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Ho Chi Minh City

Getting there and away

Air

HCMC's Tan Son Nhat International Airport is a 20-minute journey from the city centre and is well serviced by taxis - the trip shouldn't cost more than 150,000 VND to Pham Ngu Lao. Take a bus from the airport to centrally located Ben Thanh market and from there the central backpacking area of Pham Ngu Lao is a five-minute walk. Taking a xe om is only recommended with small amounts of luggage. To take one, stroll past the enthusiastic taxi drivers to the terminal gate. The trip should cost 50,000-75,000 VND.

International departure tax at Tan Son Nhat is now incorporated into the ticket price, so you don't need to save a wad of US cash to get out of the country. A brand new Japanese-designed international terminal is now fully operational, leaving the shoddy original terminal for domestic flights only. Vietnam Airlines covers domestic routes with reasonably priced and regular flights to Hanoi, Da Nang, Hue, and Phu Quoc among others — the only other domestic carrier is Jetstar Pacific (previously known as Pacific Airways) which flies a handful of domestic routes.

Ho Chi Minh City is well connected to Southeast Asia with competitive prices to Singapore (Tiger Airways, Singapore Air, Vietnam Airways, Garuda Indonesia), Bangkok (THAI, Vietnam Airways, Lufthansa, AirAsia) and Kuala Lumpur (Malaysian Airlines, Vietnam Airways, AirAsia). You can also fly to Vientiane (Vietnam Airways) and Siem Reap (Vietnam Airways). Domestic carriers of the following countries, along with Vietnam Airlines, connect to Ho Chi Minh City — Japan, Korea, Taiwan, Hong Kong, China, the Philippines, Australia, the US and Europe. Vietnam Airways flies to Paris direct, but the majority of European routes will involve a transfer in Bangkok.

Arriving from Southeast Asia and the surrounding region is becoming easier with the arrival of budget airlines. Cheap flights are available from Singapore with Tiger and from KL and Bangkok with AirAsia. Another interesting route is Viva Macau's direct flight, an interesting way to get up to Hong Kong and mainland China.

Air Asia
252 De Tham Street, D1 T: (08) 3837 1119
http://www.airasia.com

Air France
130 Dong Khoi, D1 T: (08) 3829 0981
http://www.airfrance.com

All Nippon Airways
Sun Wah Tower, 16th Floor 115 Nguyen Hue, D1 T: (08) 3821 9612
http://www.ana.co.jp/eng

American Airlines
194 Nguyen Thi Minh Khai, D3 T: (08) 3933 0330
http://www.aa.com

Asiana Airlines
Diamond Plaza, Rm 602 34 Le Duan, D1 T: (08) 3829 3038
http://www.flyasiana.com

British Airways
170-172 Nam Ky Khoi Nghia St, D3 T: (08) 3930 2933
http://www.ba.com

Cathay Pacific
72-74 Nguyen Thi Minh Khai, D1 T: (08) 3822 3203
http://www.cathaypacific.com

China Airlines
37 Ton Duc Thang, D1 T: (08) 3911 1591
http://www.china-airlines.com

China Southern Airlines
21-23 Nguyen Thi Minh Khai, D1 T: (08) 3823 5588
http://www.cs-air.com

Emirates
170-172 Nam Ky Khoi Nghia, D3 T: (08) 3930 2939
http://www.emirates.com

Eva Air
2A-4A Ton Duc Thang, D1 T: (08) 3821 7364
http://www.evair.com

Garuda Indonesia
15th Floor 170-172 Nam Ky Khoi Nghia, D3 T: (08) 3930 3033
http://www.garuda-indonesia.com

Japan Airlines
Sheraton Hotel, 3rd Floor, 88 Dong Khoi, D1 T: (08) 3821 9098
http://www.jal.com

