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If you’re reading this guide you’re either dreaming about visiting Ho Chi Minh City one day, or your vacation is already locked down and you’re ready to start planning the details. Either way, this Ultimate Guide will help you plan and prepare for your trip to the biggest city in Vietnam.
Ho Chi Minh City, formerly known as Saigon, is one of the most popular and well-known provinces in Vietnam. The vibrant city is home to nearly nine million people and it is an up-and-coming hot spot for tourists to visit around the world. The food, the culture and the locals will absolutely make you fall in love with this beautiful city. They might even entice you to stay longer.
After reading this guide, you’ll be able to navigate Ho Chi Minh City like you were born here. We promise! You’ll have all the information you need to create a vacation you will never forget. So what are you still waiting for? Dive in!
The official language in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam is Vietnamese. Not so many people from the older generation speak English so the language barrier can be an issue sometimes. However, the Vietnamese are extremely friendly and welcoming, so even though you may not speak the same language, they will certainly give you a friendly smile. Just smile back.
Vietnamese is among the twenty most spoken languages in the world and there are around eighty million people worldwide who speak it. Just a fun fact you can show off with to your friends and family
Know your Dong from your Dollar. Ho Chi Minh (along with the rest of Vietnam) uses the Vietnamese Dong as the local currency. We would recommend that you exchange currency before you arrive in Vietnam. However, if that’s not possible, there are many safe currency exchange shops located all around Ho Chi Minh City.
Some simple currency calculations are as follows:
100 USD = 2,300,000 VND (approximately)
100 AUD = 1,600,000 VND (approximately)
100 EUR = 2,560,000 VND (approximately)
If you’re not a millionaire yet, get excited, because you will be in Vietnam :)
Cash is king in Ho Chi Minh. Always carry a handful of 20,000 VND to 200,000 VND notes (valued from 0.85 USD to 8.60 USD) for daily expenses and haggling. Most main restaurants and shops do accept credit cards though, so bringing one too might be a good idea. Especially if you want to withdraw money from one of the many ATMs, which are conveniently located in most places around the city.
To enter Vietnam, you will need to bring a passport, obviously. Make sure that it is still valid for at least three months after the date that you enter, otherwise you will be stopped at the border.
Also, in most cases, you’ll need a visa to enter Vietnam, it depends from country to country. Check this link for more information: https://www.myvietnamvisa.com/vietnam-visa-on-arrival.html
If you need to obtain a visa, you can get a “visa on arrival”, a very quick and easy process. You simply apply for it online and once approved, you print the approval letter and bring it to customs when you arrive in Ho Chi Minh City. They then will grant you a visa and add it to your passport. We recommend ‘My Vietnam Visa’ (https://www.myvietnamvisa.com/vietnam-visa-on-arrival.html) to apply online.
Ho Chi Minh City has a tropical climate - it's very much a typical steaming hot Southeast Asian metropolis where you can expect it to be either hot and dry, or hot and wet all throughout the year. Regardless when, you'll never need more than one layer of clothing in Ho Chi Minh City. An umbrella might come in handy though, better safe than sorry.
The cost of a Vietnam sim card is around 200,000 rupees (9-10 USD) for unlimited data. Our personal recommendation would be to use Viettel or Mobifone, they are two of the most trusted wireless providers. No need to worry though if you’d rather not buy one, most cafes and restaurants have WiFi and the connection is usually pretty good.
Negotiating in Vietnam is widely seen and therefore a 100% acceptable when you’re at local shops or looking for local services. Don’t be shy here! Feel free to negotiate a price you feel is fair. We always love to support the locals in Ho Chi Minh City, but you also want to feel like you are getting a fair price given the situation. Meet in the middle.
Unlike the United States, there’s not an expected tipping culture in Vietnam. However, locals really appreciate it when you tip them for a job well done. They don’t expect a large tip, just a few Dong will do fine. One thing to note is that some restaurants will automatically add a ‘service fee’ to the bill, usually about 10%.
Pickpockets! Always keep your valuables, like wallets, phones and jewelry out of sight (definitely don’t put them in your pocket). Ho Chi Minh City can be pretty chaotic and a handbag can be easily grabbed by a passing motorbike or by someone with bad intentions just bumping into you on the street. These trained thieves are so good, you won’t even realize what has happened until they’re long gone.
As many of the tourist attractions in Ho Chi Minh City are located in District One, the center of the city, it may seem like figuring out how to get around is easy. It would be a shame though not to get out of the city center and discover the treasures some of the other districts have to offer. Getting to those parts might seem challenging, but there are actually many different options to get around. Efficiently and cheap.
Xe Om is the local name for a motorbike taxi. It’s one of the most efficient and cheap ways to get from one place to another in the most central districts (1-5 and 7). Some drivers might have a rough driving style, but don’t worry, they’re used to Ho Chi Minh City’s crazy traffic. Plus, you can always ask them to slow down if you don’t feel comfortable. The Vietnamese are super kind, remember?
When you have to go a little further, take the bus! Especially if you want to visit tourist attractions that are not located in the city center. The public bus system is incredibly developed in Ho Chi Minh City and it’s also incredibly cheap. Taking a bus in a foreign country might sound a little tricky and adventurous, but give it a try, it might be easier than you think!
