Saigon may not be the first city that springs to people’s minds when thinking of burgeoning arts scenes in Asia. And it may be true that the city lacks the number of art spaces or special events of its regional neighbors. But if you know where to go, you’ll be pleasantly surprised by what Saigon (now officially known as Ho Chi Minh City) has to offer. And as the support system and infrastructure for up-and-coming artists grow, Vietnam’s largest city seems to have a bright future ahead of it.

In this guide we’ll be covering Saigon’s best art spaces (as of 2018, at least), spread amongst three of its sprawling central districts. Many of these galleries focus on younger artists, and viewing their work can provide visitors with deeper insight into a rapidly changing Vietnam.

District 1

District 1 is the central commercial district of Saigon. It also happens to be home to the Pham Ngu Lao Street backpacker area. Regardless of your budget, there’s a high chance your accommodation will be somewhere within the district. Luckily, District 1 is also home to the highest concentration of art galleries in the city. The art spaces mentioned below can mostly be reached on foot, but you might want to take an Uber to the farther out ones like Craig Thomas of Galerie Quynh.

Ho Chi Minh City Museum of Fine Arts

  • 97A Phó Đức Chính, Phường Nguyễn Thái Bìn, Quận 1
  • +84 28 3829 4441
  • 8:00-18:00
  • Closed Mon.
  • 10,000 VND

The Ho Chi Minh City Museum of Fine Arts is the largest and most centrally located art space in Saigon. Located in a colonial-era building (actually, three of them!), the museum was officially opened in 1991. Though perhaps a little shabby in some areas, the Fine Arts Museum is one of the best places to see Vietnamese contemporary art in the city, if not all of Vietnam.

Walking through the various floors and different buildings, you’ll come across a wide array of paintings and sculptures from the last 50 years or so. While some international artists are featured, the Fine Arts Museum is predominantly focused on Vietnamese artists, especially those from the southern region. 

The museum is not only for modern art connoisseurs, but archaeology fanatics as well. The third building contains a decent selection of Oc Eo artifacts, ancient Hindu sculptures of the Cham, and even Buddha statues left by the Khmer.

Galerie Quynh

Galerie Quynh, one of Saigon’s most respected galleries, was established in 2003. The gallery was named after its founder Quynh Pham, who has long been active in both the American and Vietnamese art scenes. In addition to the regular exhibitions featured at the gallery itself, Galerie Quynh works with international art fairs to gain local artists global exposure, while also giving some foreign artists the chance to showcase their work in Vietnam. 

Apparently, the gallery seems to house just one exhibit at a time, so you can expect to see a similar theme spread across the different rooms and floors. Regardless, the quality of work normally showcased here is very high. It’s worth noting that Galerie Quynh is located relatively close to the Jade Emperor Pagoda, so you may want to visit both on the same day.

Galerie Quynh Saigon Art Spaces
Galerie Quynh Saigon Art Space

Craig Thomas Gallery

Craig Thomas Gallery Saigon

The Craig Thomas Gallery, founded by an American expat and art lover, was established in 2009. The art space largely focuses on contemporary early or mid-career Vietnamese painters. At the time of my visit, some of the art on display seemed to contain a tongue-in-cheek political message, while other pieces were more somber or serious.

The gallery is free to enter, though you might have to wait for one of the nearby guards to contact the owner to open the other rooms for you. The space isn’t huge and it’s a little out of the way relative to the District 1 center, but the art on display is superb. A visit to the Craig Thomas Gallery is worth the effort if you find yourself with some extra time in Saigon.

Apricot Gallery

The Apricot Gallery is one of two in the country, with a sister gallery also located in Hanoi. It seems to be more of a commercial space, intended for those interested in making a purchase. The space is set up, though, like a conventional gallery, and a staff member will gladly show you around the art space’s multiple floors.

Walking through the gallery, you’ll notice a wide variety of different style and themes. The quality is also somewhat inconsistent, but overall, there are a lot of interesting pieces here. One of the main highlights are the modern renditions of traditional Vietnamese lacquer paintings. Apricot Gallery is very centrally located so it makes for an easy visit while exploring District 1.

Apricot Gallery Saigon Art Spaces
Apricot Gallery Saigon

Around District 1

Most people visiting Saigon base themselves in District 1, and this is where you’ll likely be spending the majority of your time in the city. Other than the art spaces listed above, there are a few others in the area, though most of them seem to be commercially focused. The most famous would probably be the Lotus Gallery, which sells a variety of Vietnamese contemporary art. You will need a staff member to accompany you to show you the paintings attached to multiple layers of sliding walls.

