It never occurred to me that I would fall for Vietnam. Back then, I remember traveling here because it is pretty close to Cambodia and I only wanted to get my passport stamped. Looking back, I am not proud of it. Now Vietnam is one of my favorite countries when backpacking in Southeast Asia. This blog though will focus more on Ho Chi Minh Travel Guide.
When I arrived in Pham Ngu Lao, the Backpacker Street in Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC), I wasn’t immediately smitten. It took a few more hours – tasting Ho Chi Minh’s celebrated street food and taste bud-tingling Vietnamese dishes, crossing the motorcycle-choked roads, getting lost in hostel-fringed narrow lanes and coming face to face with the architectural medley of temples, Soviet-style housing blocks and French-inspired buildings and museums – before I started feeling something for Vietnam.
SAIGON/ HO CHI MINH TRAVEL GUIDE
WHERE IS HO CHI MINH CITY (SAIGON)?
Ho Chi Minh/ Saigon, once the capital of Vietnam, is located in southeastern Vietnam. It was originally known as Prey Nokor, a fishing village, home of the Khmer people until the Vietnamese settlers arrived around the 17th century. But in 1853, Saigon (formerly Prey Nokor) was conquered by the French and Spanish, reason why you’ll still see a wealth of French-styled buildings scattered all over Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon). Eventually, Saigon was renamed Ho Chi Minh, derived from the Vietnamese Communist revolutionary leader who was Chairman and First secretary of the Workers’ Party of Vietnam.
Today, the rising number of tourists is fast transforming its districts, with new hotels, bars, galleries and restaurants. Yet despite its urbanization, it has managed to retain its pride in Vietnamese culture. And that’s one of the reasons why I like this frenetic city. To help you plan your trip, here’s my Ho Chi Minh City Travel Guide.
WHEN IS THE BEST TIME TO VISIT HO CHI MINH CITY, VIETNAM?
The best time to visit Ho Chi Minh Cit/ Saigon is during the dry season, December to April. But March, April and May can be too hot. Wet season is May to November, so expect rains and frequent storms, though usually they won’t really interrupt your trip.
HO CHI MINH MONEY EXCHANGE
Ho Chi Minh uses the Vietnam currency called Dong (VND). Current exchange rate is around VND 10,000 = PHP 22 (USD0.44/ SGD 0.61). So yes, Vietnam is one of the countries in Asia where you can be a millionaire once you exchange your money.
You can bring USD so you won’t have a hard time exchanging money at money changers scattered around downtown Ho Chi Minh. If you need to take a taxi or bus from the airport to the city, just exchange a few dong and change the rest of your money in the city. Money changers at the airport have terrible exchange rates.
But the best option is to withdraw money from ATMs scattered around Ho Chi Minh City. You can use ATMs of international banks or even local banks like Vietcom Bank, Techcombank and BIVD. Make sure to call your bank before traveling to Vietnam and inform them about your trip so they can make a note in your account and allow withdrawals in Vietnam. I know someone who traveled there and couldn’t use her card because her bank blocked the transactions for security reasons.
IMPORTANT: Be careful when paying, always double check your money as it can be confusing, you might end up paying VND 100,000 instead of VND 10,000. And always count your change! Some vendors might confuse you and give you the wrong change if they know you are foreigner. Happened to me once.
In case you need to send money abroad or back home, you can’t do that in Vietnam unless you are an OFW there.
HO CHI MINH WI-FI
Being connected online is important in Ho Chi Minh and the rest of Vietnam. English is not widely-spoken, so you need to access Google Maps and Google translate. You can RENT A POCKET WIFI HERE Pick up or drop off at your hotel front desk in Ho Chi Minh City, Da Nang, Hanoi, Hoi An upon checking in and out. Pocket Wi-Fi can connect up to 8 devices at once.
HOW TO GET TO HO CHI MINH CITY FROM MANILA (PHILIPPINES)
From Manila (Philippines), there are several flights to and from Ho Chi Minh (Vietnam) via airlines such as Cebu Pacific (direct flight), Philippine Airlines (direct flight), Airasia (Kuala Lumpur lay over) and Jetstar (Singapore lay over). If direct flight, travel time is roughly 2 hours.
Cheapest fare is via Cebu Pacific, if you book regular fare, prepare to shell out around PHP 3, 798 for one way fare. But if you book during seat sales, you might snag a cheap roundtrip ticket for roughly the same amount.
HOW TO GET TO HO CHI MINH FROM CAMBODIA
From Phnom Penh, Cambodia, you can take a bus to Ho Chi Minh for about PHP 682 (VND 306,890/USD 16/SGD19) to PHP 908 (VND408,587/ USD 18/ SGD 25) depending on the type of bus. Travel time is 6 hours 30 minutes. You can check the bus schedule and book your bus tickets below.
