10 Free Things to do in Ho Chi Minh City to Ease your Wallet's Strain

Being a budget traveller does not translate into having nothing exciting to do in a foreign country.  In a vibrant city like Ho Chi Minh City, there's a lot to do and experience without burning a hole in your pocket. After all, it's only when you go out and live like the locals that you truly immerse yourself in a country's culture. To get an insight into Vietnamese living in its most bustling city, here are the top 10 free things to do in Ho Chi Minh City:

1. Saigon-Notre Dame Basilica - Witness French Architecture at its Best

Saigon Notre Dame Cathedral, Free Things to Do in Ho Chi Minh City
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One of the most famous landmarks of Ho Chi Minh City, the Notre Dame Cathedral is a gorgeous 19th-century church located in District 1. The red brick facade, stained glass windows and twin bell towers add to its charm and draw visitors throughout the year. A statue of the Virgin Mary was believed to have shed a tear in 2005, which made many devotees flock to the church in the hope for a miracle. Although its stunning neo-romanesque features are sure to leave you awestruck, it would be wise to remember that the church is primarily a place of worship and continues to be used as such. The best part is that it costs nothing to visit this important site in Ho Chi Minh City.

2. Central Post Office - More French Colonial Architecture to Marvel

Central Post office, Free things to do in Ho Chi  Minh
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The Central Post Office too, like the Church, dates back to the French Colonial era and is known for its exquisite architecture. Upon close inspection of its walls, you will find visuals dedicated to the greatest thinkers of all time such as Michael Faraday and Benjamin Franklin. The phone booths and telegraphic maps add to the old-world charm of the opulent building, where you can still send a postcard to your loved ones. A vaulted glass canopy ceiling completes its gothic architecture, while a massive portrait of Ho Chi Minh looks down on the visitors.

3. Ben Thanh Market - the Iconic Market of Ho Chi Minh City

Ben Thahn Market, Free Things to Do in Ho Chi Minh City
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Located on Le Loi street, Ben Thanh Market is the perfect place to immerse yourself in authentic Vietnamese culture. Simply browsing through the lanes is a unique experience, where you will come across everything- from souvenirs, handicrafts, spices to jewellery, artwork, clothing and of course street food. The sights, smells and sounds make this a joyful experience that costs nothing in Ho Chi Minh City, although might want to avoid it when the temperature is high. For shopping head over there in the mornings, and be prepared to haggle for most items. For foodie heaven, the evening is the ideal time to start tasting rice cakes and barbecued fish at the Ben Thanh Street Food Market, finished off with a cool drink.

4. Tao Dan Park - Peace and Quiet away from the noise of Ho Chi Minh City

Tao Dan Park, Free Things to Do in Ho Chi Minh City
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A peaceful escape from the bustling city, Tao Dan Park is the perfect place for unwinding to birds chirping while you lie under the shade of hundreds of luscious trees. Locals can often be seen practising tai chi, jogging or meditating in the park, while some also bring their caged songbirds. The park houses a number of statues including replicas of Nha Trang's Po Nagar Cham Tower and Hung King Temple, and has several cosy cafes nearby to complete your morning with a delicious breakfast.

5. Backpacker's district - the Haven for Backpackers and Budget Travellers

Backpacker's District, Free Things to Do in Ho Chi Minh City
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Pham Ngu Lao street, commonly known as the backpacker's district of Vietnam, is one place you cannot skip out on. It is, as you would have guessed by now, where most backpackers stay during their visit, loaded with a galore of cheap and free ways to enjoy Ho Chi Minh City. Hotels, motels, guesthouses and mini-hotels line the streets, with a number of restaurants, coffee shops, and souvenir shops interspersed in between. You'll also find internet cafes, pharmacies and a number of tourism companies here to help you out with unforeseen problems. The district's laidback, casual vibe attracts travellers from across the city to spend an evening exploring here.

6. Eiffel's bridge - Enjoy Breathtaking Views of the City and the River

Eiffel's Bridge, Free Things to Do in Ho Chi Minh City
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Also known as Mong's bridge or Rainbow bridge, this steel bridge connects District 1 to District 4 over the Ben Nghe River. It was built in the 1890s by French construction company Levallois Perret, which was headed by Gustave Eiffel and gave the bridge its popular name. Stop and look down on the mesmerizing view as you walk across the river, a priceless experience in Ho Chi Minh City. Since it's a footbridge, you can easily take some photographs to take back the memory with you or simply take in your surroundings as you make your way to the other side.

7. Saigon Opera House - A Cultural Treat with Beautiful Aesthetic Appeal

Saigon Opera House
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Another regal building in the city, the Saigon Opera House offers free concerts every week for you to get a taste of Vietnamese performing arts without paying a thing. These happen on the weekends, and can include anything from classical music to marching bands and even orchestras. The gothic architecture acts as a beautiful backdrop to accompany the music, so that you experience both a visual and an auditory delight.

8. Buddhist temples - Explore the Buddhist Influence in Ho Chi Minh City

Buddhist Temples in Ho Chi Minh City
The Thien Hau Pagoda in Ho Chi Minh City (Source)

Exploring temples and pagodas in Ho Chi Minh City is a great way to get up, close and personal with Vietnamese culture. Some of the well-known Buddhist temples include the Xa Loi Pagoda in District 3, Jade Emperor Pagoda in District 3, and the Quan Am Pagoda in Chinatown. As you enter the temple, you will be greeted with the smell of incense sticks, candles and prayers being offered by the devotees. There is an atmosphere of serenity and calm, and the bright and colourful motifs are sure to leave you enchanted. For the best experience, visit during festivals such as Mid-Autumn festival or Tet (Vietnamese New Year) to take part in the celebrations and festivities of the city.

Read more about Vietnamese Culture.
Read more about Temples of Vietnam.

9. Tan Dinh Church - The Pink Church of Ho Chi Minh City

Tai Dinh Church, Free Things to Do in Ho Chi Minh City
Tai Dinh Church - the Pink Church of Ho Chi Minh City

Apart from the Notre-Dame Cathedral, there is another church in Hai Ba Trung that stands out for its bright pink facade. The Tan Dinh church, also called the pink church, was built in 1876 and attracts hordes of tourists and locals for both its religious importance and eye-catching exterior, a beauty you can appreciate for free in Ho Chi Minh City. Make sure to get a few photographs and capture the scenic beauty and striking pink of the Church, while keeping in mind religious sentiments.

10. Nguyen Hue Walkway - Experience the Glamour of District 1

Nguyen Hue Walkway, Free Things to do in Ho Chi Minh City
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The Nguyen Hue Walkway is a broad promenade in District 1 makes walking a pleasurable activity in Ho Chi Minh City. Flanked by gorgeous colonial buildings such as the Rex Hotel, People's Committee Building and a luxury shopping mall. A tall statue of Uncle Ho Chi Minh stands in the centre, and in the evenings a fountain show takes place drawing kids and adults to splash and have some fun. Across the walkway is the Saigon river, which gives a cool breeze to pedestrians leisurely roaming around the district. This walkway is a must-do activity in the city, leaving you with a priceless memory.

These free things to do in Ho Chi Minh City are just the tip of the iceberg. If you're a little more comfortable with spending money you can visit places such as the Reunification Palace and War Remnants Museum to learn more about Vietnam's turbulent but inspiring history that brought it where it is today. The people are welcoming and hospitable, the street food is delicious and the location is picturesque - what more can you ask for in a travel destination?

This post was published by Rutvi Saxena

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