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Destinations, Ho Chi Minh City (Sai Gon), Vietnam

Review my trip to HCMC: Useful travel tips & guide for first-timers [2024 updated]

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Welcome to the busiest city in Vietnam! 🙂 

Speaking of Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC), many people misunderstand it to be the capital of Vietnam. The truth is… it’s not. But it is the biggest and busiest city in Vietnam.

I have visited HCMC five times already. During my last visit, I traveled solo to this city for more than a week. The trip went pretty well, although the weather was extremely hot.

In this Ho Chi Minh City travel blog, I’m going to share everything you need to know when traveling to HCMC, including tips for staying safe, the best areas to stay, famous attractions and food, HCMC travel expenses, and more.

Read until the end to get more useful tips for your trip to HCMC.

Quick notes for your HCMC trip

  • Currency: Vietnam Dong or VND (1USD = 22.000-25.000 VND)
  • Visa: Follow the guide on the Vietnam Tourism website
  • Buy a sim card at 6 USD via This link (Tan Son Nhat Airport pick up)
  • Vietnamese people don’t speak English, so get your Google Translate ready

1. Interesting facts about Ho Chi Minh City

  • Although Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC) is not the capital of Vietnam, it is the biggest, busiest, and most populated city in the country with a population of 8.4 million. 
  • The tallest skyscraper in Vietnam, as well as the second-tallest building in Southeast Asia, is Landmark 81 which is situated in HCMC. It is a 461-meter high building with 81 stories and 3 basements of which the design was inspired by a bamboo cluster – an icon of the traditional Vietnamese village. 
  • HCMC is also locally called Sai Gon – the former name of HCMC before July 1976. Upon the establishment of the unified communist Socialist Republic of Vietnam in 1975, Saigon, Gia Dinh, and two suburban districts were combined and renamed Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC) to commemorate Ho Chi Minh – the great leader of the Communist government.
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War Remnants Museum

2. Where to stay in Ho Chi Minh City?

There are some areas that you can stay during your trip to HCMC:

  • District 1: This is undoubtedly the best location for your vacation in HCMC because the majority of the places of interest are here. You can just visit them on foot as some of them are pretty close to each other. Although accommodations here are not cheap, instead you save your transportation expenses and time. 
  • District 5: It’s also a good option to stay in District 5 since it’s not that far from District 1. Here you can also be exposed to the Chinese community in Vietnam and visit some Chinese temples. Prices for accommodation tend to be more affordable in this area.
  • District 3: It is just next to District 1 and between the Tan Son Nhat Airport and District 1. Therefore, it’s also pretty convenient to travel around, especially from/ to the airport.

One small note, before you decide on your place to stay when traveling to HCMC, is that taxi is pretty expensive in HCMC due to the high petrol price and frequent traffic jams. Therefore, if you want to stay farther from the center, you need to take transportation expenses into consideration.

Read more: 10 Best hotels near Bui Vien Street Saigon

 ➡ During my trip to HCMC, I stayed at a 3-star hotel, called Piano Hotel, the room’s price was around 900.000 VND/night/double room. The hotel’s location is perfect (in District 1), thus, it’s very easy to get around on foot. The room was clean and looked good. However, one of the staff  (I think she is the owner) was not friendly at all, she never smiled and I felt like she didn’t want to welcome us. In addition, when I had breakfast, I could see that their forks were not washed properly. That was disgusting…

 ➡ On the other trip, I stayed at Nikko Hotel – a 5-star hotel located in District 1. There is nothing to complain about. Breakfast was full of options. The staff was friendly. The room was clean and modern. And the price was “classy” as well, it was about 3.000.000 VND/night.

