Ho Chi Minh City, also known as Saigon, is probably Vietnam’s best and the greatest city.
Certainly not one of the richest cities in the world, Ho Chi Minh city thrives on tourists. Small tips from tourists go a long way at Ho Chi Minh city and are usually expected especially from western travelers.
The easiest way to get to this city is by airplane. Tan Son Nhat is Vietnam’s international airport. For the convenience of the travelers, there are foreign exchange counters at the airport.
However, it is always better to get the money exchanged at foreign exchange offices in the city, rather than at the airport, as foreign exchange offices in the city charge less for their services. To go to the city a visitor can hop into a taxi from the airport. Usually, the trip to the city takes about 30 minutes and costs about 3 to 5 USD.
Inside the city, getting around is very easy and cheap, as there are various means of transport. The taxis are a relatively low cost option and can take you anywhere in the city. Usually, the taxi rate is about 6000 dongs per kilometer. A much cheaper option is the motorbikes.
Needless to say, motorbikes are quite risky as they are prone to accidents. Visitors should always check the rate before availing a motorbike to avoid confrontation later. Apart from taxis and the motorbikes there are “cyclos”. Cyclo drivers are known to rip off tourists and so, extreme caution should be exercised here, even if they sound cheap.
However, according to most tourists the best way to get around in the Ho Chi Minh city is by bus. Vietnam has recently invested a lot of money on improving its bus services. Buses are not only cheap and comfortable but are also the safest mode of transport in and around the city.
Walking which is probably favored by many tourists can be a dangerous option in Ho Chi Minh city unless the person is used to the “rules of the road” in Vietnam.
The streets of Ho Chi Minh are pretty much chaotic with most drivers showing scant respect to traffic rules. To worsen matters there are hardly any lights at intersections and the traffic policemen generally show to apathy to drivers who flout traffic rules.
So if you are in Ho Chi Minh city and you are planning to explore the city on foot, make sure you are always alert, especially when crossing streets.
The temperature in Ho Chi Minh city is usually on the higher side. The average minimum temperature for the city is about 71 degrees (or 21 degrees Celsius) during the months of December and January and the average maximum average temperature is about 99 degrees (or 35 degrees Celsius) during the month of April.
From a tourist’s perspective the best times to visit Ho Chi Minh city is either between October and December or between March and April. Moreover, during these times it usually doesn’t rain and therefore, the risk of running into a typhoon is minimal.
Accommodations in Ho Chi Minh city is plenty can cater to any type of tourist—rich or poor. There are both budget hotels and luxury hotels. If one is little short on dough there are always cheap “motels” in the city.
There are quite a few places of interest Ho Chi Minh city and it would be a folly for any tourist to miss them.
One such place of interest is the Reunification Hall, which was previously the Presidential Palace. Outside this building, there is a parked battle tank that played an important role in ending the Vietnam war by breaking the gates.
Then there is the War Remnants Museum which is also known as the Exhibition House of American War Crimes. This museum is a tribute to those brave soldiers of Vietnam who fought and died during the Vietnam War.
Inside this museum one can find lots of photographs from the war and also other things like a real guillotine and a “tiger cage” prison. However, the most gruesome thing that one can see inside the museum is the jars that contain deformed fetuses.
Another place of interest in the city is the City Hall. The City Hall was previously known as Hotel de Ville. Currently the building has been renamed as People’s Committee Hall.
Apart from these popular tourist attractions there is also the Museum of Vietnamese History. In this museum visitors can learn a lot of Vietnam’s history and culture. However, some of the exhibits that are on display at the museum are said to be distorted or skewed with communist ideas.
Considering everything, Ho Chi Minh city is certainly not a bad place to visit.
Ho Chi Minh city is worth visiting for people who are looking for a city that is quite different from any other city in the world. The weather is warm and usually nice. The same thing can be said about the local people as well.
But the most important reason for visiting Ho Chi Minh city is its history. A history that is violent but nevertheless has left indelible marks that are still be found both inside and outside of the city museums.
- Tan Son Nhat International Airport (Tân Sơn Nhất) (The airport is about 8 km from the heart of the city.). Vietnam’s largest international airport. There are two terminals: the shiny, pleasant international terminal which took over all international flights from 2007, and the old but functional domestic terminal 200 m away. There is no duty-free shopping after you land – purchase such items at the airport from which you are departing to visit Vietnam. Both terminals have limited food offerings at high prices once you pass immigration on your outbound journey.
Immigration and currency
Immigration protocols at the airport are very streamlined. It is no longer necessary for most passengers to fill in any immigration or customs declaration cards. (The latter may be necessary if you are intending to stay in Vietnam for a long period, or carrying unusual goods; the former is needed for visa on arrival). The baggage carousels are one level down from the immigration booths. You will need to have your checked-in and hand-carry luggage X-rayed before you leave the restricted area.
