Get around

By bicycle

It is an adventure to cycle around in the big city, but not that challenging as it may look like. Expect to inhale exhaust gases, try to stay ahead or beside the swarm of bikes, be assertive, leave the left lane to the cars. If you do not have a horn, you can still scream or just smile around as you look to your destination, pretending to ignore everything which crosses your way… Not so easy to find bicycles for rent, however. Ask travel agencies. Lac Hong on Pham Ngu Lao 305 has a few old fashion basket-holding cycles at 40.000 VND/day (Feb/13). No big deal but fast enough through the jammed traffic, and a big freedom in a city without pedestrian ways. At Innoviet, 158 Bui Vien, district 1, they rent good mountain bikes at 7 US$/ day (300 US$ deposit! Jan/13)

By taxi and rental car

Taxis are the most comfortable way of getting around, and very modest in price compared to other major cities in the world. Rates fluctuate over time depending on the cost of fuel, but in late 2010 with oil in the US$80s per barrel on world markets, honest Ho Chi Minh City taxis were charging in the range of 12,000 to 13,000 dong per kilometre. Taxis are numerous and it’s usually not hard to flag one down anywhere in the city centre from early morning until about 1:00 am, though finding one in the rain or during workday rush hours can be difficult.

Taxi rates are not regulated by the city government, so each company sets its own fare structure which changes from time to time. You cannot choose a taxi at random and expect a standard fare; it is a caveat emptor market with a fringe of dishonest operators which prey on foreigners in particular. Fortunately, the market is fairly competitive and 80% of taxis are operated by reasonably honest companies with similar rates. The market of these companies is more than 90% local, so their policies are designed to win the trust of Ho Chi Minh City residents. For a list of taxi companies reported to be reliable, see “Taxi” in the “Getting to the city centre” section above.

Dishonest taxi drivers may start driving without starting their meters, then demand a high fare or try to negotiate for a fixed price at a location where it’s difficult for you to hire another cab. Therefore, make sure your taxi driver agrees to use the meter, and turns it on before you get in. (As mentioned above, some taxi companies such as Mai Linh and Vinasun have meters in their taxis that start automatically once the vehicle starts moving.)

Drivers generally speak limited English and do not speak any other foreign languages, so it’s wise to write the name and address of your destination, preferably in Vietnamese, to show the taxi driver. Your hotel staff can assist. It also helps to carry one of your hotel’s business cards so you can return to the hotel without too much fuss. Carry small change and bills for paying fares, since drivers are often short of change. Taxi models in service are mostly Toyota Vios sedans (up to four passengers) and Toyota Innova minivans (up to six passengers), which are assembled in Vietnam and inexpensive to buy. Fares are almost always the same regardless of car model, though anything larger than an Innova generally costs more. Some older cars might lack working air-conditioners.

Taxi drivers are likely to drive too fast when given the chance. Ho Chi Minh City has a unique traffic pattern in which cars and buses drive in the centre lanes on two-way streets, or the left lanes on one-way streets, while the outside or right lanes are reserved for motorcycles. During weekday rush hours, the car lanes often barely move for blocks on end, while the motorcycle lanes move a bit faster. Taxi drivers vary in their tendency to squeeze into the motorcycle lane and jump ahead of other cars. In theory, they can be fined for doing so. Rush-hour traffic in the city has become so bad that you might consider just planning not to go anywhere between the hours of 7:00 and 8:30 am, and 4:30 to 6:00 pm.

For trips outside of the city or for the convenience of having a private vehicle for the day, hiring a car with a driver for the day is a good option, ( the English driver is required with more fee ).

By speedboat

(March 2014 update) All boats mentioned below as means of public transport have been suspended since January 2014 and until further notice. This comes after a series of accidents and it is unclear if and when they will start operation again. There are only a few tourist cruise companies operating at this time.

Saigon River Express Suite 2105, Me Linh Point Tower, No. 2 Ngo Duc Ke, District 1 (next to the Renaissance Riverside Hotel), ☎ +84 128 592 0018 offers VIP speedboat tours to the Cu Chi Tunnels, the Mekong Delta and jungle canal tours around Saigon. They use new speedboats and provide a 5 star service. A sunset tour around Saigon involves exploring narrow jungle canals with a village made of bamboo and thatch as well as visiting a floating temple.

Vung Tau by Hydrofoil is a good way to see the commercial maritime areas as the boat runs through the Saigon River to the sea. US$10 adult, US$5 child (age 6-11, under 1.4 m tall), 75 min. Depart Bach Dang pier in Saigon, District 1. (100 m from the Majestic hotel) and arrive in Cầu Đá Port, Ben Cau Da, Ha Long Street, Vung Tau.

There are 3 lines (Petro Express, Greenlines, Vina Express) running this route with the same ticket prices.