SAIGON/ HO CHI MINH AIRPORT TO HO CHI MINH CITY
The most convenient way to get from Ho Chi Minh Airport (Tan Son Nhat Airport) to Ho Chi Minh City is by Uber, it’ll cost around VND 89,000 (PHP 197 / USD 4 / SGD 5) to get to Phum Nga Lao Street (Backpacker Street) from Ho Chi Minh/Saigon Airport by Uber X. If you are alone and you only have one or two backpacks with you, you can opt for Uber Moto, it’s cheaper, around VND 43,000 (PHP 95 / USD 2/ SGD 3). Toll fee is VND 10,000 (PHP 22 / USD 0.44/ SGD 0.61).
Cheapest way to downtown Ho Chi Minh is by Bus #152. I used this before to get to Pham Ngu Lao Street (Backpacker Street) in Ho Chi Minh. Fare is roughly VND 5,000 (PHP 11 / USD/ SGD 0.30) and additional VND 5,000 per bag. But it only runs until around 6:00 PM
You may also take the Bus #109 (Airport Bus) for VND 20,000 (PHP 44/ USD 2/ SGD 1.21) that runs from 5:30 AM to 1:30 AM.
GETTING AROUND HO CHI MINH CITY
BY TOUR PACKAGE
I tried riding the cyclo once to get to one of the tourist destinations and it was nice. I think I paid around VND 50,000 (PHP 100 /USD 2/ SGD 3) for one ride. The government has restricted the use of cyclos though on busy streets, so the driver uses a different route. The driver was kind enough to warn me about my bag also. He told me to hold it tight and not to use my camera or phone while on the road because Ho Chi Minh is notorious for motorcycle-riding snatchers. Even when walking, avoid flaunting your gadgets. If you want to go on a city tour riding a cycle, you can BOOK A HCMC CYCLO CITY TOUR HERE
I haven’t tried commuting around Ho Chi Minh (Saigon). But if you have the luxury of time and you want to give it a shot, there are bright green public buses that can take you around the city, just make sure you have Wi-Fi with you because you’ll most likely need Google Maps. English is not widely spoken in Ho Chi Minh, so you might have a hard time asking for directions. Look for the maps for the bus system, there is one at the Ben Than Bus Station fronting Ben Thanh Market.
For stress-free rides, use Uber, which is available in Ho Chi Minh. I recommend using this app instead of taxi.
Always use the meter and have your Google Maps ready. Many taxi drivers in Ho Chi Minh are reportedly notorious. To avoid being scammed, always use the meter, do not negotiate the price. Always prepare small change for paying the fare.
IMPORTANT: Crossing the road in Ho Chi Minh can be scary because there’s a lot of motorbikes, what I do is I always look for the pedestrian lane with traffic lights.
But if you are one of those tourists who want to try crossing the motorbike-filled streets of Vietnam, just be extra careful because it can be a big challenge. Walk with the locals. I was told to just walk across steady and the motorbikes will veer away from you to avoid hitting you.
HO CHO MINH TOP ATTRACTIONS
Ho Chi Minh City Hall
Address: 86 Lê Thánh Tôn, Bến Nghé, Quận 1, Hồ Chí Minh, Vietnam
Open Hours: 7:30 AM – 5:00 PM
Entrance Fee: Free
Saigon Central Post Office
Address: 2 Công xã Paris, Bến Nghé, Quận 1, Hồ Chí Minh, Vietnam
Open Hours: 7:00 AM – 7:00 PM
Entrance Fee: Free
Saigon Notre Dame Cathedral
Address: 1, Công xã Paris, Bến Nghé, Quận 1, Hồ Chí Minh, Vietnam
Entrance Fee: Free
Address: 135 Nam Kỳ Khởi Nghĩa, Bến Thành, Quận 1, Hồ Chí Minh, Vietnam
Open Hours: 7:30 AM –11:00 AM, 1:00 PM – 4:00 PM
Entrance Fee: VND 20,000 (PHP 44/ USD 2/ SGD 1.21)
The Golden Water Puppet Show
Address: 55B Nguyen Thi Minh Khai Street, Ben Thanh Ward, District 1, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam
Entrance Fee:VND 250,000 (PHP 507/USD 10/ SGD 15)
Address: 7 Lam Son Square, Ben Nghe Ward, District 1, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam
Ben Than Market
Address: Đường Lê Lợi, Cửa Nam Chợ Bến Thành, Bến Thành, Quận 1, Hồ Chí Minh, Vietnam
Open Hours: 7:00 AM – 7:00 PM
Address: 36 Hồ Tùng Mậu, Bến Nghé Hồ Chí Minh, Vietnam
Open Hours for Skydeck: 9:30 AM -9:30PM
Phum Nga Lao Street(Saigon Backpacker Street)
Address: District 1, Ho Chi Minh City
WAR REMNANTS MUSEUM
Open Hours: 8:00 AM – 11:45 AM
01:30 PM – 4:45 PM
Entrance Fee: VND 10,000 (PHP 22 / USD 0.44 / SGD 0.61)
HO CHI MINH DAY TRIPS
CU CHI TUNNEL
If you want a hassle-free tour to Cu Chi Tunnel, you can BOOK A CU CHI TUNNEL TOUR HERE. Tour includes pick up/drop off (hotels in De Tham, Pham Ngu Lao and Bui Vien Street only), English-speaking guide, entrance fee and bottled water.