Lotus Gallery Saigon
Lotus Gallery

District 2

District 2 is a good 20 minute drive or so away from District 1 and atmospherically, the two areas couldn’t feel more different. It seems to be a mix of former warehouses, wealthy residences and foreign chain stores. It’s also noticeably less chaotic than other parts of Saigon. While it’s probably a nice place to live, there’s little reason for tourists to make the trek out here other than for the Factory. There are, at least, a few other art-focused establishments relatively close by (see more below).

The Factory Contemporary Arts Centre

What’s now one of Saigon’s most essential art spaces is also one of its most recent. Established in 2016, the Factory’s name is fitting, as it takes up the entirety of an old warehouse. There are a usually a couple of exhibitions happening simultaneously, with a large one on the bottom floor while another occupies a smaller space upstairs.

The art here is colorful, experimental and also a little bit dark. The first floor seems to be more sculpture and even video-focused, while the upper floor showcases paintings. There’s also a cafe outside, which is a welcome addition considering Factory’s distance from the city center. And don’t miss the painted staircase you can climb for a decent view of the local surroundings.

The Factory Contemporary Arts Centre may be difficult to get to and relatively isolated. But if you’re at all interested in contemporary and avant-garde art, it’s certainly worth the cheap Uber ride to get there.

The Factory Contemporary Arts Centre
The Factory Contemporary Arts Centre Saigon

Around District 2

District 2 feels much more “Western” than the rest of Saigon. It’s not just the many foreign shops here, but distances between things are a lot more spread out. Still, there are some other places of note within a 20 minute walk or so from the Factory.

There’s the Soma Art Cafe, which was unfortunately closed during my visit. This is despite checking their web site beforehand and not seeing any mentions of a schedule update. The same management runs another popular place called Saigon Outcast, also in District 2. But fearing it might also be closed, I didn’t go. Next to Soma is an art-themed bookstore called Inpages, but, yeah, it was also closed.

Soma Art Cafe

district 3

Saigon’s numbering system can be misleading, as District 3 is actually much closer to District 1 than District 2 is. In fact, I found this neighborhood easily walkable from my accommodation in District 1. This area also happens to be one of the best places in the city to see well-preserved colonial architecture.

Salon Saigon

Simply put, Salon Saigon is one of the best art spaces in the city. But it’s also the hardest to visit, as it’s closed to the public every day except for Tuesdays. If you happen to be in the city at the right time, though, the gallery will reward you with its unique combination of architecture and stunning modern art pieces.

Situated within the former home of 1960’s US Ambassador Henry Cabot Lodge Jr., the gallery was founded by art collector John Tue Nguyen. The bottom floor features Salon Saigon’s impressive permanent collection which focuses entirely on Vietnamese artists. The upper floor, meanwhile, is home to temporary exhibitions comprised of both paintings and sculptures.

Entrance costs a relatively expensive 80,000 VND, but a staff member will gladly show you around the space and explain more about the various art pieces. Salon Saigon also occasionally hosts special conferences and concerts in the evenings. If you happen to be in town at the right time, don’t miss the chance to visit. 

Around District 3

Aside from Salon Saigon, there don’t seem to be a whole lot of other art spaces to check out in District 3 other than a cafe and gallery called Blanc. While they were open as a cafe during my visit, they told me that they weren’t hosting any art exhibits at that time, so it all depends on when you go. Aside from art spaces, the area can be fun to walk around to see some old colonial architecture. Overall, District 3 is a little more quiet and peaceful than neighboring District 1.

Blanc Art Cafe Saigon
Blanc

Additional Info

Saigon has no public transportation system to speak of. There is a bus system, but it’s not really intended for tourists to use, although there is a convenient bus that will take you right to the airport.

Generally, you’ll be getting around on foot or by calling an Uber.

As daunting and chaotic as the traffic seems in Saigon, I actually found it much more walkable than other Southeast Asian cities like Bangkok. A large majority of the vehicles are motorbikes, so even if the road is full of them, they’ll simply swerve around you. It takes a couple of tries to get the hang of, but before long, you shouldn’t have much of a problem crossing even the major roads.

And unlike Bangkok for example, I didn’t come across roads that I suddenly couldn’t walk down any more, or places where the pedestrian sidewalk simply finished, forcing you to walk in the street. Nevertheless, Saigon is still a pretty crazy and chaotic place, and you need to be mindful of ALL directions, as motorbikes could be coming from any which way.

