Ho Chi Minh City’s Tan Son Nhat International Airport is Vietnam’s major domestic aviation hub. If a city in Vietnam has an airport, chances are there’s a flight to HCMC. Domestic routes are serviced by Vietnam Airlines, VietJet Air and/or Jetstar Pacific.
Destinations include: Buon Ma Thuot, Ca Mau, Con Dao, Da Lat, Da Nang, Dong Hoi, Hai Phong, Hanoi, Hue, Nha Trang, Phu Quoc, Pleiku, Qui Nhon, Rach Gia, Thanh Hoa, Tuy Hoa and Vinh.
Tan Son Nhat is also the country’s international gateway, with direct flights from Southeast Asia, Asia, Europe, the Middle East and Australia. It’s just a 5-10 minute walk between the international and domestic terminal.
Tan Son Nhat is located right in the city, in Tan Binh District about 7 km northwest of the city centre and backpacker neighbourhood Pham Ngu Lao. During lighter traffic, the journey to the city centre can be as quick as 20 minutes. In rush hour and/or rain, it can take as long as one hour. Allow for plenty of time to get to the airport.
The airport is well serviced by taxis and a trip to District 1 will cost around 150,000 to 180,000 dong. When exiting the international terminal, ignore the booths inside the building offering taxi or limo services. Head outside and to the left there is an informal taxi queue where uniformed company reps will try to whisk you into their company cars, but know that you can choose whatever taxi company you like.
At the risk of being overly cautious, there are only two meter taxi you should use: green Mai Linh, and white with red and green Vinasun Taxi. Check the branding before getting in as other taxis will use similar colours or logos. If you feel the melee is too intense or can’t locate a Mai Linh or Vinasun Taxi, head upstairs to the departures terminal and get one from there.
When taking a taxi to the airport, passengers pay the 10,000 dong entrance fee. Pham Ngu Lao guesthouses offer a flat rate transfer to the airport for 200,000 dong.
Grab and Uber transportation apps are undercutting traditional meter taxis and motorbike taxis. It’s as much as 50% cheaper, with a fare between the centre and airport around 70,000 dong. Obviously, the regular taxis are not happy and there have been a few skirmishes between the clans near transport hubs. So far these have been isolated incidences but if you choose to use the app, it’s wise not to flaunt your choice to the taxi guys.
Taking a xe om is only advisable if you have a small backpack or luggage. To find them, leave the airport and walk to where they hang out, a five minute walk away. The trip should cost no more than 50,000-75,000 dong.
Bus is the cheapest way and there are several options. It’s best to get the bus from the international terminal as they are far more frequent; again, it’s a 5-10 minute walk from domestic to international. The bus route ends at Cong Vieng 23/9 (23/9 Park) station, conveniently located on Pham Ngu Lao across from the backpacker area.
Bus #49 airport shuttle bus goes direct from the airport to Cong Vieng 23/9 without stops. From airport to city, the bus departs every 20-30 minutes from 05:00-02:00. From city to airport, the bus departs every 20-30 minutes from 05:00-23:00. The trip costs 40,000 dong and takes 30 minutes.
Bus #109 departs every 15-30 minutes from 05:45-01:30, making frequent stops along the way including Ham Nghi St station (which replaces the nearby Ben Thanh market station, closed as of 2017 due to metro construction). This costs 20,000 dong and takes 45-60 minutes.
Bus #152 is a slow, old bus that departs around every 30 minutes from 06:00-18:00, making frequent stops along the way including Ham Nghi St station. this costs 6,000 dong and takes 60 minutes.
