Where to Stay in Ho Chi Minh City First Time: Best areas

The best areas to stay in Ho Chi Minh City for first-timers are the neighborhoods of District 1, District 3, District 5, and District 2 because these are the most popular districts for tourists.

In this post, I will help you to decide where to stay in Ho Chi Minh City for the first time, for nightlife, as well as the best places to stay in each district.

Formerly known as Saigon, Ho Chi Minh City has its current name from 1975, when the North of Vietnam won the war and changed the name of Saigon to Ho Chi Minh City, in honor Uncle Ho.

District 1 is the best place to stay in Ho Chi City for first-timers due to its highest concentration of the city’s major attractions and accommodations. District 1 is the city center of Saigon and it can be divided into many areas. 

Nguyen Hue and Dong Khoi are more luxurious areas, located within walking distance to the main sights and the beautiful Saigon river. Pham Ngu Lao and Bui Vien areas are more for backpackers and lively nightlife. Ben Thanh is located between Nguyen Hue and Bui Vien, offering wider range of both luxury and budget options.

Ho Chi Minh city offers all kind of accommodation options including luxury 5-star hotels and budget backpacker hostels. Please keep in mind the minium prices for a basic room with a private bathroom in the city center is around 20 to 30 USD.

Many visitors spend a couple of days in Ho Chi City (HCM) to see famous attractions such as the Ben Thanh Market, Reunification Palace, City Hall, and War Remnants Museum. If you have more time, take day trips to the Cu Chi tunnels and Mekong Delta.

A tip: I recommend installing the Grab App on your phone. It is similar to Uber which will help you to order food, motorbike rides, or car rides without bargaining the prices. You can use it to book a car from the Tan Son Nhat International airport.

💖 Best Area for first-timers:District 1
💎 Best luxury hotel:The Myst Dong Khoi
🏨 Best mid-range hotel:Silverland Yen Hotel
💰 Best budget hotel:ALUNA Ben Thanh Hotel

6 Best areas to stay in Ho Chi Minh City for tourists

1. Nguyen Hue & Dong Khoi (District 1), where to stay in HCM city for first-timers

District 1, in particular, Nguyen Hue & Dong Khoi Street, is the best area to stay in Ho Chi Minh city for first-timers due to close proximity to the city’s famous attractions such as Saigon River, Notre Dame Cathedral, Central Post Office, and Reunification Palace.

If you stay here, you will be located in the middle of action, within walking distance to the top sights, as well as many restaurants, bars, and shops.

Nguyen Hue is one of the most popular and beautiful streets in District 1, stretching from the People’s Committee Building to the bank of Saigon river at Bach Dang Wharf.  

Running parallel with Nguyen Hue Street is Dong Khoi Street, connecting the Notre Dame Cathedral to the Saigon River.

Nguyen Hue street is lined with Nguyen Hue high-rise buildings, luxurious  hotels, as well as  restaurants, cafes, fashion and flower shops. There is the historic Rex Hotel, Bitexco Financial Centre, which is Saigon’s tallest building.

Nguyen Hue St is busy at night, especially on weekends where the street is closed to traffic. It is packed with street performances.

There are numerous attractions along the strip worth visiting. At the intersection of Nguyen Hue and Le Thanh Ton street is the Ho Chi Minh City People’s Committee. It was converted from the Hôtel de Ville of the French colonial period. The building is not open to the public but you can admire the renaissance-style city hall from the outside.

Within walking distance from Ho Chi Minh City Hall is Ho Chi Minh City Museum. This is a great place to learn about the history of HCM city and Vietnam.

In front of the People’s Committee is the Ho Chi Minh Statue. HCM city built this statue in 2015 to commemorate the 125th birthday of Uncle Ho.

Head to Dong Khoi street, you can see the French-built Saigon Notre Dame Cathedral or Basilica of Our Lady of The Immaculate Conception in English. Saigon Notre Dame Cathedral is one of the famous attractions of HCM city, located in the beautiful Paris Square. 

Next to the cathedral, you can visit Saigon Central Post Office, which was built in French Indochina in the late 19th century. If you don’t plan to post an email, you can enjoy its unique architecture, or buy souvenirs such as postcards, stamps, and pictures.

If you want to buy a book, head to Ho Chi Minh City Book Street, or visit the Diamond Plaza luxurious shopping center in downtown District 1 for shopping.

If you head to the Independence Palace from Notre Dame Cathedral, you can visit the 30/4 Park. This is a small park, named after Vietnam’s Reunification Day,  30 April 1975. The park is a popular meeting place for local Saigonese alike. There are also plenty of vendors that sell street food.

Saigon Zoo and Botanical Garden, or Thao Cam Vien Park is also easily reachable from district 1. It is one of the largest zoos in the world, home to a zoo, the Museum of Vietnamese History, and a Hung Kings temple. 

Back to Dong Khoi street, there is Ho Chi Minh City Opera House and Continental Hotel worth noting. They both have well-preserved French architecture.

