Saigon Off the beaten path: Top 15 Offbeat Activities for Curious Travelers

Saigon, which is known as Ho Chi Minh City, is a city of vibrant energy, rich history, and captivating culture. While the bustling markets and iconic landmarks are indeed worth exploring, there’s a whole world of Saigon off the beaten path waiting to be discovered. In this travel blog, the Indochina Voyages Team will give you the Top 15 Saigon off-the-beaten-path things to do, revealing unique experiences that will immerse you in the local way of life.

1. Dive into the heart of Saigon’s daily life by taking a local bus

If taking a city tour like usual is too normal. Why don’t you buy a local bus ticket and hop on this to watch the hustle and bustle life of Saigon? Don’t need to come and go to famous attractions, just sit on the bus and the driver will take you to wonderful local sightseeing at a reasonable price (if don’t want to talk is cheap).

This authentic mode of transportation will not only give you a glimpse into the daily routines of the city’s residents but also provide a great opportunity to interact with friendly locals and witness the vibrant street scenes passing by.

Local Bus in Saigon (Image: Bao Nguoi Lao Dong)
Local Bus in Saigon (Image: Bao Nguoi Lao Dong)

2. Addicted to Vietnamese Saigon Coffee

Saigon’s coffee culture is legendary, and to truly experience it, venture beyond the popular cafes. Seek out hidden gems tucked away in narrow alleys, such as hidden coffee shops in vintage apartment buildings or traditional local cafes where you can savor a cup of strong, aromatic Vietnamese coffee.

If Hanoi is famous for egg coffee, then we have “bac xiu” and “caphe sua da” in Sai Gon. They are must-try coffee in Saigon, which is made with strong, aroma Vietnamese coffee and fusion perfectly with milk and condensed milk.

For those who want to savor “bac xiu” at home, you can try this recipe from IV Team (Put the ingredients in the order below into the cup one by one to get a beautiful layered texture):

  • 30ml condensed milk
  • 30ml milk (no sugar)
  • Ice (as much as you want)
  • 30ml coffee made from Vietnamese coffee (often 100% Robusta or 80% Robusta and 20% Arabica)

One special way of enjoying Saigon Coffee like locals is “Cà phê bệt“. Not like other coffee shops in Saigon, this is the unique and traditional style of street coffee in Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City). “Cà phê” means coffee, while “bệt” refers to the small, low plastic stools that are commonly used as seating in street-side coffee shops. It is an integral part of Saigon’s coffee culture. Here is not just about the coffee itself; it’s also about the atmosphere and the sense of community. It’s a place where people gather, chat, and watch the world go by.

Some of the places you can try “Cà phê bệt”:

  • Notre Dame Cathedral
  • Alexandre De Rhode, 1st District
  • Saigon Opera House
  • Turtle Lake
Ca Phe Bet - A Signature Culture of Saigonese (Image: 1 phut Sai Gon)
Ca Phe Bet – A Signature Culture of Saigonese (Image: 1 phut Sai Gon)

3. Explore Saigon’s Countless Alleys

Saigon’s charm lies in its countless alleys, known as “hẻm” in Vietnamese. These narrow passageways are like hidden mazes, waiting to be explored. Wander off the main streets and let curiosity guide you through these alleys, where you’ll encounter local life unfolding before your eyes. So what are you waiting for? Let’s stroll around on your feet and discover something brand new!

Besides surprising with the small, zigzag, and narrow architecture, you also have a chance to discover hidden shops, vibrant street markets, and authentic local eateries that are often tucked away from the tourist radar. Don’t miss a chance to savor wonderful Saigon Street Food in those alleys!

Some Alleys for your reference:

  • Alley 42, Nguyen Hue Street: Known for its delicious street food.
  • Alley 51, Nguyen Trai Street: Home to skilled tailors offering custom-made clothing.
  • Alley 158, Co Giang Street: Experience the vibrant atmosphere of a local market.
  • Alley 158, Nguyen Cong Tru Street: A haven for book lovers with unique bookstores.
  • Alley 63, Nguyen Du Street: Discover traditional handicraft shops and artisans.
  • Alley 178, Ly Tu Trong Street: An artistic hub with galleries and creative spaces

You can choose alleys nearby in one district (The best way is to choose your hotel in the district which has many alleys that you are interested in) to be convenient to explore.

4. Enjoy live music in Acoustic Bars

Saigon’s nightlife scene goes beyond the typical clubs and bars. Seek out intimate acoustic bars, where talented local musicians captivate audiences with their soulful performances. These cozy venues offer a more relaxed and authentic experience, allowing you to unwind while sipping on your favorite drink and immersing yourself in the live music scene.

Stepping off the beaten track, just feeling the music and swaying with the rhythm. Acoustic music brings you an elegant relaxing space with moving, emotional melodies.

