First Time travel to Ho Chi Minh City – Things you need to know
Ho Chi Minh City, also known as Saigon, is the largest city in Vietnam and one of the most popular destinations in Southeast Asia. The city boasts a rich history, diverse culture, and delicious food. However, if you are traveling to Ho Chi Minh City for the first time, there are some things that you need to know before your trip.
In this blog post, we will cover everything you need to know before traveling to Ho Chi Minh City, including flights, visas, the best time to visit, how to get from the airport to the city center, where to stay, and frequently asked questions.
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Checklists to know before travelling to Ho Chi Minh
Flights to Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam
Tan Son Nhat International Airport (Ho Chi Minh City), it’s the busiest airport in Vietnam. You can fly directly to Ho Chi Minh City from many major cities in Asia, Europe, and the United States.
If you are traveling from the United States, you can fly non-stop from Los Angeles, San Francisco, or New York City. Some popular airlines that fly to Ho Chi Minh City include Vietnam Airlines, Singapore Airlines, Cathay Pacific, and Korean Air.
Do I need a Visa to enter Vietnam?
Yes, most nationals require a visa to enter Vietnam. However, there are a few exceptions for citizens of certain countries, who may be eligible for Vietnam visa exemptions, e-visa or visa on arrival. It is advisable to check with the Vietnamese embassy or consulate in your country for the most accurate and up-to-date information regarding visa requirements.
Most visitors to Vietnam require a visa, there are three ways to obtain a visa:
- Apply for a e-Visa Online: Visit the official website of the Vietnam Immigration Department or authorized agents that offer online evisa services. It’s advisable to check the latest requirements and regulations on the official website or consult with a reliable visa service provider.
- Apply for a Visa on Arrival Online: Alternatively, you can apply for a visa online through a visa-on-arrival service. This is a faster and more convenient option, as you can apply online from anywhere in the world and receive your visa upon arrival at the airport.
- Apply for a Visa at a Vietnamese Embassy: You can apply for a visa at a Vietnamese embassy or consulate in your home country. This process can take several days, and you will need to provide documentation such as a passport, photos, and an application form.
The best time to Visit Ho Chi Minh City?
The climate in Ho Chi Minh City is tropical, with two distinct seasons: a wet season from May to November and a dry season from December to April. The best time to visit Ho Chi Minh City is during the dry season, when the weather is sunny and pleasant.
The peak tourist season is from December to February, so prices may be higher during this time. If you are looking for a more budget-friendly option, consider traveling during the shoulder season from March to May or September to November.
Things to know when arriving at Tan Son Nhat airport (Ho Chi Minh City)
Once you arrive at Tan Son Nhat airport, one of the first things you will need to do is exchange your currency. The official currency in Vietnam is the Vietnamese Dong (VND). You can exchange your currency at exchange booths at the airport or withdraw cash from ATMs.
It’s important to note that airport exchange rates may not be the most favorable, so it’s recommended to compare rates and fees with other options, such as local banks or money exchange offices in the city, to find the best rates.
How to move from Tan Son Nhat airport to city center?
There are several ways to get from Tan Son Nhat airport to the city center:
1. Taxi: Taxis are readily available at the airport. You can find official taxi counters inside the terminal building. Make sure to take metered taxis and ask for an estimate fare beforehand. The journey to the city center usually takes around 30-45 minutes, depending on traffic and they typically cost between 150,000 VND to 200,000 VND ($6 to $8 USD) depending on your destination.
2. Ride-hailing services: Apps like Grab and Gojek are popular in Vietnam. You can book a ride through these apps and choose your preferred type of transportation, such as car or motorbike.
3. Airport Shuttle Bus: There are also shuttle bus services available. You can find the bus stop outside the terminal building. The bus journey takes around 45-60 minutes, depending on the traffic and route.
4. Public Bus: Public buses are the most budget-friendly option. Bus number 49, 109, 152, 159 runs from the airport to the city center, passing through major streets like Nguyen Van Troi and Nam Ky Khoi Nghia. However, note that this option may be less convenient if you have a lot of luggage. The cost is around 20,000 VND ($1 USD) per person.
Best place to stay for the first time in Ho Chi Minh City?
When it comes to choosing where to stay in Ho Chi Minh City, there are many options to consider. Some of the most popular areas for tourists include District 1, which is close to many of the city’s main attractions, and Pham Ngu Lao, which is known for its budget-friendly backpacker accommodations.
Here are some recommended places to stay for first-time visitors:
- Park Hyatt Saigon: This luxury hotel is located in the heart of District 1 and offers great amenities, including a spa, fitness center, and rooftop pool.
