you're traveling solo in Vietnam, book a bed at Himalaya Phoenix. This hostel's central location, comfortable rooms, and reasonable prices make it a popular choice among solo backpackers. Visit nearby points of interest like the Ben Thanh Market and explore the backpacker bars and clubs without compromising on a good night's sleep.

Best Airbnb in Ho Chi Minh City - Scandinavian Studio near Ben Thanh Market

For a truly local experience, consider booking an Airbnb in the center of Ho Chi Minh City. This spacious apartment is beautifully decorated and provides a balcony where you can observe the everyday lives of Vietnamese people. Take advantage of the fully stocked kitchen to cook your own meals or try the amazing noodle restaurant on the first floor.

Top Things to Do in Ho Chi Minh City

Ho Chi Minh City offers a plethora of attractions and activities to satisfy every traveler's interests. Here are some must-visit places and experiences:

1. Reunification Palace

Explore the Reunification Palace, a significant historical site in Ho Chi Minh City. This iconic landmark was the former presidential palace for South Vietnam and played a pivotal role in the Vietnam War. Don't miss the tank that crashed into its gates, symbolizing the end of the war.

2. Free Walking Tour

Join a free walking tour to discover the city's hidden gems and get familiar with its culture and history. Saigon Free Walking Tours offers a variety of options where friendly local guides will show you the best of Ho Chi Minh City.

3. War Remnants Museum

Visit the War Remnants Museum, a somber and eye-opening experience. This museum provides exhibits detailing the harsh realities of the Vietnam War from a Vietnamese perspective. Explore the outdoor display of American military equipment, including tanks, jets, and helicopters.

4. Nguyen Hue Walking Street

Take a stroll along Nguyen Hue Walking Street, a pleasant pedestrian-friendly area in the heart of the city. Admire the beautiful colonial architecture during the day, and in the evening, witness the lively atmosphere as locals gather to socialize and take countless selfies.

5. Ben Thanh Market

Indulge in delicious Vietnamese food at the Ben Thanh Market. This bustling market offers a wide variety of street food stalls where you can sample local dishes like pho and bun cha. It's also a great place to shop for souvenirs and practice your haggling skills.

6. Saigon Opera House

Visit the Saigon Opera House, a stunning architectural masterpiece. Enjoy a cultural show or a performance in this beautiful theater. Don't forget to check the schedule and get your tickets ahead of time for an unforgettable evening.

7. Notre Dame Cathedral, Temples, and Pagodas

Explore the religious sights of Ho Chi Minh City, including the Notre Dame Cathedral, a French-built Catholic Church. Don't miss the Jade Emperor Pagoda, dedicated to one of the highest deities in Taoism. Immerse yourself in the city's rich spiritual heritage.

8. Bitexco Financial Tower

Head to the Bitexco Financial Tower for a breathtaking view of Ho Chi Minh City. This iconic skyscraper offers an observation deck on the 49th floor where you can enjoy panoramic views of the city. Treat yourself to a drink at the bar while taking in the stunning scenery.

9. Cu Chi Tunnels Day Trip

Dedicate a day to visit the Cu Chi Tunnels, a complex network of tunnels used during the Vietnam War. Explore the tunnels, learn about their historical significance, and gain insight into the Viet Cong's strategy. Many tour operators offer trips to the Cu Chi Tunnels, making it easily accessible for backpackers.

10. Experience Backpacker Street

Experience the vibrant nightlife of Ho Chi Minh City on Backpacker Street, also known as Bui Vien. Relax on plastic stools, enjoy cheap draft beers and snacks, and make new friends while immersing yourself in the energetic atmosphere. It's the perfect place to unwind and have a fun night out.

Itinerary Suggestions for Ho Chi Minh City

To make the most of your trip to Ho Chi Minh City, here's a suggested 3-day itinerary:

Day One: Vietnamese History and Food

  • Start your day with a strong cup of Vietnamese coffee and explore the Ben Thanh Market.
  • Visit the Reunification Palace and learn about its historical significance.
  • Enjoy a local street food lunch and try Vietnamese delicacies.
  • In the evening, take a stroll along Nguyen Hue Walking Street.
  • Indulge in dinner at a local restaurant and experience the city's nightlife.