Here is the hotel’s information:

  • Address: 235 Nguyễn Văn Cừ, Phường Nguyễn Cư Trinh, Quận 1, Thành phố Hồ Chí Minh, Việt Nam
  • Link to book: Click here.
  • Price: from 3.000.000 VND/ double room

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3. Staying safe when traveling to HCMC

Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC) is the biggest and most populated city in Vietnam, and it’s also the most dangerous city in the country. Here are some common scams and crimes in HCMC:

  • Bag snatching: Bag snatching is real in HCMC. Locals warned me about it on the first day I arrived here, so you need to be cautious. My advice is not to hold your phone, wallet, and bag while walking on the street.
  • Taxi scam: During my trip to HCMC, I heard a couple staying at the same hotel as me paid 500,000 VND for a taxi from the airport to the city center, which is definitely overpriced. The price they should have paid was just about 200,000-250,000 VND. To avoid taxi scams, you can read my advice in the section below on how to get around HCMC.
  • Overcharging tourists: This is ridiculously common in HCMC, especially at the Ben Thanh Market, where souvenirs are often overpriced. I traveled to HCMC once with my husband’s family (I’m Vietnamese, and they are foreigners). Initially, the seller told my mother-in-law that the purse cost 70,000 VND each. When I came to haggle, I managed to get the price down to 23,000 VND. My tip is… the further you walk away, the cheaper the seller’s offer 😉 .

 💡 My experience: Although those are real in HCMC, during my multiple trips to HCMC, I didn’t face any of them (except for overcharging, but I can handle it). So you don’t need to worry too much. Just follow my advice, and you will be fine.

4. Getting around HCMC

From the airport to the city center

By bus

From Tan Son Nhat Airport to the city center, there are 3 bus lines that you can take:

  Bus No 152 Bus No 109 Bus No 119
Route

to Ben Thanh Market

to 23/9 Park (District 1) to Western Bus Station
Op. hrs 6am – 6pm 5:30am – 1am 4am – 9pm
Frequency 10-20 mins 10-20 mins 15-30 mins
Ticket 6.000 VND

<5 km: 12.000 VND,

> 5 km: 20.000 VND 

<5 km: 12.000 VND,

> 5 km: 20.000 VND 

Bus tickets can be purchased on the bus. And you can search for the routes on Google Maps.

Grab car/ taxi

Taxis are always convenient but not as cheap as public transportation. In HCMC, the fare from Tan Son Nhat Aiport to District 1 is around 250.000 VND/way (including the airport’s entrance fee). Be noticed that the way from the airport to the city center is super jammed, that’s why the taxi fare is a little bit expensive.

Some trustworthy taxi brands in HCMC: Vinasun (white color) and Mai Linh (green color)

 💡 Tips: Don’t ever take a random taxi to avoid scams. If you cannot find any reliable taxi nearby, consider using the Grab app which is similar to Uber. Link to download the Grab app: click here.

Besides, you can also book a private airport transfer via this link at about 250.000 VND (enter code DL6KGF to get 100.000 VND OFF).

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Bui Vien Street

Getting around in the city center

Rent a motorbike

The rental fee depends on how many days and which brand you want to rent. It will vary from 100.000 – 200.000 VND/day (not including petrol). If you rent for more than a week, you can definitely ask for a discount. 

Some reliable rental shops to rent motorbikes in HCMC: 

  • Saigon Minsk Motorbike Sales, Rentals & Repairs: I was super satisfied with their service, probably the most friendly shop owners in HCMC that I have met. The shop is located on Bui Vien Street – a very convenient location. The price is cheap also.

Address: 7 Đ. Bùi Viện, Phường Phạm Ngũ Lão, Quận 1, Thành phố Hồ Chí Minh 700000

Tel: 0775 656 508

  • Thanh Dat (Dịch vụ cho thuê xe máy Thành Đạt) 

Address: 115/21 Le Van Sy street, Ward 13, Phu Nhuan district, HCMC.

Tel: 0909269732 – 0908959723
Website: https://chothuexemayhcm.com

Grab bike

If you wanna experience HCMC’s traffic on a motorbike, but you are scared of driving a motorbike here (the traffic is crazyyyy here), then Grab bike is what you need.

I mentioned about Grab app previously, and this app provides a motorbike taxi service as well. Link to download Grab: Click here

It’s for sure cheaper than Grab car. And it’s fun to experience.

Public transportation

Google Maps is a great app to use when you want to search for bus routes. It recommends all the possible routes to go and is very easy to use. 

 💡 Tip: Buses in HCMC only stop at a bus stop WHEN YOU WAVE AT THEM. Otherwise, the bus will skip that stop.