- The Reverie Saigon: Another luxury option in District 1, this hotel boasts extravagant decor and breathtaking views of the city.
- Hotel Nikko Saigon: A more affordable option, Hotel Nikko Saigon offers spacious rooms and a convenient location in District 1 with detail headings.
Getting Around in Ho Chi Minh City
Ho Chi Minh City is a bustling metropolis in Vietnam. Navigating the city can be an exciting experience. Here are some ways to get around:
Public Transportation: Ho Chi Minh City has an extensive public transportation system, including buses and a metro line (currently under construction). Buses are a popular and affordable option for getting around the city. You can find bus routes and schedules online or at bus stops.
Taxis: Taxis are widely available in Ho Chi Minh City. You can easily hail a taxi on the street or use ride-hailing apps like Grab or GoViet. Make sure to choose reputable taxi companies and insist on using the meter to avoid any potential issues.
Motorbike Taxis (Xe Om): Xe Om is a popular mode of transportation in Vietnam. Motorbike taxis can be found on almost every street corner. Negotiate the fare before getting on and ensure you have a helmet for safety.
Motorbike Rental: If you’re comfortable riding a motorbike, you can rent one to explore the city at your own pace. However, be aware of the traffic conditions and always wear a helmet.
Walking: Ho Chi Minh City is a vibrant city with many attractions within walking distance. Walking can be a great way to explore the city’s streets, markets, and local neighborhoods.
Remember to plan your routes in advance, especially during peak hours, to avoid heavy traffic. It’s also a good idea to have a map or a navigation app handy to help you navigate the city more efficiently.
What to do in Ho Chi Minh City?
Ho Chi Minh City offers a wide range of activities and attractions for you to enjoy. Here are some popular things to do in the city:
Visit the War Remnants Museum: This museum provides a sobering look at the Vietnam War through photographs, artifacts, and exhibits. It offers valuable insights into the country’s history.
Explore the Cu Chi Tunnels: Located just outside the city, the Cu Chi Tunnels are an intricate network of underground tunnels used during the Vietnam War. Visitors can crawl through sections of the tunnels and learn about the guerrilla warfare tactics employed by the Vietnamese soldiers.
Discover the Notre-Dame Cathedral Basilica of Saigon: This iconic cathedral is a beautiful example of French colonial architecture. It’s a popular spot for photography and a peaceful place to visit.
Wander through the Ben Thanh Market: This bustling market is a must-visit for shopping enthusiasts. You can find a wide variety of goods, including clothing, handicrafts, souvenirs, and local street food.
Take a stroll along Nguyen Hue Walking Street: This pedestrian-only street is lined with shops, cafes, and restaurants. It’s a great place to soak in the city’s atmosphere, enjoy street performances, and try local street food.
Visit the Reunification Palace: Formerly known as the Independence Palace, this historic building played a significant role in Vietnam’s history. Visitors can explore its grand halls, presidential rooms, and underground bunkers.
Enjoy Vietnamese cuisine: Ho Chi Minh City is known for its delicious street food and vibrant food scene. Don’t miss the opportunity to try local dishes like pho, banh mi, and fresh spring rolls.
These are just a few highlights, but there are many more attractions and experiences to discover in Ho Chi Minh City. Remember to plan your itinerary based on your interests and allocate enough time to fully explore and appreciate the city’s rich culture and history.
Recommended food & drink to taste in Ho Chi Minh City
Ho Chi Minh City offers a wide variety of delicious food and drinks that you should definitely try during your visit. Here are some recommendations:
Pho: A must-try dish in Vietnam, especially in Ho Chi Minh City, is Pho. This traditional Vietnamese noodle soup is made with flavorful broth, rice noodles, and your choice of meat (usually beef or chicken). It’s often served with fresh herbs, bean sprouts, and lime on the side.
Banh Mi: Another iconic Vietnamese dish is Banh Mi, a Vietnamese-style baguette sandwich. It typically includes various fillings like grilled pork, pate, pickled vegetables, and fresh herbs. The combination of flavors and textures makes it a delicious and satisfying street food option.
Com Tam: Com Tam, or broken rice, is a popular dish in Ho Chi Minh City. It consists of broken rice served with grilled pork chop, a fried egg, pickled vegetables, and fish sauce. It’s a hearty and flavorful meal that you shouldn’t miss.
Banh Xeo: Banh Xeo is a savory Vietnamese pancake filled with shrimp, pork, bean sprouts, and herbs. It’s usually wrapped in lettuce leaves and dipped in a tangy sauce. The crispy texture and delicious filling make it a delightful dish to try.
