Ho Chi Minh City – also known as Saigon / HCMC
Nickname : Pearl of the Far East
Population : ~9 Million (2016)
People : 93% Vietnamese, 6% Chinese, 1% Others
Language : Vietnamese, Cantonese, English
Religion : Buddhism, Christianity, Islam, and Hinduism
Climate : Tropical wet and dry – warm and humid
Electricity Plug Type : European/American
Major Airport : Tan Son Nhat International Airport
When To Go?
Ho Chi Minh City has a tropical wet and dry climate, which means it’s quite warm and humid always. There are just two seasons – rainy and dry season. The average daily temperature is around 30°C, though at times it can be as high as over 42°C and as low as 20°C. Average humidity is around 76%-85%.
Depending on your weather preferences and how you react to such kind of weather, you could either choose to visit during the rainy season, i.e. May – October or during the dry season which lasts from November – April. Thunderstorms during rainy weather is quite frequent, though the rain doesn’t last for more than a few hours. I was there in May and I guess I experienced the average Saigonese weather combining everything!
Avoid going around the time of Tet, which is the Vietnamese New Year. This takes place around the same time as Chinese New Year; late January – early February.
Best to pack some shorts, flip-flops, sunglasses, and hat!
How to get there? Any visa requirements?
Tan Son Nhat International Airport is your best option when flying in from abroad or even from other cities in Vietnam. There are direct connections from most major Asian, Middle Eastern, and European destinations as well as Australia. Those living in Europe can fly with Vietnam Airlines from Paris, Frankfurt, or London. Though a far better option would be to fly with Emirates via Dubai or Etihad via Abu Dhabi or Turkish Airlines via Istanbul.
If you’re coming in from Hanoi, you could use the train which arrives at Saigon Train Station (Ga Sai Gon). The journey however takes between 30 – 35 hours!
No Visa Required : For citizens of ASEAN nations, U.K., France, Germany, Italy, Denmark, Sweden, Norway, Finland, Spain, S.Korea, Japan, and Russia there is no visa required to enter. (as of June 2016)
All other citizens will need a visa to enter though. This can be managed either through the Vietnamese embassies or consulates or even an online application is possible to obtain a Visa on arrival!
More Information on visas here.
Getting to the city from airport
There are two best ways to get to town from the airport – by taxi and by bus. You can take Bus # 109 (much better than Bus #152) for just less than € 1 to Pham Ngu Lao Street in the city center. This street is known as the backpackers’ zone in Saigon.
If you want to be more flexible and pay for a Taxi, make sure to choose only Vina Sun or Mai Linh taxis. Any other taxi companies will scam you and ruin your trip before you begin even! The average taxi trip from the airport to the city center and vice versa would cost you around € 6 (150,000 VND).
Best Way To Get Around?
Although most important places to visit are quite centrally located and easy to reach on foot, walking in Ho Chi Minh City can be difficult at times. This is mainly due to the hot weather, lack of pedestrian-friendly footpaths, and the crazy traffic!
If you know how to ride a motorbike, this is your best option to get around and enjoy the city. You can rent motorbikes almost everywhere around the city for only around €4 – €5 per day and if you can’t ride one yourself, don’t be afraid to hire one of those ‘motorbike taxis’ available.
On the other hand if you prefer a more comfortable journey, you can always take one of those thousands of taxis available on the streets of Saigon. But always be sure that it is either a Vina Sun (+38 27 27 27) or Mai Linh (+38 36 36 36) cab! The price is quite good too – 1 km ≈ € 0.50 (~12,000 – 13,000 VND). Most taxi drivers barely speak English so it’s best if you write down your address/destination in a piece of paper.
Wondering what to do and visit in Saigon? Then check this out here!
How about…where to eat or drink? Here are some of my recommendations!
Where to Stay?
Budget travelers’ and backpackers’ best bet is around the area of Pham Ngu Lao Street. This street and its surrounding area is famous for cheap accommodations – whether be it a hostel or hotel. Though of course, not all of them have good standards so always make sure to check the reviews before your book!
I had my sleepovers at Vietnam Inn Saigon.
Health and Safety
This is the part where you need to take care to ensure you have a nice, safe trip!
First of all, there are pickpockets, thieves, snatchers, and scammers. And secondly, you don’t have to be afraid if you are always careful with your belongings and if you consider the following precautions:
– Keep your passport and wallet inside your backpack or handbag; your phone/digital camera in your front pockets.
– If you are using a DSLR, it is better to keep it inside your backpack and take it out only when you want to snap pictures. Make sure to attach the camera strap with your hand while using.
– Always be aware of motorbike riders – regardless of which side of the street you are walking along. Most snatchers operate from the motorbikes and are expert at snatching your valuables within few seconds! This is especially common in and around Pham Ngu Lao Street.
– If you suspect something seems fishy or scammy, just ignore it and move away somewhere.
– As mentioned before, always use only Vina Sun and Mai Linh taxis.
– Ladies should be more careful with their bags and belongings, as they are usually an easy target for motorbike snatchers.
Tap water is not exactly safe to drink, so always buy only bottled water. It’s also necessary to keep the usual necessary medicines in case of an emergency, and especially if you can’t easily cope with hot weather or spicy food.
Currency Exchange and WiFi-connectivity:
Best place to exchange your money into Vietnamese Dong is at the arrivals area of the airport. Just after passing immigration control, there are many currency exchange counters and they offer much better rates than in the city center! Otherwise, ATMs are plentiful where you can easily withdraw money.
Want to stay connected with friends and family around the world but don’t want to purchase a local phone connection? No worries! Saigon literally has no lack of free WiFi connections – they are available nearly in every shops, restaurants, cafés, public spaces, hostels, and hotels so you can keep calm 😉