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Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam

My friends would usually tell me that unless you’re interested in history wars, Ho Chi Minh City is someplace you can skip in your Indochina trip. It’s a lot like Manila or even worse, they said. I may not be a war enthusiast, but I’m curious enough to book a flight still to see and experience her.

But I have to agree with my friends that HCM is Manila’s younger sister. They have the same third-world public highways, traffic jams, friendly locals, cheap everything, and even the same scams. I thought HCM would be one of those cities that I’ll only visit once, but nah, I had a change of heart during the two days I’m there. I don’t know if it’s the coffee or the beautiful cafes or the French colonial architecture or maybe the sea of scooters on the road, which is fascinating to watch. One thing I’m sure of is I’m going back someday for a longer time.

Ho Chi Minh City Facts

Ho Chi Minh City, or commonly known as Saigon, was once the capital city of Vietnam during the French colony. The capital city was later transferred to Hanoi after the “Fall of Saigon”, which is known to be the end of the Vietnam War. Today, HCM is the most populated and central economic city of Vietnam.

Geography: 

HCM is in the Southeastern region of Vietnam. It is 1760 km away (33 hours travel via sleeper train) from Hanoi and 270 km away (only 6 hours travel via bus) from the capital of Cambodia, Phnom Penh. If you’re planning to see HCM-Hanoi by land, think again.

Climate:

Like the other Southeast Asian countries, HCM has a tropical climate and high humidity. The rainy season starts in May to October. The dry season lasts from December to April. The coldest month (and also the best time to go) would be December and January.

HO CHI MINH CITY GUIDE

NEVER exchange your Philippine Peso to Vietnamese Dong (VND) here in Manila. US Dollars (USD) has better exchange rate in Ho Chi Minh. I loss P1500 when I exchanged my PHP to VND in Manila comparing to my mom exchange her USD in HCM.

Cheap accommodations are usually found on the Backpacker’s Street of HCM, Pham Ngu Lao. Most of the tourists are here too.

Most if the airbnbs I saw are on top floor of buildings without elevator. If you’re not a fan of stairs (or with a big luggage), better stick with the cheap hotels. Price difference is not that big anyway.

Food in Ho Chi Minh is as cheap as in the Philippines. The have a lot of street foods, snail places and artsy hole-in-the wall cafes. P10,000 pocket money is too much (without shopping) for 3 days.

Be careful and alert when walking around the city because motorcycles are everywhere, even on the sidewalks. Motorbike snatchers are also a thing. Bring your Manila instinct.

Avoid motorcycle tours where they’ll even show you a notebook of their previous customers’ reviews. Most of the scam stories in HCM are related to these tours. If you wanted to experience motorcycles, you can rent one in Uber/Grab.

How to go to Ho Chi Minh

FROM MANILA:

There are three airlines (Cebu Pacific, Philippine Airlines & AirAsia) who offer a direct flight from Manila to Ho Chi Minh City. The travel usually takes 2 hours and 30 minutes with a one-hour time difference that might confuse you.

For me, 4,000 PHP – 6,000 PHP roundtrip fare is an acceptable price. Anything lower is a good steal (Congratulations to you!!), and anything above is overpriced for a neighbor country visit. Here are some estimated fares from different airlines.

*All prices here are when booked six months before the travel dates. Seat sales are usually based on promotional posters.

Cebu Pacific
8,500 PHProundtrip
  • Seat Sale:
  • 5,000 PHP
AirAsia
11,700 PHProundtrip
  • Seat Sale:
  • 4,700 PHP
Philippine Airlines
15,300 PHProundtrip
  • Seat Sale:
  • 10,000 PHP
Jetstar (with SG layover)
8,500 PHProundtrip
  • Seat Sale:
  • 7,000 PHP
From Cambodia or Thailand:

You can travel to Ho Chi Minh City from Cambodia or Thailand (her neighbor countries) by land. You can also travel by plane, but travelers prefer the sleeper bus since it’s cheaper. (all prices listed below are one-way fares)

Phnom Penh to Ho Chi Minh

Cat Mekong Express Bus – $12 / $15 (VIP van)
Giant Ibis – $18
Kumho Samco – $10

Vietnam Airlines – $188
Cambodia Angkor Air – $109

Siem Reap to Ho Chi Minh

Cat Mekong Express Bus – $26
Giant Ibis Bus (w/ Phnom Penh stop over) – $33
Virak Buntham Express – $22

Vietnam Airlines – $203
Cambodia Angkor Air – $185

Bangkok to Ho Chi Minh

There’s no direct bus ride from Thailand to Ho Chi Minh, you can choose to ride a bus (via Travel Mart) to Siem Reap or Phnom Penh first then another bus to HCM.

