Vietnam is a notoriously cheap country for westerns to come to for holiday. Backpackers also love this country because they can see so many amazing things for much less than other places around the world. Long-term backpackers are always on a budget, and Vietnam welcomes those watching their wallets with open arms. Ho Chi Minh is a super fun city to explore, and you’ll be even more motivated to discover it once you realize how much you can see for absolutely free! Backpackers and budget travelers – listen up. This is your Ho Chi Minh Free Attractions Bucket List!
1. Temple hop
All temples are free to enter in Vietnam which is great because there’s a lot of them. Ho Chi Minh boasts many worthy temples. The Mariammam Hindu Temple of Saigon, located in District 1, is one example. Made to honor the Goddess of Rain, it was constructed in the late 19th century and favors bright colors and attention to detail. Take your shoes off before entering and bring a gift of joss sticks, jasmine, or lilies. Next, check out the Jade Emperor Pagoda (AKA the Tortoise Pagoda) in District 1. It’s one of the five most important shrines in Ho Chi Minh. The ornate details carved into the temple’s walls tell the ancient story of heaven and hell in magnificent fashion. Even if you don’t understand it, the design work is still beyond impressive. Visiting the temples during a holiday is sure to make the experience all the more exciting as there will be a lively atmosphere, prayer ceremonies, and traditional music and dance.
2. Join a Free City Tour
This is definitely the best way to get your bearings in a bustling city like Ho Chi Minh. These tours are conducted through universities or non-profit organizations whose goal is to spread the history of their beloved city and show visitors its most iconic sites. Young local volunteers will guide you expertly to places like the Reunification Palace, War Remnants Museum, Ben Thanh Market, and the Saigon Central Post Office (explained below). City tours usually start in the mornings around 8am or 9am and finish before noon. It’s a great way to start your day and get acquainted with Ho Chi Minh – without opening your wallet. Be aware that entrance fees need to be paid for some of the above attractions. If you don’t want to pay, you can wait outside for your tour. Note: It’s acceptable and greatly appreciated if you can spare a small tip for your guide!
3. Norte Dam Cathedral & Saigon Central Post Office
Both of these sites are two of the city’s best attractions. Can you believe they’re both free to enter? It’s true! The Norte Dam Cathedral is a stunning example of French colonial style architecture. Built in the late 1880s by the French, they imported every single one of the red bricks used for the striking cathedral from Marseille! This church is one of the last remaining pieces of evidence of Catholicism in a mostly Buddhist country. Just next to the cathedral is the Saigon Central Post Office, considered one of the grandest of its kind in Southeast Asia. It’s another obvious example of French architecture during the colonial times. Constructed between 1886 and 1891, the post office was designed with arched windows, wooden shutters, patterned marble floor and antique telephone boxes.
4).Take in a free show at Ho Chi Minh Opera House
Just a few hundred meters away from the cathedral and post office is yet another elegant colonial building – the Ho Chi Minh Opera House. Located in District 1, this opera house was built in 1897 and boasts three stories with 800 seats. The opera house is a stage for many performances including ballet, musical concerts, and traditional Vietnamese plays. These are ticketed performance you’ll have to pay for, but if you want to enjoy the ambiance for free, visit on a weekend. There are often free performances going on in front of the opera house on Saturday and Sunday mornings.
5. Tao Dan Park
A few kilometers away from the opera house is this relaxing retreat in the middle of hectic Ho Chi Minh. The Tao Dan Park is beloved by locals who want a little escape from their busy city lives. Many people come here to jog, walk, or practice Tai Chi in the mornings. Grab a coffee or a take-away breakfast and come for some great people walking. You may even see locals gathering with their caged birds and engaging them in spirited singing competitions! This is a true peak into the local way of life and certainly a worthwhile way to spend a few (free) hours in Ho Chi Minh.
These are just a few of the free things to do in Ho Chi Minh, but there are certainly a lot more. From relaxing parks, to free street performances, to discovering ancient temples – there is so much to do in this city without ever opening your wallet!