Vietnam is becoming an increasingly popular travel destination as the Vietnamese are pushing for more tourism. As of recent, it has attracted a thriving digital nomad scene with many big co-working spaces, great internet speeds and an abundance of quality
I wouldn’t be surprised to find Vietnam being the next Thailand for travel in the next 5 – 10 years. And because of that, every true-traveller-at-heart would want to visit a country before it gets “too” touristy.
Getting to HCMC
There are many ways to get to Vietnam, from land, water and air. Most people will be flying into Ho Chi Minh City by landing at Tan Son Nhat International Airport.
The airport isn’t very big and the international arrival terminal leads you straight to a very busy pick up area. The same area is where you will find bus stops that take you to the city centre.
The buses are really cheap, but be prepared if you plan to take them because there’s zero English and the local English proficiency levels are not very high. But, if you do your research before you arrive then the bus is a great option for the adventurous.
My best recommendation for anyone traveling to Ho Chi Minh city for the first time is to use Grab. Grab is a
Use Grab to book a car and you’ll get driven right to your destination with a transparent fixed price. You just need to download the app, turn on your GPS on your phone and type in your destination. The app will clearly state the ride’s price and the designated driver.
Where to stay in Ho Chi Minh City
Ho Chi Minh City is split into 24 districts, district 1 being the main city center area and where all the main sights are located at. The big hotels are also located here.
But if you want the same quality of accommodation at the fraction of the price, then just over the bridge to District 4 is where many affordable Airbnb apartments are. It’s a great option for people traveling in a large group or families.
You can get an entire apartment, with cleaning services near the city centre, and it’ll have free wifi, cable TV, access to a pool, gym and other facilities the apartment provide.
District 4 is right next to district 1, but separated by a river. District 4 is the best place for unapologetic Vietnamese street food. It’s also the district that has a lot of co-working spaces.
You don’t have to be traveling in a big group to consider it either, there are plenty of studio apartments that are EVEN cheaper. So unless you need new towels every day and room service; Airbnb is a great option.
SIM cards are easily purchased from the moment you land at the airport and the prices are not terribly inflated.
But if you take the bus or taxi from the airport then you can skip the price inflation ad get one in the city instead. Data in Ho Chi Minh City is very cheap. The average market price from all the main carriers is around 75,000d for 10GB.
The data will last 30 days, even if they say it’ll last 8, 10 or 15 days only. I had bought a “10 day” SIM but was pleasantly surprised that it lasted for an entire month. I only knew this after heading into Mobifone to go top-up my SIM on day 9.
If you do buy a SIM card at the airport, you should go to your carrier in the city and have them download an app for you to easily track your data usage. It came in really handy near the end of my trip. (When you don’t want to buy another 10GB)
There are 3 main carriers in Vietnam.
- Viettel mobile
All are pretty much the same if you stay in the city area. They start differing once you leave the city area and visit the neighbouring areas in the countryside, such as the Mekong Delta.
But for the most part, any SIM card from these three carriers will keep you connected. Unless you plan to trek the Vietnam jungle by yourself, then there really isn’t much of a difference.
And if you are, well I don’t think a normal SIM card is what you need to keep yourself connected.
Getting around Ho Chi Minh City
Public transport isn’t very extensive in Saigon. Locals use motorbikes and scooters to get around, so the need for public transport doesn’t really exist.
Ho Chi Minh City
So of course, you can rent a bike. But riding a motorbike in HCMC is not the same as riding in Bali or Chiang Mai. The traffic is intense, so I really wouldn’t recommend it unless you’re an experienced rider.
For everyone else, it is taxi or grab. Taxis and grabs are everywhere and they’re cheap to use. If you’re travelling as a group then getting around in a car is the way to go. But if it’s just you or another person then you can easily hire motorbike taxis.
They’re cheaper and faster when rush hour traffic begins.
Grab doesn’t just provide
I love using Grab, but if you do have to use a taxi in HCMC, then you should only use one of two among the many in the city.
- Mai Linh
These two cab services are the most reliable in the city and it’s your best bet when avoiding taxi scams.
What to do in Ho Chi Minh City
You can’t go to HCMC without going to the following spots:
- Saigon Central Post Office
- Saigon Notre Dame Cathedral
- Ben Thanh Market
- War Remnants Museum
- Nguyen Hue Street
That’s just the tip of the iceberg. I’m not going to even attempt to list out everything, because this post is going to end up as a Google maps for HCMC.
But here are some popular day trips outside the city you shouldn’t miss out on:
- The Cu Chi Tunnels in Cu Chi
- River markets at Mekong delta
- The beaches at Vung Tau
You can easily reach these places by joining local tours. Head over to Bui Vien Walking street and find the many travel agents where you can sign up to a day tour. Alternatively you can go on Klook.com and find them all conveniently listed for you to compare.
There’s also a lot of cool places that aren’t commonly recommended such as:
- Apartment 42
- Saigon Botanical Gardens
- The Factory Contemporary Arts Centre
- 3A Station
What to eat in Ho Chi Minh City
But HCMC’s main draw is definitely the food. If you’re a foodie then HCMC will provide a trip to remember. You can’t go two steps without finding great food waiting for you to consume.
