Unusual things to do in Ho Chi Minh City

Ho Chi Minh City is the beating heart of Vietnam; a modern metropolis that manages to retain its traditional Southeast Asian roots. The mix of old and new makes the city a great travel destination, and for those who are looking to explore Vietnam’s eccentric aspects, it’s the more unusual things to do in Ho Chi Minh City that are likely to capture your attention.

Below, we detail 12 eclectically odd sights and activities to take part in while venturing through the city.

12 Unusual things to do in Ho Chi Minh City

What to do in Ho Chi Minh City

Ho Chi Minh City is one of the best cities to visit in Southeast Asia thanks to its perfect blend of culture and the wide variety of attractions. From low-key events to grand spectacles, there are many unusual things to do in Ho Chi Minh City that you’ll remember for a lifetime.

1. Visit Notre Dame

The Notre Dame isn’t exclusive to France; Vietnam has its own version of the Parisian cathedral. One of Ho Chi Minh City’s well-known attractions, their replica of the most famous cathedral in the world was originally built as a place of worship for French colonists in the mid to late 1800s.

Officially called the Basilica of Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception, the Saigon Notre Dame Cathedral is as an important cornerstone in the Vietnamese Catholic community. It stands out not just for its architectural design, but for the stained-glass windows depicting stories and saints from the Bible.

Those looking for calm and tranquillity will enjoy the small garden outside of the main building where a marble statue of the Virgin Mary – titled the Queen of Peace – stands.

2. Walk down Book Street

Nguyễn Văn Bình is very much a book lover’s paradise. Stretching for over 100 metres, every kiosk on the street is dedicated to books. From epic novels to the latest comics and heartfelt poetry, you’ll find a wide array of literature to lose yourself in.

The street is always lined with fellow enthusiasts. Towards the end of the street, you’ll find a cozy yet open reading area where book fans can sit and while away the hours, reading their latest finds or having discussions on their favourite novels. If you’re lucky, your trip there will coincide with a visit from a well-known author or critic, or during a cultural workshop session.

What makes strolling down Book Street one of the more unusual things to do in Ho Chi Minh City is the fact it is a centre of serenity in the heart of a bustling metropolis. Rather than being a place to simply buy books, it’s a community in its own right where everyone is connected by their love of literature.

3. Listen to the songbirds opposite Tao Dan Park

Between 6am and 9am, the songbird owners of Ho Chi Minh City take their prized birds to the café opposite Tao Dan Park where they will teach each other new songs. Primarily a pastime enjoyed by the elder male population of the city, anyone can go to the café where they sip coffee and converse while their birds chirp and sing with the rising of the sun.

If the early morning start isn’t to your liking, Tao Dan Park itself is worth a visit at any time of day. There is a truly peaceful atmosphere throughout with many replica temples, towers, and statues to be seen. It’s a popular place where the locals gather to practice Tai Chi, belly dancing, and yoga.

4. Visit Suoi Tien theme park

The Suoi Tien theme park is certainly worth exploring, even if you don’t intend to enjoy the rides. It’s the first amusement park dedicated to Buddhism, with all the rides, buildings, and characters performing throughout the park tying back to the historic culture of Vietnam.

What makes Suoi Tien one of the more interesting aspects of Ho Chi Minh City’s attractions is that you can learn just as much about the past and legends of the country and its religion here as you would in a museum – except you can take a break from learning any time you like by going on the waterslides and Ferris wheel.

5. Shop at the Cái Bè floating market

Cái Bè is a town located a couple of hours outside of Ho Chi Minh City where a both land and river living are normal among the population. The town is famous for its adaptability, and the locals have even set up a floating market on the boats and barges.

Fresh flowers, authentic Vietnamese cuisine, souvenirs, and trinkets are among the best-selling goods you can find at the Cái Bè floating market, making it a great place to stop and enjoy the unique culture this town has carved out for itself.

6. Enjoy the A O Show at the Saigon Opera House

The A O Show is a stage act like no other. Using bamboo for their props, the A O performers have created a spectacle that blends dance, music, innovation and humour into a truly unique artform. The production company behind the act specialize in capturing the spirit of Vietnamese culture and have received worldwide critical acclaim for their art.

Shows are performed in Ho Chi Minh City’s Saigon Opera House, which is a sight to behold in its own right. Built by the French in 1898, the Saigon Opera House also hosts dances, orchestral concerts and even government events.