After you clear customs, you will find currency exchange booths to your right. The currency of Vietnam is the dong. Currency exchange rates at the airport are competitive, and it is preferable to change money here than at the backpackers area in the city which tends to have less favourable rates. Ask first if there’s a commission, because this will add to the cost of changing money and nullify any rate advantage. There are two Citibank ATMs near the currency exchange booths. The withdrawal fee is 60,000 dong. Maximum withdrawal is 6,000,000 dong at one time. There is also a different ATM across from Citibank’s, but it is charging a percentage on top of a fixed fee, which works out to be more expensive.
Getting to city centre
The No. 109 airport bus (yellow) links the international airport and city centre (Pham Ngu Lao St). This bus runs from 05:30 to 01:30 of the following day, with a frequency of 15-20 minutes/trip, and the travelling time of the trip is about 45 minutes. Passengers travelling from Tan Son Nhat International Airport can take a bus at Column 15 (International Terminal) or Column 18 (Domestic Terminal). The fare for the service is 20,000 dong for journeys over 5 km and 12,000 dong for those under 5 km. Bus 109 has various advantages such as a low floor and wide doors which help passengers with bulky luggage, the elderly, the disabled and pregnant women easily get in and out of the bus; large luggage spaces; and information of upcoming stops is displayed and announced in English and Vietnamese. To reach the Airport from the city center, head to the Local Bus Station on Pham Ngu Lao St.
Travel by Train in Vietnam
Although more expensive than buses, trains are undoubtedly the most comfortable way to travel overland in Vietnam. There is one major train line in Vietnam, the 1,723 km (1,071 mi) trunk between Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City, on which the Reunification Express runs. Ho Chi Minh City to Hanoi is more than 30 hours, and overnight hops between major tourism destinations are usually possible, if not entirely convenient. It’s a good way to see the countryside and meet upper-middle class locals, but unless you are travelling in a sleeper car it is no more comfortable than buses.
Air conditioned soft or hard sleeper is recommended, and purchasing as early as possible is a good idea as popular berths and routes are often bought out by tour companies and travel agents well before the departure time (hence being told the train is sold out at a station ticket window or popular tour company office does not mean there are no tickets available–they’ve simply been bought by another reseller). Booking at the train station itself is generally the safest way, just prepare on a piece of paper the destination, date, time, no. of passengers and class. However, unsold tickets can often be bought last minute from people hanging around at the station–a train is rarely sold out for real, as the railway company will add cars when demand is high. Commissions on these tickets will drop away as the departure time draws nearer. Tickets can be returned before departure for a 10% fee. There is also an official Vietnamese Railways website, which has an English version and accepts payments by international bank cards.
Be cautious when using a travel agent to purchase your train tickets, since there is nothing printed on the ticket saying the class you are booked in. As of July 2019 tickets (now termed ‘boarding passes’) do indicate the class of ticket.
This results in a common scam with private travel agents where you will pay them to book a soft-sleeper ticket, they then book you a cheaper hard-sleeper ticket, and you don’t know you’ve been scammed until you board the train and your berths are in the lower class.
By then with the train on the verge of departing it is too late to go back to the scamming agent to demand compensation. With the new boarding passes this scam is less of an issue although buying your ticket directly from the train station remains the best option.
In addition, there are shorter routes from Hanoi leading northwest and northeast, with international crossings into China. One of the most popular of the shorter routes is the overnight train from Hanoi to Lao Cai (with a bus service from Lao Cai to the tourism destination of Sa Pa).
Always try to buy your tickets at least 3 days in advance, to avoid disappointment, especially during peak holiday season, during which you should try to book at least 2 weeks in advance.
If you are sensitive to cigarette smoke try to book a seat in the middle of the carriage as people smoke in the areas at the end of each carriage and the doors are often left open.
Historical Facts about Vietnam
Vietnam’s history is one of war, colonization and rebellion. Occupied by China no fewer than four times, the Vietnamese managed to fight off the invaders just as often. Even during the periods in history when Vietnam was independent, it was mostly a tributary state to China until the French colonization. Vietnam’s last emperors were the Nguyễn Dynasty, who ruled from their capital at Hue from 1802 to 1945, although France exploited the succession crisis after the fall of Tự Đức to de facto colonise Vietnam after 1884.
Both the Chinese occupation and French colonization have left a lasting impact on Vietnamese culture, with Confucianism forming the basis of Vietnamese social etiquette, and the French influencing Vietnamese cuisine.
