Here’s a short run down on how best to explore this amazing city…
With a good pair of sneakers and a bottle of water, walking is a great way to fully immerse yourself in the sights, sounds, and smells of Saigon. You’ll see things that are easily missed from a bike or car, and you’ll also have the chance to take detours and find your own hidden gems. We recommend either taking a local map (available at our hotel) or downloading an offline map to your smartphone via the Google Maps app. Without relying on 3G or WiFi, you’ll always know exactly where you are and where you need to go. Just remember to move away from passing traffic when using a phone. “Snatch-and-grab” bike thieves (although rare) have been known to prey on tourists.
Guests wishing to explore District 1 on foot can either walk from our hotel (a 15-minute walk through the quiet backstreets and across the canal) or take a taxi (a one-kilometre ride).
Always carry an umbrella in the rainy season, and always be aware that Saigon’s heat and humidity can be extreme. Remember to wear sunscreen, sun glasses, and a hat, and drink plenty of water to avoid dehydration. Fresh coconuts are also good and readily available on street corners or in convenience stores!
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.
Saigon 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 traditional taxi companies Mai Linh and Vinasun. For longer car journeys, however, ride hailing apps can be cheaper. If heading way out of the city, remember that it may not be as easy to find a car to return as it was to go.
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 helmet 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.