Vietnamese Coffee: Ho Chi Minh City is known for its strong and aromatic Vietnamese coffee. Whether you prefer it hot or iced, the rich flavor and unique brewing style using a small metal filter will surely leave an impression.
Fresh Fruit Smoothies: Vietnam is abundant in tropical fruits, and you’ll find a wide variety of fresh fruit smoothies in Ho Chi Minh City. From mango and pineapple to dragon fruit and coconut, these refreshing drinks are perfect for quenching your thirst.
These are just a few highlights of the culinary delights you can find in Ho Chi Minh City. Don’t hesitate to explore local markets, street food stalls, and restaurants to discover even more delicious Vietnamese dishes and drinks.
Best Day Trips from Ho Chi Minh City
Ho Chi Minh City is a great base for exploring the surrounding areas of southern Vietnam. Here are some of the best day trips you can take from Ho Chi Minh City:
Cu Chi Tunnels: Located about 40 kilometers northwest of the city, the Cu Chi Tunnels are a fascinating historical site from the Vietnam War. You can explore the underground tunnels used by the Viet Cong and learn about their guerrilla warfare tactics.
Mekong Delta: The Mekong Delta is a vast network of rivers and canals, known for its lush green landscapes and floating markets. Take a boat tour to experience the local way of life, visit fruit orchards, and try delicious regional cuisine.
Vung Tau: This coastal city is just a two-hour drive from Ho Chi Minh City and offers beautiful beaches, fresh seafood, and a relaxed atmosphere. You can visit the White Palace, climb the lighthouse for panoramic views, or simply enjoy the sun and sand.
Cao Dai Temple and Tay Ninh: Located about 90 kilometers northwest of Ho Chi Minh City, the Cao Dai Temple in Tay Ninh is a unique religious site where you can witness the colorful ceremonies of the Cao Dai religion.
Can Gio Mangrove Forest: If you’re interested in nature and wildlife, a trip to Can Gio Mangrove Forest is a great choice. Located about 50 kilometers southeast of the city, this UNESCO Biosphere Reserve is home to diverse flora and fauna, including monkeys and crocodiles.
These are just a few examples of the many day trips you can take from Ho Chi Minh City. Depending on your interests, there are plenty of options to explore the rich culture, history, and natural beauty of southern Vietnam
Suggested 3-day travel itinerary to explore Ho Chi Minh City
Here’s a suggested 3-day travel itinerary to explore Ho Chi Minh City:
– Morning: Start your day by visiting the historic Reunification Palace, which played a significant role in Vietnam’s history. Explore the palace’s rooms, gardens, and learn about its historical significance.
– Afternoon: Head to the War Remnants Museum, where you can gain insights into the Vietnam War through various exhibits and displays. Take your time to understand the country’s history and its impact on the people.
– Evening: Visit the bustling Ben Thanh Market, a popular spot for shopping and trying local street food. Explore the market’s vibrant stalls, taste delicious Vietnamese dishes, and shop for souvenirs.
– Morning: Take a trip to the Cu Chi Tunnels, located outside the city. Explore the vast network of tunnels used during the Vietnam War and learn about the resilience of the Vietnamese people. You can also try your hand at shooting range activities if interested.
– Afternoon: Return to the city and visit the Notre-Dame Cathedral Basilica of Saigon, a beautiful French colonial-era cathedral. Admire its stunning architecture and explore the nearby Saigon Central Post Office, another architectural gem.
– Evening: Enjoy a relaxing stroll along Nguyen Hue Walking Street, a pedestrian-only street lined with shops, cafes, and entertainment. Take in the lively atmosphere and perhaps grab a bite to eat at one of the many restaurants in the area.
– Morning: Explore the vibrant Chinatown district of Ho Chi Minh City, known as Cho Lon. Visit the iconic Binh Tay Market, where you can experience the local market culture and find a variety of goods.
– Afternoon: Discover the city’s history at the Museum of Vietnamese History, which showcases artifacts and exhibits from different periods of Vietnam’s past. Gain a deeper understanding of the country’s rich cultural heritage.
– Evening: End your trip with a relaxing cruise along the Saigon River. Enjoy the scenic views of the city skyline and indulge in a dinner cruise to savor Vietnamese cuisine while taking in the beautiful surroundings.
Remember to adjust the itinerary based on your interests and preferences. Ho Chi Minh City offers a wide range of attractions and experiences, so feel free to explore beyond this itinerary to make the most of your visit.
