As tourists, Ho Chi Minh City can seem very centralized because not only are many of the tourist attractions around District 1, the centre of the city, but this district is also quite compact. However, with 24 districts, the city is actually very spread out and some of the other districts are more than twice the size of District 1. Though D1 has a lot to offer in terms of culture, sights and activities, there is lot more to experience outside of the city.
Getting to the other parts of the city may seem challenging, but there are a number of public transportation options available to you, especially if you want to get around efficiently and in a cost effective manner.
1. Xe om:
Xe om refer to the motorbike taxis that are available on most street corners. They are usually men and even women nowadays that are sitting on or near their motorbikes which are parked on the street corner as advertisement of their availability. They are usually watching for customers so it is easy to get their attention with a little hand wave. “Om” means to hug and you may do this if it makes you feel safer but you will probably surprise the driver if you do. Negotiate fare in advance: rides within 2 – 3 km should be about VND8,000. They have the advantage of being able to enter all streets off limits to cyclos as well as many of the narrow alleys cars cannot access. They are sometimes called “Honda om” because of the ubiquitous Honda wave motorbikes and some offer a city tour around saigon as low as 100,000 VND for a half day tour.
2. Public Bus
The public bus system is incredibly developed and vast in Ho Chi Minh City. There are over 100 different bus lines and routes, many of which serve the districts and tourist locations that are far from the centre of the city. The public bus is also incredibly cheap, where a single ride fare starts at 3000VND. As a tourist, taking the bus within the city can be arduous. Having to wait for the bus in the heat, and sometimes rain, can be draining, especially when you can get around more quickly on a Xe Om, Taxi, or even walking. Getting to the farther destinations is a situation in which the public bus is handy. Taking the public bus is usually more appealing to the adventurous travellers, but given that Vietnamese people are usually friendly and helpful, we urge you to give it a try! It may be easier than you think.
To and from the airport, bus no. 152 is very convenient. We have explained Bus no. 152 before in our taxi scams blog, since many people fall prey to taxi scams en route to the airport and back, making this airport bus a great alternative. Bus no. 13 is another great route, which takes you to Cu Chi tunnels. As we previously mentioned on our day trips from Saigon blog, many tour buses go to Cu Chi, but Cu Chi Tunnels offers free tour guides on site so you can take the public bus there and still have a similar experience as compared to an organized tour. If you are headed to the Suoi Tien Amusement Park, you can take Bus no. 19, which leaves from Ben Thanh market and stops at the amusement park on its way to a national university. It is about a 45 minute ride, which is only a little bit longer than the car ride there. Dam Sen Water Park is also a popular tourist attraction, and Bus no. 11 goes directly from Ben Thanh market to the water park. In general, Ben Thanh market and Cho Lon are big bus hubs and it is quite convenient to get around if you can get to either market. The main Saigon Bus website also has a Google Maps based interactive guide to show you all the stops within each route. And, here is a complete, yet overwhelming, map of all the bus routes in Ho Chi Minh City.
Taxi drivers can be very shrewd and unwavering in their attempt to scam you. Many tourists get into cars with broken meters or “quick” meters, get driven several kilometres in the wrong direction or even in circles, agree on a fixed price that is likely more than what the meter would cost, or take a “fake” taxi. Some tourists have reported instances where the driver asked for a hefty tip at the end of the drive and refused to give them their luggage until they paid the tip.
The incidence of cyclo scam is just as frequent as taxi scams and sometimes more dangerous. You will see cyclos almost every corner in District 1 in Saigon just waiting for their next customer. Cyclo drivers may scam you by agreeing on a price with you and demanding more after the trip by stating that the agreed price was only per person or per hour. People have described situations in which a cyclo driver will drive a customer to an alleyway and demand more money while implying physical harm on the customer. In fact, the city is making an effort to restrict cyclos to only certain parts of the city due to the large number of complaints.