Saigon train station or Ga Sai Gon is tucked away in District 3 at 1 Nguyen Thong Street. Tickets can be purchased from the station itself or for a couple of dollars more from the travel agents in Pham Ngu Lao. It's best to book in advance, especially if travelling on the weekend or holidays. Book months in advance if travelling during Tet. You can check the schedule at http://dsvn.vn/
Stops on the Reunification Express HCMC-Hanoi line include Phan Thiet, Nha Trang, Da Nang, Hue and Dong Hoi. Price depends on the type of train (express/slow) and the type of berth (soft-berth air-con with 4 beds/berth; hard-berth air-con with 6 beds/berth; soft seat air-con; hard seat air-con; hard seat fan) and bottom or top bunk. Sample of approximate times and costs are as follows:
Saigon to Nha Trang: soft berth 498,000 dong, takes 7.5 hrs
Saigon to Da Nang (for Hoi An): soft berth 823,000 dong, takes 17 hrs
Saigon to Hanoi: soft berth 1,355,000 dong, takes 35 hrs
Train tickets can also be booked online with Travelfish partner, 12Go. Check prices and availability then buy your tickets online via the links below.
Ho Chi Minh to Nha Trang
Ho Chi Minh to Da Nang
Ho Chi Minh to Hue
Ho Chi Minh to Hanoi
Ho Chi Minh City has two main bus stations, both located in the outskirts of the city. Their distance from the city centre and traffic congestion make a good case for trying to avoid them altogether by opting for one of the major bus companies or “open tour” that operate and depart from Pham Ngu Lao. Otherwise, factor in the time getting to and from the station. Motorbike would be the fastest way.
Bus companies from Pham Ngu Lao include, but are not limited to The Sinh Tourist, Hanh Cafe, Phuong Trang, Tam Hanh and Kumho. Tockets can be purchased direct from the operator or online.
The Sinh Tourist; 246-248 De Tham St, District 1; T: (08) 28 3838 9597; https://www.thesinhtourist.vn/
Daily departures to Mui Ne, Nha Trang, Da Lat, Can Tho and Rach Gia. Departures to Hoi An are via Nha Trang. Passengers alight at their office (not the bus station), often conveniently located in the destination’s tourist centre. There are also frequent departures by sitting bus to Phnom Penh and one departure a day to Siem Reap and Sihanoukville.
Saigon Bus Stations
Note: if you are taking a bus to Ho Chi Minh City, schedules often refer to the name of the station. For example, “BX Mien Dong” or “BX Mien Tay” rather than “Ho Chi Minh City”.
Mien Dong bus station (ben xe Mien Dong, BX Mien Dong) is the busiest bus station in Vietnam. Also known as the Eastern bus station, it’s located on the eastern side of the city in Binh Thanh District, about 8 km northeast of Ben Thanh Market and backpacker street Pham Ngu Lao. Completion of the new Mien Dong station is expected in early 2018. The 16-hectare station will be located even further out, in District 9 and Binh Duong Province. Check on the latest situation when on the ground.
Ben xe Mien Dong services all destinations north and east of the city including the Central Highlands, Phan Thiet (Mui Ne) and Nha Trang. Every bus company, big or small, has a ticket booth and the choice can be overwhelming. One destination may have more than a dozen different bus options, varying in price, quality and service. If you’re headed to a popular destination, the station has such high volume that you can turn up and there’s a good chance you’ll find a bus scheduled to leave within an hour. Departures run regularly right up until midnight. Popular destinations have 24/7 service.
However, it does pay to be discriminating in your choice. The major bus companies like Phuong Trang, Mai Linh and Kumho tend to be more reliable and straightforward, leaving frequently, are more likely to leave on time and less likely to stop every five minutes to pick up passengers en route. Your seat is yours alone. Ask a guesthouse or a travel agent and they may know of which is the current “best bus to Da Lat”, keeping in mind that they may try to steer you to a company they can make commission on.
Phuong Trang (Hotline: 1 900 6067; at BX Mien Dong T: (083) 511 9809; https://futabus.vn/en-US) is a dominant nationwide carrier. It’s dogged by chatter of bad drivers and shifty government connections, but its network is extensive with frequent departures and they are large enough that they can increase service on the weekends. They have daily departures to Chau Doc, Can Tho, Ca Mau, Da Lat, Mui Ne, Nha Trang, Qui Nhon, Da Nang, Rach Gia and Ha Tien. We haven’t had a terrible experience yet, and the whole experience is status quo when it comes to bus travel in Vietnam, if not better. They also have an office in Pham Ngu Lao at 272 De Tham St, District 1.
