Ho Chi Minh City is the main economic and tourist hub in southern Vietnam. Spanning almost 30,000 square kilometers and boasting a robust population of almost 20 million people, navigating the city can be a challenge.
The city is best described as sprawling but, due to the high density of people everywhere you go, it will feel like you are in the city center. Ho Chi Minh City is famous for its hectic traffic, confusing traffic circles, and winding alleyways. No matter how you plan to travel once you arrive in the city, it is recommended that you familiarize yourself with a map before your arrival.
Popular mapping phone applications that allow you to mark locations, such as your hotel or a meeting place, will all work on Vietnam's largely unrestricted Internet.
Laminated tourist maps that are marked with famous landmarks and restaurants are available in almost every hotel and on every street corner if you find yourself in need of seeing something more traditional.
Depending on the time of day, traffic in Vietnam can vary from a steady stream to a torrent of vehicles. Night and day, there will be at least minor amounts of traffic so do not expect to go anywhere within the city very quickly. Generally, taxis are best for short trips. For longer trips, a private car is recommended.
Even for short distances, taxi fares can add up quickly and you should always be wary of scams where the driver will add a hidden surcharge to the meter or try not running the meter at all.
Asia Highlights recommends using a private car whenever possible. Keep reading for more information on what to expect when you hire a private car.
The faster 'little brother' of the taxi, without air conditioning, is the motorcycle taxi or Xe Om (you can also say Honda Om). It is one of the most efficient ways to get around the city.
Able to drive around lines of cars, these motorcycle taxis do not encounter some of the long waits that you might experience in a regular taxi.
To hire a motorcycle taxi, simply look towards any street corner or bus stop. Without fail, you are likely to see at least one motorcyclist who doesn't seem to be doing anything - this is your new driver.
Motorcycle taxi drivers will wait around populated areas and offer their services. They can also be identified by the cheap red and yellow plastic helmets that these drivers seem to prefer.
Motorcycles are more dangerous than cars. Motorcycle taxis are more dangerous than motorcycles. Why? Because these drivers do not use a regulated meter, their income is based solely on how many customers they can transport in a day. Expect them to drive fast and with a seemingly casual attitude towards safety. Ride at your own risk.
Cyclos and Peddle Carts
The peddle cart (or cyclo) is essentially a large tricycle where one person peddles and there are seats for 2 - 4 people above the rear wheels. These contraptions come in a variety of forms as they are often homemade. This was once the preferred method for sightseeing in the city.
Over time, the city has become too large for the cyclo to remain a relevant method of transportation for tourists who are on a tight schedule. The local police have banned these vehicles from many big streets as they are prone to blocking lanes of traffic and moving quite slowly.
If you thought your taxi ride took a long time then you will feel yourself growing gray hairs while waiting for a cyclo to navigate a busy intersection.
If time allows, taking a cyclo can be a unique and different way to travel. The slow pace of travel can be perfect for taking in the sights or allowing a meal to settle before setting off on another adventure.
As is always recommended, negotiate a price with the driver before you depart. Prices will vary wildly depending on the driver so determine how far you need to go and decide what you think is reasonable.
By 2020, Ho Chi Minh City has plans to open an expansive metro system. Presently, however, travel in the city remains above ground. If you are planning a future trip, make sure to continually check on the metro's development. Lines are going to begin opening soon and will continue to grow to service the city.
If you travel with Asia Highlights on one of our tours to HCMC or another city in Vietnam, you will have the chance to travel by private car. Our tour directors will take care of booking the car and making sure you get an English-speaking guide who is knowledgeable about the area.
Ho Chi Minh City has very hot and humid weather that will make you appreciate the air-conditioned luxury of a private car. The driver will be provided with your itinerary ahead of time so you can even leave your map at home.
Another benefit of traveling by private car is that you can spend as much or as little time at any attraction as you wish. If you travel in a taxi, you might feel obligated to spend time somewhere to make your fare worth it but if you have a private car waiting you will be able to enjoy all of Ho Chi Minh City at your leisure.
If you plan to travel to the Cu Chi Tunnels or Mekong River Delta, please be sure to follow the links at the end of this article for information on our tours. For information on the cost of riding in a taxi click here.
Once you arrive at a place of interest, walking can often be the quickest way to travel between nearby tourist sites. If traffic is heavy, walking a short distance will certainly be faster than taking a taxi.
Be warned, Vietnam can get very hot and humid so if you plan to walk make sure you stay well hydrated.
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