Jet Star Pacific
186 Le Thanh Ton, D1 T: (08) 3910 5375
http://www.jetstar.com

KLM
Caravelle Hotel 130 Dong Khoi, D1 T: (08) 3823 1990
http://www.klm.com

Korean Air
Diamond Plaza, 9th Floor 34 Le Duan St, D1 T: (08) 3824 2878
http://www.koreanair.com

Lufthansa Airlines
Bitexco Building 14th Floor 19-25 Nguyen Hue, D1 T: (08) 3829 8529
http://www.lufthansa.com

Laos Airlines
93 Pasteur St, D1 T: (38) 822 6990
http://www.laoairlines.com

Malaysian Airlines
Saigon Trade Centre, Grd Fl. 37 Ton Duc Thang, D1 T: (08) 3829 2529
http://www.malaysianairlines.com

Philippine Airlines
229 Dong Khoi St, D1 T: (08) 3822 2241
http://www.philppineair.com

Qantas
186 Le Thanh Ton, D1 T: (08) 3910 5373
http://www.qantas.com

Qatar Airlines
Petro Vietnam Tower, Suite 08 1-3-5 Le Duan Ave, D1 T: (08) 3827 3777
http://www.qatarairways.com

Singapore Airlines
29 Le Duan, D1 T: (08) 3823 1588
http://www.singaporeair.com

Swiss International Airlines
Bitexco Building, 14th Floor 19-25 Nguyen Hue, D1 T: (08) 3827 9858
http://www.swiss.com

THAI Airways
Saigon Tower 29 Le Duan, D1 T: (08) 3829 2809
http://www.thaiair.com

Tiger Airways
213 Le Thanh Ton, D1 T: (08) 5404 3051
http://www.tigerairways.com

United Airlines
Sofitel Hotel, Ground Floor 17 Le Duan Blvd, D1 T: (08) 3824 2016
http://www.unitedairlines.com.vn

Vietnam Airlines
116 Nguyen Hue, D1 T: (08) 3832 0320
http://www.vietnamair.com.vn

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Train

Saigon train station or Ga Sai Gon is tucked away in District 3 — 1 Nguyen Thong Street. Tickets can be purchased from the station itself or for a couple of dollars more from the travel agents on Pham Ngu Lao Street. It's best to book in advance to ensure your spot, especially if you're travelling on the weekend. Five trains depart daily for Hanoi.

Trains on the HCM-Hanoi line will stop along the way in Hue, Da Nang, Nha Trang and other smaller provincial cities. Prices depend on the type of train (express/slow) and the type of berth (hard/soft sleeper, air-con/fan, bottom/top bunk). Some approximate times are as follows:

Saigon - Hanoi: 36 hours, $27-$42
Saigon - Hue: 22 hours, $17-$44
Saigon - Da Nang (for Hoi An): 17 hours, $15-$44

Worth mentioning is the new express service to Nha Trang reducing the journey from 12 hours to seven ($25-$27 or a VIP room for $30), and the recently-resumed Phan Thiet train, which leaves daily at 06:50 (4.5 hours, $7). Check www.vetau.com.vn for detailed timetables and prices. The train station is only a short distance from the city centre, about 10 minutes by taxi.

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Bus

Saigon's Ben Thanh bus station is directly opposite Ben Thanh market in District 1 — these buses serve the city and its various districts. Cho Lon Station (86 Trang Tu St, District 5, T: (08) 855 7719 ) used to serve the Mekong Delta but no longer does — you now need to travel out to Minh Tay or Mien Dong bus stations for buses to the Delta.

For destinations in the rest of the country, Mien Dong Station (292 Dinh Bo Linh, Ward 26, Binh Thanh District, (08) 3899 1607; www.benxemiendong.com.vn) should be your first port of call. For Tay Ninh, catch the bus from Ben Thanh bus station.