A perk to booking Phuong Trang: for most destinations, the ticket includes free pick-up and transfer to the station, as well as free shuttle from the station to your hotel upon arrival. Large cities are the exception. For example, in Ho Chi Minh City the free shuttle will take you as far as their office/depot in District 1.
When arriving to your destination, ask the staff or follow the other passengers towards the branded Phuong Trang minivans. Taxis know that foreigners are usually unaware about the shuttle bus and try to snag you as you exit the bus.
Sample times and prices from Ho Chi Minh City:
Da Lat: departs every hour from 05:00-02:00. Costs 210,000 dong and takes 8 hours.
Da Nang: departs at 10:30, 13:00, 14:30, 16:30, 18:30. Costs 355,000 dong and takes 23 hours.
Mui Ne: departs every hour from 06:30-23:30. Costs 130,000 dong and takes 6 hours.
Nha Trang: departs at 08:00, 09:00, 10:30, 20:30, 21:30, 22:30. Costs 210,000 dong and takes 12 hours.
Qui Nhon: departs at 18:00, 19:00, 20:00. Costs 245,000 dong and takes 14 hours.
Tuy Hoa: departs at 18:15, 18:45, 20:40. Costs 230,000 dong and takes 12 hours.
Vung Tau: departs every hour from 06:00-19:30. Costs 95,000 dong and takes 2.5 hours.
Buon Ma Thuot: departs at 21:00, 22:00, 22:30. Costs 215,000 dong and takes 7.5 hours.
Hanoi: departs at 09:00, 15:00. Costs 870,000 dong and takes 36 hours.
Ba Ria: departs every 15-20 minutes from 04:00-19:30. Costs 85,000 dong.
Vung Tau: departs every 15-20 minutes from 04:00-19:30. Costs 90,000 dong and takes 3 hours.
Da Lat: departs at 08:00, 11:00. Costs 230,000 dong and takes 7.5 hours.
Buon Ma Thuot (Dak Lak): departs at 09:00, 14:00, 20:30, 21:00, 21:30, 22:30. Costs 240,000 dong and takes 7.5 hours.
Phan Thiet: departs at 07:00, 08:30, 10:00, 12:00, 14:00, 16:00, 18:00. Costs 135,000 dong and takes 4 hours.
Vung Tau: departs every 15-20 minutes from 04:30-19:30. Costs 90,000 dong and takes 3 hours.
Other destinations, sample departures and prices.
Kon Tum: departs at 17:00, 18:00. Costs 230,000 dong and takes 13 hours.
Pleiku (Gia Lai): departs at 18:00. Costs 240,000 dong and takes 11 hours.
Mien Tay bus station (ben xe Minh Tay, BX Minh Tay), also known as the Western bus station, is located in Binh Tan District, 10 km west of Pham Ngu Lao and the city centre. In 2017, crews began clearing a site for a new station. Minh Tay will eventually be moved further out, to Binh Chanh District.
Mien Tay services all destinations south of Ho Chi Minh City, essentially all of the Mekong Delta. While not as intense as Mien Dong, it is still extremely busy, with all the major companies and a slew of smaller ones. For popular destinations, show up in daylight hours and there’s a good chance of departure within an hour. For less common destinations, the bus departs when there’s enough passengers to warrant it. As is the case with Mien Dong station, it pays to be discriminating when choosing the company.
Phuong Trang has hourly departures to the Mekong Delta.
Ben Tre: departs 06:00, 08:15, 13:00, 16:00. Costs 80,000 dong.
Can Tho: departs every 30-60 minutes 00:00-23:00. Costs 110,000 dong and takes 4 hours.
