VietnamTravel Tips & InfoAn Introduction to Ho Chi Minh City

An Introduction to Ho Chi Minh City

Most tourists traveling to Vietnam always add Ho Chi Minh City (region code: 028) to their bucket list. The impressions of travelers when they come to the 300-year-old city are the abundant choices of delicious street foods and the millions of motorbike madness zooming around the city. Here are some facts about Ho Chi Minh City that you should know before visiting.

Geography of Ho Chi Minh City

Ho Chi Minh City (formerly known as Saigon) is located at 10°10′ – 10°38’N and 106°22′ – 106°54’E in the southeastern part of Vietnam. It is enclosed by Ba Ria – Vung Tau and Dong Nai Provinces to the east, Tay Ninh, Binh Duong Provinces to the north, Long An and Tien Giang Provinces to the west.

ho chi minh city districts 19 map 1

The length of the city from northwest to southeast is 150 km, while from west to east is 75 km. The city center is about 1,730 km to the south of Hanoi, 50 km to the west of the Eastern Sea (meet with the sea at Can Gio District).

The total area is 2,061.4 square km; the urban area is only about 1/3 that of the suburban. The average height compared to the sea surface in the center area is about 5 meters, in the northern suburban is about 16 meters.

Check our guide on Ho Chi Minh District Map and Ho Chi Minh City Layout.

On hydrography, Ho Chi Minh City Vietnam has a wide network of rivers and canals, the most important rivers flowing through and near the city are the Saigon River and Dong Nai River (the main freshwater).

With the central position in Southeast Asia, Ho Chi Minh City is an important transport hub for overland routes, water routes and air routes, which connects the provinces in Southern Vietnam and is an international port.

Ho Chi Minh City’s Population

Vietnam is a country with a population of over 96 million people as of 2017, according to an estimate from The World Factbook, making it the top 20 of the most populous country in the world. The biggest city in Vietnam is Ho Chi Minh City with about 8.3 million individuals, according to the statistics in 2016. In fact, the total population of Ho Chi Minh City accounts for approximately 9% of all citizens of Vietnam.

Weather in Ho Chi Minh City

Located in the tropical monsoon climate near the equator, Ho Chi Minh City is characterized by high tropical temperatures throughout the year with rainy and dry seasons. While the rainy season lasts from late April to October, the dry season begins from November until early April.

On average, there are about 160 – 270 sunshine hours per month in Ho Chi Minh City with an average temperature of 27 degrees Celsius (80 Fahrenheit). The temperature may reach 40 degrees Celsius (104 Fahrenheit) around noon in late April, but it can go down to nearly 14 degrees Celsius (57 Fahrenheit) during the morning hours in late December.

The average number of rainy days in Ho Chi Minh City is around 159 days. The recorded volume of rainfall is especially high from June to September with almost daily scattered showers.

In general, although Ho Chi Minh City is located in less directly affected areas of gale-force winds and typhoons, there are usually severe thunderstorms on a small scale from May to August. Learn more about the best time to go to Ho Chi Minh City.

To have fun trips in Ho Chi Minh City, check out our authentic motorbike tours with professional local guides!


History of Ho Chi Minh City

The records of the formation of Ho Chi Minh City began in the early 17th century when Cambodia and Vietnam’s relation was strengthened by a marriage between a Vietnamese Princess and the King of Cambodia. King Chey Chettha II agreed with the idea of establishing a tax collection station by Nguyen Lord and allowed the Vietnamese refugees fleeing from the civil war in Vietnam to settle in Prey Nokor – a small fishing village of Khmer at that time. However, four decades later, the rapid increase of Vietnamese refugees, along with the weakness of the Cambodian Kingdom in the war with Thailand, made Prey Nokor become the Gia Dinh Citadel of Vietnam.

With the rules of French in 1874, Gia Dinh was renamed to Saigon; then it became an important center with multiple functions: economic, military, port, and harbor. Since the city was influenced heavily by the French culture during the colonial era, it was called “Paris in the Orient” at that time. When you visit, you can still witness many old colonial buildings, landmarks, schools, hospitals, and villas. Saigon and Cholon, which were once divided into two regions in 1864, were combined into Saigon – Cholon again in 1931. However, this region soon became a single city called Saigon in 1957.

