This might be your first time in Saigon and you’re deciding on where to stay in Ho Chi Minh City as a first-timer here. It might be confusing as to where you should stay to get the best experience in terms of nightlife or attractions and this article is meant to show the best places to stay in this city. Be it travelling as a family, couple or solo traveller, we will recommend you the best district and hotel to stay in as a first-time visitor, and we will tell you why too!
Where to Stay in Ho Chi Minh For the First Time?
Ho Chi Minh City is split into different districts starting from District 1 all the way to District 24. The smaller the number means that it is closer to the city centre. Being close to the city centre will mean being closer to amenities and also attractions. We recommend that you stay in District 1 as a first-time visitor. However, if you were to see the map of District One, it is also quite big, so which part of District One should you stay at?
Ho Chi Minh City District One Guide For First-Timers
Here’s the map for District 1 in HCMC, the red border is district one, you can see that it is also quite large and we can actually focus on three main areas (purple, green and blue). Staying in any of these three areas is suitable for first-timers as district one where the main commerce area is located. Each of these three areas has its own unique theme and offering which we will share more later, and this will allow you to decide on which area you would like to stay at.
Dong Khoi Area For First Time Visit – Purple
The Dong Khoi area is one of the best place to stay when you’re visiting for the first time as it is one of the most well-kept areas in HCMC. It is located right in the middle of many restaurants, bars and shops, you don’t have to walk far to reach one. It is an area whereby luxurious hotels and high-rise buildings are located. Therefore, hotel prices are usually higher here than the rest, but if comfort is what you’re looking at and don’t mind paying slightly more then here is it. It is also closely located to the city’s top sights.
Dong Khoi Area Things to Do
Here’s why Dong Khoi is a good consideration if you’re there for the first time. You’re close to the famous attractions that walking tours visit such as the Saigon River, Notre Dame Cathedral, Central Post Office and Reunification Palace.
You should also walk Nguyen Hue Street which is a street right next to Dong Khoi Street. It is very beautiful and stretches from the People’s Committee Building all the way to Bach Dang Wharf. At night, the street is closed to traffic and many street food stalls and street performers line up the street making it a very lively environment. Head there during the weekend for the most action.
When walking along the street be sure to check out the Ho Chi Minh People’s Committee at the intersection of Nguyen Hue and Le Than Ton Street. The building is not open to the public but you will be able to admire the Renaissance-style city hall that is converted from the Hotel de Ville of the French Colonial period.
For the history lovers, you may walk to Ho Chi Minh City Museum which is located close to Ho Chi Minh City Hall. You will also get to see the Ho Chi Minh Statue which is built in 2015 to commemorate Uncle Ho’s 125th birthday.
Check out the numerous fashion and flower shops and when you’re tired, chill at a local cafe. You will also get the see the historic Rex Hotel and Saigon’s tallest building, the Bitexco Financial Centre.
Another attraction that is famous amongst tourist is Saigon Notre Dame Cathedral which is also known as Basilica of Our Lady of The Immaculate Conception. You can visit this French-built cathedral at Ho Chi Minh Paris Square located between Nguyen Du and Le Duan near the Central Post Office.
Just beside the Cathedral, you can visit the Saigon Central Post Office. Although it is built in the late 19th century, it is still functioning as a real post office. You can post a mail from here to anywhere in the world. You can also purchase souvenirs like postcards, stamps and pictures. Alternatively, just come here to admire its French Indochina unique architecture.
If you’re a book lover, head to Ho Chi Minh City Book Street or Diamond Plaza for some luxurious shopping experience.
Want to be further immersed in the history of Vietnam? Visit 30/4 Park which is named after Vietnam’s Reunification Day which occurred on the 30th of April 1975. It is located at the Independence Palace which is an attraction itself too. You can find many street food vendors around and it is a popular meeting place for the locals as well.
Visit Saigon Zoo and Botanical Garden if you’re travelling with kids or if you would like to see some animals at one of the largest zoos in the world. At the same location, you can also visit the Hung Kings Temple and the Museum of Vietnamese History.
If you’re more into French Architecture, head back to Dong Khoi Street and take a look at the Continental Hotel and Ho Chi Minh Opera House with their well-preserved architecture.
