Vietnam Time

7/9/2019 8:59:02 PM

Ho Chi Minh City on a Budget: Check out 25 free places

Bustling Ho Chi Minh City is one of Southeast Asia’s top value-for-money destinations where you can scarf down a street-side bowl of pho for just over a dollar or have it prepared with Wagyu beef and truffle paste for a cool hundred. But if you're traveling on a budget, Lonely Planet gathered some of the favorite free things to do in Ho Chi Minh City. 

Nguyen Hue Walking Street

This pedestrian-only street gets busy on weekend evenings with street performers and families out for a walk. Don’t miss exploring the apartment building at #42, chock full of hipster boutiques and trendy cafes.

Tao Dan Park

Known as the Jardin de la Ville when it was founded in 1868, the 10-hectare Tao Dan Park right in the middle of the city is home to a temple, flower garden and sculpture exhibition. Song-bird lovers also congregate in the early mornings where their feathered friends can learn new songs from each other.

Shuttlecock at September 23 Park

Join one of the many groups kicking around a shuttlecock at this park just along the main backpacker area of Pham Ngu Lao. This popular Vietnamese pastime is like badminton for the feet, but just keeping the mass of plastic discs and feathers in the air is deceptively hard.

Cao Dai Temple. Photo: korbi_ru

Cao Dai Temple

Adherents of Caodaism, a religion founded in Vietnam incorporating elements from Confucianism, Taoism, Buddhism and Christianity, come to worship at the colourful three-storey Cao Dai Temple. Head up the stairs (to the right for men, the left for women) to view the main hall.

Chantarangsay Pagoda

Serving Saigon’s Khmer community, most of whom hail from the Mekong Delta, the Chantarangsay Pagoda has spectacularly colourful murals depicting scenes from the Buddha’s life.

Photo: lancashirelad763

Notre Dame Cathedral

Modelled after its Parisian namesake, the Romanesque Notre Dame Cathedral is under renovation until 2023. While closed to tourists, it’s still open for services, and the park across the street is a great place to chat up university students eager to practise their English.

Dong Khoi Street

Great for window shopping, Dong Khoi is Saigon’s premier shopping street lined with international and Vietnamese boutiques. If you look hard enough, you’ll be able to make out the outlines of the shophouses that once lined this canal leading to the Saigon River. For some free air-conditioning, head through the art arcade and up 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.

Central Post Office

With a neo-Baroque façade and a science-themed interior, the functioning Central Post Office dates back to the late 1800s. Check out the lovely vintage maps or get a letter written in English, French or Vietnamese by octogenarian Duong Van Ngo, the city’s last public letter writer and a post office fixture.

Hanh Thong Tay Church

Built in the rare Byzantine style, this beautiful 100-year-old church features Italian bricks, a painted semi-dome, and an elaborately engraved white marble altar. 53/7B Quang Trung, Go Vap District

Ho Thi Ky Flower Market

Saigon’s largest flower market is open 24/7, peaking in the early morning hours, and a favourite backdrop for colourful photographs. 52 Ho Thi Ky, District 10

Binh Tay Market

Recently renovated in 2018, the Binh Tay Market just outside of Chinatown is the city’s largest wholesale market. It’s also noted for its central courtyard and Chinese-inspired architectural elements, including dragons and phoenixes on the roof.

Reading Habit Library

Pick a book from the over 2,000 on offer at the Reading Habit Library in leafy District 2 and retreat to a cosy corner or sign up for a free workshop with the kids.

Mundo Lingo

Mundo Lingo is a great way to meet English-speaking locals and other social polyglots. While weekly meetups are typically held at a local bar, there’s no obligation to buy a drink. Just slap on stickers of flags representing the languages you speak and get to chatting!

Thanh Da

Stroll the narrow paths on this lightly developed peninsula known as 'the green lung of Saigon' for its rice paddies and fishing ponds just 15 minutes from downtown. Binh Quoi Tourist Village at the very end of the main street of Binh Quoi is set up to resemble a typical village in the Mekong Delta.

Overview of Ben Thanh Market.

Ben Thanh Market

Opened just before WWI, Ben Thanh Market pretty much sells anything you could ever want. Brave the gauntlet of sellers and make your way through the market’s narrow aisles to a hidden staircase near the South Gate. Take it up to a small temple where vendors pray for a good day’s business and enjoy the views over the market.

Walking Tours

While hardly anyone walks anywhere in humid Ho Chi Minh City, these free walking tours are a great way to see the city up close. Saigon Free Day Tours is run by enthusiastic university students while Trails & Tales is led by an Englishman on Saturday mornings.

Bui Vien Walking Street

Saigon’s backpacker epicentre comes alive in the evenings as beer drinkers spill out onto the street, downing cheap booze while watching street performers, creating quite the spectacle. Bui Vien is closed to vehicle traffic after 7pm on weekends.

Concert at the Saigon Opera House

While the only way to see the inside of the Saigon Opera House (inaugurated in 1900) is to buy a ticket to a performance, come at 8am on a Sunday to catch a free live musical performance on the steps organised by the city’s Department of Culture and Sport. Arrive early and snag one of the few plastic chairs, or do as the locals do and catch the hour-long performance from the seat of your motorbike.

Southern Women’s Museum

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

The ornate facade of the Thien Hau Temple, with Chinese lanterns strung in front; free things to do in Ho Chi Minh City

Thien Hau Temple is a Chinese-style temple of the Chinese sea goddess Mazu.

Thien Hau Pagoda

The colourful Thien Hau Pagoda constructed in 1760 by seafaring Chinese immigrants is dedicated to the goddess of the sea. The gorgeous roof with its intricate ceramic dioramas and the giant incense coils suspended from the roof add to the mysterious atmosphere.

Starlight Bridge at night.

Starlight Bridge

Join couples and families looking for a colourful spot for photos at the Starlight Bridge just behind posh Crescent Mall in the expat enclave known as District 7. From Thursday to Sunday evenings, the bridge spouts water lit up by a rainbow of LED lights.

Thu Thiem Tunnel Park

This small park at the east entrance to the Thu Thiem Tunnel is one of the best places to look back and take photos of the Saigon skyline.

The courtyard in front of the The entrance to the Ton Duc Thang Museum, with bushes surrounding a bust of The entrance to the Ton Duc Thang; free things to do in Ho Chi Minh City

Ton Duc Thang Museum

Celebrating the life of Vietnam’s first president after reunification, the Ton Duc Thang Museum provides interesting insights into the Vietnam of the 60s and 70s.

Turtle Lake

It’s hard to say why this noisy traffic circle built around an old monument which once included a bronze turtle is popular as a hangout spot, but it’s admittedly a great place to people watch, especially when it fills up in the evenings.

Vivo Playground

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

  ( James Pham/Lonely Planet Writer )
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