Nok Air – $69             Thai Airways – $257
Thai AirAsia – $70       Vietjet – $56

Getting Around Ho Chi Minh City

Compared to other Asian countries, HCM doesn’t have a metro train system (yet); thus, the major transportation in the city is on motorbikes. Almost 7 million out of 8.5 million people in the city own a motorbike. Imagine that!

UBER/GRAB

HCM tranpo

Unlike in the Philippines, Uber or Grab have motorbikes that you can book. A 5-minutes ride can cost you around 20 – 30 PHP. They also have Uber X available that costs less than 100 PHP in a 5-10 minute ride in the city. I also used the Uber X from the airport to our hotel for 200 PHP. Uber/Grab is safer and cheaper than a taxi or motorcycle taxi.

BUS

hcm bus

Buses in HCM are easy to spot since they have a green and white exterior, with tickets priced as low as 300 VND. It is the cheapest way to roam around the city but also is time-consuming. If you want to try this mode, make sure you have the internet to access Google maps. Google maps can tell you what bus numbers and routes to take.

There are also available airport buses, the yellow ones, that offer shuttle service from Tan Son Nhat Airport to the city center. It is a lot cheaper than airport taxis. If you arrive in HCM before 12:30 midnight, then take BUS#109 for 20,000 VND.

TAXI

HCM tranpo

Taxi is the easiest way to get around HCM, but you have to remember that the city is also known for its taxi scams. Standard taxi fare starts at 10,000 – 15,000 VND, with every km priced at 6,000 VND. I didn’t try taking the taxi but if you’re going to do it, stick with the legitimate taxi companies like Vinasun and Mai Linh.

PRIVATE CARS

HCM tranpoIf you’re not a fan of public transportation and can afford some luxury travel, book a private car via Klook. It is comfortable since you’ll have your chauffeur and air-conditioned car amidst the Ho Chi Minh City heat. Also, it is efficient since you don’t have to worry about getting from one attraction to another. Just give your itinerary to the driver, and, voila, you’ll be driven like the queen to those places.

This package is quite flexible. You can choose between half-day (6 hours) for 3,500 PHP or full-day (12 hours) rent for 4,600 PHP. They also have different vehicles depending on your party- groups of 3, 5, and 12! If you’re traveling with a big group the I advise you to take this transportation.

ACCOMMODATION

Cititel Boutique Ben Thanh Hotel

We booked the triple room in this hotel for three nights for 5,000 PHP (~100 USD) in Agoda, which is, for me, worth it since it has a good location, complimentary breakfast, and a clean private room.

The location is excellent because the area seems awake even at midnight, that it does not seem scary to walk alone. The hotel is inside a small alley, so street noise is minimal, but they need to improve their rooms’ soundproofing since we can hear the corridor and neighbor room’s noise. There are also a lot of cafes and milk tea cafes around, near a shopping street and just two blocks away from Pham Nga Lao Backpackers Street. Tourists attractions are also just a 10-15 minutes walk from here.

The complimentary breakfast is okay, just simple breakfast foods, same every day. We tried to eat early since most reviews said that foods are already not refilled around 10 AM. But overall, our hotel experience is good. We got a clean room for three people with a hot shower, cable, and shower kits. The hotel is simple, with few amenities, but since we are primarily out in the day, we only used this for sleeping. The crews are helpful, friendly, and speak good English.

HCM hotel

HCM hotel

Since Ho Chi Minh is somehow like the Philippines in terms of inefficient public transportation, it is better to stay in District 1 where the citylife is. District 1 is the center district of Ho Chi Minh for it has all the entertainment and tourist attractions but it is also considered as the most expensive. If you want to stay on other districts of the city, then read this.

*All hotels below are in District 1 and prices are in Philippine peso.