After the Vietnamese took back their independence from the French thanks to the Battle of Dien Bien Phu in 1954, for 20 years, Saigon was the capital of Southern Vietnam’s government. On 30th April 1975, the war between the North and South of Vietnam formally ended (“Liberation of Saigon”). Upon the establishment of the unified Communist Socialist Republic of Vietnam, Saigon was renamed to Ho Chi Minh City in 1976, under the governance of Ho Chi Minh City People’s Committee.

Culture in Ho Chi Minh City

The Vietnamese community has 54 different ethnic groups. There are 50 out of 54 ethnic groups living in Ho Chi Minh City. The Kinh (also known as Viet) accounts for 89.9% of the total population. The second largest group is the Chinese with approximately 9.8%. Apart from Vietnam’s ethnic-minority population, there is a minor number of people who are Thai and Hmong living in the mountainous regions, and under 0.1% of them contribute to Ho Chi Minh City’s population.

The religious practice in Ho Chi Minh City is quite diverse, including Mahayana, Theravada, folk religion, Catholicism, and a small percentage of Islam, Caodaism, Hoahaoism, and other religions. Ancestor worship is a popular form of spirituality, practiced by the majority of the population. Most residents are strongly influenced by either one of these traditional beliefs.

Learn more about religions in Vietnam.

Food in Ho Chi Minh City Vietnam

If you are a food lover, we promise you will not be disappointed when you set foot in Ho Chi Minh City. In addition to the world-famous Pho noodle soup and Goi Cuon, you must try these specialties listed below.

1. Com Tam (Broken Rice)

intro to ho chi minh com tam

Broken Rice is made from rice with fractured rice grains, usually served with grilled pork, fried egg, bi (shredded pork skin) and leafy greens. There are some famous restaurants where serve this food in Ho Chi Minh City, such as Ba Nghien (84 Dang Van Ngu, Phu Nhuan District) and Thuan Kieu Broken Rice with many branches all over the city.

2. Banh Xeo (Vietnamese Pancake)

intro to ho chi minh banh xeo

Banh Xeo is a savory pancake made of rice flour, turmeric powder, water, served with mustard leaves and lettuce leaves. The fragrant aroma of the cake shell interspersed with shrimps, quality meat, bean sprouts, and fatty green beans have a strong attraction to those who crave culinary culture in Ho Chi Minh City.

3. Banh Mi

Banh Mi is a quintessential Vietnamese dish that you should try when traveling in Ho Chi Minh City. This dish includes the baguette sandwich and various stuff like bate, butter, cold cuts, heo quay (roasted pork belly), fried egg, xa xiu (Chinese barbecued pork or char siu), vegetables and others.

4. Banh Cuon (Steamed rice roll)

intro to ho chi minh banh cuon

Banh cuon is available almost everywhere in Ho Chi Minh City. The filling contains a mix of cooked ground pork, minced wood ear mushroom, and minced shallots, rolled up in a thin and wide sheet of steamed rice batter.

5. Banh Trang Nuong

intro to ho chi minh banh trang nuong

Banh trang nuong is a dish from Da Lat but is very popular in Ho Chi Minh City. It is rice paper topped with beaten egg, scallion, minced pork, and shrimp powder and grilled over charcoal. If you go around Turtle Lake (Ho Con Rua) in District 3 at night, you will find many rice paper snacks including this Banh Trang Nuong.

Attractions in Ho Chi Minh City

There are numerous attractions in Ho Chi Minh City, from historical, cultural to natural sites that represent different sides of Ho Chi Minh City. If you want more detailed itineraries, see our recommended One-day itineraries, Two-day itineraries, and Three-day itineraries in Ho Chi Minh City.

1. The Museum of Vietnamese History

On the list of 11 museums, Ho Chi Minh City is the first position in the number of museums in Vietnam. The largest and oldest museum in the city is the Museum of Vietnamese History that owns over 30,000 artifacts.

Address: 2 Nguyen Binh Khiem, Ben Nghe Ward, District 1
Opening hours: 8 AM – 11:30 AM and 1:30 PM -5 PM

intro to ho chi minh vn history museum

Vietnam History Museum in Ho Chi Minh City

2. Can Gio Forest

The Can Gio Biosphere Reserve in Can Gio District is a community of plant and animal species, formed on the large delta areas of rivers including Dong Nai River, Saigon, Vam Co Dong, and Vam Co Tay. UNESCO recognized this place as the biosphere reserve around the world, which has unique systems of fauna and flora in the mangrove forest. Furthermore, the government has recognized this forest as a national tourist destination in Vietnam.