By cyclo

A ride on a cyclo, which is sort of akin to a reverse tricycle with the passenger sitting in a front seat, through downtown HCMC is a great way to see the city the way the locals do. The sights, sounds, and smells are a large part of the excitement of the city, and are best experienced from the relaxed pace of a cyclo. A word of warning: be careful with cameras, purses and watches while cyclo riding as these items are easily stolen by motorbike riders.

For many reasons, not least because of government attempts to restrict cyclos on busy urban streets, this form of transportation is disappearing. At around 36,000 dong/hr and because they are so slow, they can be a good choice for taking in the city. Be sure to bargain hard with the cyclo rider beforehand. Some cyclo riders have been known to attempt to change the agreed price after your journey has finished, whilst another trick may include the driver visiting places which benefit his wallet. To avoid these problems, make sure you are clear on the price and destination upon departing.


See

Historical sites

  • Reunification Palace, Enter at 135 Nam Ky Khoi Nghia Street, ☎ +84 8 9693272. Open daily 7:30AM-11:00AM, 1PM-4PM. Also known as Independence Palace (this is the old name). This is a restored 5 floor time warp to the 60s left largely untouched from the day before Saigon fell to the North (construction started in 1962 and finished in 1966). Formerly South Vietnam’s presidential palace, the war ended on April 30, 1975 when tank #843 crashed through the gate. A replica of that tank is now parked on the lawn outside. Be sure to check out the impressively kitschy recreation room, featuring a circular sofa, and the eerie basement, full of vintage 1960s phones, radios, and office equipment, supposedly left exactly as it was found when the North took over. There is also a photo gallery and a propaganda film recounting how the South Vietnamese military and American forces succumbed to Ho Chi Minh’s revolutionary forces, upon which point many South Vietnamese supporters fled as refugees, military and police were punished and many sent to labor camps. Tours are available and are free, but not necessary. There is a nice outdoor café on the grounds outside the palace. Entry 30,000 dong.
  • War Remnants Museum (Formerly), 28 Vo Van Tan Street, ☎ +84 89302112, +84 89306325, +84 89305587 (warrmhcm@gmail.com). Open daily 7:30AM-12PM, 1:30PM-5PM, last admission 4:30PM. The museum was opened in a hurry, less than five months after the fall of the South Vietmanese regime. It has moved to new premises with 3 stories of exhibits and various U.S. military hardware (tanks, jets, helicopters, howitzers) on display outside the building. This disturbing display of man’s cruelty during the Vietnam (American) War includes halls full of gruesome photographs, a simulated “tiger cage” prison and jars of deformed foetuses attributed to contamination by Agent Orange. An exhibit on the 3rd floor tells the story of the war journalists from all over the world who documented, and often disappeared or died in the war. Watch out for the amputees who will try and sell you their wares. It’s a short walk from Reunification Palace — see the museum pamphlet for a map. Entry 15,000 dong.
  • City Hall, end of Nguyen Hue Street. Originally called the Hôtel de Ville and now formally re-branded the People’s Committee Hall, it’s a striking cream and yellow French colonial building beautifully floodlit at night. No entry, but the statue of Uncle Ho in front is a very popular place for photos.
  • Museum of Vietnamese History, at the intersection of Le Duan Street and Nguyen Binh Khiem (just inside the zoo gates). The museum has a fine collection of Vietnamese antiquities. Read up on Vietnamese history first or you’ll have no idea what you’re looking at. Outside, the Botanical Gardens are very nice and a good place for a cheap lunch away from the crowds. If you care about animal welfare, avoid the zoo. There is a water puppet show in the museum compound that’s worth watching, every hour between 9am-12pm and 2-4pm. Entrance: 15 000 dong; 50 000 dong for the water puppet show.
  • Ho-Chi-Minh Museum, Duong Nguyen Tat Thanh, Dist. 4. Open daily 7:30AM-12 noon, 1:30PM-5PM, last admission 4:30PM, 10,000 dong entry. The museum (in a French colonial era building) near the dock of Saigon shows the life story of the modern day father of Vietnam, Ho Chi Minh. There’s also a Ho Chi Minh book shop as well. Some may find the theme a little jingoistic but like most things it depends upon your point of view.