Chau Doc: departs every 30-60 minutes from 05:00-01:00. Costs 140,000 dong and takes 6 hours.
Ha Tien: departs at 08:50, 09:30, 10:30, 11:30, 20:30, 21:30, 21:45, 22:30, 23:05. Costs 165,000 dong and takes 8 hours.
Rach Gia: departs every 30-60 minutes 04:15-01:45. Costs 145,000 dong and takes 6 hours.
Mai Linh bus departs at 08:00, 10:00, 12:00, 20:00, 22:00 with the service to Vinh Long costing 85,000 dong and takeing 3 hours; Can Tho costs 95,000 dong and takes 4 hours; Bac Lieu costs 145,000 dong and takes 6 hours; Ca Mau costs 180,000 dong and takes 8 hours.
Thanh Buoi bus to Can Tho: departs every 30 minutes from 06:00-19:00, every hour from 19:00-06:00. Costs 110,000 dong and takes 4 hours. Service increases to departures every 30 minutes 24 hours on weekends.
There are two important bus stations in the city centre. Cong Vieng 23/9 (Park 23/9) bus station is conveniently across the road from the Pham Ngu Lao backpacker area, at the northwest corner of Pham Ngu Lao and Ton That Tung St. This is the start/end point for many city/regional buses. Most buses will also pass through Ham Nghi St, a long roadway with numbered bus stops. Ham Nghi St replaces the Ben Thanh market station, closed as of 2017 due to metro construction.
Buses of interest to tourists include the following services.
To the airport (“san bay”)
Bus #49 airport shuttle bus goes direct from Cong Vieng 23/9 Park to the airport without stops. From city to airport, the bus departs every 20-30 minutes from 05:00-23:00. It costs 40,000 dong and takes 30 minutes.
Bus #109 departs every 15-30 minutes from 05:45-01:30, making frequent stops along the way. It costs 20,000 dong and takes 45-60 minutes.
Bus #152 is an old bus that departs around every 30 minutes from 06:00-18:00, making frequent stops along the way. It costs 6,000 dong and takes 60 minutes.
To Mien Dong station
Bus #93, 19. Frequent departures from 05:00-19:00. Costs 6,000 dong.
To Mien Tay station
Bus #39, 102. Frequent departures from 05:00-19:00. Costs 5,000 dong.
To Cu Chi station
Bus #13 departs every hour from 05:00-19:00. Costs 7,000 dong and takes an hour. Note: to reach the Cu Chi tunnels, you’ll need to change buses at Cu Chi station and take #79.
To Can Gio (Monkey Island)
Bus #75 departs at 07:30, 11:30, 16:30. Costs 35,000 dong.
Further reading regarding bus travel to/from Ho Chi Minh City.
Weather permitting, Vina Express-Petro Express, operates a daily hydrofoil service between Ho Chi Minh City and Vung Tau. The trip takes one hour and 30 minutes. Compare that to the two to three hour trip by road fighting traffic. It’s also a more interesting journey as it conveniently departs/arrives very close to District 1 and journeys through the city’s riverways.
However, the hydrofoil service between HCMC and Vung Tau has a history of incidents. In January 2014 the government suspended all operations after a Vina Express hydrofoil caught fire 15 minutes after departing HCMC. Eighty-five passengers and seven crew survived by jumping off the burning boat.
Service was reinstated in December 2014, after boats were supposedly upgraded and inspections passed in accordance with new safety regulations outlined by the transport ministry. When we travelled with Vina Express in March 2016, to us the boat looked old and worn out. There were life vests onboard, it was air-conditioned and the journey was straightforward, departing on time. Crossing open water near Vung Tau was rocky, then very easy, smooth and slow once travelling on river. We arrived alive. Would we use it again? Yes, but definitely not in choppy seas.
In Ho Chi Minh City, hydrofoils for Vung Tau depart/arrive at a jetty near Nguyen Tat Thanh Street just south of the Khanh Hoi bridge. It’s just across the river from District 1, next to the Ho Chi Minh Museum and big floating restaurant Elisa. There’s a ticket office at this pier.
