Don’t just stay in the city center as the local areas outside of District 1 have a lot to offer. While most of the popular sights are located in District 1, you should know that Ho Chi Minh has 24 different districts and keeps expanding. Getting around in a developing country can be a bit challenging. During this post, I will give you the available transportation kinds as well as all the tips, maps, apps you need for a smooth travel trip.
Since Ho Chi Minh city is hot and humid throughout the year, I respect your choice for not waiting for the public bus under the heat while you can grab Taxi, Xe Om or walking. But for adventurous travelers, getting a public bus sounds appealing enough to give it a try. Added to the fact that Vietnam bus fares is incredibly cheap, starts at 3,000 Dong. Getting from Ben Thanh market to Cho Lon area is 5,000 Dong while taxi can cost you up to 1,50,000 Dong.
The bus is a smart way to get from the airport to downtown without getting scammed.
When you walk out of the International Arrivals exit onto the street the bus stop is on the right about 50m from the sliding doors.
Bus no.152, no.49, no.109 to the city central.
Public bus no.152 is the cheapest but also the most convenient.
Yellow bus no.109 is a newer city bus which is a bit more expensive than the public bus no.152 but still cheaper than the taxi.
Shuttle bus no.49 is similar to Yellow Bus no.109 but with more drop off points at the city center and also some major hotel in the city, which I find it a good thing for travelers.
Some other popular routes for your hand pocket tips.
My secret, now I share with you. Look up for the bus route or search or destinations easily here: Bus search
Advice from a local: Getting bus is safe and cheap to get around the city. However, due to the heavy traffic, better take taxi or Grab taxi/motorbike for short distances. For longer distances, the bus is the best option.
From the airport, the 6km ride downtown is from 30 minutes to an hour depending on the traffic. During rush hours 7am-9am and 5pm-7pm, the ride will take very long. Be patient!
There are two trustworthy taxi brands: one is Mai Linh, the other is Vinasun. Drivers of those taxies always keep the meter turned on. They accept card payment but it takes you one more minute for your signature. Tips is appreciated but not expected. If you have a good drive, giving 20,000 Dong will make your driver happy. To avoid the fake or taxi scams, you can download the picture below to spot the taxi brands.
Under construction – the metro which is estimated to finish in 2020’s will help Saigon become a megacity of Southeast Asia
To help marshal the transport chaos on the ground, the country government is building a metro system with 20km. The first line will link Ben Thanh market to Suoi Tien, currently slated for a 2020 launch. Although the project received criticism for the continuous delay, the good news is that the locals and both travelers can benefit from the metro system in the near future. The project is affecting tourism, especially the road closures a part of Nguyen Hue and Le Loi streets in District 1. You can also notice the construction in front of the Saigon Opera House and Ben Thanh market.
Traditional taxi is good if you are in a rush and don’t want to wait. But if you have wifi, simply download the apps Grab. This is a great alternative for taxi or Xe Om drivers.
Useful update: Although the appearance of Uber changed the game for taxi services worldwide and customers benefit a lot from this sharing economy. Grab – born but with the local advantages in Southeast Asia dominated the market which leads to the withdrawal of Uber. Using Grab is super convenient due to the high technology. With the apps, you can avoid the taxi scams and interaction of cash where the currency is different.
Grab is now operating in almost big and medium cities of Vietnam: including Ho Chi Minh, Ha Noi, Vung Tau, Hoi An, Hue, Da Nang, Nha Trang, Khanh Hoa, Da Nang, Ben Tre, Vinh Long, Can Tho, Rach Gia, Phan Thiet, Buon Ma Thuot, Quang Ninh, Vinh Phuc, Quy Nhon, Da Lat
I provide the guide for getting 3G and getting connected when traveling to Vietnam in the post here: Ultimate guide to using cellphone in Vietnam
Pros: you know the price in advance before confirming the ride with the drivers. You can also pay via your credit card if you don’t want to handle with cash.
Cons: Since most of the Grab drivers don’t speak English. Once they see the name of their guest (in this case is you with a foreign name), instead of the habit of calling through the apps to confirm the pickup point they will come to your place in silence and sometimes get lost. I’ve seen may travelers got mad with the Grab drivers because they didn’t pick up them as seen in the apps. “Misunderstanding” do happen. Since the local drivers are shy to call foreign guests and speak English. To avoid that, I suggest that once you confirm your ride, simply give them a message of your address, a little bit more detailed so that they can spot you in the earliest time.
There are some local tour operators in town providing funny and liberated tours that take you outside of the city center to see the local lives. Pickup from your hotel, a team of well-trained and knowledgeable drivers will show you the city’s soul by exploring the hidden gems and taste the local food. Some services we recommend is Back of the bike tours, I-tours and Saigon Kiss Tours. The third one Saigon Kiss offers a team of female drivers in Vietnam traditional costumes Ao Dai.
The cyclo remains a slow-moving feature along the certain streets of the city, mainly in District 1 and District 5. To reduce the traffic jams, only a few streets allow cyclo, and mostly for tourists.
As a local, I have to be honest that nowadays almost no local use cyclo. But, since this old way of transportation is very safe, if you want to give it a try, short hops around the city will cost around 100,000 Dong and from District 1 to Central Cholon in District 5 may cost you around 150,000 – 200,000 Dong. You can rent a cyclo from around 80,000 Dong per hour too.
There are some tour operators that offer cyclo tour with the older drivers in town. If it’s not to provide jobs for the drivers who are the former South Vietnamese army soldiers, the cyclo is facing extinction as the city’s motor traffic takes full control of the roads.
No uniform or self-advertising but the Xe Om drivers is easy to spot. They often park their bikes in the corner of the streets and hang one extra helmet on their bikes waiting for customers to come saying hello. Normally they are trustworthy drivers who are expert in driving and they have the maps in their heads. But in case you feel nervous on back of the bikes, you can always tell him to slow down a bit or stop in the middle of the ride. It’s your choice. The lowest price he can get for the shortest ride is 30,000 Dong, the further the more expensive. The tip for using the Xe Om is that you always need to agree on a price in advance.
Fun fact: Xe Om is translated literally means “hug bike” as you have to hold on to your driver to stay on. But it’s just the name, in reality you just need to hold the handle on the back of the bikes.
Launched in 2017, Saigon river bus connects Bach Dang port (District 1) with Linh Dong (Thu Duc District) with the hope to offer a new kind of transportation and reduce the traffic congestion.
Investors propose to put electric cars in use for delivering tourists and residents from river bus stop to popular hotel, travel destinations and vice versa such as Ben Thanh market, Nguyen Hue walking street, city museums, v.v… Although it can be fun for this try vehicle. But if you have own much time and want to spend much time for the research of using it, I suggest you use bus, taxi or Xe Om instead.
This is scary or fun depend on what you think. I might write a long post to reveal the secrets for crossing the streets in Vietnam without any troubles. But if I can only give you one tip, follow a local. In case you accept the challenge, smile then follow some tips below:
Although District 1 has a lot tourist attractions to offer, but traveling will be more fun and engaged if we go a bit further to the local areas outside of the city central. There is a lovely team of local female drivers who wear Vietnamese traditional dress and do the off the beaten path tours. Feel free to check the Night Foodie Adventure or the Saigon By Night experience.
For more info, check our blog Vietnam Travel Tips