Religious sites

  • Central Mosque, 66 Dong Du, Ho Chi Minh City Vietnam, ☎ +84 8 824 2903 (Tourist information). 8AM-8PM daily. One of 12 mosques serving Ho Chi Minh City, the Central Mosque was built in 1935. It was originally constructed for worshipers from southern India then resident in Saigon, but now Muslims from as far as Pakistan and Indonesia come to pray. Friday draws the biggest crowds. The shaded verandah and cool stone floors make it an ideal place to sit, read or even nap in the heat of the day. As with most mosques, remember to take your shoes off before entering and dress conservatively if you wish to enter.
  • Notre Dame Cathedral (Nhà thờ Đức Bà), Han Thuyen Street, facing down Dong Khoi (next to the Post Office). Closes for lunch and on weekends. A French-built Catholic cathedral in the city centre. Free entry.
  • Thien Hau Pagoda, 710 Nguyen Trai St, Cholon. Dedicated to Lady Thien Hau, the sea goddess, who left two giant turtles to keep an eye on things in her absence. A festival is held in her honor on the 23rd day of the March lunar month. Don’t miss the gorgeous sculptures in the walls of the courtyard outside the temple. Entry free.
  • Quan Am Pagoda, 12 Lao Tu, Cholon (Just off Hung Vuong, close to Thien Hau Pagoda). Open 8AM-4:30PM. The oldest pagoda in town, home of a lot of incense and a cheerful puppy. Entry free.
  • Phung Son Tu Pagoda, 408 3 Thang 2 Blvd (On the outskirts of Cholon). Dedicated to the god of happiness and virtue. The pagoda itself is dusty and dwarfed by high-rises under construction nearby, but the small, sculpted grounds are a good place for a rest from the hectic city.

Architectural attractions

View of the city from Bitexco Financial Tower, Vietnam

The Bitexco Financial Tower, located in the heart of Ho Chi Minh City’s business and entertainment district, is the most exciting commercial property development undertaken in Vietnam to date. It stands 262 metres high consisting of 68 floors, the lowest of which are occupied by retail stores, food outlets and the FV medical clinic (3rd floor), above this are offices with restricted access.

The architect responsible for the design of Bitexco Financial Tower, Carlos Zapata, drew inspiration for this skyscraper’s unique shape from Vietnam’s national flower, the Lotus. To the Vietnamese, the lotus is a symbol of purity, commitment and optimism.

Built at a time of unprecedented growth for the Vietnamese economy, the Bitexco Financial Tower is designed to represent the energy and aspirations of the country’s people.

  • Saigon Skydeck, 36 Ho Tung Mau Street, Ben Nghe Ward, District 1, ☎ +84 8 39156 156. Open every day 9:30 am – 9:30 pm (last entry 45 minutes prior to closing). VND 200,000 for Adults; VND 130,000 Child 4-12 years, Seniors 65 years and above (ID required) & Disabled persons; No additional charge for children under 3 years.

Located on the 49th floor the observation deck offers sweeping 360‐degree panoramic views of the entire city and the nearby Saigon River. Facilities include a gift shop, information touch screens (in English and Vietnamese), free to use binoculars and complimentary bottled water. The 50th floor is also freely accessible via a set of stairs which lead to a cafe that serves a range of refreshments.

Head up to the 52th floor, the one with the helicopter deck (change elevators at the 50th) and ask for the “bar”. Happy hour 17:00-20:00 for not too expensive drinks with free music, nuts and olives and a great view of the city. At night there is dressed-up bar employees on the 1st floor to show you to the elevators to the 50th floor and onward to the 52nd floor.


Do

  • A O Show at the Saigon Opera House, is a worthy 60 minutes wayfare on Vietnamese culture and people, taking place at the magnificent 114 years old Opera House, in the heart of Ho Chi Minh city. A O, which translated phonetically as the Ahhh! Ohhh!. The show is being touted as the first performance using contemporary circus (aka. new circus) approach in Ho Chi Minh City. The haunting beauty of Vietnam is depicted through the harmonious blend of athleticism, acrobetic acts, dance, drama in live traditional music in the show.

The show ticket box is opened daily from 9AM – 6PM at the Opera House Saigon, No. 7 Cong Truong Lam Son, District 1.