There are plenty of thighs to do and see at the Saigon river side. Bach Dang Wharf Park is a popular attraction for both locals and tourists for gathering, exercising, and enjoying river views. You can go for a dinner cruise or take a dinner at one of the Riverside restaurants.

Located on Ton Duc Thang Street, the Monument of General Tran Hung Dao is dedicated to a well-known Vietnamese 13th-century military leader. He led the Vietnamese to victory in 1288 on the Bach Dang River against the Yuanmeng invaders.

If you want to take a speed boat to Ba Ria – Vung Tau, Ho Chi Minh City Passenger Ferry Port is the departure point of HCM city. There are also boat tours to famous areas such as Cu Chi Tunnels and Can Gio Mangrove Forest.

Apart from attractions,  Nguyen Hue & Dong Khoi areas have great nightlife, with many restaurants, bars, and nightclubs. You must try several delicious street foods such as pho, banh mi, banh xeo, bun mam, and banh canh cua.

Nguyen Hue & Dong Khoi offer plenty of accommodation options ranging from luxury 5-star hotels to budget guest houses. Due to its central location, accommodations here can be more expensive than other districts but it is well worth it because you will be located in the heart of the city.

Best places to stay in Nguyen Hue & Dong Khoi:

2. Ben Thanh Market (District 1), best area for shopping

Ben Thanh Market is a popular attraction in District 1, located between the famous Nguyen Hue Street and Bui Vien Walking Street. The Ben Thanh area also offers easy access to famous attractions such as Independence Palace, War Remnants Museum, and Tao Dan Park.

Ben Thanh Market is a Central Market in HCM city selling fresh fruits and vegetables, as well as  dry goods, clothes, and souvenirs. If you have good bargain skills, you can buy items with reasonable prices. At night, the area around the market is bustling with restaurants, eateries, and cafes nearby. 

Ben Thanh Market was built in the early 17th century to exchange goods on Ben Nghe River near Gia Dinh Citadel. Under French colonial rule, the  government relocated the market, and built it in two years from 1912 to 1914.

A trip to HCM city is not complete without visiting the Reunification Palace, or Dinh Độc Lập in Vietnamese. Formerly known as Independence Palace, the palace was first used as the French Governor’s Palace and then was home to Ngo Dinh Diem, South Vietnamese president. 

The palace was named after the event on 30 April 1975 when the tanks of North Vietnamese crashed down the walls of the Independence Palace, the end of the Vietnam War, and the reunification of the country. 

To learn more about Vietnamese war history, take a look at the War Remnants Museum, or the Museum of Chinese and American War Crimes. You can view US Army’s weapons such as helicopters, aircraft, and tanks in the front gate.

Other places of interest are Ho Chi Minh City Museum of Fine Arts, and Nha Rong Wharf, where President Ho Chi Minh departed in 1911 to find a path to Vietnam salvation.

If you are tired of sightseeing, visit the nearby Tao Dan Park. You can also experience local daily life here with activities such as badminton and chess. Grab food or coffee to eat in the park.

Ben Thanh Market is easily reachable from Tan Son Nhat airport. There are buses, taxis, motorbike taxis (xe om). Public buses are the cheapest and safe way to get to the market.

Ben Thanh has a central location in District 1, and it offers a wide range of accommodations for all budget travelers including solo travelers, couples, and families.

Best places to stay in Ben Thanh:

3. Pham Ngu Lao & Bui Vien (District 1), best for backpackers

Pham Ngu Lao and Bui Vien is the best place to stay in Ho Chi Minh city for backpackers and budget travelers because it is the backpacker center of the city, similar to Hanoi’s Old Quarter.

Pack with hostels, bars, restaurants, cafes, and clubs, along the main road, as well as lanes and back alleys. Bui Vien and Pham Ngu Lao are also the best places for nightlife in the city.

Many visitors come to enjoy local street food, cheap Bia Hoi, or people-watching. Located in district 1, Pham Ngu Lao and Bui Vien also has central location, within easy access to major landmarks such as Ben Thanh Market and Reunification Palace.

There are plenty of food options from local food such as pho or banh mi, to western food like pizza, Italian food, Thai, Middle East restaurants, as well as snacks, fresh fruits, and groceries such as Cirkle K and Family Mart.

Pham Ngu Lao street is also packed with tour agencies where you can book bus ticket to Cambodia, or other cities nearby such as Dalat and Vungtau.

Along the street, you can find Central Market Shopping Mall, which is underground mall where you can find all kind of goods like clothes, souvenirs, shoes, bags, as well as an Asiana Food Town..

Bui Vien walking street attracts a lot of young Saigonese who come to garther, and to enjoy street art performances, and music shows.

Bui Vien is a safe area for tourists, but due to its popularity, you should look up scams, and thieves. Always practice common sense, and be aware of your surroundings, as you travel to any big city.

Accommodation here is budget-friendly with plenty of affordable backpacker hostels and guesthouses. You can find cheaper hotels off the main roads. Within walking from busy Pham Ngu Lao Street, you can find great quiet air bnb on Ton That Tung street around 20USD/night.

