Getting there and away
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. The taxi rank is located just to the left of the departure terminal and can be a bit intimidating after a long flight.
There’s no organised queue to speak of and your best bet is to flag down a taxi company representative for a ride. Just look for the wildly gesticulating person standing on the side of the road. Alternatively, for a less stressful experience, head a floor up to the Departure terminal. It’s never busy and is very easy to catch a taxi. The bus rank is located just to the right of the arrivals terminal in front of Burger King. Bus 152 will take you from the airport to centrally located Ben Thanh market. 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 entrance of the airport. It’s a five minute walk but worth it as 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 223 De Tham Street, D1 T: (08) 3838 9810 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 154 Le Thanh Ton, D1 T: (08) 3933 0330 http://www.aa.com
Asiana Airlines 55B Nguyen Trai, D1 T: (08) 3920 5999 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 55B Nguyen Trai, D1 T: (08) 3920 5999 http://www.cs-air.com
Emirates 115 Nguyen Hue, D1 T: (08) 3830 7207 http://www.emirates.com
Eva Air 164 Le Thanh Ton, D1 T: (08) 3827 0404 http://www.evair.com
Garuda Indonesia 170-172 Nam Ky Khoi Nghia, D3 T: (08) 3930 3033 http://www.garuda-indonesia.com
Japan Airlines 4th Floor Hotel Nikko Saigon 235 Nguyen Van Cu, D1 T: (08) 3830-6213 http://www.jal.com
Jetstar Pacific 1A Me Linh, D1 T: (08) 3825 8101 http://www.jetstar.com
KLM 2A Ton Duc Thang, D1 T: (08) 3823 1990 http://www.klm.com
Korean Air Diamond Plaza, 9th Floor 34 Le Duan,, 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 11A Song Da, Tan Binh District T: (0) 91 2070 045 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 91 Pasteur, D1 T: (08) 3827 2105 http://www.philppineair.com
Qantas 186-188 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 115 Nguyen Hue, D1 T: (08) 3823 4755 http://www.unitedairlines.com.vn
Vietnam Airlines 171 Dong Khoi, D1 T: (08) 3832 0320 http://www.vietnamair.com.vn
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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 and costs are as follows:
Saigon - Hanoi: 36 hours, USD$54-$80
Saigon - Hue: 22 hours, USD$36-$56
Saigon - Da Nang (for Hoi An): 17 hours, USD$34-$52
It is worth noting that the Saigon to Nha Trang train has the option of extra luxurious sleeping cars called the Golden Express Train. It is a bit more expensive but the amenities are definitely a step up from a normal Vietnamese sleeping car.
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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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
For destinations over 8 hours, daytime and sleeper buses are available. The sleeper buses have two levels of bunk beds stacked neatly in three rows. Numbers starting with A are below and B are above. Try to avoid anything above 15 as that is the back of the bus and can get quite cramped. Prices listed below are for daytime, then sleeper buses.
Selected departure details from Mien Dong bus station (www.benxemiendong.com.vn) include:
Bao Loc: Departs once a day 24:00 90,000-150,000 VND, 4 hours
Buon Ma Thuot: Departs hourly 04:45-19:45 190,000-300,000 VND, 8.5 hours
Ca Mau: Departs hourly 06:00-23:00, 132,000-200,000 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, 65,000 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, 250,000-470,000 VND, 20 hours.
Hanoi (Luong Yen Bus station): Departs 15:00 and 19:30, 700,000-1,050,000 VND, 40 hours
Hoi An: 10:00 and 15:00, 160,000-210,000 VND , 15 hours
Kon Tum: Departs 17:40, 250,000-330,000 VND, 15 hours
Long Xuyen: Departs every 30 minutes around the clock, 120,000 VND, 5 hours
Nha Trang: Departs hourly 09:00-19:00, 230,000-235,000 VND, 9 hours
Phan Thiet: Departs hourly 07:00-19:00, 140,000 VND, 4.5 hours
Quang Ngai: Departs 14:00, 240,000-365,000 VND, 17 hours
Rach Gia: Departs hourly 01:00-23:30, 125,000 VND, 7 hours
Soc Trang: Departs hourly 06:30-21:30, 125,000-155,000 VND, 6 hours
Vinh Long: Departs every two hours 07:00-18:30, 70,000-80,000 VND 3 hours
Vung Tau: Departs hourly 04:00-19:00, 100,000 VND, 3.5 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 every hour around the clock, 120,000-245,000 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 06:00-17:00, 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, USD$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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As of January 2014, all hydrofoil service to Vung Tau from Ho Chi Minh City has been suspended and is pending a review of the fleet after a boat loaded with passengers caught fire. 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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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 VND 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. Don't lose your parking ticket. If you do, make sure you have the contact details of your rental shop as they will need to come down and verify the ownership of the bike.
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 15,000 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 T: (08) 3838 3838
Saigon Taxi T: (08) 3842 4242
Vinasun T: (08) 3827 2727
Vina Taxi T: (08) 3811 1111
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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