With a map and a smartphone, Saigon is extremely easy to navigate. Download an offline Google map and you’re all set, but do take care when using phones (and other gadgets) near roads. Snatch-and-grab crime (while still very rare) is on the rise. District 1 can be easily reached and explored on foot from our hotel, although the heat, humidity, and traffic might make taxis a more attractive option if you’re not used to tropical climates.
Public buses do operate, although, for foreign visitors, working out where they’re going and knowing when to get off might be a challenge. So…
…here’s a short run down on how best to explore this amazing city…
Mai Linh and Vinasun taxis are the safest and most reliable way to travel around Ho Chi Minh City. They can be hailed at the side of the street during the daytime and evening, although they can be hard to find beyond 11 pm. Waving a car down is often the easiest choice, although most restaurants, bars, shops etc. will be happy to call a car for you (including us!) Expect a longer wait at peak times or when it rains. Our front desk staff are always happy to call cabs for guests then instruct the driver on where to go and ask for an estimate of how much the fare is likely to be.
The city is also home to several ride-hailing companies including Grab (bikes and cars) and GO-VIET (bikes only). For short car journeys, there is often little difference in price between Grab and the bonafide taxi companies. For longer car journeys, however, they can be cheaper (just make sure you can find a car to get you home should you head into the countryside).
Grab and GO-VIET motorbikes are an extremely affordable way of seeing the city, although reliability and route choice can vary from driver to driver. And always check that your medical insurance covers riding motorbikes as a passenger.
Spare helmets are always available (and should always be worn), although quality standards in Vietnam are much lower than those in Europe, the USA, or Australia, for example.
Translated as “motorbike hug” the xe om was a common sight on Saigon’s streets until the arrival of ride-hailing apps like Grab. However, you’ll still see plenty of men parked at the side of the street offering rides as you walk past with a polite, “Motorbike?”. Unless you look Vietnamese, and especially if you’re in a tourist-heavy part of town, they are likely to overcharge you for the ride -and they do not use meters. That said, prices will (hopefully) be lower than a taxi, although you should always negotiate and agree the fare before climbing aboard. To avoid confusion over hundreds, thousands, and millions, it can also help to show the driver the cash (or write the fare down) to confirm before setting off.
As there is no accountability when using xe om drivers, we do not recommend using them after dark, especially for our female guests. Always have a general idea of the route and direction you need to take, and don’t be afraid to decline, dismount, and take an alternative option if you have any doubts.