Taxi/ Grab car

Taxi/ grab car is quite expensive in HCMC due to an increase in petrol price. I was charged about 50.000 VND for 1 km for a 7-seater car. 

💡 Pro tip: Grab is not always cheaper than a taxi. If you book a grab car during peak hours or rain, the price will go up due to high demand. In this case, you can look around for a taxi (only choose trustworthy brands), the taxi’s price is fixed and counted on the meter, it won’t increase during rush hours.

Tour

Joining a tour is a great way to experience unique things and gain more insights into the local culture and history. Here are some recommended tours for you:

 💡 Promotion: Book any of these tours and enter code DL6KGF to get 5 USD OFF

Hop-on Hop-off bus

This bus stops at popular attractions in HCMC, such as Notre Dame Cathedral, Saigon Central Post Office, Independence Palace, War Remnants Museum, Ben Thanh Market, Nguyen Hue Street walking street, Bitexco Financial Tower, Underground Cuisine Taka Plaza, Huyen Si Church, Bach Dang Pier, and the Opera House.

It also offers audio guides in English, Chinese, Japanese, Korean, French, and Vietnamese, providing brief introductions to the attractions’ history.

 ➡ Buy Hop-on Hop-off bus ticket: Click here

Bicycle

TNGO company offers a bicycle rental service in HCMC with 275 bike stations in the city center. The fare for 1 hour of rental is 10,000 VND, and it’s only 50,000 VND for a daily ticket (450 minutes). You can check out the user manual and station map on TNGO’s website.

Read more: 

5. Top 5 attractions in Ho Chi Minh City

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Bui Vien Street

Bui Vien Street, also known as the backpacker street in HCMC, is a vibrant and bustling area where you can sip on refreshing beverages, enjoy the lively atmosphere, and indulge in local cuisine. What make this street even more special is that when walking into Bui Vien Street, you will instantly feel excited about music and shimmering lights everywhere.

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Sai Gon Water Bus

This is a great and inexpensive way to view Ho Chi Minh City on a water bus along the Saigon River. From the water bus, you can also see the Lankmark 81 tower – the highest skyscraper in Vietnam and it’s even more beautiful in the evening. 

 ➡ My detailed review of Sai Gon Water Bus: Read this post

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Independence Palace

The palace served as the residence and workplace of the president of the Republic of Vietnam, a country that existed from 1955 to 1975. It was constructed to replace Saigon’s Governor’s Palace. This historic site bore witness to the Fall of Saigon on August 30, 1975, marking the conclusion of the American War.

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Tan Dinh Church

Tan Dinh Church, commonly referred to as the Pink Church, is a Roman Catholic church constructed in the 1870s during the French colonial era in Vietnam. It is the second-largest church in Saigon, following the Notre Dame Basilica. This church is a popular attraction among tourists thanks to its visually appealing pink pastel color, which is painted both inside and outside.

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War Remnant Museum

This museum showcases exhibits from the wars that took place in Vietnam. In the museum’s yard, you can find numerous military equipment displays, including a UH-1 ‘Huey’ helicopter, an F-5A fighter, a BLU-82 ‘Daisy Cutter’ bomb, and more. Inside the museum, you’ll see a wealth of displays and photographs documenting the US invasion war, the effects of Agent Orange, and war atrocities such as the My Lai massacre.

Those are places that you must visit on your trip to HCMC. Besides, this city also offers a plethora of other interesting attractions and hidden gems, read my post ‘12 hidden gems and unusual things to do in HCMC‘ for more details.

6. Must-try food in HCMC

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Banh Mi

I had banh mi almost every day during my trip to Ho Chi Minh City (sometimes twice a day) because it’s so tasty. In HCMC, banh mi is a big, flavorful sandwich filled with a variety of delicious ingredients, including cold cuts, pâté, pork, pickled cucumbers, and more. You can enjoy it for breakfast, lunch, or dinner, and you’ll never get tired of it.

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Pho

The star of this dish is the aromatic broth, which is made from beef or pork bones, along with ingredients like cardamom, cinnamon, star anise, and more. This flavorful broth is then poured into a bowl with flat noodles, beef or chicken, and various Vietnamese herbs. This perfect combination creates a culinary masterpiece that you can’t forget.