7. Appear in 3D artworks

One of the more unusual things to do in Ho Chi Minh City is completely unrelated the city’s traditions or eccentricities, and has everything to do with the creative, modern world we live in. The Artinus 3D Art Museum is full of vibrant works that encourage visitor interaction, making you the focal point of the images.

From Ancient Egypt to modern fairy-tales, there are plenty of backdrops for you to be (literally) immersed in, bringing art to life and evoking your own sense of wonder and imagination.

8. Enjoy water puppetry

Water puppetry dates back to the 11th century and is the unique Vietnamese variation on traditional Asian puppetry. When the rice fields flooded, the villagers would make the best of the situation by performing puppet shows, using the water to conceal the puppeteers.

The tradition lives on today with Ho Chi Minh City’s Golden Dragon Water Puppet Theatre being the pinnacle of this artform. Performances across all puppet shows are hosted in a purpose-built pool which hides the puppeteers from view and allows for unique storytelling. Music is often accompanied by a traditional Vietnamese orchestra, immersing the audience in the country’s authentic culture.

Ho Chi Minh City nightlife

If you’re looking for unusual things to do in Ho Chi Minh City after dark, then you won’t be disappointed. From underground dance-offs to night markets, and jazz clubs to roof top bars, you’re sure to find something to enjoy that’s a little out of the ordinary.

9. Watch a dance battle

Though it primarily draws in the younger crowds, cheering on the performers at the weekly dubstep dance battles is an activity that everyone can lose themselves in. These high-energy dance competitions are fought between the most talented competitors in Ho Chi Minh City with the winners being decided by the audience.

The crowds are lively, and the dancers feed off the excitement. For an authentic taste of modern Vietnam, dubstep dance battles are not to be missed. However, if the music and dance styles aren’t to your taste, there are still plenty of other ways to enjoy Ho Chi Minh City’s nightlife.

10. Enjoy the live music and jazz clubs

Jazz music is surprisingly popular across Vietnam with several cities having a range of jazz clubs to visit. The Sax N’ Art Jazz Club is one of the most well-known live music spots in Ho Chi Minh City, and the owner of the club is also the saxophonist with a genuine dedication to the craft.

Artists from all over Vietnam and international guest stars create a chilled and relaxed vibe with their music. Ho Chi Minh City jazz clubs perfectly fusing contemporary tunes with the country’s more traditional melodies – a blend that you’ll be hard pressed to find anywhere else.

Even if jazz isn’t your thing, you’ll quickly find other venues throughout Districts 1 and 3 playing music you prefer. From old school rock to modern hits, live music of all kinds is widely celebrated in the city.

11. Visit the night markets

There are many markets open during the day, but one of the more unusual things to do in Ho Chi Minh City is to visit the markets at night. They aren’t as densely crowded as they are in the day either, which is perfect if you want to see the authentic side of the city without the constant hustle and bustle.

When the sun goes down, it’s the food vendors, fashion stall owners and souvenir sellers of Ho Chi Minh City who take centre stage. Try some of the delicious street food and browse for unique gifts and clothes to take back as gifts or as a treat for yourself.
Some of the city’s most fascinating night markets include:

Ba Chieu
Ben Thanh
Binh Tay
Ho Thi Ky Flower Market
Minh Phung

12. Relax with rooftop drinks

Taking some time to reflect on where you are is always an eye-opening experience. After watching dancers go all out, walking around the markets and listening to jazz Vietnamese-style, sometimes it’s nice to take a breather in the night air with a cool drink in hand.

Rooftop bars are popular across Ho Chi Minh City, so you’ll always find a place to settle down and enjoy the panoramic views of one of Southeast Asia’s most diverse and intriguing cities. Some of the more popular bars to visit while enjoying the Ho Chi Minh City nightlife include:

The Bitexco Financial Tower (closes at 11pm)
Rooftop Garden Bar (closes at 11pm)
Above Bar (closes at 12am)

Discover more Ho Chi Minh City attractions with Emerald Cruises

The sights and sounds of Ho Chi Minh City have to be enjoyed first hand to be truly appreciated. An array of exciting excursions on our Mekong river cruises showcase the authentic side of Vietnam, and you’re sure to find plenty of unusual things to do in Ho Chi Minh City as you explore in your free time.

Download your free Vietnam, Cambodia and Mekong river cruising brochure to learn more about the sights and attractions you’ll have the opportunity to see in Ho Chi Minh City.