Budget Travel

20 free things to complete in Ho Chi Minh City: experience Saigon for nothing

Bustling Ho Chi Minh City is among Southeast Asia's top value destinations, where one can gobble down a street-side bowl of pho for a couple of bucks.

For those traveling with an even tighter budget, there are many samples by mail to do too. From lively street performers to some family-friendly mini waterpark, the high free activities could keep you busy in HCMC.

Admire the interior of the Central Post Office

With a neo-Baroque facade along with a science-themed interior, the functioning Central Mailbox dates back towards the late 1800s. Browse the vintage maps painted around the concourse walls and the impressive tiled floor.

Enjoy the views over Ben Thanh Market

Opened just before WWI, Ben Thanh Market, within the city's liveliest neighborhoods, pretty much sells whatever you could ever want. Brave the gauntlet of sellers making the right path through the market's narrow aisles to a hidden staircase close to the South Gate. Take it up to a small temple where vendors pray for any good day's business and relish the views within the market.

Take an evening stroll along Nguyen Hue Walking Street

This pedestrian-only street gets busy on weekend evenings with street performers and families out for any walk. Don't miss exploring the apartment building at #42, an Instagram spot, filled with boutiques and trendy cafes.

Go on a free student-led walking tour

While not many walks any place in humid Ho Chi Minh City, the free walking tours at Saigon Free Day Tours operates by enthusiastic students. It's a great way to begin to see the city close up.

Splash about at Vivo Playground

The kids will enjoy cooling off from the heat having a romp through the mini waterpark at the Vivo Playground atop the SC VivoCity Mall just south of downtown.

Gaze up at the spires of Notre Dame Cathedral

Modeled after its Parisian namesake, the Romanesque Notre Dame Cathedral is really a red-brick, neo-Romanesque church with twin bell towers and spires that reach 60m (197ft) into the sky. Inside, you are able to admire its stained-glass windows and walls inlaid with devotional tablets.

Take photos at Ho Thi Ky Flower Market

Saigon's largest flower market (52 Ho Thi Ky, District 10) is open 24/7, peaking early in the day hours. It's a favorite backdrop for colorful photographs.

Visit Cao Dai Temple

Adherents of Caodaism, a religion founded in Vietnam incorporating components from Confucianism, Taoism, Buddhism and Christianity, arrived at worship in the colorful three-story Cao Dai Temple. Head up the stairs (then left for ladies, suitable for men) to view the primary hall.

Play shuttlecock at September 23 Park

Join one of the numerous groups kicking around a shuttlecock at this park just along the main backpacker area of Pham Ngu Lao. This popular Vietnamese pastime, called dá c^au, is much like badminton for that feet, but keeping the mass of plastic discs and feathers in mid-air is deceptively hard.

Learn about Ho Chi Minh's successor at Ton Duc Thang Museum

Celebrating the life of Vietnam's first president after reunification, the Ton Duc Thang Museum provides interesting insights into Vietnam within the 1960s and '70s.

Meet English-speaking locals with Mundo Lingo

Mundo Lingo is a superb method to meet English-speaking locals along with other social polyglots. While weekly meetups are usually held in a local bar, there is no obligation to buy a glass or two. Just slap on stickers of flags representing the languages you speak and get chatting!

See murals of the Buddha's life at Chantarangsay Pagoda

Serving HCMC's Khmer community, the Chantarangsay Pagoda's main shrine has 14 Buddha statues with vivid colorful paintings of scenes from the life of the Buddha painted all over the ceiling and walls.

Look for shophouse outlines on Dong Khoi Street

Great for browsing, Dong Khoi is Saigon's premier shopping street filled with international and Vietnamese boutiques. If you look with enough contentration, you can begin to see the outlines from the shophouses that once lined this canal leading to the Saigon River. For some free air-conditioning, head with the art arcade or more the stairs to the right to Couleurs d'Asie to view some fine-art photography depicting Vietnam's ethnic minority groups by French photographer Réhahn.

Take a wander through Binh Tay Market

The Binh Tay Market outside of Chinatown may be the city's largest wholesale market, having a great clock tower and a central courtyard with gardens. It is also recognized for its Chinese-inspired architectural elements, including dragons and phoenixes on the roof.

Listen to birdsong at Tao Dan Park

Known as the Jardin en Ville if this began in 1868, the 10-hectare Tao Dan Park right in the middle of the city hosts a temple, flower garden and sculpture exhibition. Song-bird lovers also congregate in early mornings where their feathered friends can learn new songs from one another.

Enjoy the green space of Thanh Da

Stroll the narrow paths about this lightly developed peninsula referred to as "saving money lung of Saigon" for its rice paddies and fishing ponds just 15 minutes from downtown. Binh Quoi Tourist Village in the end from the main street of Binh Quoi is set up to become a typical village within the Mekong Delta.

Learn about heroic Vietnamese women at the Southern Women's Museum

See how the ao dai, Vietnam's national costume, evolved through the years together with scenes of typical country life along with other events highlighting the accomplishments of women in the charming Southern Women's Museum.

Pay homage to the Chinese goddess of the sea at Thien Hau Pagoda

The colorful Thien Hau Pagoda constructed in 1760 by seafaring Chinese immigrants is devoted towards the goddess of the sea. The gorgeous roof using its intricate ceramic dioramas and giant suspended incense coils increase the mysterious atmosphere.

Be dazzled through the colorful nighttime displays on Starlight Bridge

Join couples and families searching for a colorful location for photos at the pedestrian Starlight Bridge, just behind posh Crescent Mall in the expat enclave known as District 7. From Thursday to Sunday evenings, the bridge spouts water illuminated by a rainbow of Leds.

Listen to some free performance outside Saigon Opera House

While the only way to begin to see the within the Saigon Opera House (inaugurated in 1900) is to find a ticket to some performance, come at 8am on a Sunday to catch a totally free live musical performance on the steps. Arrive early and snag mostly of the plastic chairs, or do because the locals do and catch the hour-long performance in the seat of your motorbike.

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