Hostels
P500 - P900per night
  • Phan Anh Backpackers - P550
  • GoCo Hostel - P500
  • Saigon Backpackers - P550
  • Vitamin Smiles - P560
  • Full House - P870
Budget Hotels
P1,500 - P3,500per night
  • Central Park Saigon - P1600
  • Zoolut Stay 271 - P1400
  • Elios Hotel - P2000
  • Roseland Corp - P2700
  • Muong Thanh Saigon Center - P3500
Luxury Hotels
P5,000 -P7,000per night
  • Hotel Nikko Saigon - P5500
  • Grand Silverland - P5000
  • EdenStar Saigon - P5000
  • Liberty Central Saigon - P6200
  • Novotel Saigon Center - P5800

HCM attraction

Reunification Palace

This is where the Vietnam War ends.
Open Hours: everyday, 7:30 – 11AM & 1 – 4PM
Entrance Fee: 40,000 VND (~100PHP/2USD)

HCM attraction

Notre Dame Basilica

It is closed to tourists during the massive three-year renovation project until 2020. You can only admire it now from the outside.

HCM attraction

War Remnants Museum

A heartbreaking museum that shows all what happened during Vietnam War.
Open Hours: everyday, 7:30 AM – 6 PM
Entrance Fee: 40,000 VND (~100PHP/2USD)

golden water theather

Golden Dragon Water Theater

Witness a traditional Vietnamese puppet show performed in water, with live music accompaniment.
Show Hours: 5 PM & 6:30 PM
Entrance Fee: 748 PHP in Klook

HCM attraction

Nguyen Street

A walking street where French colonial architecture is most visible.
You can see the City Hall, Ho Chi Minh statue, Opera House & Apartment Cafe here.

HCM attraction

Saigon Central Post Office

This beautiful building is just beside Notre Dame Basilica.
Open Hours: everyday, 7AM – 7PM
Entrance Fee: free

HCM attraction

Other museums in Ho Chi Minh:

Fine Arts Museum: Tues – Sun, 8AM – 6PM
HCM Museum: everyday, 7:30AM – 6PM
Vietnamese History Museum: everyday, 8-11:30AM, 1:30-5PM

bitexco

Bitexco Saigon Skydeck

Get an amazing 360-degree view of Ho Chi Minh on its tallest building.
Open Hours: 9:30 AM – 9:30 PM
Entrance Fee: 467 PHP in Klook

DAY TRIPS


Mekong River Delta

Mekong Delta is more than 2 hours away from Ho Chi Minh City, with a stunning maze of rivers, swamps, islands, floating markets, and villages in rice paddies. It’s a famous tourist destination if you want to experience the rural life in Vietnam. You can avail of this tour via Klook for only 745 PHP

 

Cu Chi Tunnel

Cu Chi is two hours away from Ho Chi Minh city and is famous for the 200 km underground tunnel that the Viet Cong built during the war. The war history behind the tunnels is interesting, fascinating, and heartbreaking at the same time. The highlight is crawling the tunnel yourself. This tour is also available on Klook for 692 PHP.
Read my own experience CU CHI TUNNEL TOUR WITH KLOOK: WHAT IS IT LIKE TO BE IN VIETNAM WAR.

SHOPPING

Ben Thanh Market

It is one big (wet and dry) market of everything- foods, fashion, souvenirs. I was able to only roam for 30 minutes since the place was chaotic and humid inside. I’m also not impressed with the quality of bags and clothes inside.

The marketplace closed at 5 PM, but they have night markets outside starting at 9 PM. I enjoyed the night market more.

Ho Chi Minh City

Saigon Square

If you want fashion finds, then head to Saigon Square. Clothes, North Face, and Kipling replicas are of better quality here than in Ben Thanh Market. There are a lot of Saigon Square, and I went to Saigon Square 1, which is just near Ben Thanh Market.

Diamond Plaza

If you’re into luxurious things, head off to Diamond Plaza, just beside Saigon Central Post Office. It is a 15-story department store with high-end brands, cinemas, and restaurants.

NIGHTLIFE

Rooftop Bars

  • Above Sky Bar
  • Chill Sky Bar
  • Glow Sky Bar
  • Air 360 Sky Bar

Pub Bars:

  • Bar Seventeen Saloon
  • Texas Bar BQ
  • T&R Tavern Saigon

Night Clubs:

  • Apocalypse Now
  • Crazy Buffalo Nightclub
  • Gossip
  • Lush Nightclub

HO CHI MINH POSTS

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