Day Two: Sightseeing and Cultural Immersion

  • Join a free walking tour and discover the city with a knowledgeable local guide.
  • Visit the Notre Dame Cathedral, the Saigon Central Post Office, and the Jade Emperor Pagoda.
  • Enjoy a panoramic view of the city from the Bitexco Financial Tower.
  • Experience the local culture at a traditional Vietnamese show in the Saigon Opera House.
  • End the day by exploring the vibrant nightlife in the Pham Ngu Lao area.

Day Three: Cu Chi Tunnels and Beyond

  • Take a day trip to the Cu Chi Tunnels and learn about their historical significance.
  • Alternatively, explore other attractions such as Vietnamese cooking classes, Chinatown, a river cruise, or art and history museums.
  • Immerse yourself in the local culture and make the most of your last day in Ho Chi Minh City.

Remember, three days may not be enough to fully explore Ho Chi Minh City. Consider extending your stay to fully appreciate all that this vibrant city has to offer.

Off the Beaten Path in Ho Chi Minh City

To truly get off the beaten path and explore the local side of Ho Chi Minh City, consider the following:

  • Get in touch with locals on Couchsurfing to meet up and explore the city with their guidance.
  • Venture outside of popular areas like District 1 and discover the less touristy districts, where you're likely to encounter more locals than tourists.
  • Engage with friendly locals through Couchsurfing or other social platforms to gain insider knowledge and see the city from their perspective.

Best Walks in Ho Chi Minh City

Although Ho Chi Minh City is not particularly pedestrian-friendly, there are still a few places where you can enjoy a leisurely walk:

  • Join a free walking tour to discover the highlights of the city and eliminate the stress of navigating on your own.
  • Explore Nguyen Hue Walking Street, a pedestrian-friendly oasis in the midst of the bustling city.
  • Take a walk along the Saigon River and soak in the scenic views, stopping at local spots for refreshments.

Best Time of Year to Visit Ho Chi Minh City

Ho Chi Minh City experiences hot and humid weather throughout the year. The driest months are from December to March, which also coincides with the peak tourist season. If you plan to visit during this time, it's advisable to book accommodations in advance.

However, keep in mind that Vietnam's most important holiday, Tet (Lunar New Year), falls in late January to early February. During this time, many businesses close down, and traveling may be more challenging due to increased demand and limited services.

The rainy season runs from May to November, with short bursts of rain. While you may encounter some rain, it shouldn't hinder your exploration of the city.

Getting in and out of Ho Chi Minh City

If you're traveling by air, you'll arrive at Tan Son Nhat International Airport, located a few kilometers outside of the city. It's the busiest airport in Vietnam, and public buses are the recommended means of transportation to the city center to avoid taxi scams.

For overland travel, Ho Chi Minh City is well-connected by train, bus, and motorbike routes to other cities in Vietnam. You can easily access other regions of the country from Ho Chi Minh City.

Getting around Ho Chi Minh City

Getting around Ho Chi Minh City can be an adventure due to the chaotic traffic and lack of a fully operational metro system. Here are some transportation options:

  • Motorbike: If you're an experienced rider, renting or buying a motorbike offers the most flexibility. However, ensure you wear a helmet and abide by traffic rules.
  • Public Buses: Ho Chi Minh City has an extensive public bus network that covers all areas of the city. While it can be a bit challenging to figure out the routes, buses are a cheap way to get around.
  • Taxis: Taxis are generally safe, but be cautious and ensure the driver turns on the meter or agrees to a flat fee before starting the journey. Grab, Southeast Asia's ride-sharing service, acquired Uber, so downloading the Grab app can provide a convenient transportation option.
  • Walking: Some areas of the city, such as the walking streets and riverfront, are pedestrian-friendly, allowing you to explore on foot.

Long Distance Trains from Ho Chi Minh City

Taking the train is a popular way to travel across Vietnam. From Ho Chi Minh City, you can travel to the capital city, Hanoi, with several stops along the way. Seat 61 is a reliable source for train timetables and prices.

Safety in Ho Chi Minh City

Ho Chi Minh City is generally a safe destination for travelers, but it's important to take precautions to ensure a smooth trip:

  • Be aware of pickpocketing and bag-snatching, especially in crowded areas. Avoid flaunting valuable items and keep your belongings secure.
  • When riding a motorbike, be cautious of bag-snatchers on motorbikes. Consider wearing a light jacket or keeping your bag secured to prevent theft while moving.
  • Exercise caution when counting money, as some scams involve swapping higher denomination notes for lower ones.
  • Stay vigilant and be aware of common scams, such as taxi scams and fraudulent services. Always use reputable and metered taxis or ride-sharing services like Grab.
  • Research responsible travel practices and reduce your plastic footprint by using a reusable water bottle and avoiding single-use plastics.