Best places to stay in Pham Ngu Lao & Bui Vien:

See more: 27 Best things to do in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam

4. District 3, where to stay in Sagon for local vibe

District 3 is located next to district 1, making it still a central location and only 20 minutes driving from Tan Son Nhat airport. District 3 is quieter, less tourists than district 1, ideal to experience local life.

Saigond is known as “Eat in District 5, live in District 3, and play in District 1”. District 3 is considered the best place to live in the city by locals.

There are several cultural attractions in district 3. Tan Dinh Church is a 19th-century, beautiful pink catholic church with ancient French architecture. Great for sightseeing, taking a photo, and exploring the delicious street food.

Vinh Nghiem Pagoda is a famous Mahayana Buddhist pagoda, well worth a visit, as well as the  Chantarangsay Pagoda to see  typical Khmer architecture and the Southern Women’s Museum to see documents and artifacts honoring Vietnamese women.

Turtle Lake is a famous spot for young people and students because it is located next to University of Economics Ho Chi Minh and University of Architecture Ho Chi Minh. There are many street food vendors around, so you can try various local street foods.

Another place for foodies in district 3, is in Nguyen Thuong Hien street. There are plenty of  street stalls and vendors selling various street foods.

District 3 has great nightlife and shopping, there are many local markets, as well as shopping centers. There are couples of luxury hotels here but mostly mid-range and budget.

Best places to stay in HCM City in District 3:

5. Cholon (District 5), Chinatown of Ho Chi Minh City

Cholon is Vietnam’s largest Chinatown with many traditional shops, markets, and food stalls. There are many houses that date back to the 19th century with Chinese-style architecture. 

Hao Si Phuong Alley is where Chinese people lived for over one hundred years, packed with ancient houses. The alley can be accessed from Tran Hung Dao Street, and exits from Ngo Quyen Street.

There are several Chinese temples in the neighborhood including Lady Thien Hau Pagoda, Quan Am Pagoda (On Lang Pagoda), Nhi Phu Temple, and Ha Chuong Assembly Hall. 

There are many shops selling Chinese medicine in the Tran Hung Dao and Hai Thuong Lan Ong area. The central market of Cholon is Binh Tay.

If you are visiting the Cholon area during the Mid-Autumn Festival, you must check out Lantern Street, on Luong Nhu Hoc Street.

If you love Chinese food, cholon is the place to be. You can try dumplings, satay beef noodle soup, wonton, or duck egg noodle soup. The menus are both in Vietnamese and Chinese.

Being away from the city center of district 1, accommodation here tends to be cheaper. While it does not have as wide a range as in district 1, there are numerous budget guest houses and hotels here. The bus from ChoLon Bus Station will take you to Ben Thanh Market in less than an hour.

Best places to stay in Cholon:

6. Thao Dien (District 2), popular area for foreign expats

District 2 is located on the other side of the Saigon River opposite the city center. Thao Dien is an area in district 2, that is bounded by Hanoi Highway on one side and Saigon river on three other sides.

Thao Dien was used to be a rural village, offen flooded in the rainy season, but it has developed into a modern area that attracts lots of foreign expats.

Thao Dien is a quiet area with many green places, river areas, as well as cafes, bars, foreign shops. There are a wide range of western restaurants here serving Itlaians, Mexican, and American dishes.

Vincom Mega Mall is a great place for shopping and dining. There is a furniture market, and many restaurants and cafes in this shopping, entertainment, and culinary complex. You can even go ice skating here.

Apart from Thao Dien, other popular places in District 2 are Thu Thiem and An Phu. Thao Dien area and district 2 has many houses, villas, apartments and condos, as well as hotels, and guesthouses.

Best places to stay in District 2:

Where should I stay in Ho Chi Minh City for the first time?

District 1 is the best area to stay in Ho Chi City for first-timers due to its super central location. If you stay here, you will be located in the middle of the action.

What are the best areas to stay in Ho Chi Minh City?

District 1, District 3, District 5, and District 2 are the best areas to stay in HCMC because they are the most popular locations for tourists.

How many days do you need in Ho Chi Minh?

If you’re planning a trip to Ho Chi Minh, I’d say you should spend at least 3-4 days there to really soak up the culture and explore the city’s many attractions. Of course, the longer you stay, the more you’ll be able to see and do.

Is it better to call it Saigon or Ho Chi Minh?

It’s best to call the city Ho Chi Minh since it’s the official name. However, Saigon is still widely used by locals and tourists.

See more:

Overall, District 1 is the best area to stay in Ho Chi Minh city for first-timers due to its close proximity to Notre Dame Cathedral, Central Post Office, and Reunification Palace, as well as many restaurants, bars, and shops.

Nguyen Hue & Dong Khoi for a luxury holiday, Pham Ngu Lao and Bui Vien for budget backpackers and nightlife. Ben Thanh offers a wide range of both budget and luxury accommodations.

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