Uber worked like a charm in Saigon and I couldn’t imagine a visit to the city without it. It’s cheap, wait times were reasonable, and most of the drivers I encountered spoke a little English. The only time I took a regular taxi in Saigon was from the airport to my hotel.

Make sure, of course, that you have an unlocked smartphone that can use foreign SIM cards. Data in Vietnam is incredibly cheap.

The best place to stay in Saigon would have to be District 1. I ended up with a cheap private room in the backpacker district called Pham Ngu Lao Street. I normally tend to avoid these kinds of districts when I travel, but it really wasn’t bad. There were plenty of restaurants and convenience stores just outside my hotel and it wasn’t incredibly noisy at night.

I was able to get most other places in District 1, from art spaces to colonial buildings to old pagodas, on foot. I could also walk from Pham Ngu Lao Street to District 3. However, there should be plenty of other hotel options in District 1 that are outside the backpacker district.

Wherever you stay, having Uber on your phone will allow you to get from place to place with ease.



Booking.com

Saigon, it seems, is the cheapest and easiest place to fly into in Vietnam. At least when flying from within Southeast Asia, the flights to Saigon were much cheaper and more frequent than flights to Hanoi or Da Nang.

Vietnam is not only serviced by Air Asia, but they have their own equivalent called VietJet. Maybe I just got lucky, but I was able to find a direct flight from Chiang Mai, Thailand to Saigon for just under $60 USD!

VietJet can also get you to and from plenty of other cities within Vietnam, like Da Nang and the capital.

If you don’t want to fly, your only other option is by bus. Getting to Saigon from a neighboring country like Cambodia or Laos would likely be a long, uncomfortable and possibly dangerous journey. With local flights as cheap as they are nowadays, I see little reason not to fly.

A Guide to Saigon's Best Art Spaces

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Additional Info

Saigon has no public transportation system to speak of. There is a bus system, but it’s not really intended for tourists to use, although there is a convenient bus that will take you right to the airport.

Generally, you’ll be getting around on foot or by calling an Uber.

As daunting and chaotic as the traffic seems in Saigon, I actually found it much more walkable than other Southeast Asian cities like Bangkok. A large majority of the vehicles are motorbikes, so even if the road is full of them, they’ll simply swerve around you. It takes a couple of tries to get the hang of, but before long, you shouldn’t have much of a problem crossing even the major roads.

And unlike Bangkok for example, I didn’t come across roads that I suddenly couldn’t walk down any more, or places where the pedestrian sidewalk simply finished, forcing you to walk in the street. Nevertheless, Saigon is still a pretty crazy and chaotic place, and you need to be mindful of ALL directions, as motorbikes could be coming from any which way.

Uber worked like a charm in Saigon and I couldn’t imagine a visit to the city without it. It’s cheap, wait times were reasonable, and most of the drivers I encountered spoke a little English. The only time I took a regular taxi in Saigon was from the airport to my hotel.

Make sure, of course, that you have an unlocked smartphone that can use foreign SIM cards. Data in Vietnam is incredibly cheap.

The best place to stay in Saigon would have to be District 1. I ended up with a cheap private room in the backpacker district called Pham Ngu Lao Street. I normally tend to avoid these kinds of districts when I travel, but it really wasn’t bad. There were plenty of restaurants and convenience stores just outside my hotel and it wasn’t incredibly noisy at night.

I was able to get most other places in District 1, from art spaces to colonial buildings to old pagodas, on foot. I could also walk from Pham Ngu Lao Street to District 3. However, there should be plenty of other hotel options in District 1 that are outside the backpacker district.

Wherever you stay, having Uber on your phone will allow you to get from place to place with ease.



Booking.com

Saigon, it seems, is the cheapest and easiest place to fly into in Vietnam. At least when flying from within Southeast Asia, the flights to Saigon were much cheaper and more frequent than flights to Hanoi or Da Nang.

Vietnam is not only serviced by Air Asia, but they have their own equivalent called VietJet. Maybe I just got lucky, but I was able to find a direct flight from Chiang Mai, Thailand to Saigon for just under $60 USD!

VietJet can also get you to and from plenty of other cities within Vietnam, like Da Nang and the capital.

If you don’t want to fly, your only other option is by bus. Getting to Saigon from a neighboring country like Cambodia or Laos would likely be a long, uncomfortable and possibly dangerous journey. With local flights as cheap as they are nowadays, I see little reason not to fly.