Dong Khoi Area is also close to the Bach Dang Wharf Park which is a popular place to be along the Saigon River. Depending on the time you’re there, you can see locals or tourists exercising, gathering and enjoying the river atmosphere. Some touristic things to do is to hop on a dinner cruise or have dinner at a Riverside restaurant.
Pass by the monument of General Tran Hung Dao who led the Vietnamese to victory against the Yuanmeng invaders in 1288 on the Bach Dang River. The Monument is located on Ton Duc Thang Street.
Head to Ho Chi Minh City Passenger Ferry Port, if you’re planning for a day trip to Ba Ria, Vung Tau. You can also take boat tours to the Cu Chi Tunnels and Can Gio Mangrove Forest.
When staying in the area of Nguyen Hue and Dong Khoi, you can find many night activities like nightclubs and bars. There are also several restaurants and eateries and some notable ones are Pho, Banh Canh Cua, Banh Xeo and Bun Mam. However, as it is in a downtown area, prices will likely be slightly costlier than in other areas.
Advantages: Right smack in the middle of the action, lively and vibrant atmosphere with amenities all around. Convenient location and easy to travel around.
Disadvantages: Crowded, and transport to attractions might take a longer time due to congestion. Accommodation and dining options are usually more expensive than other parts of the city.
There are many accommodation options here from budget hostels all the way to luxury 5-star hotels. If you’re willing to spend more to get quality and comfort, get the better option as it will really make a difference when coming back from a fully packed day out.
Best places to stay in Nguyen Hue & Dong Khoi for first-timers:
Luxury Hotel ($$$): Caravelle Saigon – This is a 5-star hotel that is located in the heart of the city center and known for its proximity to the iconic attractions. Not only is their location great, but they also have really nice architecture with modern and luxurious rooms. They are highly rated for comfort, facilities, location and cleanliness.
Mid-range Hotel ($$): Amanaki Saigon Boutique Hotel – This 4-star boutique hotel will give you a really historic vibe when entering due to its antique designs. It is also centrally located and you will be awed by the design of the rooms. If you’re staying for more than 3 nights you can get free laundry service too.
Budget Hotel ($): TN Central Hotel – For those who do not want to spend so much on hotels, be sure to check out this 2-star hotel. It has all the basic necessities you need and is highly reviewed for having clean rooms. The rooms are decorated with classic wood finishings to give you an olden Vietnam look. It also features a spa and business centre where you can do some work if necessary.
Ben Thanh Area For First-Timers – Green
Ben Thanh Market is one of the places that you will visit on your first trip to Saigon. It is a central market selling dry goods, clothes, accessories and souvenirs. The most famous items that are bought there are dried mangoes, cashew nuts and coffee powder. Be sure, to bargain heavily as most stuff is sold above market prices to tourists. Within the market, there is also many food stalls selling all kind of Vietnamese food, be sure to check them out.
Being close to the most popular market in Ho Chi Minh city, the area around it is also bustling with eateries and cafes. There are also many bag and shoe shops around the area selling knock-off goods.
Staying at Ben Thanh Area is popular as it is located between Nguyen Hue Street and Bui Vien Walking Street so you get the best of both worlds. It is also very close to attractions like Tan Dan Park, War Remnants Museum and Independence Palace too.
If you’re into history, you must visit the Reunification Palace, also known as Dinh Độc Lập in Vietnamese. It was the Palace of the French Governor and became the home to South Vietnamese President Ngo Dinh Diem.
You can also visit the War Remnants Museum and the Museum of Chinese and American War Crimes to view US army weapons like tanks, helicopters and aircraft. Another museum to visit is the Ho Chi Minh City Museum of Fine Arts. Head to Nha Rong Wharf, the place where President Ho Chi Minh sailed from in 1911 for Vietnam Salvation.
Other than museums, for some nature, head to Tan Dan Park where the locals go to play badminton or socialise by playing chess. Just buy some street food like Bahn Mi and sit on the benches and people watch.
You can easily reach this area by private transport from Tan Son Nhat Airport. Being in a central location, it is easy to book private transport to different places of attraction. Food prices are also affordable and good. It has also a wide range of affordable accommodations for families, couples and solo travellers.
Advantages: Great location with easy access to popular attractions. Being in the center, it is easy to find public transportation. Many opportunities for shopping. Large amount of food stalls to choose from.
