VietnamHo Chi Minh5 Things to Do on a Ho Chi Minh City Layover

5 Things to Do on a Ho Chi Minh City Layover

The Tan Son Nhat International Airport (airport code: SGN) is the biggest in Vietnam, located 8 kilometers from Ho Chi Minh City’s center – District 1, making many tourist attractions, shopping centers, and restaurants accessible for those stuck on short or long layovers.

Related Article: Tan Son Nhat Airport Guide

Things to Do on a Ho Chi Minh City Layover

1. Visit historical sites

Cu Chi Tunnels

Cu Chi Tunnels is about an hour and a half drive from Tan Son Nhat Airport. It will take around three hours for both-way transfers, and we recommend spending an hour exploring the tunnels and dugouts fully. The underground system here portrays the living conditions of Vietnamese soldiers during the resistance war and explains the victory of Vietnam.

layover in hcm cu chi
During 20 years of operation, Cu Chi Tunnels has received more than 20 million domestic and foreign visitors

You can check out our Cu Chi private tour if you have a half-day for Ho Chi Minh City layover activities (from 8 AM to 2 PM).

Independence Palace

Entrance fee: VND 40,000/adult
Opening hours:
Morning: 7:30 AM – 11 AM
Afternoon: 1 PM – 4 PM

Independence Palace (Reunification Palace or Thong Nhat Hall) is a historical building in Ho Chi Minh City. It was the residence and workplace of the presidents of the Republic of Vietnam. Currently, it is considered by the Vietnamese government to be a particular national monument.

layover in hcm independence palace
Besides its historical significance, the Independence Palace also represents the typical architecture of Vietnam in the 1960s

It can take 30 minutes by cab or bus from Tan Son Nhat Airport to Independence Palace. From here, you can walk to other famous attractions, such as Saigon Central Office or Notre Dame Cathedral, just 500 meters away.

Notre Dame Cathedral

Notre Dame Cathedral is a unique piece of architecture (a combination of Roman and Gothic styles) from the French colonial empire, designed by architect B. J. Bourard. All construction materials, from cement, steel to screws, are all imported from France.

layover in hcm notre dame cathedral
The outside of the church is raw Marseille bricks; therefore, there is no need for plaster, and able to preserve its pink color over time

You can also try some coffee at nearby coffee shops and watch people’s daily life. The estimated transfer time is 30 minutes for a taxi or a bus.

Please note that the Notre Dame Cathedral is undergoing renovation, so the outside is not at its prettiest, and tourists cannot come inside.

In terms of historical sites, there are plenty of museums worth visiting besides the locations mentioned above. 

2. Eat at an Authentic Vietnamese Restaurant

There are numerous restaurants in and around Tan Son Nhat Airport. You can easily bump into familiar brands with many international franchise restaurants here. However, if you want to go out of the airport, try some traditional dishes from Vietnamese cuisine. Below is the list for you.

NameAddressDistance from Tan Son Nhat Airport (unit: km)
Com Tam Ba Ghien84 Dang Van Ngu, Ward 10, Phu Nhuan District3
Pho Phu Vuong339 Le Van Sy, Ward 1, Tan Binh District3
Bun Dau Homemade6 Hong Ha, Ward 2, Tan Binh District0.45
Hoang Ty Restaurant74 Truong Quoc Dung, Ward 10, Phu Nhuan District3
Con Ga Trong Restaurant1 Tien Giang Street, Ward 2, Tan Binh District1.5
layover in hcm pho
Pho is a famous dish that attracts many Vietnamese and foreign travelers

Additionally, make sure to try Ca phe sua da, which is a combination of strong coffee and condensed milk. This is a very popular and signature drink in Vietnam and would make a nice introduction to Vietnam.

3. Get a Massage

Stopping by a spa would be an excellent choice for recuperation, especially when you are tired from jet lag after a long flight.

There is a foot spa on the 3rd floor, a relaxing lounge on the 2nd floor in the international terminal, and a Vietnamese spa in the domestic terminal.

Read more about Vietnam Massage Techniques

4. Do Some Shopping

A duty-free shop inside the airport offers limited goods, but you can buy products from luxury brands such as Dior, Chanel, and Cartier. There is also a shopping mall named Parkson CT Plaza, just about a 5-minute walk outside the airport. This mall has a food court in the basement with plenty of choices, including international brands like Lotteria or KFC and traditional dishes. The quality of food is rated as accepted, and it is clean.

layover in hcm shopping
Takashimaya at Saigon Centre

In case you have more time, Ben Thanh Market is a good place for both shopping and eating. You could find almost anything you need here at lower prices than the shops above.

5. Have a Lookout at the City

Regarding the aerial view of the city, the Bitexco Financial Tower, currently the second tallest building in the city, is the place to go. You can go to a cafe or restaurant and see the Saigon River. Or you can spend VND 200,000 (including water, wifi, and binoculars) to visit its Skydeck and watch the city from above.

layover in hcm bitexco
This building is a symbol of the dynamics of Ho Chi Minh City

Before You Go on Ho Chi Minh City Layover Trips

Several things should be taken into account to determine your time frame:

Measure the time for transferring from the airport to your destination. Please carefully consider the length of your layover time because, with international flights, you are requested to arrive 2 hours before the flights. The international departure process can be lengthy, depending on how busy the airport might be.

Store your luggage. If you don’t want to carry the bags, you can leave them at two locker rooms in the international terminal. Luggage storage services cost about VND 27,500 per hour (US$ 1.4).

Exchange money. You can use dollars in the shops at the airport. Outside of the airport, you may have to use Vietnamese currency.

Check your visa. Certain nationalities can enter Vietnam without a visa, but the visa regulation is often changed, so double-check.

Summary of 5 Things to Do on Ho Chi Minh City Layover

Ho Chi Minh City boasts many beautiful attractions and flavourful cuisine. So if you have a chance to visit, make sure to spend the time to explore this city.

If you are short on time and want to see as much as possible, we offer city tours with our private half-day tours. Airport pick-up and drop-off can be arranged.

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