Common scams to avoid when travelling to Ho Chi Minh City
When traveling to Ho Chi Minh City, it’s important to be aware of common scams to protect yourself and your belongings. Here are some scams to watch out for:
Taxi Scams: Some taxi drivers may try to overcharge tourists by manipulating the meter or taking longer routes. To avoid this, choose reputable taxi companies, insist on using the meter, and familiarize yourself with the approximate fare beforehand.
Cyclo/Rickshaw Scams: Be cautious when hiring cyclos or rickshaws for city tours. Some drivers may quote an inflated price or demand additional money at the end of the ride. Agree on the price beforehand and clarify any extra charges to avoid surprises.
Street Vendor Scams: While exploring the city, you may encounter street vendors selling various items. Be cautious of inflated prices or counterfeit goods. Bargain politely and compare prices before making a purchase.
Fake Tourist Attractions: Be wary of touts or individuals claiming to offer exclusive tours or access to popular attractions. Always book tours through reputable travel agencies or your hotel to ensure a legitimate and safe experience.
Pickpocketing and Bag Snatching: Like in any crowded city, be mindful of your belongings. Keep your bags and valuables secure, especially in crowded areas, markets, and public transportation. Avoid displaying expensive items or carrying large amounts of cash.
Money Exchange Scams: Use authorized money exchange services or banks to exchange your currency. Be cautious of individuals offering better rates on the street, as they may give you counterfeit money or shortchange you.
Remember to stay vigilant, trust your instincts, and research common scams before your trip. It’s always a good idea to stay informed and seek advice from trusted sources such as your hotel or local authorities if you encounter any suspicious situations.
Safety travel Ho Chi Minh City for the first timers
Ho Chi Minh City is generally a safe destination for travelers, but it’s always important to take precautions, especially if you’re visiting for the first time. Here are some safety tips to keep in mind:
Stay aware of your surroundings: Like any other busy city, it’s important to stay alert and aware of your surroundings. Be cautious of your belongings and avoid displaying valuable items openly.
Use reputable transportation: Stick to reputable taxi companies or ride-hailing apps like Grab or GoViet when using taxis or motorbike taxis. Always insist on using the meter and avoid unmarked or unofficial vehicles.
Secure your belongings: Keep your belongings secure at all times, especially in crowded areas or public transportation. Use a money belt or a secure bag to carry your valuables and avoid carrying large amounts of cash.
Be cautious with street vendors: Ho Chi Minh City is known for its vibrant street food scene, but it’s important to be cautious when eating street food. Choose vendors with clean and hygienic practices, and make sure the food is cooked thoroughly.
Dress modestly and respectfully: Vietnam is a conservative country, so it’s advisable to dress modestly and respectfully, especially when visiting religious sites or local neighborhoods. This shows cultural sensitivity and helps you blend in with the local customs.
Research common scams: Familiarize yourself with common scams that tourists may encounter, such as overcharging, fake tour operators, or pickpocketing. Being aware of these scams can help you avoid falling victim to them.
Register with your embassy: Before traveling to Ho Chi Minh City, it’s a good idea to register with your embassy or consulate. This ensures that they can reach out to you in case of any emergencies or travel advisories.
Remember, these are general safety tips, and it’s always a good idea to research and stay updated on the current safety situation in Ho Chi Minh City before your trip.
What language do people speak in Ho Chi Minh City?
The official language of Vietnam is Vietnamese, but many people in Ho Chi Minh City also speak English, especially in areas frequented by tourists.
What should I wear in Ho Chi Minh City?
Ho Chi Minh City has a tropical climate, so it’s best to wear lightweight and breathable clothing. However, when visiting temples or other religious sites, it’s important to dress modestly and cover your shoulders and knees.
Is it safe to travel to Ho Chi Minh City?
Ho Chi Minh City is generally considered safe for tourists, but it’s important to exercise caution and be aware of your surroundings, especially when walking around at night. Petty crime such as pickpocketing can occur, so keep an eye on your belongings.
What are some must-visit attractions in Ho Chi Minh City?
Some popular attractions in Ho Chi Minh City include the Cu Chi Tunnels, the War Remnants Museum, Notre-Dame Cathedral Basilica of Saigon, Ben Thanh Market, and the Mekong Delta.
How much does food cost in Ho Chi Minh City?
Food in Ho Chi Minh City can range from inexpensive street food to high-end restaurants. A typical meal at a local restaurant can cost between 50,000 VND to 150,000 VND ($2 to $6 USD) per person.
Ho Chi Minh City is a vibrant and exciting destination that offers something for everyone. By following the tips and recommendations in this blog post, you’ll be prepared for your first trip to Ho Chi Minh City and able to make the most of your experience. Happy travels!