Top Tips for Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City)

After spending a few days here, these are some tips that I hope will make your trip smoother:

  • Unlike Thailand and Cambodia, there are no tuk-tuks here. We did see cyclos (pedi-cabs) parked along the streets but didn’t see a single person riding one.
  • You will need to take cabs. The reputable companies are Vinasun (white cabs) and Mai Linh (green cabs). Drivers are uniformed; you can pay with a credit card. Disreputable companies may mimic them. For example, the phone number for Vinasun is 38.27 27 27; we saw identical cabs with the phone number 54.27 27 27. We also read that some will use the Vinasun logo but print the name Vinasum on the cab. If you get an disreputable cab you may end up on a really long ride (like us) or the cabbie may set the meter to run extra fast so you will be charged way more than the ride should be. As an example, the ride to town from our hotel ran about 150,000 Dong (about $6.50) and took a half-hour. We were charged 600,000 Dong for the same ride from the bus terminal by the “bad” cabbie.
  • There is no subway or light rail here. There is a bus system but it may be a challenge to figure out unless you speak the language. According to Trip Advisor there are 30 companies that operate buses here.
  • Crossing the street is a death-defying activity. Unlike the other cities we visited, there are crosswalks and some even have signals. Too bad the drivers completely ignore them. Just walk casually across the street when you see a little break in traffic. Cars and motorbikes will go around you. Hopefully.
  • Beware of scooters driving down the sidewalks.
  • Pickpocketing is an issue. We were warned about this at our hotel. Keep a firm grasp on your belongings.
  • Credit cards are accepted here more than in Thailand and Cambodia but you will still need some local currency. The denominations are large: $1 is about 22,750 VND (dong). You will see prices listed without the thousands. In other words, 250,000 may be displayed as 250. This is definitely true on taxi meters.
  • Most signs on buildings are in Vietnamese with no English translation. However, restaurant menus are written in English.
  • Check with your cell phone carrier regarding coverage in Vietnam. Consider purchasing a sim card for access here if you can’t do without.
  • Wi-fi is widely available at restaurants and cafes. The access code will be on your receipt.
  • Vietnam is still a communist country but this is only apparent from seeing the occasional banner with a hammer and sickle or star.
  • Western toilets are available everywhere but most do not want you to flush toilet paper; it clogs the system. Deposit toilet paper in the garbage can alongside the toilet.
  • Grab seems to be the most common ride service. I saw many people riding motorcycles with Grab displayed on the helmet. I also saw an Uber motorcycle.
  • Stay hydrated. It is hot here.