Ho Chi Minh City sprawls across a large region, stretching all the way north to Cu Chi near the border of Tay Ninh Province, and south to the upper reaches of the Mekong Delta. The part of the city formerly known as Saigon covered only two of the 14 current districts of Ho Chi Minh City: Districts 1 and 3, which are home to the highest concentration of tourist sites, hotels, restaurants, and bars. Most areas of interest to visitors are here, although the city’s Chinatown, known as Cholon, in District 5 and part of District 6 is also worth exploring. Outlying districts, including Districts 2 and 7, contain newer expat-centric areas, which warrant a visit for dining and entertainment rather than sightseeing.
Downtown Ho Chi Minh City is walkable nowadays, with mostly even sidewalks clear of parked motorbikes and street vendors. Outside of the main business area, however, the streets and sidewalks are chaotic, making a leisurely stroll a difficult proposition.
Around Dong Khoi Street. At the heart of Old Saigon in District 1, this historic thoroughfare links the area around Notre Dame Cathedral to the Saigon River, with many of the city’s main attractions along the way. Always bustling, its upscale shopping and restaurants and a mix of French-colonial and modern high-rise buildings give it something of a European vibe, which extends to nearby streets such as tree-lined Le Duan and lovely Nguyen Hue street. Behind all of this is an intricate maze of busy hems (alleys).
Around Pham Ngu Lao. This is the famous “backpacker area,” long a magnet for budget travelers, which centers on the intersection of Pham Ngu Lao and De Tham streets. It’s full of markets, hostel accommodations, lively bars, and an international mix of travelers seeking the “real” Ho Chi Minh City.
District 3. Stretching west from Nguyen Thi Minh Kai Street, District 3 is also at the heart of downtown, but streets are narrower (beware rush hour) and it has a more residential, less touristy feel.