3. Cu Chi Tunnels

Another destination that attracts many tourists is Cu Chi Tunnels, one of the national historical monuments in Vietnam. The tunnels are an underground defense system in Cu Chi District about 60 km to the northwest of Ho Chi Minh City. The tunnels reached 10 meters below ground and stretched more than 250 kilometers. 

intro to ho chi minh cu chi

Explore the secret tunnels

intro to ho chi minh cu chi shooting range

Or have fun at the shooting range

4. Ben Thanh Market

Ben Thanh Market is a famous local market to both Vietnamese and international tourists. This lively market is not only a commercial place in Ho Chi Minh City but also a landmark milestone in Vietnamese history. If you are looking for more shopping ideas, check out our guides on what to buy in Ho Chi Minh City.

intro to ho chi minh ben thanh

Ben Thanh Market

5. Notre Dame Cathedral

Notre Dame Cathedral is one of the famous French landmarks in Ho Chi Minh City. When you are here, do not miss the Saigon Central Post Office just across and Ho Chi Minh Book Street on Nguyen Van Binh.

intro to ho chi minh notre dame

Notre Dame Cathedral

Transportation System in Ho Chi Minh City

Motorbikes are the most used vehicles in the city. However, you will find yourself, like most tourists, choosing a taxi, walking, or using hired transportations to get around as public transportations are not completely straightforward to navigate on your own like other developed countries. When traveling around Ho Chi Minh City, you don’t need to worry about not finding a ride because there are many options, from public to private means of transport. It is better if you exchange the currency into Vietnamese Dong and have a SIM card for booking a ride through an app.

For more information, check out our guides on Vietnamese Currency and where to buy SIM cards in Ho Chi Minh City.

1. Taxi

Taxis are likely the first choice when traveling anywhere. 

2. Bus

Buses are the cheapest public transport in Ho Chi Minh City costing VND 5,000 – 10,000 for a one-way trip. Read our guide on the bus system in Ho Chi Minh City and how to take shuttle buses from Tan Son Nhat Airport to the city center.

intro to ho chi minh bus

The bus in Ho Chi Minh City

3. Motorbike and Bicycle

There are two main types of motorbikes in Ho Chi Minh City, the motorbike taxi and self-drive motorbike for rent (note that local laws require a valid license or an internationally recognized permit). 

intro to ho chi minh motorbike

Motorbikes in Ho Chi Minh City

Another choice is to go on professional guided motorbike tours in Ho Chi Minh City, this way you don’t have to worry about driving, getting a license or zooming through traffic. When participating in any motorbike tour, you must be able to comfortably sit behind the driver. 

Bicycles are available all over Vietnam, but we don’t recommend riding bicycles in Ho Chi Minh City due to the city’s traffic congestion. 

intro to ho chi minh motorbikes 2

4. Rickshaw

Many visitors generally do not think of this transportation when traveling to Ho Chi Minh City. The rickshaw (locally known as Xich lo) is a great way to enjoy the busy scenes of Ho Chi Minh City. As a word of precaution, do read up on our scams in Ho Chi Minh City before you travel.

intro to ho chi minh rick shaw 3

Traveling by rickshaw

5. Walk on foot

If your favorite way to travel around a city is by walking on foot, the experience in Ho Chi Minh City may be a little different. You must know that many motorbike riders won’t stop for you but instead keep going and make a big turn at your front or back to avoid you. To be able to cross the streets in this heavy traffic city, you will need skills to cross the streets and synchronize movements with the vehicles.

For a quick day trip outside Ho Chi Minh, look for a transportation ticket online:

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Is Ho Chi Minh City Safe?

The good news is, Yes!

Ho Chi Minh has always been adored by millions of visitors for its enchanting sights and sounds, as well as the hospitable people and ultimate safety for tourists. But one can never be too careful, make sure to sign up for travel insurance before you hit the road.


Summary of An Introduction to Ho Chi Minh City

Ho Chi Minh City is one of the best places in Vietnam for tourists to experience a busy lifestyle as well as discover historical war stories.

When in Ho Chi Minh City, do not forget to enjoy the street foods and try out a motorbike guided tour, which is one of the MUST-DOs!

For more information, you can reach out to us through our Contact page.

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