To reach the outlying bus stations from Ben Thanh station catch the following:
Cho Lon Station: Bus #1, 56
Mien Dong Station: Bus #26
Mien Tay Station: Bus #2
Tay Ninh: Bus #702

Selected departure details from Mien Dong bus station (www.benxemiendong.com.vn) include:
Bao Loc: Departs hourly 07:00-17:00 120,000 VNC, 4 hours
Buon Ma Thuot: Departs hourly 04:45-19:45 140,000-210,000 VND, 8.5 hours
Ca Mau: Departs hourly 06:00-23:00, 150,000 VND, 8.5 hours
Can Tho: Departs every 10 minutes around the clock, 100,000 VND, 4.5 hours
Cao Lanh: Departs hourly 04:00-21:00, 90,000 VND, 3.5 hours
Chau Doc: Departs every 30 minutes around the clock, 140,000 VND, 6.5 hours
Da Lat: Hourly departures 08:00-17:00, 170,000 VND, 7 hours.
Da Nang: Hourly departures, 1:30-17:30, 265,000 VND, 20 hours.
Hanoi: Departs 15:00 and 19:30, 700,000 VND, 40 hours (!)
Hoi An: 10:00 and 15:00, 160,000-210,000 VND, 15 hours
Kon Tum: Departs 17:40, 230,000 VND, 15 hours
Long Xuyen: Departs every 30 minutes around the clock, 120,000 VND, 5 hours
Nha Trang: Departs hourly 09:00-22:00, 130,000 VND, 9 hours
Phan Thiet: Departs hourly 05:00-17:00, 70,000 VND, 4.5 hours
Quang Ngai: Departs 14:00, 240,000-365,000 VND, 17 hours
Rach Gia: Departs every 30 minutes around the clock, 125,000 VND, 7 hours
Soc Trang: Departs hourly 07:00-19:00, 125,000 VND, 6 hours
Vinh Long: Departs hourly 07:30-17:30, 80,000 VND, 3 hours
Vung Tau: Departs hourly 05:30-19:30, 65,000 VND, 2.5 hours

Selected departure details from Minh Tay bus station (http://bxmt.com.vn/ ) include:
Bac Lieu: Departs every 30 minutes 07:30-21:00, 100,000-125,000 VND, 6.5 hours
Ben Tre: 7 departures daily 06:45-17:30, 40,000-66,000 VND, 2.5 hours
Ca Mau: Departs hourly 07:30-21:00, 120,000-150,000 VND, 8 hours
Can Tho: Departs every 20 minutes 05:20-19:00, 60,000-80,000 VND, 4 hours
Cao Lanh: Departs roughly hourly 06:20-15:30, 50,000-75,000 VND, 3.5 hours
Chau Doc: Departs roughly hourly 05:10-20:30, 80,000-110,000 VND, 6 hours
Long Xuyen: Departs every 30 minutes, 06:00-18:00, 67,000-81,000 VND, 5 hours
Rach Gia: Departs hourly 06:00-17:50, 95,000-110,000 VND, 6 hours
Soc Trang: Departs every 30 minutes 06:00-16:30, 90,000 VND, 6 hours
Tra Vinh: Departs every two hours 05:20-18:20, 80,000 VND, 4 hours
Vinh Long: Departs every 30 minutes 00:00-2400, 53,000-60,000 VND, 3.5 hours

An easier, better organised, and slightly more expensive alternative is to take the tourist buses from Sinh Cafe (246-248 De Tham St, District 1, T: (08) 836 7338). Open tour buses (jump on-jump off) run a variety of routes:

Saigon - Da Lat- Nha Trang - Hoi An - Hue (one-way) $34
Saigon - Nha Trang - Hoi An - Hue (one way) $22
Saigon - Mui Ne - Nha Trang - Hoi An - Hue $24
Hue - Hanoi (one way) $11

There are also direct routes including:

Saigon - Da Lat $9
Saigon - Nha Trang $11
Saigon - Mui Ne $8

Departures are from De Tham Street early in the morning. You can also connect to Phnom Penh with Sinh Cafe's daily bus (08:45, $12, arriving at 16:00). Open tour companies such as Sinh and its rival Hanh Cafe have updated their fleet of coaches, and 'sleeper' buses now operate on most routes. Your own space to lie down on the top or bottom bunk is a vast improvement for the long road journeys sufferable in Vietnam.