The Vung Tau ferry terminal is located on Ha Long Street, on the west coast of the city. Look for the signs for fast food joints KFC and Lotteria, and normally, many taxis lined up to whisk arrivals to their hotels.
From Ho Chi Minh City to Vung Tau: Ferry departs daily at 08:00, 10:00, 12:00, 14:00 & 16:30. On Saturday, there’s an extra departure at 09:00. Adult costs 200,000 dong, children 100,000 dong. The price is higher on Saturday, Sunday and holidays: Adult costs 250,000 dong, children 120,000 dong.
From Vung Tau to Ho Chi Minh City: Ferry departs daily at 08:00, 10:00, 12:00, 14:00, 16:30. On Sunday, there’s an extra departure at 15:00. The price is higher on Saturday, Sunday and holidays: Adult costs 250,000 dong, children 120,000 dong.
You can buy tickets through their website (we did so successfully with an international credit card), at booths at the piers or through a travel agent. .
Keep in mind that Vung Tau is extremely popular on the weekends, so it’s recommended to buy your ticket in advance. If you’re doing a roundtrip journey, we heard rumours of a scam: the Saigon ticket office tells you that you don’t need to buy your return ticket in advance but once in Vung Tau, when trying to purchase a ticket they are all sold out. Sellers then approach you with an available ticket at extortionate prices.
In District 1, Saigon’s commercial and tourist centre, walking is surprisingly manageable. The district has wide footpaths—some lined with towering old trees—and a number of leafy parks. It’s not uncommon for travellers to spend a day covering the main tourist stops such as Ben Thanh Market, the War Remnants Museum, Reunification Palace, the Post Office and Notre Dame on foot. It can be a pleasant albeit hot walk. That said, ongoing metro construction have disrupted major streets like Le Loi, turning them into a pedestrian/traffic nightmare.
Walking gets visitors up close and personal with the street vendor culture of Vietnam, from pop up coffee to corner mechanics, barbers and shoe repairmen, to the xe om drivers somehow sleeping while balanced across their motorbike. However, District 1 is in the midst of a government “sidewalk reclamation” campaign, with the authorities cracking down on parked vehicles, signage, vendors and even potted plants. The aim is to make the downtown pedestrian friendly. On the other hand, the street vendors, who work hard to make very little, are what give Saigon its character.
Keep in mind that the footpath is just another lane for motorbikes to use. When crossing the street, look both ways, especially on a one way street or when the crosswalk sign is on. The crosswalk sign goes from green to red with little or no warning and traffic starts to flow well before the light change.
Outside of the sanitised world of District 1 and 2, it’s typical urban Vietnam, generally not suitable for getting around on foot for long distances.
When crossing the road through the flow of traffic, keep walking at a slow and steady pace, looking into the faces of oncoming vehicles. Avoid sudden stopping or acceleration. The steady pace allows the motorbikes to anticipate and flow around you. If it makes you feel better, do what we like to call “the hand of God”: hold out your arm at a downward angle at oncoming traffic, and wave fingers down while walking. It’s an extra plea for drivers not to hit you and it seems to work.
Xe om, GrabBike and UberMoto
Traffic could be the city’s middle name: Ho Chi Minh Traffic City. If Saigon has two seasons (hot and hotter), then it has two kinds of traffic, busy and busier. By far the best way to get around is by motorbike, and by that we mean you on the back of one driven by a local. Traditional xe om or motorbike taxis wait on every street corner, in front of popular sights, restaurants and shops. A short ride should cost 20,000 to 30,000 dong—only pay 40,000 to 50,000 dong for a cross-city journey.
Wearing a helmet is the law in Vietnam and the passenger is provided one, though it is ornamental more than anything. Get on and off the bike from the left side to avoid the exhaust pipe—a burn on the leg is the souvenir you don’t want. It really is the worst thing. Rush hour is around 07:00-09:00 in the morning,16:00-18:00 in the afternoon.