It goes without saying that taking a taxi is always an easy option to get around a city, but it’s also more expensive. Grab is definitely a good alternative. It’s a service like Uber (they have actually merged with Grab all around South East Asia) and it works exactly the same. Download the app, put in your pick up location and destination and the closest driver will come and pick you up! Extra plus, you’ll know in advance what you have to pay.
As in most cities around the world, Ho Chi Minh City also has a Hop On – Hop Off bus service. It’s a super-easy way to see lots of tourist attractions around the city center, getting on and off wherever you like. The buses have air conditioning, free WiFi and audio guides in English, Chinese, French, Indonesian, German, … Traveling in style it is! Also, your ticket can be used for 24 hours so you can stay at any tourist attraction as long as you want and just catch the next bus afterward.
If you’re into a real tourist experience, take the Cyclo, similar to the rikshaw. This three-wheeled bike might not be very fast or ideal for long distances, but it’s a lot of fun and you’ll be able to get some really cool pics driving around the city!
While not yet operating, the Saigon Metro deserves a little attention in this section too. Constructions have started in 2012 and the first line should be ready in 2021. To be continued!
With a population of approximately 8,5 million people, it goes without saying traffic can be quite chaotic. Or that’s what it looks like at least, with over 7,5 million motorbikes and 700 000 cars. However, the Vietnamese are used to controlling the chaos. Ignoring traffic signs and signals, driving on the sidewalk and everyone maneuvering around each other efficiently is actually exactly what makes Ho Chi Minh City’s traffic flow steadily. Even though it may seem completely insane.
If you’re on foot and want to cross the street, our best advice is to look to the left and the right, walk confidently, but slowly and consistently keep one hand in the air. Definitely do not run! Cars and motorbikes will need some time to notice you and adjust their speed. We’re not gonna lie, this might be pretty scary the first time, but you’ll get the hang of it!
Having arranged an airport pickup beforehand is the smartest thing to do in every country. No need to find the bus stops or waiting in line for a taxi. Or worse, get scammed because you obviously look like a tourist. So if you can find a driver or order a taxi before you get on that plane, we suggest you do!
However, if you forgot, there are some other options. Taking a Taxi (again, be aware of crooks) or Grab or take a bus. Public Bus 152 is cheap and takes you to downtown HCM. Yellow Bus 109 does the same, but is a little more fancy, comfortable, and therefore, more expensive. The last option is taking Shuttle Bus 49 with drop-off points in the city center and at big hotels.
Ho Chi Minh City’s neighborhoods were shaped by their colonial history. Later on, industrialization and urbanization left their mark as well. Today, the city consists of 24 districts: 19 central ones and five suburban districts. Visiting them all, even though it would be worth it, would take you weeks and maybe even months! So we made it easier for you and selected our five favorite ones.
District One is also known as the city center. There are lots of tourist attractions, including culture, food and shopping. This prime area is a vibrant part of town that gives you a good idea of what Ho Chi Minh City is really like. It’s also the business and commercial heart of the city with banks, consulates and administrative buildings.
District Two is also known as D2 or Thao Dien. Historically it was one of the poorest areas in the city because the Saigon river literally cut it off from the city’s center. Nowadays, development and urbanization have transformed the district into one of the most exclusive ones. It’s known for its gyms, spas and co-working hubs and it’s definitely the most Western district in Ho Chi Minh City.
If you’re into colonial architecture District Three is your place to be. It’s a beautiful mix of old and new with temples, great restaurants, parks and a lot of street food. And shopping, both cheap, middle- and high end. There’s really something for everyone here.
District Five is home to Vietnam’s very own Chinatown. Locals refer to it as ‘Cho Lon’. This is the place for ornamental decorations everywhere, lanterns, holiday celebrations and lots of historical and cultural Chinese heritage!
We’re not gonna lie, getting to the Phu Nhuan District can be quite challenging, but crossing that distance is definitely worth it, especially if you are on a budget. From food to accommodation, everything is way cheaper over here.
The district is home to many expats and Vietnamese youngsters and therefore very much alive. Also, the street food is amazing!
Ho Chi Minh City is a fascinating mix of classic French architecture, minimal skyscrapers and traditional temples and pagodas. There’s a war museum and underground tunnels you can visit, parks, markets and shopping streets. There are rooftop bars on almost every building, fancy restaurants serving the finest Vietnamese, French or Chinese Cuisine. But it’s also the place with the best street food in the country, Vietnamese coffee and Bia Hoi, supposedly the cheapest beer in the world! In short, a city that is definitely worth a visit!
After reading this guide we hope it has helped you to prepare for your upcoming trip to Vietnam’s biggest city or even convinced you to book your flight and come visit The Pearl of the Far East.
At ForeverVacation, we want to help you have the best time possible so if you still have questions, don’t hesitate to send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org. We will gladly help you plan and organize your dream vacation.
Life is short. Stop procrastinating for that amazing vacation you so truly deserve. We look forward to meeting you.
See you in Ho Chi Minh City!
Janie & Ben