Disadvantages: Very crowded during the weekends. Large amounts of traffic can be noisy and polluted. Prices for accommodation, food and shopping are targetted for tourists, so the prices are still higher than local prices.
Best places to stay in Ben Thanh for first-time visitors:
Luxury Hotel ($$$): Silverland Yen Hotel – A 4-star hotel that boasts a warm-water outdoor hot tub and sauna/steam bath facility. There is also a fitness room and 24-hour front desk for services like luggage storage and more. You can sip a cocktail and relax on the roof deck while looking at the view. They are highly reviewed for their customer service and location.
Mid-range Hotel ($$): GK Central Hotel – This is a modern 2-star hotel located within the city center. It is only 300m away from Ben Thanh Market and very convenient to the main attractions around the city. The rooms are well decorated and come with every necessity needed. Review shows that the staffs are really friendly so if you have any questions just feel free to ask them. Breakfast is also included in the pricing. We are sure that you will have a great stay here.
Budget Hotel ($): Ngan Ha Hotel – This 2-star hotel offers an elegant and comfortable space with free wifi in its public areas as well. It has a 24-hour front desk with friendly staff to assist in luggage storage and guides of the area. It is only 200m away from Ben Thanh Market and 500m away from the Reunification Palace. Free breakfast is also included in the pricing!
Pham Ngu Lao Area for First Time Travellers – Blue
It is recommended to stay at Pham Ngu Lao if you’re looking for a low-budget place to stay but still want to be close to the main attractions. You also like to be close to the nightlife in the city. With these attributes of the area, it is usually chosen by backpackers and budget travellers, which is quite similar to Hanoi’s Old Quarter.
In this area, there are many hostels with prices starting as low as $8 USD a night. There are many street food stalls along the main road and in between lanes and back alleys that you can explore. You can find many different cuisines here from local food like pho to Italian food like pizzas.
The fun begins at night when Bui Vien Street is closed and bars set up tables along the streets. Loud music will be played till late at night, around 3 am. You will be able to see street performances and music shows. What usually people do is get a seat at one of the bars and do people watching.
Pham Ngu Lao is located in a central location and very close to major landmarks such as Ben Thanh Market as well. There are also shops like Circle K and Family Mart around to buy anything that you require.
If you’re looking for a tour agency, there are many here that you can book from. They even provide for inter-city buses to places like Dalat or Vung Tau and even buses to Cambodia as well.
Across the road, you can find Central Market Shopping Mall, an underground mall where you can shop for clothes, souvenirs, shoes, bags and even an eating place called Asiana Food Town.
The main draw for tourists to stay here are the budget-friendly accommodations and the nightlife.
Advantages: Convenient location to main attractions. Liveliest nightlife area in the city. Affordable and cheap accommodations. Lots of food choices around.
Disadvantages: Noise that persists till late at night. Crowded with tourists during the night.
Best places to stay in Pham Ngu Lao & Bui Vien for first-timers:
Mid-range Hotel ($$): Jan Hostel Central Point – From its name it mentions hostel, but actually it’s a hotel with only private rooms. The rooms are well decorated with even a washing area in the main area. You can also choose from rooms with a balcony. The pricing is really affordable for the quality it gives. It is in close proximity to Bui Vien Street but it is also a distance away from the crowd and noise. You can be sure of a comfortable stay here. They have a really good review of 9+ from 261 reviews!
Budget Hotel ($): Chez Mimosa Petite – This hotel ranks highly on comfort, value for money, location and cleanliness. You can see why when you look at the photos of their rooms. They are of minimalist design with full panel windows, unlike some hotels without windows. Some additional service that they provide is free bikes and free laundry. You can see why it’s rated value for money.
Budget Hostel ($): SaiGon Gạo Hostel – This hostel is not mainly a hostel but it has also private rooms to choose from. If you’re looking for shared dorm rooms, the cost is only $7 USD per night per pax. The bed also comes with a curtain to block out some of the light. If you’re looking for a budget-friendly place that provides value check this out!
Should You Stay in District 3 or District 5 for First Time?