After a brief Japanese occupation in World War II, the Communist Viet Minh under the leadership of Hồ Chí Minh continued the war of independence against the French. The last Emperor Bao Dai abdicated in 1945 with a proclamation of independence following soon after. The majority of French had left by 1945, but in 1946 they returned to continue the fight until their decisive defeat at Dien Bien Phu in 1954.
The Geneva Conference partitioned the country into two at the 17th parallel, with a communist-led North supported by the Soviet Union, and Ngô Đình Diệm establishing a capitalist regime and declaring himself President of the Republic of Vietnam in the South supported by the United States.
South Vietnam would be plagued by numerous domestic problems, including corruption, nepotism and electoral fraud. Diệm, who was a Roman Catholic, enacted laws that discriminated against the Buddhist majority in favor of the Catholic minority, which led to the Buddhist monk Thích Quảng Đức self-immolating in protest at a busy intersection in Saigon in 1963.
US economic and military aid to South Vietnam grew during the 1960s in an attempt to bolster the South Vietnamese government.
This escalated into the dispatch of 500,000 American troops in 1966 and what became known as the Vietnam War in the West (the Vietnamese refer to it as the American War). What was supposed to be a quick and decisive action soon degenerated into a quagmire, and U.S. armed forces withdrew following a cease-fire agreement in 1973.
Two years later, on April 30, 1975, a North Vietnamese tank drove into the South’s Presidential Palace in Saigon and the war ended. An estimated 3 million Vietnamese and over 55,000 Americans were killed. Vietnam’s war against the United States was one of many that they have fought, but it was the most brutal in its history.
Most of the nation’s population was born after 1975. American tourists will receive a particularly friendly welcome in Vietnam, as many young Vietnamese are admirers of American culture.
After unifying the country, the communist government proceeded to root out the remaining capitalist elements in the south. Many business owners were killed while others, known as the boat people, became refugees and attempted to escape to Western countries, resulting in the establishment of Vietnamese communities in the United States of America, Australia and Canada.
The ethnic Chinese, long resented by the ethnic Vietnamese for their perceived economic clout, were particularly hard-hit by the purges.
Following the collapse of the state-run economy, the government implemented market-oriented reforms and introduced capitalist elements in 1986 with a policy known as đổi mới. This policy has proved highly successful, as it spurred impressive economic growth and infrastructure development.
Discriminatory laws against the remaining ethnic Chinese were repealed, and many have used their business acumen to contribute greatly to the revitalization of the Vietnamese economy, also regaining some of their previous economic dominance in the process.
In recent times, some former refugees or their descendants, most of whom were raised and educated in the West, have also returned to Vietnam in order to take advantage of new economic opportunities.
Today, Vietnam is widely considered to be one of the rising stars of ASEAN with a young population and vibrant economy.
Stay safe and avoid Scams in Saigon
In general, Saigon is a safe city, with violent crimes such as armed robbery being relatively rare. The most common crimes faced by tourists are pickpocketing and snatch theft from motorbikes.
Scam artists operate on the streets of Ho Chi Minh City. A person will strike up a friendly conversation claiming they’ve either seen you at the airport or some other tourist place where they work.
Usually they’ll be with other family members who will join the conversation very naturally and once they find out where you’re from they’ll mention that another family member is moving to a city in your country.
You will be invited over for food at their house to help console a worried grandmother or to give advise to their family member. Once you arrive at the house however the family member is not there, or the grandmother has suddenly fallen ill and had to go to the hospital. You’ll be presented with various business opportunities, legal or not, or asked for financial support for the suddenly sick grandmother.
Hotel scams are very common, even in the mid-range price level ~USD20-70. The hotel will remind you that you should place your valuables in the room safe or the hotel safe. Lock up everything that is more or less valuable.
Don’t hold up expensive things near the street or leave them out on the table while you’re having a meal, especially in District 1, especially around the backpacker area. Petty theft is a big problem, and a lot of times it’s done by people on motorbikes. It’s easy to prevent by not giving thieves the opportunity.
Don’t buy sim card before the immigration at the airport, they will charge you $10 for a sim card. After immigration and baggage area, you can find sim card booth. They sell sim card for $6 only.
Don’t buy coconut more than ~USD2, real-price is ~USD0.5. If you are forced, call police: +84 8 3829 7643, +84 8 38299835.
A favourite trick is for the vendors to strike up a conversation with you, let you hold the carrying-stick, take a picture, and while you’re distracted open a coconut for you that you really didn’t ask for.
Also, the prostitutes on Bui Vien and Ton That Tung will try to rob you. Usually, they’ll approach men acting like they’re up to normal prostitute business, but they are to pickpocket.
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