Ho Chi Minh (formerly – and still sometimes called – Saigon) is known for its rich history, busy street life and centuries of French, Asian and Chinese influences all blended into one bustling cosmopolitan city. For first time travellers though, it can be a little overwhelming. So, we’ve got the need-to-know info for travelling to Ho Chi Minh.
Unlike Hanoi, which feels a little more traditional, HCMH is a huge megacity that seems to never sleep. Here’s how to navigate it like a pro:
Things To Know Before Travelling To Ho Chi Minh
1. The Traffic is Insane!
Mopeds rule the city here, and they whizz by at all times of the day and night. There’s no such thing really as pedestrian crossings, so to cross the road you have to be brave! Don’t worry: wait for small gap in the traffic and just walk slowly and confidently across the road. The drivers WILL go around you – they’re used to it.
2. The Street Food is a Must-Try
If there’s one city that’s absolute heaven for food lovers, it’s Ho Chi Minh. With a French influence in many of the dishes here, the food is fragrant and full of flavour. From steaming chicken noodle soups to crispy savoury pancakes and frothy coffees, the street food is fantastic. Check out our top dishes to eat here.
3. Cash is King in Ho Chi Minh
You’ll feel like a millionaire in Vietnam – literally – as around $100 USD = 2 million Dong. There’s no coins in Vietnam, only notes. It takes a while to get used to but there’s plenty of ATMs all over the city. Very, very few places (apart from Western-style restaurants and hotels etc) accept card so make sure to carry cash.
4. Download the Grab App to Your Phone
The Asian version of Uber, Grab is the easiest way to book a car taxi or motorbike taxi. Wherever you are, simple go onto to the app and input your location. It’s cheaper than a private taxi that you would hail on the street and you can also pay via your credit or debit card.
We don’t really recommend getting the local bus, unless you don’t mind missing your stop! It’s cheap (just 5,000d a ticket) and covers all the main areas, but it can be hard to navigate where to get off and it’s slow.
5. Explore Outside of District 1
Ho Chi Minh is divided into 19 city districts, each with their own vibe. Most visitors tend to stick mainly to District 1 & 2, which are full of places to shop and eat, there’s plenty of other great areas in the city. District 5 for example, is the city’s Chinatown, while District 3 has beautiful colonial architecture.
6. It’s a City of Two Names
Ho Chi Minh is Vetnam’s former capital and is actually known by two names: Saigon and Ho Chi Minh City. Officially it’s referred to as Ho Chi Minh City and has been since 1976 — which dates back to the end of the Vietnam War, when Saigon merged with the surrounding Gia Định Province. However, you’ll still hear both locals and visitors calling it Saigon.
7. Locals Appreciate You Trying to Speak the Language
You will soon see that the people you meet here are friendly and happy to engage with tourists, so go out of your way to learn a few key words – it will especially help you when bartering in markets.
- Hello = Xin Chao (Sin chow)
- Thank you = Cam on (kahm uhn)
- Goodbye = Tam Biet (Tarm Byeet)
- How much? = Bao nhieu? (Baow nyew)
- Too expensive = Mac Qua (Mac wa)
- Excuse me (to waitress) = Chi oi
- Excuse me (to waiter) = Anh oi
- The bill please = Tinh Tien (Din ting)