CU CHI TUNNEL
Address: Ấp Phú Hiệp, Phú Hiệp, Phú Mỹ Hưng, Củ Chi, Hồ Chí Minh
Open Hours: 7:00 AM – 5:00 PM
Entrance Fee: VND 90,000 (PHP 200/ USD 4/ SGD 5.45)
MEKONG RIVER BOAT CRUISE
Soak in the relaxing atmosphere of Mekong Delta passing by rice paddies, fishing villages and traditional stilt houses while aboard a boat. You can BOOK A MEKONG RIVER BOAT TOUR HERE.
WHERE TO STAY IN HO CHI MINH CITY /SAIGON
Pham Ngu Lao is the backpacker street of Ho Chi Minh/Saigon. This lively street is peppered with budget to mid-range hotels. I’ve stayed here during my last visit as aside from cheap hostels, everything that I need is here, restaurants, cafes, convenience stores and ATMS. If you’re planning to stay in a luxury hotel most of them are conveniently located in Dong Khai.
Here’s a list of some of the top budget hotels in Ho Chi Minh to help you decide where to stay.
TOP BUDGET HOTELS IN HO CHI MINH CITY
(PHAM NGU LAO /BACKPACKER STREET AREA)
HO CHI MINH HOTELS UNDER PHP 1,000 (Near Backpacker Street)
212A/A61 Nguyen Trai Street, Nguyen Cu Trinh ward, District 1. District 1, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam
265/7/15 Pham Ngu Lao, District 1, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam
New Saigon Hostel
270 Bui Vien St, Pham Ngu Lao Ward, District 1, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam
Town House 23 Saigon Hotel
23 Dang Thi Nhu Street, Nguyen Thai Binh Ward, District 1, District 1, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam
HO CHI MINH HOTELS UNDER PHP 2,000 (Near Backpacker Street)
185/28 Pham Ngu Lao Street, District 1, District 1, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam
Bich Duyen Hotel
283/4 Pham Ngu Lao 70000, District 1, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam
HO CHI MINH ITINERARY WITH BUDGET BREAKDOWN
Here’s my sample 3 days 2 night itinerary with budget breakdown. This is just to guide you in planning your trip and budget. It can go lower or higher depending on where you’ll be staying in Ho Chi Minh, your food, tours and shopping expenses.
|07:35 PM||Pay PH Travel Tax .ETD Manila to Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam|
|09:45 PM||VND 20,000 (PHP 44/ USD 2/ SGD 1.21)||Bus #109 to Ho Chi Minh City|
|10:15 PM||VND 270,616 (PHP 600/ USD 12/ SGD 16) (hotel)||Check-in at Hotel. Freshen up. Sleep|
|DAY 1||CU CHI TUNNEL + WAR REMNANTS MUSEUM|
|06:30 AM||VND 45,000 (PHP 100/ USD 2/ SGD 3)||Breakfast|
|07:30 AM||VND 13,000 (PHP 29 /USD 0.57 / SGD 0.79).||ETD Ho Chi Minh to Cu Chi Tunnel by bus. DIY Tour.|
|09:30 AM||VND 90,000 (PHP 200/ USD 4/ SGD 5.45)||Cu Chi Tunnel entrance fee. Tour Cu Chi Tunnel.|
|04:00 PM||ETA Ho Chi Minh. Drop by War Remnants Museum.|
|04:20 PM||VND 10,000 (PHP 22 / USD 0.44 / SGD 0.61)||Explore War Remnants Museum|
|06:00 PM||VND 70,000 (PHP 155/ USD 3/SGD 4 )||Dinner. Socials.|
|09:00 PM||VND 270,616 (PHP 600/ USD 12/ SGD 16)||Back to Hotel. Sleep. Hotel in Pham Nga Lau Street|
|DAY 02||MEKONG DELTA TOUR|
|06:30 AM||VND 45,000 (PHP 100/ USD 2/ SGD 3)||Breakfast|
|07:30 AM||VND 412, 517 (PHP 917 / USD 18 /SGD 25)||Mekong Delta Tour (My Tho, Vinh Trang Pagoda)|
|11:30 AM||Vietnamese Lunch (included in tour fee)|
|01:00 PM||Continue Mekong Delta Tour (An Khanh in Ben Tre)|
|05:00 PM||VND 270,616 (PHP 600/ USD 12/ SGD 16)||End of Mekong Delta Tour. Back to hotel in Ho Chi Minh|
