Ho Chi Minh City (formerly Saigon) is home to some 6 million people, most of whom you will see at some point during your stay as they whiz around town on their motorbikes. The city’s Tan Son Nhat Airport lies 7km north west of the city centre and is the most popular arrival point in Vietnam for international travellers. As well as long haul arrivals there are many flights to HCMC from within Asia, especially from Bangkok and Hong Kong.
Ho Chi Minh City Airport Transfers and Accommodation
Getting from Ho Chi Minh City Airport into the city couldn’t be easier thanks to the official taxi service operating from a desk straight ahead of you as you enter the arrivals area. Simply pay for a ticket at the desk and you’ll be lead to a waiting taxi outside.
Most hotels will send a driver to collect you if you contact them in advance. This offers peace of mind during a long haul flight knowing that life will be easy on arrival. On our last visit the promised driver wasn’t there so we used the above taxi service for a mere $5US rather than the $14US quoted by the hotel. If you’re looking for a cheaper option there’s a regular airport bus into the city.
In spite of the city’s size it’s fairly straightforward deciding which part of the city to stay in. Travellers will most likely go to one of two areas: Dong Khoi which has mid-range accommodation or Pham Ngu Lao where you’ll find most of the budget accommodation in HCMC. There are Ho Chi Minh City Hotels to suit the requirements of all visitors ranging from backpacker hostels to 5-star hotels.
Eating and Drinking in HCMC
On a recent visit we flew from London with Cathay Pacific to HCMC via Hong Kong. The jetlag was fairly severe so after a short sleep we headed out in search of something to eat in the early evening. On first impression there seemed a wide range of restaurants and places to eat in HCMC ranging from basic joints (boiling pots of noodles on the pavement) to fancy Vietnamese and French eateries. There are so many street cafes that it seems unlikely that anyone actually cooks at home. In general you’ll find a wide range of restaurants in HCMC serving a great selection of dishes at bargain prices as well as upmarket joints offering fine International cuisine.
Although any restaurants frequented by tourists are likely to have menus in English, it’s a good idea to print out a list of the names of Vietnamese food. This was a great source of fun for the locals when we tried to order dishes in Vietneamese and certainly endeared us to many waiters and waitresses. The level of English spoken always seemed just about sufficient for the job that the person was doing though at times it’s very difficult to understand people who are speaking quite well because their accent is very strong.
Getting Around and Sightseeing
To visit the main tourist attractions you will need at least two full days. The main Ho Chi Minh City Attractions include the Hotel de Ville, the Reunification Palace, the Museum of Ho Chi Minh City, the War Remnants Museum, Notre Dame Cathedral and the Jade Emperor Pagoda. If you’re quite adventurous it’s also worthwhile taking a taxi to the Chinese district of Cholon where you can visit a number of busy pagodas and and street markets. Not many tourists head out this way so you may feel a little out of place but it’s worth doing just to observe life on the streets and provided you use your common sense there’s no reason to worry about heading off the beaten track.
Most of these main sights are within easy walking distance but if you want Ho Chi Minh City transport taxis are a great option as they’re metred and cheap. An alternative is to take a cyclo which is quite an experience in the crazy traffic and well worth doing before the local government bans them all.
As you walk the streets you might be surprised at the amount of wealth around as top name international hotels and designer shops selling Rolex and Lacoste, etc. rub shoulders with street sellers offering little more than cigarettes and chewing gum.
When shopping in HCMC you can pick up some bargains if you’re interested in good quality branded products. In Ben Thanh Market you’ll find good quality Ralph Lauren polo shirts and Billabong type t-shirts very cheaply as well as excellent North Face rucksacks for a fraction of the price paid in the west. Many of the factories making these products are on the outskirts of HCMC. Nowhere else in Vietnam sells such quality branded goods as here, in fact I bought a bag in Hanoi which a week later I noticed was branded as “The North” (not “The North Face”). Ben Thanh is one of a number of markets in HCMC which is well worth a visit.
Tours From HCMC
Once you’ve seen the main sights you’ll want to consider some Ho Chi Minh City Tours. The most popular is a half day trip to the Cu Chi Tunnels where you can see part of the 200km network of tunnels which the Viet Cong used during the American War. You can make this a full day tour by including a visit to the Cao Dai Temple in Tay Ninh on the Cambodian border. This is the home of Caodaism, a Vietnamese religion which is a combination of other major religions. Mekong Delta Tours are also popular though it’s best to go for longer than one day.
If you’re moving on from HCMC within Vietnam there are excellent services by bus, rail and air.
More Information About Ho Chi Minh City
- Ho Ch Minh City is Vietnam’s reputedly worst city for street crime but don’t be paranoid. Our hotel porter warned us to be careful everytime we left the hotel yet we never felt threatened and didn’t see any incidents. It seems that the most common crimes are the same as in any large urban area frequented by tourists: bag snatching, pickpocketing and property theft from bars and restaurants. Actual physical harm seems to be unheard of. Just be careful and you’ll be fine.
- Traffic is a nightmare all over Ho Chi Minh City and the worst place must be the roundabout outside the Ben Thanh Market. Your lasting memory of this city will be the sheer quantity of motorbikes on the roads and guess what … they never stop at a pedestrian crossing! Watch how the locals cross the road before you even attempt it. It’s simply a question of keeping moving slowly forward without making any sudden rash movements, this way any motorbikes will go around you.