Constant honking of a barrage of motorcycles, crazy traffic, vehicles double parked on sidewalks, French architecture dotting the urban jungle, delicious Pho and Banh Mi stuffed with meat and veggies and a distinct culture best describe Ho Chi Minh City. This metropolis in mainland Southeast Asia is often on the itinerary of those who are traveling around the region. This city isn’t attractive just for the things mentioned above but also how affordable it is. You get more out of your money throughout your stay.
Best Time to Visit
Vietnam has a similar climate with the Philippines; it’s either rainy or hot and humid or a combination of all three. You can visit Ho Chi Minh City year-round; it will depend on the type of weather you prefer.
How to Get to Ho Chi Minh City
There are direct flights from Manila to Ho Chi Minh City local airlines that ply this route include Cebu Pacific and Philippine Airlines. Some travelers include Bangkok and Siem Reap to their itinerary because they can cover these places easily by land.
From the airport, you can save money by taking the public bus that goes to downtown. You can choose between two buses: #152 costs around VND5,000 (P11) and an extra VND5,000 for each bag; this option operates until 6:00 PM, and #109 costs approximately VND20,000 (P44) and operates around 5:30 AM to 1:30 AM.
You can choose among cyclos, buses, taxis, and Uber when you explore the city. When you take the taxi, ALWAYS ask to use the meter and avoid negotiating the fare. The drivers are notorious for fleecing passengers. Use Google Maps and other related apps to find your way around the metropolis; this is handy because English isn’t widely used in Ho Chi Minh.
A three-day trip isn’t enough to immerse yourself in a country, but for those who want to get a taste of something different here’s an itinerary for you.
Sample 3-Day Itinerary
Start your first full day exploring the city and getting lost (in a good way). Ho Chi Minh is a beautiful mess of concrete jungle, old colonial architecture, museums, high-end restaurants and shops mixed with small roadside noodle and food stalls, and family-owned businesses.
Some of the attractions in the city are free; these include a trip to the City Hall, Saigon Central Post Office, Notre Dame Cathedral, Ben Than Market, and the cityscape view which includes the Bitexco Tower. You can also save the market for the last day when you buy souvenirs.
Other attractions of note include the Independence Palace which has an entrance fee of VND20,000 and the War Remnants Museum which has a fee of VND10,000. Both provide you with insights into the history and culture of Vietnam.
Travel Tip: It’s best to start the day at around 7:30 AM to see as much as possible within the limited time frame.
Book a tour to the Cu Chi Tunnels or try going there on your own; the site provides insights about how the Vietnamese managed to thwart the American forces during the war in the 60s. You can walk into the tunnels to get a glimpse of how small they are and how the Vietnamese moved to and from battle stations. The renovated tunnels are bigger than they were before to accommodate tourists.
Travel Tip: Book a tour with the many agencies lining the street of Pham Ngu Lao; they offer half-day or whole day tours to the tunnels and another destination. The cost of booking a full day along with Cao Dai Temple is approximately VND150,000. Pay the VND90,000 entrance fee separately. You don’t have to book online in advance or through agencies outside of Vietnam, you can book with a local one the day before your trip to the tunnels.
For the third day, you can go on a tour of the Mekong Delta, specifically Ben Tre and My Tho. The boat tour will take you through parts of the river and provides you with a glimpse of local life.
Travel Tip: The tour costs around VND145,000 which includes the boat rides, transfers, guides, and lunch. You don’t have to book in advance because there are many agencies along Pham Ngu Lao that offer packages.
As of this writing P1 = VND435 and USD1 = VND22,700 (exchange rates vary depending on the bank, foreign exchange counter and the date of your trip)
It’s difficult or impossible to get Vietnamese Dong from the Philippines. That’s why most visitors just bring USD, then have their money converted upon arriving. It’s safe to use your international cards in Ho Chi Minh City and is ideally the best way to get local currency. Always check the amount you pay to vendors and agencies as the zeroes on the bills may confuse you.
Ho Chi Minh City is an affordable country to explore and enjoy. For backpackers on a budget, you can get good value for VND435,000 to VND652,000 per day including food, tours, and accommodation. There are hostels that have dorm beds for around VND87,000 to VND217,400 per night, and some include breakfast. There are hotels and guesthouses with private rooms for around VND652,000 per night. There are also high-end hotels for those who want to splurge. Cheap but good value meals are around VND43,500 or less; try the local noodle shops lining the street for a local experience.
Where to Stay
For those traveling on a budget, the ideal places to stay are in Pham Ngu Lao and Bui Vien Street. Both areas have plenty of affordable accommodations, whether you prefer dorm bed hostels or private rooms in guest houses or 1 to 2-star hotels.
There are also several cheap family-owned restaurants, noodle shops and fast food joints in this area. Several travel agencies line both streets; these offer packaged day trips to nearby destinations or other cities in the country. Bargain for the best deals to save money.