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Com Tam (Broken Rice)

Com Tam, which translates to ‘broken rice,’ originally referred to the small, fragmented rice grains. A classic Com Tam platter typically includes broken rice, grilled pork chops, shredded pork skin, egg meatloaf, and a flavorful dipping sauce. The dish looks simple but it tastes pretty good, especially the grilled pork chop.

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Snails

This exotic food is one of the locals’ favorites, especially when we hang out with friends. There are plenty of cooking styles for snails, and my favorite ones are boiled snails with lemongrass and stir-fried snails with sweet and sour sauce.

Read more: Best restaurants to eat in District 1, HCMC

7. Best places for a day trip from HCMC

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Buu Long Pagoda

Buu Long Pagoda is ranked among the top 20 most beautiful Buddhist temples in the world, thanks to its unique architecture that follows the Theravada Buddhism style and its tranquil surroundings. The most gorgeous structure in this pagoda is probably the Gotama Cetiya Stupa, which consists of a large central tower and four smaller ones. 

 ➡ My review of Buu Long Pagoda: Read this post

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Cai Rang Floating Market

Exploring one of the oldest floating markets in the Mekong Delta, Cai Rang market, is a great way to immerse yourself in the local culture. Here, you can observe how commerce is conducted on the water and how people live on boat. Pretty interesting!

My guide to Cai Rang Floating Market from HCMC: Read this post

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Cu Chi Tunnel

The Cu Chi tunnels are situated in Cu Chi District, Ho Chi Minh City. They represent only a fraction of an extensive network of tunnels that were constructed to provide refuge for Viet Cong soldiers during the war. When visiting the Cu Chi Tunnels, remember to experience walking inside the narrow tunnels; it’s a truly unforgettable experience.

 ➡ Book Cu Chi Half-Day Tour at 17 USD: Click here (enter code DL6KGF to get 5 USD OFF)

8. How many days to stay in Ho Chi Minh City?

If you just plan to visit only the city center, I recommend about 3 to 4 days to explore the most famous places of interest in HCMC and try some local foods. 

If you want to have a day trip away from HCMC such as Cu Chi Tunnel, Cai Rang Floating Market, etc, you probably need at least 5 days 4 nights. 

9. How much to spend in Ho Chi Minh City?

Travel costs to HCMC are relatively inexpensive. Below are some common travel costs when traveling to HCMC based on my travel experience:

Accommodation: A hostel bed typically ranges from 200,000 to 250,000 VND. A 3-star hotel in HCMC costs around 700,000 to 900,000 VND per night for a double room. Meanwhile, you can expect to pay from 2,000,000 VND per night for a 4-5 star hotel.

Transportation:

  • Public transportation is cheap in HCMC; I paid 6,000 VND (less than 50 cents USD) for a bus ride.
  • Grab car/taxi is more expensive in Vietnam due to an increase in petrol prices; I paid about 250,000 VND for a 9 km ride in the late evening (late evening rates are higher).
  • Motorbike rental costs about 150,000-200,000 VND, depending on the bike model and condition. You also need to fill up the petrol, which costs about 30,000 VND for a day’s use.
  • Bicycle rental is about 10,000 VND per hour for TNGO company, they have parking stations at many locations in HCMC (and other cities in Vietnam as well).

Food: A portion of local food (Pho, banh mi, com tam) typically costs between 40,000 and 50,000 VND. Eating in a restaurant usually ranges from 150,000 to 250,000 VND per person, while fine dining can be as high as 1,000,000 VND per person.

Attraction tickets: Most attractions in HCMC are free or very affordable. Museum tickets cost only about 25,000 to 40,000 VND per entrance.

Sim card: A SIM card costs about 150,000 VND (6 USD) for 30 days of use and includes 10 GB of data. You can purchase it via this link and pick it up at Tan Son Nhat Airport (enter code DL6KGF to get 5 USD OFF).

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10. When is the best time to visit Ho Chi Minh City?

There are 2 seasons in HCMC: the wet and dry seasons.