|07:00 PM||VND 45,000 (PHP 100/ USD 2/ SGD 3)||Dinner|
|DAY 3||HO CHI MINH CITY TOUR|
|06:30 AM||VND 45,000 (PHP 100/ USD 2/ SGD 3)||Breakfast.|
|07:30 AM||VND 298,000 (PHP 662/ USD 13 / SGD 18 )||HCMC City Tour (Saigon Notre Dame Cathedral, Saigon Central Post Office, Independence Palace, Ben Thanh Market)|
|11:30 PM||VND 45,000 (PHP 100/ USD 2/ SGD 3)||Lunch|
|12:30 PM||Check out from hotel. Leave luggage|
|01:00 PM||Visit Chinatown (Chinatown near Cho Lon, Thien Hau Temple)|
|03:00 PM||Shopping at Ben Than Market|
|06:00 PM||VND 70,000 (PHP 155/ USD 3/SGD 4 )||Dinner.|
|07:00 PM||VND 20,000 (PHP 44/ USD 2/ SGD 1.21)||Head to Airport via Bus #109|
|10:00 PM||ETD to Philippines|
|12:00 AM||ETA Philippines|
|TOTAL EXPENSES||VND 2,538,981 (PHP 4,373 / USD 97/ SGD 123.27 )|
*PHP 1,620 PH Travel Tax, airfare and shopping expenses not included.
HO CHI MINH TRIP BUDGET/EXPENSES
Here’s a list of estimated costs for tours, activities, food, fares and hotel in Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam just to give you an idea around how much you’ll spend when you travel there. Traveling to Ho Chi Minh is pretty cheap, food in eateries and street stalls usually costs around VND 20,000 (PHP 44/ USD 2/ SGD 1.21) to VND 70,000 (PHP 155/ USD 3/SGD 4) per meal. Hotels are budget-friendly too.
|VND 20,000 (PHP 44/ USD 2/ SGD 1.21)||Bus #109 from Airport to Ho Chi Minh City|
|VND 20,000 (PHP 44/ USD 2/ SGD 1.21)||HCMC to Airport, Bus #109|
|VND 811,849 (PHP 1,800/ USD 12/ SGD 49)||VND 270,616 (PHP 600/ USD 12/ SGD 16) Budget hotel per night, good for 2 x 3 nights|
|VND 630,000 ( PHP 1,397/USD 28 /SGD 38)||VND 70,000 (PHP 155/ USD 3/SGD 4 ) per meal x 9 times (3 days)|
|VND 412, 517 (PHP 917 / USD 18 /SGD 25)||Mekong Delta Tour|
|VND 298,000 (PHP 662/ USD 13 / SGD 18 )||HCMC City Half Day Tour (Saigon Notre Dame Cathedral, Saigon Central Post Office, Independence Palace, Ben Thanh Market)|
|VND 10,000 (PHP 22 / USD 0.44 / SGD 0.61)||War remnants Museum entrance fee|
|VND 13,000 (PHP 29 /USD 0.57 / SGD 0.79).||Bus to Cu Chi Tunnel (if commuting)|
|VND 90,000 (PHP 200/ USD 4/ SGD 5.45)||Cu Chi Tunnel Entrance Fee|
|VND 435,435 (PHP 968/ USD 19 / SGD 26)||Cu Chi Tunnel Package Tour|
HO CHI MINH CITY TRAVEL TIPS
⊗ Pham Ngu Lao (District 1) is the backpacker street of Saigon / Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC), this is where you’ll find budget accommodations.
⊗ Crossing the road in Ho Chi Minh can be scary because there’s a lot of motorbikes, what I do is I always look for the pedestrian lane with traffic lights.
⊗ When riding cyclo or even when walking, avoid flaunting your gadgets because Ho Chi Minh is notorious for motorcycle-riding snatchers. If possible, don’t use shoulder bag as it can be snatched easily, use a body bag or backpack instead.
⊗ Always use the meter when riding taxis, do not negotiate the price with the driver to avoid being overcharged, and use the meter. And turn on Google Maps to make sure the driver is not going around in circles to charge you more. Better yet, use UBER.
⊗ When withdrawing money, use the ATMs inside the bank to avoid ATM skimming. Or use ATMs with doors, and always lock the door when making withdrawals.
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