It is not recommended the stay in District 3 or 5 if you’re coming for the first time as there is plenty of options to satisfy all your accommodation needs in District 1 which is the main city centre. We understand that there are many blogs out there that show an option to stay in District 3 or 5 but it’s really not worth it, if you need to travel a distance to reach the major attractions. You can travel to those districts if there is anything you need to do there. Unless the pros weigh more than the cons, staying in District 1 for your first trip to HCMC is the best choice.
The Best Area to Stay in Ho Chi Minh City for First Timers
As mentioned above the best area to stay in Ho Chi Minh City is District 1 for first-timers. However, you may ask where in District 1 do you recommend? As shown from the map above there are three areas recommended, Dong Khoi (Purple), Ben Thanh (Green) and Pham Ngu Lao (Blue). How do you choose from these three areas? Below are the summary of each area and who it’s suitable for.
Dong Khoi Area (Purple) – If you’re looking for well-developed street and high-end hotels. You prefer eating at air-conditioned food stalls and shopping for good quality merchandise.
Ben Thanh Area (Green) – If you’re looking to be situated close to the famous Ben Thanh Market and do not mind spending on mid-high-end hotels.
Pham Ngu Lao Area (Blue) – If you’re only looking at a cheaper and budget-friendly hotel or hostel. You are also into the nightlife scene. You like small alleyways and street food stalls.
Do not worry about making the perfect choice as these areas are just beside each other, the area is also very walkable and you can visit all three areas no matter where you are staying at. We have chosen the best hotels for you in that area itself so check out the interior and decide based on your budget as well.
Where To Stay in Ho Chi Minh For the First Time – Frequently Asked Questions
Which district is best to stay in Ho Chi Minh City?
The best district to stay in Ho Chi Minh City are districts 1, 2, 3 and 5. However, if it’s your first time here, it’s better to stay in District 1.
What is the nice area of Ho Chi Minh City?
District 3 is a nice area as it is close to the attractions in District 1 but also a certain distance away to have a peaceful and quieter stay. District 3 is just beside District 1.
How many days are enough for Ho Chi Minh?
If it’s your first time to the city, spend at least 3 days to fully explore the city centre and also attractions outside of the city centre. Attractions outside of the city centre are Mekong Delta, Cu Chi Tunnels and Can Gio Mangrove.
Is the city called Ho Chi Minh or Saigon?
The official name is Ho Chi Minh, however, many locals and tourist still call it Saigon as well. The name is interchangeable. If you’re older, you might remember it as Saigon, if you’re younger you will likely know the city as Ho Chi Minh. The city was renamed in 1975 when the North Vietnamese captured Saigon.
What are the safest areas in Ho Chi Minh?
It is overall very safe in the city, with most tourist staying in Districts 1, 2, 3 and 5 without any major issues. Although it is considered safe by many, you need to know proper travelling safety precautions so as to not fall into scams or attract unwanted attention.
Is Ho Chi Minh City walkable?
Ho Chi Minh City is very walkable and the attractions are all relatively close to one another. You can walk to different attractions without taking public transport. However, what you need to learn is to cross the roads in Vietnam, once you learn how to, you can travel anywhere on foot. It is also good to see that there are more pedestrian traffic lights being set up for tourists to cross the road.
How to move around in Ho Chi Minh City?
The most convenient way is by using private transport as the cost is also not very expensive. Download Grab app and choose from a car or motorcycle. You can also flag down taxi but make sure that it is the correct taxi company as if you’re on the wrong ones, they may overcharge even if you’re using the meter. You can also take the public bus, but usually, as a tourist, it is better to take private transport instead.
Is Ho Chi Minh City expensive for tourists?
It is very affordable for tourists to visit HCMC. The food cost is one of the lowest in South East Asia and the world. The accommodation cost is also available from hostel pricing to high-end hotels. Attraction costs are also low. With only around $60 a day, you can live like a King there.
Is Ho Chi Minh City or Hanoi better to visit?
The two cities are different from each other and you should visit both of them. However, it ultimately depends on your interest. If you prefer a more historical and nature experience then Hanoi is better. If you prefer a more modern and developed atmosphere then Ho Chi Minh City is a better option. From our experience, you must visit Ho Chi Minh City at least once. You can then move on to Hanoi and other smaller towns from there. We have listed below other popular towns that you can consider. Most tourists will visit HCMC plus other cities and towns during their trip to Vietnam.