  • The wet season in HCMC is between May and November. During this period, the weather is unpredictable with sudden and heavy rain. Downpour occurs for around 15 days/months. June, July, and August are the months with the highest precipitation of about 300mm and humidity of more than 80%. 
  • The dry season in HCMC runs from December to April. The average temperature during these months is about 28 Celcius degree, fluctuating from 25 Celcius degree to 31 Celcius degree. 

The best time to visit HCMC is during the dry season when there is no or little chance of rain. Although it’s quite hot and sunny during the daytime, the temperature in the evening is pretty pleasant to travel around.

 💡 My experience:

  • I traveled to HCMC in mid-September. There were some heavy rains for 1-2 hours/day. It was not that bad and I could still find some time to wander around the city under sunny weather.
  • Another HCMC trip of mine was in May. The weather was sunny and there was no rain for a week.

11. How to get to Ho Chi Minh City?

By flight

Tan Son Nhat International Airport (SGN) is the biggest and busiest airport in Vietnam located in Tan Binh district, HCMC. The airport serves both international and domestic flights.

It’s very convenient to travel to HCMC by flight as the airport (Tan Son Nhat Airport) is located just 8 km away from the city center. 

 ➡ Check out cheap flight tickets: Click here

By train

Since the Sai Gon railway station is situated right in the city center (District 3), taking a train is a great option if you travel to HCMC from another province in Vietnam. 

 ➡ Link to book train tickets: Click here OR  Click here. (type “Sai Gon” as the arrival station).

 💡 Note: It’s not recommended to take a train to HCMC from further provinces such as Hanoi, Ninh Binh, etc because it’s a waste of time and the ticket price is relatively similar to a flight ticket. In detail, the journey from Hanoi to HCMC by train takes around 30 hours and costs 900.000VND/way.

By bus

You can buy bus tickets at the bus station or online via This link.

  • Buy online: Many operators on This link provide hotel pickup service or have their own meet-up point (not the bus station). And buses tend to serve foreign tourists – which is much more comfortable and convenient than the local ones.
  • Buy at the station: There are several bus stations in HCMC, but the two major ones are:

 ➡  Eastern bus station (Ben xe Mien Dong): This bus station mainly serves the routes to the North, Central, and Central Highlands and some provinces in the Southeast of Vietnam such as Hanoi, Danang, Nha Trang, Da Lat, etc.

Location: 292 Đinh Bộ Lĩnh, phường 26, quận Bình Thạnh, Thành phố Hồ Chí Minh.

Some trustworthy bus operators: are Hoang Long New, Phuong Trang, Phuong Hoang, A Ba, and Van Tuyen.

 ➡ Western bus station (Ben xe Mien Tay): This station specializes in routes between HCMC and other provinces in the Mekong Delta such as Can Tho, Long An, Tien Giang, Ben Tre, Vinh Long, Tra Vinh, Hau Giang, Soc Trang, Dong Thap, An Giang, Kien Giang, Bac Lieu, etc.

Location: 395 Kinh Đ. Vương, An Lạc, Bình Tân, Thành phố Hồ Chí Minh, Việt Nam

Some trustworthy bus operators: Phuong Trang, Hoang Minh, Mai Linh Express, and Tien Loi.

Above is the ultimate travel guide in HCMC including how to get there, how to get around, where to stay, places to visit, how many days to stay, and HCMC travel cost. I hope you find this HCMC travel blog post helpful. If you have any questions, feel free to comment below.

1. How long is the travel time from Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh?

If you take a flight, it takes about 2 hours to fly from Hanoi to HCMC.

2. Is it safe to solo travel to Ho Chi Minh?

From my experience of solo travel to HCMC, I didn’t face any issue in my trip.

However, I have heard that mugging is pretty common here, so you gotta be cautious at all time.

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(5) Comments

  1. Honeymelon says:

    thank you for your ideas.

  2. The War Remnants Museum is truly a must if you visit HCM City. Best place in my 2-day trip to this busy city

  3. Ho Chi Minh City gives me a more vibrant feeling than Hanoi. It feels like everyone here is always full of energy and always smiling

  4. The article is very detailed, I feel more confident in my upcoming trip to Ho Chi Minh after reading this article.

  5. Great guide, Thanks for sharing!!!

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