A Few Tips on Safety
You may read some stories of theft and snatching in Ho Chi Minh City.
And just like any fast and busy city, there’s always going to be a risk of carrying belongings with you. One of the main safety concerns in Ho Chi Minh City are thieves swiftly swinging by on motorbikes and grabbing bags or mobile phones or cameras, right out of your hand.
Here are a few things you can do to reduce the risk:
- Phone – Never pull out and use your mobile phone facing or open to the busy street. When I busted out my phone I usually went to the side of the street, and tried to duck into a business patio and sheltered myself with the wall.
- Camera – Likewise with a camera, you sort of have to use your own discretion of when and when not to be holding your camera out in the open to take photos. Again, try to have your back against a wall or stand to the back of parked motorbikes when you take photos of the open roads to provide a bit of a bunker.
- Wallet – I typically like to keep my wallet in my front right pocket, and then I like to keep some small money in my left pocket. When I buy something small on the streets, I just reach into my left pocket to pay, rather then having to take out my entire wallet. Use whatever system works best for you, but it’s a good idea to have some small money to buy small things, where you don’t have to take out your full wallet.
- Touristy areas – The majority of muggings happen in touristy shopping areas, so use extremely caution with your valuables in these areas.
However, just to reassure you, many of the people in Saigon are extremely friendly and very kind.
When I was eating street food and walking around Saigon, I was greeted by dozens of friendly people. So don’t be too uptight, enjoy and experience as much as you can, but do take some precautions as mentioned above.
How to get around Saigon
Just like in Bangkok, there are many different methods of getting around Saigon, and you may have to take a couple of methods to get somewhere you want to go.
Though I’ve heard a rail or subway system may be in the plan, as of now, it’s all ground transportation in Saigon.
From the Airport to the City
If you fly into Saigon, you’ll arrive at Tân Sơn Nhất International Airport.
From there, the easiest way to get to your hotel is probably to take a taxi. Walk outside of the airport, take a left, and you’ll see the taxis waiting for you. Vinasun is a good brand to choose. It cost me a little under 160,000 VND to get from the airport to the Pham Ngu Lao area.
You can also take the bus, which costs just 5,000 VND (pictured above). Walk out of the airport, cross the street, and look for bus #152. The bus will take you all the way to Ben Thanh Market.
With motorbikes that control the streets and even sidewalks, Saigon is not quite as pleasant as a city for walking as somewhere like Tokyo.
But that being said, I like to think of walking in Saigon as sort of like an obstacle course; You’ve got to dodge oncoming objects, jump over blockades, go around sprawling businesses, and cross the rivers of motorbike traffic.
For most of my time in Saigon, especially in the central areas of town, my wife and I walked everywhere (but we are kind of crazy for walking, we like to walk so we can eat more).
Some of the central and most famous things to do in Ho Chi Minh City are located within walking distance, if you can handle the traffic and heat (and traffic fumes).
I think walking is one the best ways to explore any city, and you can stop whenever you like, and find delicious food along your route.
By far the most noticeable way everyone that lives in Ho Chi Minh City gets around is by motorbike (also known as the scooter).
Saigon may very well be the scooter capital of the world. There’s an astounding quantity of scooters in the city.
There are two ways to join the army of motorbike scooter traffic:
- Rent a motorbike – If you have the confidence to rent and drive a motorbike yourself, there are plenty of rentals agencies, especially located in the Pham Ngu Lao area. You’ll probably pay around $10 per day.
- Motorbike taxi – On just about every corner of every street in Saigon, you’ll see men reclining on their motorbikes, sometimes sleeping, sometimes just gazing into the traffic and patiently waiting. These men are motorbike taxi drivers. For a price, they will take you anywhere in the city you want to go, small journeys usually start around 20,000 – 40,000 VND.
Take the local bus
The bus system in Saigon is actually quite good (and not too difficult to figure out if you just go up and down some of the main streets), and it’s a very cheap and safe way to get around town.
There’s a color coded map, and though it’s kind of blurry to see all the numbers and city bus routes, it does help to plan a bus route to somewhere you’d like to go.
My wife and I took the bus in Saigon many times during our stay, and some buses cost 5,000 VND and others were 6,000 VND per ride.
The biggest challenge of taking the bus in Saigon is figuring out all the one-way streets, but just study the bus map a bit, and you can easily take it at least up and down the main streets.
Before you go to Ho Chi Minh City, you’ll probably read some articles about how bad the taxis are.
Yes, there can be fakes, and drivers occasionally do some extra driving to rack up the meter. But on a whole, I thought the taxis were quite reliable, and even many of the drivers were quite friendly.
We hardly had a problem with taking any taxis when we were in Saigon, and they are very affordable, and I really like how they are almost all comfortable vans.
However, when you take a taxi in Saigon make sure you take a reliable company and pay attention to confirm the taxi is an authentic brand. Also I like to keep my phone GPS with the map open so I can follow where the taxi is going to make sure we’re on track.
Here are the main best taxi companies:
- Vinasun – Vinasun is one of the most reliable taxi companies in Ho Chi Minh City, and they are also one of the largest. You’ll see Vinasun taxis, with their green and red stripe, everywhere you go in the city. Just make sure the logo is correct and make sure the phone number (38 27 27 27 – written on the side of the taxi) is correct as well.
- Mai Linh – Mai Linh is the other big taxi company in Ho Chi Minh City. Honestly though, I probably took Vinasun 90% of the time.
- Uber – Uber, the private cab service, is available in Ho Chi Minh City, and it’s beginning to take off. Once you download the application, you locate an Uber, and payment is handled all online, so you never have to touch cash. We used Uber quite a bit, and it’s almost the same price, if not a bit cheaper than normal taxis (at the time of writing this, things could change).