For your list of Acoustic Bars:

  • Tuong Acoustic Cafe: No. 436B/6 Ba Thang Hai Street, Ward 12, District 10, City. Ho Chi Minh
  • Yoko Cafe: 22A Nguyen Thi Dieu Street, Ward 6, District 3, City. Ho Chi Minh
  • It’s time Cafe: 23/41 Phan Dang Luu Street, Ward 3, Binh Thanh, City. Ho Chi Minh
  • Nhat Cafe Acoustic: 354/30 Ly Thuong Kiet Street, Ward 14, District 10, City. Ho Chi Minh
  • Mingles Acoustic Bar: 102/7 Cong Quynh Street, Pham Ngu Lao Ward, District 1, City. Ho Chi Minh

5. Satisfy your eye with Saigon Street Art

If going on some street, Saigon’s walls are adorned with vibrant murals and thought-provoking graffiti. Embark on a street art tour and explore the city’s hidden corners, where local and international artists have left their creative mark.

District 1, District 3, and the Pham Ngu Lao area are known for their street art scene, offering a visual feast that showcases the city’s artistic spirit.

Impressive Street Art in Saigon (Image: Hyphenated Magazine)
Impressive Street Art in Saigon (Image: Hyphenated Magazine)

6. Savor Vietnamese Cuisine in the Secret Garden

Tucked away on a rooftop, Secret Garden is a hidden oasis at 158 Pasteur | Ben Nghe, 1st District. Where you can indulge in authentic Vietnamese cuisine. Escape the bustling streets below and ascend to this tranquil haven. Feast on local delicacies while surrounded by lush greenery and panoramic city views. Here are what you can expect when coming to this tranquil oasis:

  • Hidden rooftop oasis
  • Tranquil ambiance with lush greenery
  • Panoramic views of Saigon’s skyline
  • Authentic Vietnamese cuisine with local flavors
  • Warm hospitality
  • Occasional live music performances

7. Chilling at a Rooftop Bar

For a different perspective of Saigon’s skyline, head to one of the city’s top bars. Instead of the usual tourist spots, discover hidden rooftop bars that offer stunning panoramic views.

Sip on a cocktail, unwind in the cozy ambiance, and watch as the city comes alive beneath you. It’s the perfect way to relax, soak in the atmosphere, and appreciate the beauty of Saigon from above.

List of Rooftop Bar in 1st District:

  • Chill Skybar: Located on the 26th floor of AB Tower, it offers panoramic city views and a wide range of cocktails.
  • Air 360 Sky Lounge: Situated on the 22nd floor of Ben Thanh Tower, it features 360-degree views, live DJs, and international cuisine.
  • The View Rooftop Bar: Found on the 9th floor of Duc Vuong Hotel, it offers a relaxed setting and views of bustling streets.
  • Glow Skybar: Positioned on the 16th floor of the President Place Building, it offers a modern ambiance, cocktails, and fusion cuisine.
  • Broma Not A Bar: Located on the 3rd floor of a colonial building, it has a cozy terrace, live music, and a wide drink selection.

8. Explore the Vietnamese Traditional Medicine Museum

This lesser-known museum provides insight into traditional Vietnamese medicine practices and the use of herbs in healing. When visit, you’ll gain insights into ancient healing practices, herbal remedies, and the cultural significance of traditional medicine in Vietnamese society. Explore the exhibits, learn about the medicinal herbs, and deepen your understanding of the country’s rich cultural heritage.

Vietnamese Traditional Medicine Museum (Image Bao Anh Viet Nam)
Vietnamese Traditional Medicine Museum (Image Bao Anh Viet Nam)

9. Learn about the mystery Buddhist monk story in Thich Quang Duc Monument

The monument is located at the intersection of Cach Mang Thang Tam Street and Nguyen Dinh Chieu Street in Saigon. It commemorates the famous act of self-immolation by Thích Quảng Đức, a Vietnamese Buddhist monk, which took place on June 11, 1963.

When come to visit this Monument, you’ll see a bronze statue of Thích Quảng Đức sitting in the lotus position, engulfed in flames. The statue stands on a large stone pedestal with inscriptions detailing the event and its significance. You will have a chance to hear about the vibrant story of this monk burning himself to protect against the persecution of Buddhism by the South Vietnam Government in 1963.

The monument serves as a reminder of the sacrifices made by Thích Quảng Đức and the Buddhist community in their fight for religious freedom and social justice. It has become a significant historical and cultural landmark in Saigon, attracting both locals and tourists who come to pay their respects and learn about the country’s past.

10. Visit Nguyen Thien Thuat Oldest And Huge Apartment Complex

This is the oldest apartment which still retains the unique characteristics of old Saigon amidst the magnificence of Ho Chi Minh City. You can climb up the apartment and see how local people live three to four generations in a small apartment.

There are lots of local eateries by people living here. Don’t miss a chance to try “Banh Xeo” (Vietnamese pancake) and “Goi Cuon” (fresh spring rolls) in this area!