  • Triip.me in HCM. Truly local experiences crafted directly by handpicked local experts. One person private tour is available too. Something different from normal tours. Tours are available in English. Free to 1.200.000 vnd, ($0-$60 USD).
  • Dalat Angels Motorcycle Club : phone: +84 937 171 399. If you come to Vietnam and expect to do something different, one way is to do a motorcycle trip. Visit www.dalatangels.com for more information.
  • Dam Sen Water Park, 03 Hoa Binh, Ward 3, District 11, ☎ +84 8 858 8418, +84 8 865 3453 (damsenwaterpark@vnn.vn, fax: +84 8 858 8419). Mon-Sat 8:30AM-6PM, Sundays and Holidays 8AM-7PM. Close to the city centre. Opened in 1999, with new water slides added each year. This water park offers some truly unique water slide experiences, including the amazing “Space Bowl”. The slides have been badly designed and it’s a common sight to see someone clutching their head when leaving them. Restaurant, health services, and animatronic dinosaurs are on the premises. Take bus n°38 from Ben Thanh bus station. Admission is based on height and time of arrival; under 0.8m free, others 40 – 110 000 dong (90 000 after 4pm).
  • There’s also Water World in District 9, Ocean Water Park in District 7, and Dai The Gioi Water Park in District 5.
  • Visiting hair salons is also a must do for tourists, as Vietnamese are famous for it. Hair wash, manicure and pedicure cost no more than US$10.
  • MegaStar Cineplex. Vietnam’s leading world-class cineplex venue with 2 locations in HCMC and the first to offer 3D movies (at Hung Vuong Plaza only). All locations present first-run US Hollywood and International releases and are located at shopping complexes. (1) Hung Vuong Plaza (about 20-30 min from CBD). 126 Hung Vuong Str, District 5, Level 7. (2) CT Plaza (near the airport). 60A Truong Son St, Tan Binh District, Level 10. The latest show session times and dates are available online.
  • Galaxy Cinema at 116, Nguyen Du, District 1, is a favorite among locals.
  • My Tiger Tour Motorbike Tours, 844/120 Huong Lo 2, Ho Chi Minh City 70000, Vietnam, ☎ +84 129 586 8586. Licensed motorbike tours around the city with themes like food, shopping, twilight, general sightseeing, and more. Tours are available in English, German, Italian, Japanese and Spanish.$50 250.000 vnd to 1.000.000 vnd, ($12-$48 USD).
  • Dai Nam Tourist Park, Thu Dau Mot Town, Binh Duong Province (Catch the 616 Bus from the Bus Station, or talk to a travel agent). Located about 40km from Ho Chi Minh City, the Dai Nam Tourist Park, opened in November of 2008, it is one of the newest and largest tourist attractions in Vietnam. It features the Dai Nam Van Hien Temple, an entertainment site, open range zoo, shopping areas, hotels, local and western cuisine sites, and the largest man made mountain range in Vietnam. Costing over 50 billion dong to build, this park is the beginning of mass tourism in Vietnam, although it is aimed at both tourists and locals and comes highly recommended. Transport options to the park are quite convoluted and as the park is new, online information is scarce. Reports are that you can catch the 616 bus from the main bus terminal in Ho Chi Minh, but most hotels will tell you that’s not possible and insist on a private taxi. According to the locals, it is very much worth a visit, purely just to view the temple. Entry is 100,000 VND for adults, 50,000 for children. Be aware that most attractions in the park cost extra on top of the entry fee, but adult tickets combining the zoo and beach can be had for 280,000 VND.
  • Twenty-Three September Park, (Across from Ben Thanh Market and rnning the length of Phan Ngu Lao Street). Running along Phan Ngu Lao Street are a number of parks which fill up with locals before sunset, after work. They play a variety of games which you can participate in: badminton, kicking a shuttlecock and womens group aerobics (to music) are all very popular and great to watch. If you sit down by yourself in the open area near the Ben Thanh market a number of young university age locals will come and ask to practise english with you, this is a great way to spend an evening and the best way to meet intelligent interesting youth, they will question you either individually or in groups and share with you a lot about their country. *Beware* of those men who want to introduce you to their ‘sister’ who’s working as a nurse and wants move to your country. They will try to make you come into their home so you can reassure their parents, but will actually gamble and cheat at cards with you and/or ask you for money after telling a sad and fake story about some dying relative.
  • Emperor Jade (Tortoise) Temple (Chua Ngoc Hoang or Phuoc Hai Tu), 73 Mai Thi Luu St. One of the older temples in Saigon filled with a good number of statues of Buddhist/Taoist deities. Advisable to take a cab there if visiting. Courtyard has a small concrete pond filled with turtles. Might be interesting if you are curious about local religions, as the temple is usually quite filled with devotees.
  • Saigon Street Eats (street food tours of Ho Chi Minh City), Nguyen Dinh Chieu, Phu Nhuan Dist, HCMC, Vietnam, ☎ +84908449408. Sample some of the world’s best street food with Saigon Street Eats, run by an Australian-Vietnamese couple who love to share their obsession with Vietnamese food. Morning and night tours available. (Ignore the address, Saigon Street Eats will pick you up from your accommodation.) $40-$55. (,4-4.5hrs)
  • Saigon Riders (Culture Meets Adventure), ☎ =+84 913 767 113. Quality guides and safe drivers offering bespoke and off-the-shelf tours on the back of their motorbikes around Ho Chi Minh City and a little further afield. Tours range from a half day exploring the sights of the city to full day excursions in and beyond Saigon. USD$29-$69.
  • Scooter Tour Sigon (Scooter Tour Sigon), 1648 Vo Van Kiet avenue, 16th Ward, 8th District, Ho Chi Minh City, ☎ +84909190247, 8. Scootertoursaigon shows you Saigon like nobody else can – with amazing back street experience on Scooter, delicious local street foods, awesome guides and best photo opportunities.

 

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