In common with many other conurbations developing at a rapid rate, Saigon faces extreme traffic problems, especially in the city centre. These problems increase daily as more cars and motorbikes hit the streets, with the resulting noise and pollution enough to scare off any faint-hearted traveller.
But, after the initial shock, most newcomers get used to the chaotic system and work out the best ways to get around the city. A key factor in planning your stay is not to try to visit too many places in one day, or you’ll end up sitting in heavy traffic glancing nervously at your watch.
Some areas are best explored by foot, though you’ll need to take a taxi or motorbike taxi to outlying districts. One essential Vietnamese experience, which you can tie in quite neatly with sightseeing, is a cyclo ride, though you’ll need to bargain hard to get a reasonable fare or hourly rate.
Walking around Saigon
Once you have mastered the art of crossing Saigon’s streets (wait for a gap in the traffic, then walk out steadily into the street and let passing vehicles weave round you), walking is a great way to get around. This is especially so within the downtown area of Saigon, where many of the city’s top attractions are concentrated.
You may be subject to air pollution and hustling souvenir vendors while walking in Saigon, but you will end up feeling that you’ve got under the skin of this fascinating city.
Taxis for getting around Ho Chi Minh City
With flag fares of less than a dollar and reasonable rates per kilometre, it’s possible to cross a big chunk of the city by taxi for just a few bucks. Adding the facts that they are easy to find on the street and offer some protection from the pollution, taking a taxi is the best way to get from one part of the city to another. Watch out for any driver who leads you to a ‘taxi’ without a meter; it’s a sure sign you’ll get taken for a ride.
Motorbike taxis for getting around Saigon
When four-wheel vehicles grind to a halt in Saigon’s gridlock, the compact size of motorbikes often allows them to keep going and therefore get to their destination faster. You’ll need to negotiate a fare, and wear the helmet the rider gives you, then cling on for dear life. Motorbike taxis are not for the squeamish, but they can save a lot of time on long rides.
Cyclos for getting around Ho Chi Minh City
The cyclo is such an icon of Vietnam that all visitors feel they have to take a ride in one sometime during their stay. Finding one is not difficult – in fact most visitors will be solicited by cyclo riders every time they leave their hotel.
Riding around in a cyclo is great for sightseeing as you have an unrestricted view of what’s in front, whether it’s a delightful colonial building or a ten-ton truck. Have your hotel owner agree a half-day or day rate (around US$3-5), then have the rider wait outside each attraction while you look around.
Buses for getting around Saigon
Few tourists use public buses in Saigon, as alternative methods are generally quicker and more comfortable, yet still inexpensive. One route of interest to budget travellers is Bus 152, which runs between the bus station south of Ben Thanh market to the airport for just 5,000D (10,000 with luggage).