Ho Chi Minh City
Boasting an electric, near palpable energy, Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC) is Vietnam’s largest metropolis and its undisputed capital of commerce. For the casual visitor, Saigon – as its still called by all but the city officials who live here – can seem a chaotic mess of traffic-clogged roads and urban bustle, with nary a green space in sight. Yet thousands of expats and Vietnamese immigrants couldn’t imagine living anywhere else. They’ve long since fallen prey to the hidden charms of one of Southeast Asia’s liveliest cities.
If every town had a symbol, Saigon’s would surely be the motorbike. More than three million of them fly along streets once swarming with bicycles. Cruising along boulevards and back alleys astride a xe om (motorbike taxi) is the quickest way to sensory overload – daily fare in this tropical town. Teeming markets, sidewalk cafés, massage and acupuncture clinics, centuries-old pagodas, sleek skyscrapers and ramshackle wooden shops selling silk, spices, baskets and handmade furniture all jockey for attention amid the surreal urban collage.
Getting there & away
Intercity buses depart from and arrive at a variety of stations around HCMC. Cholon bus station (Ð Le Quang Sung) is the most convenient place to get buses to My Tho and other Mekong Delta towns. It’s one street north of the sprawling Binh Tay Market.
Less convenient than Cholon, Mien Tay bus station (Ben Xe Mien Tay; 825 5955) nevertheless has even more buses to areas south of HCMC (basically the Mekong Delta). This huge station is about 10km west of HCMC in An Lac, a part of Binh Chanh district (Huyen Binh Chanh). Buses and minibuses from Mien Tay serve most towns in the Mekong Delta.
Buses to points north of HCMC leave from Mien Dong bus station (Ben Xe Mien Dong; 829 4056), in Binh Thanh district about 5km from central HCMC on Hwy 13 (Quoc Lo 13), the continuation of Ð Xo Viet Nghe Tinh. The station is just under 2km north of the intersection of Ð Xo Viet Nghe Tinh and Ð Dien Bien Phu.
There are bus services from Mien Dong to Buon Ma Thuot (12 hours, 110, 000d), Danang (26 hours, 200, 000d), Haiphong (53 hours, 340, 000d), Nha Trang (11 hours, 75, 000d), Hanoi (49 hours, 320, 000d), Hué (24 hours, 220, 000d), Pleiku (22 hours, 190, 000d), Vinh (42 hours, 260, 000d), Quang Ngai (24 hours, 110, 000d), Quy Nhon (17 hours, 90, 000d), Nam Dinh (47 hours, 300, 000d) and Tuy Hoa (12 hours, 80, 000d). Most buses leave daily between 5am and 5.30pm.
Buses to Tay Ninh, Cu Chi and points northeast of HCMC depart from the Tay Ninh bus station (Ben Xe Tay Ninh; 849 5935), in Tan Binh district west of the centre. To get there, head all the way out on Ð Cach Mang Thang Tam. The station is about 1km past where Ð Cach Mang Thang Tam merges with Ð Le Dai Hanh.
Car & motorbike
Inquire at almost any tourist café, travel agent or your hotel to arrange car rental. Just remember that your rental will include a driver as it’s illegal for foreigners to drive in Vietnam without a Vietnamese license. The agencies in the Pham Ngu Lao area generally offer the lowest prices. Motorbikes are available (also in Pham Ngu Lao) for around US$10 per day.
Trains from Saigon train station (Ga Sai Gon; 823 0105; 1 Ð Nguyen Thong, District 3; ticket office 7.15-11am & 1-3pm) serve cities along the coast north of HCMC.
Train tickets can be purchased from Saigon Railways Tourist Services (836 7640; fax 837 5224; 275C Ð Pham Ngu Lao; 7.30-11.30am & 1-4.30pm) or from most travel agents.
Hydrofoils (adult/child US$10/5, 1¼ hours) depart for Vung Tau almost hourly from Bach Dang jetty on Ð Ton Duc Thang. For more information contact Petro Express (821 0650) at the jetty.
In Vung Tau you board the hydrofoil at Cau Da pier, opposite the Hai Au Hotel. Petra Express (511 914) has an office in Vung Tau by the pier.
Cargo ferries bound for the Mekong Delta depart from the dock (829 7892) at the river end of ÐL Ham Nghi. Although service is sporadic, travellers with time on their hands can ask about departures to the provinces of An Giang and Vinh Long and to the towns of Ben Tre (eight hours), Ca Mau (30 hours), My Tho (six hours) and Phu Chau (Tan Chau). Buy your tickets on the boat. Simple food may be available on board. Note these ancient vessels lack the most basic safety gear, such as life jackets.
Tan Son Nhat Airport was one of the three busiest in the world in the late 1960s. The runways are still lined with lichen-covered, mortar-proof aircraft-retaining walls, hangars and other military structures.
Most domestic flights are operated by Vietnam Airlines. Pacific Airlines also flies the HCMC-Hanoi and HCMC-Danang route, while Sasco flies between HCMC and the Con Dao Islands.
See more Viet Nam
About Hanoi Vietnam | Around Ho Chi Minh City | About Halong Bay Vietnam | Ba Be National Park | Ba Vi National Park | Bac Lieu | Bai Tu Long Bay | Bo Nau Cave (Pelican cave) | Beaches North of Nha Trang | Ben Tre | Buon Ma Thuot | Ca Mau | Dien Bien Phu | Dong Hoi | Ha Giang | Haiphong | Halong City | Ho Coc Beach | Dong Hoi | Kon Tum | Kim Quy Grotto | Lang Son | Lao Cai | Long Hai | Luon Grotto | Long Xuyen | Mai Chau | Mekong Delta | Mui Ne Beach | My Tho | Phan Rang & Thap Cham | Phan Thiet | Phat Diem | Phong Nha Cave | Phu Quoc Island | Pleiku | Quang Ngai | Rach Gia | Soc Trang | Song Cau | Tam Coc | Tam Dao | Tay Ninh | Thay & Tay Phuong Pagodas | Tra Co Beach | Tra Vinh | Tuy Hoa | Van Don Island | Vinh Long | Vung Tau |