This section of cheap or free things to do in Ho Chi Minh City is ideal for budget-conscious travellers looking to enjoy the best of what this vibrant city has to offer. Despite its rather turbulent history, Saigon has emerged as one of the most developed cities in Southeast Asia, housing swanky hotels, shopping malls, and award-winning restaurants.
While it’s not the cheapest travel destination in Vietnam (compared to Hoi An or Hanoi), there are several activities and attractions that can make even the tightest of budgets stretch. Most Ho Chi Minh temples are free to enter, where you can see locals paying their respect to various deities, while markets offer authentic handicrafts and Vietnamese dishes at affordable prices. Check out for our guide on the best free attractions and activities in Ho Chi Minh City.
1. Explore Buddhist Temples
Temples are free to enter in Vietnam, and there are plenty of breathtaking religious sites scattered throughout Ho Chi Minh City. Must-visits include the Mariamman Hindu Temple in District 1, Jade Emperor Pagoda in District 3, and the technicoloured Cao Dai Temple, which is located 100km northwest of Ho Chi Minh City. The best time to visit these temples is during religious festivals such as Mid-Autumn Festival, Lunar New Year, and Buddha’s Birthday, offering lively atmosphere of prayer ceremonies, traditional music and dance performances.
2. Check out Ho Chi Minh City’s Iconic Backpackers District
Pham Ngu Lao Street in Ho Chi Minh City is on the western edge of District 1 and is renowned as the place where most backpacking travellers stay during their holiday. A 25-minute taxi ride from Tan Sot Nhat International Airport, it comprises numerous lanes and back alleys though the main thoroughfares include Pham Ngu Lao, De Tham, Bui Vien, and Do Quang Dao streets. Set along these alleyways are western-style restaurants, coffee shops, and international bars, countless tour companies and kiosks, affordable motels, hostels and guesthouses (as well as many of the so-called ‘mini-hotel’ buildings usually with six to seven floors, rarely offering an elevator), internet cafes, pharmacies, and souvenir-and-craft shops. It’s best to explore this area after dinner when hundreds of young travellers take to the streets to enjoy cheap beers and street food.
3. Join A Free Walking Tour
Joining a free walking tours in Ho Chi Minh is ideal if you want to know the history of the city and its most popular landmarks as you’ll be accompanied by a knowledgeable local. A quick search online will lead you to several non-profits or universities organising free walking tours to help local youths improve their English. Most tours are held in the morning, from 08:00 until 12:00, stopping at locales such as Reunification Palace, Ben Thanh Market, and Saigon Central Post Office. As you’ll be outdoors for the majority of the tour, be sure to wear sunscreen and a hat, as well as some cash to pay the entrance fees for selected tourist spots.
4. Visit Notre Dame Cathedral & Saigon Central Post Office
While Notre Dame Cathedral and Saigon Central Post Office are arguably some of Ho Chi Minh City’s top attractions, they’re actually free to enter. Featuring well-preserved colonial French architecture, the former gained public interest back in October 2005, when locals claimed to have seen the Virgin Mary statue (set in front of the cathedral) shedding tears. Located opposite the church, The Saigon Central Post Office still runs to this very day, where you can send a letter or postcard home during your visit from the opulent, colonial civic building.
5. Window-Shop At Ben Thanh Market
Ben Thanh Market in Ho Chi Minh City’s District 1 is a great place to buy (or browse) local handicrafts, branded goods, Vietnamese art and other souvenirs. Here, you’ll find eating stalls inside the market where you can get a taste of hawker-style Vietnamese cuisine or simply cool off with a cold drink when the bargaining becomes too much. The market is big, difficult to navigate at times and certainly best avoided during the hottest part of the day but all the same it’s well worth a look.
6. Watch A Free Concert At Ho Chi Minh Opera House
The Opera House in Ho Chi Minh is an elegant, colonial building at the intersection of Le Loi and Dong Khoi Street in District 1, very close to the famous Notre Dame Cathedral and the classic Central Post Office. The restored three-storey 800-seat Opera House was built in 1897 and is used for staging not only opera but also a wide range of performing arts including ballet, musical concerts, Vietnamese traditional dance and plays. If you’re unable to splurge on a ticket, free performances are often held in front of Ho Chi Minh Opera House on Saturday mornings.
7. Songbird Singing Competition At Tao Dan Park
Tao Dan Park, located in District 1, offers visitors a much-needed respite from the bustling city centre. It’s usually busy in the morning, with people jogging and practising tai chi. Great for relaxing with some delicious Vietnamese coffee, you’ll also see locals with caged songbirds gathering at nearby cafes. This verdant park is also fitted with interesting statues, including replicas of Nha Trang’s Po Nagar Cham Tower and Hung King Temple.
Location: Between Nguyen Thi Minh Khai and Nguyen Du Streets, District 1, Ho Chi Minh City
8. Enjoy Cheap Street Food
Vietnamese food is nutritious, savoury, and can be enjoyed at any time of the day. Although Ho Chi Minh City is home to plenty of fine-dining restaurants and luxury hotels, you can still find plenty of roadside eateries, vibrant street markets, and street food carts to satisfy your appetite for Vietnamese delicacies. Despite their dingy settings, you can enjoy authentic street foods such as banh mi, pho noodles, spring rolls, and banh xeo for less than VND 40,000.