Nguyen Thien Thuat Oldest Apartment (Image: aFamily)
Nguyen Thien Thuat Oldest Apartment (Image: aFamily)

11. Lost in the colorful and vibrant Chinatown

This is a vibrant and historically significant neighborhood located in District 5 of Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. This is a wonderful and perfect place for you to off the beaten path of city life and hop on a cyclo to explore the hidden charms behind.

One of the iconic landmarks in Chinatown is Binh Tay Market, a bustling wholesale market that offers a wide range of goods, including textiles, clothing, spices, and household items. It is a popular destination for locals and tourists alike.

Other highlights that can’t be missed are:

  • Traditional Medicine Street (Hai Thuong Lan Ong Street) is known for its numerous shops and traditional pharmacies, offering a wide array of herbs and traditional remedies for those seeking natural health solutions.
  • Fabric Street (Luong Nhu Hoc Street) is a haven for fabric enthusiasts, with a variety of shops selling different types of textiles, including silk, cotton, and brocade, making it a popular destination for those interested in sewing, fashion design, or finding quality fabrics.

12. Practice to burn Incense in Thien Hau Oldest Temple

If you have time to stroll around Chinatown, don’t forget to visit Thien Hau Oldest Temple, which is dedicated to the Chinese sea goddess Mazu. It is a beautifully decorated temple with intricate woodwork and is an important religious site for the Chinese community in Saigon.

Especially, visiting Thien Hau Temple offers the opportunity to partake in the practice of burning incense. As you enter the oldest temple, the scent of burning incense fills the air, creating a serene and spiritual atmosphere. Lighting incense sticks and placing them in the temple’s large incense burners is a customary gesture that allows visitors to pay their respects and make wishes for good fortune and blessings.

Burn Incense in Thien Hau Oldest Temple (Image: Go2Joy)
Burn Incense in Thien Hau Oldest Temple (Image: Go2Joy)

13. Addicted to Flavorful Saigon Street food

Indulging in the flavorful Saigon street food is a delightful addiction for food enthusiasts. The bustling streets of Saigon offer a plethora of mouthwatering culinary delights that are guaranteed to tantalize your taste buds. Here is the list for your savor:

  • Banh mi: a delicious Vietnamese sandwich filled with a combination of savory grilled meats, fresh herbs, pickled vegetables, and a smear of pâté (Must-try: Banh mi Huynh Hoa, Le Thi Rieng)
  • Banh Trang Nuong (Vietnamese Pizza): grill rice paper with egg and topping sausage, dried beef, mayonnaise, etc
  • Hu Tieu (Saigonese noodle soup): features clear broth, rice noodles, and a medley of ingredients such as shrimp, pork, and vegetables. (Must-try: Hu Tieu Nam Vang)
  • Com Tam (Broken Rice): consists of broken rice grains topped with grilled pork, a fried egg, pickled vegetables, and a side of fish sauce (Must-try: Com Tam Cali)

There are more and more dishes in Saigon Street Food. Let’s stroll around the vibrant Saigon Street and explore them all on your own or the best is with your besties!

Giant Banh mi of Banh mi Huynh Hoa (Image: The City Lane)
Giant Banh mi of Banh mi Huynh Hoa (Image: The City Lane)

14. Dive into Ho Thi Ky Flower Market

If you are a flower lover or not, the wonderful night market in Ho Thi Ky will absolutely surprise you with its charm. With vibrant colors and a wide variety of flowers, you will see fragrant and uplifting aromas when coming.

However, a little notice is that daytime is for tourists and retail customers mostly. But when night comes, the market becomes true hustle and bustle of wonderful traders rushing to flowers deliver. This flower market opens every day, so up to your preference, you can choose a visit moment suitable for you.

15. Enjoy City Sightseeing with a Vespa Tour

When enjoying city sightseeing with a Vespa tour in Saigon, you can expect an exhilarating experience that combines the thrill of riding on a vintage Vespa scooter with exploring the city’s iconic landmarks. Let the wind go through your hair and enjoy this marvelous moment!

Zip through the bustling streets, weaving through traffic like a local, as your knowledgeable guide takes you to popular attractions such as the Notre Dame Cathedral, the Central Post Office, and the historic Reunification Palace. Along the way, soak in the vibrant atmosphere of Saigon, immerse yourself in its rich history, and create unforgettable memories of this dynamic city.

Hop on a vintage Vespa for Saigon Sightseeing

Saigon is a city that rewards those who venture off the beaten path in Vietnam travel packages. So, step off the tourist trail, embrace the unexpected, and let Saigon unveil its secrets to you. Your off-the-beaten-path adventure awaits!

Besides fantastic off-the-beaten-path things to do, there are various iconic landmarks waiting for you to come. You can visit here! Want to enjoy more and more Saigon off-the-beaten-track experiences in the best way? Just tell us:

From Indochina Voyages Team

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