Get Insured before Backpacking Ho Chi Minh City

Before embarking on your backpacking adventure, it's essential to have comprehensive travel insurance. World Nomads is a trusted provider that offers coverage for travelers. Don't forget to sort out your insurance before your trip to ensure peace of mind throughout your journey.

Ho Chi Minh City Accommodation Travel Hacks

Finding affordable accommodation in Ho Chi Minh City is relatively easy. Many hostels offer dorm beds for as little as $10 per night, with some even providing free breakfast and beer in the evenings. Consider booking hostels with these additional perks to save even more money during your stay.

Alternatively, if you're interested in cultural immersion, Couchsurfing is a great platform to connect with locals who may be willing to show you around the city.

Eating and Drinking in Ho Chi Minh City

One of the highlights of visiting Ho Chi Minh City is indulging in the delicious Vietnamese street food. With countless street food stalls and local markets, you can sample authentic and affordable Vietnamese cuisine. Eating where the locals eat will provide you with the most authentic culinary experience.

Don't forget to start your day with a cup of strong Vietnamese coffee, and try fresh juices and smoothies from local vendors. For a refreshing drink, bia hoi (local draft beer) is incredibly cheap and a favorite among backpackers.

Nightlife in Ho Chi Minh City

Ho Chi Minh City offers a vibrant nightlife scene with options for all preferences. From dive bars to classy cocktail lounges and dance clubs, there's something for everyone. The Pham Ngu Lao area, also known as Backpacker Street, is a popular choice for backpackers due to its abundance of bars and cheap drinks. District 7 is another area worth exploring for its expat-friendly bars.

Books to Read on Ho Chi Minh City

To enhance your knowledge and excitement about Ho Chi Minh City, consider reading the following books and guides:

  • Lonely Planet Vietnam Travel Guide: A comprehensive guide for planning your trip to Hanoi and Vietnam.
  • Moon Ho Chi Minh City Travel Guide: An informative guide to the city, packed with useful information for travelers.
  • My Saigon: The Local Guide to Ho Chi Minh City: Gain insights into the city from a snarky local's perspective.
  • Ho Chi Minh City in 12 Dishes: How to Eat Like You Live There: Discover twelve must-try dishes in the city.
  • Please note that some of the links in this content are affiliate links, and we may earn a small commission if you book accommodation, purchase gear, or sort your insurance through these links. However, we only recommend services that we trust and believe are of high quality.

Volunteering in Ho Chi Minh City

For those seeking a more meaningful travel experience, Worldpackers offers opportunities to volunteer in Ho Chi Minh City. Through this platform, you can connect with various projects and organizations, such as hostels, homestays, NGOs, and eco-projects. In exchange for a few hours of work each day, your room and board are covered. It's an excellent way to contribute to the local community while exploring the city.

Make Money while Backpacking Ho Chi Minh City

If you're looking to earn money while traveling, consider teaching English online. With a reliable internet connection, you can teach English remotely from anywhere in the world. It's a flexible option that allows you to earn a consistent income while exploring Ho Chi Minh City and other destinations. TEFL certification is often required, and World Nomads and MyTEFL are reputable options for obtaining your certification.

Being a Responsible Backpacker in Ho Chi Minh City

As responsible travelers, it's essential to minimize our impact on the environment and local communities. Here are some tips for being a responsible backpacker in Ho Chi Minh City:

  • Reduce your plastic footprint by using a reusable water bottle and avoiding single-use plastics.
  • Respect the local culture and customs. Dress appropriately when visiting temples and religious sites.
  • Be mindful of your surroundings and belongings to avoid becoming a target for theft.
  • Support local businesses and engage with the local community to contribute to the local economy.
  • Practice responsible tourism and seek out ethical travel experiences.

Embark on your backpacking adventure in Ho Chi Minh City with a sense of responsibility, and leave a positive impact on the environment and communities you encounter.


Backpacking Ho Chi Minh City is an incredible experience that offers a blend of affordability, delicious cuisine, and vibrant culture. From exploring historical sites to indulging in street food and immersing yourself in the city's nightlife, there's something for every traveler in this bustling metropolis. Follow these tips and guidelines to make the most of your trip, and create unforgettable memories in Ho Chi Minh City.