Here are some of my favourites while I was there:
Vietnamese Egg Coffee
Vietnamese egg coffee might sound weird to many people, but it is something you cannot miss out on when you’re in HCMC.
It isn’t as well known as Vietnamese iced coffee, but I personally prefer it more…though I’m not a coffee drinker. I can easily go a whole year without drinking a sip of coffee so, maybe hard core coffee snobs will disagree with me.
Either way, you should try both yourself and make your own conclusion.
Vietnamese Iced coffee made me jittery for the rest of the day and ended the day with a headache. (I don’t really drink much caffeine)
Vietnamese Egg coffee on the other hand was this warm caramel hug in every gulp, because you’re going to end up gulping it. It is that delicious.
I tried this drink by chance at Ben Thanh Market. Stumbling through the many stalls of clothes, you will find the food market on one side. Many of these stalls serve a whole array of things and I had the luck of trying a Soursop smoothie.
I can’t really explain the taste, other than it being sweet and refreshing. It is exactly what you crave after sweating and shopping through the market.
I think most people know what a Banh Mi is and knows how wonderful the combination of texture and taste a typical pate Banh Mi provides.
I think I lost count of how many Banh Mi-s I ate on my trip, but it really is different to anything you can get overseas.
The baguette is so crispy and soft, the crunch of the veggies and fresh herbs coming together with the savoury pate. Gosh I wish I could eat one as I type this.
Don’t miss out and eat as many as you can!
Bo Kho is this hearty beef stew that is served with baguette or instant noodles. Its nothing like the usual delicate broths that focus on how fresh the ingredients are. The stew is strong and its savouriness hits all the right spots.
Banh Trang Nuong
Banh Trang Nuong, or “Vietnamese pizza” is a very common street food you’ll find once the sun starts to set.
When I say street food, I mean street food. You normally see a lady with a small charcoal stove and all her ingredients in this makeshift setup that can be easily moved within a second’s notice.
The vendor will grill a piece of rice paper on their stove and slather on butter, then sprinkle on a bunch of savoury stuff like chopped up sausage and tiny dried shrimp. At the end they crack a quail egg on top and fold the whole thing in half.
So it’s more like a Vietnamese taco than a Vietnamese pizza.
I was at Turtle lake; a big roundabout that young locals love going to in the evening for street food. I think I tried everything I could there and Banh Trang Nuong was by far my favourite.
Com Tam Suon Nuong
You can’t go to Vietnam without eating broken rice. Broken rice can be served with anything, but in Ho Chi Minh is best known to serve broken rice with grilled pork chop.
Broken rice is exactly what it sounds like. It is broken grains of rice.
What was once poor people food that couldn’t be sold, is now the country’s favourite sort of rice to eat. Why? because broken rice is more flavourful than normal Jasmine long grain rice.
Now rice really isn’t very flavourful
The difference in flavour was stark.
But I don’t think the rice is the real highlight for most foreigners. It is the pork chop.
They marinate the pork chop to make it sweet and when you eat it with the spicy fish sauce they provide; it becomes out of this world amazing.
So, I can’t make a list about Vietnamese food without adding Pho. And as much as I enjoyed eating the many bowls of Pho in the city. The city has so much more to offer.
So instead of me explaining how yummy Pho is, let me recommend ordering a common side at Pho restaurants.
A raw egg yolk is a common side order locals like to add to their bowl of Pho. You can eat it in one go, or you can add it to your soup. I personally like to eat it in one go.
Who doesn’t like a silky savory egg yolk?
Ho Chi Minh City Travel tips
Learn to haggle
Prices really are arbitrary in this city, and most things can be negotiated. Especially when you’re in District 1.
Even a simple sugarcane drink can be an easy situation you find yourself getting scammed for. (Just a heads up, a sugarcane drink shouldn’t cost more than 5000d at most)
If you’re not confident with your haggling skills or you’re not that good with confrontation then stick with places that have clear pricing. It is the best alternative to getting surprised when you ask for the price.
Crossing the road
Crossing the road in HCMC for the first time will be something you remember for a long time. There most likely won’t be any pedestrian lights and traffic is coming in all directions.
My advice is going to be hard to believe but, the best way to cross the road is to just cross it.
Once there’s some space between you and the next step, take it and keep walking at a steady pace. Don’t speed up. Don’t suddenly stop and the traffic will miraculously dodge you.
Avoiding the airport scam
Cars entering the airport need to pay a fee and this fee is where most drivers will try to scam you. The airport fee is only 10,000d. Many drivers will try to get you to pay more. Taxis, cars you pre-booked, even Grabs.
I got charged 60,000d when I landed. I had questioned the fee, but the driver responded so smoothly I didn’t press him since I knew there was a fee I had to pay. I just didn’t know how much it was suppose to be.
It’s 10,000d guys, don’t get ripped off like me.
Avoid Taxi scams
There are many taxi operators. I have already mentioned the two most reliable ones, but even then you should always make sure the meter is turned on when you take one.
Bring a waterproof jacket
It rains a lot in HCMC. It isn’t like Singapore where the rain starts and stops within minutes. When it rains, it really does rain. So it’s handy to have a lightweight waterproof jacket on hand if you get caught in the rain.
If you travel during the rainy season (July to November) you’ll find the wind will pick up before it rains.