Also worth checking out is the Mai Linh Taxi Company which run small air-con vans across the country and to Cambodia. www.mailinh.vn.

Updates from Travelfish readers

  • Taxi fares from the airport to HCMC District 1, given the recent price increases now cost about 120000 vnd. Xe Om's cost 40-50k. If you're Vietnamese you might get it less but as a foreigner, very rare.

    Update by 69bertie (1)
    Written on 20th March, 2011

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Boat

The journey from Bach Dang Wharf at the end of Nguyen Hue Street to the southern city of Vung Tau takes only an hour via the hydrofoil service. The boat departs six times daily starting from 06:00, the last return trip is at 16:00. A ticket costs 200,000 VND ($10). www.vinaexpress.com.vn.

Trips to the Mekong Delta can be arranged through a travel agency. Tours range from a day trip to a five-day/ four-night extravaganza. It is also possible to get to Phnom Penh by boat but you must first travel to Chau Doc — there are no public boats from Saigon to Chau Doc.

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Getting Around

Xe om
By far the best way to navigate Ho Chi Minh City is by motorbike. Xe om drivers reside on every street corner waiting for their next customer, or victim, depending on your point of view. A short ride should cost 20,000 to 30,000 VND — only pay 40,000-50,000 for a cross-city journey. If entrusting your life to one of these guys isn't too appealing, rent your own bike — they aren't hard to find (around Pham Ngu Lao) and should cost around US$5-10 a day. Always park the bike in a parking space serviced by attendants — they are easy to find and cost 2,000-5,000 VND depending on time of day and location — don't be surprised if asked for 10,000 VND in the city centre in the evening. Most restaurants and shops have a security guard who tends the bike for free.

Taxis
Taxis are a safer method of getting around, and usually drivers are reliable and the fares cheap ($2-5). Make sure you have the address of where you're going written down because pronouncing street names correctly can be tricky. All taxis are metered, starting at around 12,000 VND. The city is attempting a clamp down on unlicensed taxis with dodgy meters, but just avoid these altogether. Go with the companies listed below if possible but note that the resourceful scammers even decorate their cars in the same colours and try the same name minus a letter.

Mai Linh Taxi Company - (08) 3838 3838
Vina Taxi - (08) 3811 1111
Vinasun - (08) 3827 2727
Saigon Taxi - (08) 3842 4242

Cyclo
If time isn't a factor try a ride in a cyclo. Most remaining cyclo drivers work with tourists and speak a little English, perhaps giving a commentary on the way. The going price is 50,000 VND an hour, or no more than 20,000 for a short journey, but be prepared for a much higher asking price which can be bartered down to something more realistic. Cyclos are being phased out in Saigon and it may not be possible to see them on the streets much longer. However, the remaining cyclos service mostly the tourism sector and are still easy to find.

To from the airport
The best way to get to and from the airport apart from a taxi is the air-con bus, number 152. It will drop you off at the Ben Thanh market station and will cost 40,000 VND plus another 20,000 VND if you have excess luggage. It may be worth checking if your hotel will pick up from the airport as many, even the budget options, will have someone who can collect you and save you some hassle.

Updates from Travelfish readers

  • There is also an excellent local bus service in HCMC that is quite easy to use once you get the hang of it. You can get a bus map from the Bus station at Ben Thanh and it lists all the bus stops. I find it particularly effective for exploring different parts of the city and it's easy to see where you are, unlike in a taxi. Return trips aren't always exactly the same as outward trips but they are marked on the bus map. The no 1 bus takes you from the riverfront near Dong Khoi, past the backpacker area, to Cholon- very useful.

    Update by violets (2)
    Written on 3rd October, 2013

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