Driver hiring apps Grab and Uber have taken Ho Chi Minh City by storm and it is incredibly popular with locals. For tourists, the apps help overcome three of the big hurdles to using traditional xe om: pricing, communicating the destination and navigation.
GrabBike fare is based on distance: the price is displayed and fixed up front based on the shortest possible distance to your destination. UberMoto provides a fare estimate, but the bill is based on the actual distance and time. For both apps, at the end of the journey, users can rate the driver. It’s an industry game changer for both drivers and passengers. Now there are even female drivers.
The service is not without controversy. Those left out in the cold, figuratively speaking, are the traditional xe om. They are facing tough competition and it’s hard not to feel for a driver who can’t afford the smart phone or understand the technology. Yet in speaking to locals in the tourism/hospitality, they consider it the best and safest option for tourists who want to travel by motorbike.
Travel purists can still give the ol’ xe om a go, though the romance will likely evaporate once you realise he’s lost and you’re on the long lonely road to nowhere. Whichever you choose, what’s important is that travellers get out of Pham Ngu Lao to explore other parts of the city and now there’s more choice than ever to do so.
Before you decide to hop on your own motorbike in Ho Chi Minh City, carefully consider the risks (to yourself and to others) and local laws, and read the fine print on your travel insurance.
Rentals aren’t hard to find around the backpacker hub Pham Ngu Lao, costing as little as 100,000 dong a day. Always park the bike in a parking space serviced by attendants—they are easy to find and cost 2,000-5,000 dong depending on time of day and location. Don't be surprised if you are asked for 10,000 dong in the city centre in the evening. Most restaurants and shops have a security guard who organises and tends to the bikes, often for free, though some still charge. Don't lose the parking ticket. If you do, you’ll need the contact details of your rental shop and they will need to come to verify the ownership of the bike. Again, don’t lose the parking ticket.
Any decent helmet is subject to theft, and closing the seat onto the strap does little to deter as thieves can simply cut the strap. Lock the helmet in the compartment. Bag, jewellery and phone snatchings are rife in this city. Thieves will even follow targets and single strap bags/purses are grabbed and cut, with the victim ruthlessly injured in the process. Saigonese place purses in the hold or use backpacks. See our scams/safety section for full details.
Taxis are the safer and more comfortable, air-conditioned albeit slower method of getting around. Taxi drivers are far superior in knowing addresses and navigating than xe om.
Make sure you have the address of where you're going written down; travellers have better odds winning the lottery than pronouncing a street name correctly. That said, an increasing number of taxi drivers can speak some English and relish in a little chat with passengers to practice.
At the risk of being overly cautious, there are only two companies that you should use: Mai Linh Taxi (green vehicles) and Vinasun Taxi (white and green). Do a quick check before embarking—check the branding, there should be an ID on the dashboard and the driver should have a uniform. A resourceful scammer will even decorate their cars in the same colours and try the same name minus a letter. Sticking with Mai Linh or Vinasun is the safe way to avoid an unlicensed taxi with a dodgy meter.
Mai Linh Taxi Company T: (08) 3838 3838
Vinasun T: (08) 3827 2727
Not in a hurry or want to take in the exciting sights and sounds at a leisurely pace? Try a cyclo ride. Cyclos are a dying breed—they are being phased out and it may not be possible to see them on Saigon streets much longer. Try it before it’s gone. Those still kicking around are there for tourists, hanging out around the backpacker area and tourist sights. Sometimes they speak a little English, perhaps able to give commentary along the way. The majority now work for tour companies who use it as a group activity.
For “freelancers”, the price for Vietnamese is 50,000 dong, or no more than 20,000 for a short journey, but foreigners are expected to pay more. Be prepared for a high asking price which can be bartered down to something more realistic; aim for 50,000 to 100,000 dong.