Saigon – The Cosmopolitan City in Vietnam’s South
Saigon, or Ho Chi Minh City, is a city in the south of Vietnam. Today it’s more often called Ho Chi Minh City, named after the president who managed to reunite the north and the south after the Vietnam War. But there’s nothing wrong with using Saigon – everyone knows the city by this name as well.
Especially when it comes to culture and history, Saigon has a lot to offer. From numerous museums about Vietnamese history to monuments from the Vietnam War era – you can find it all. But the city is not stuck in its past. In certain parts, it is quite modern, like the district of Pham Ngu Lao. The nightlife here is truly worth the experience.
If you are interested in exploring this cosmopolitan city for yourself, then make sure to read on. We will tell you the best way to get to Saigon, how to get around and what to do in the city.
The Best Way to Travel to Saigon
The easiest way to get to Saigon is by plane. The city’s airport is called Tan Son Nhat and is one of the main hubs for Vietnamese air traffic. Whether you are arriving from another country or are already in Vietnam, there are many flights to this airport.
Vietnamese and other Southeast Asian airlines, like VietJet Air, Vietnam Airlines, and Jetstar Pacific, offer domestic flights. European and North American airlines also connect the western world and Saigon via direct flights.
The airport is located about seven kilometers to the northwest of Saigon’s center. If you rent a car at the airport and drive to Saigon, you will be on the road for only about 20 minutes. Depending on traffic, it may take longer, and during rush hour the drive will be closer to an hour’s travel time.
If you want to get to Saigon by public transport, it is best to take a shuttle bus. They depart from a bus stop in front of the international flight terminal every 20 to 30 minutes and take you to the Pham Ngu Lao district. This is the part of Saigon where most backpackers stay when visiting the city. In addition, the ride only costs about 1.50 pounds (2.00 dollars) – so there’s no cheaper way to get into the city in a short time. The only exception is the line 152 bus, which is a little cheaper and costs less than one pound (1.50 dollars), but the bus is also quite old and extremely slow.
Otherwise, you can take a taxi to the city center. The price is around 4.50 to 6.00 pounds (6.00 to 8.50 dollars), depending on the exchange rate. However, you should be careful, there are a lot of frauds at the airport. Many of them offer to drive you to Saigon at a supposedly cheap rate, but they actually charge much more than usual in Vietnam. So, it is best to ignore the drivers who try to force themselves on you. If you’re uncertain, you can of course use the Uber app.
If you are already in Vietnam, you can also take the train to Saigon. The Ga Sai Gon train station is located at Nguyen Thong in District 3. However, if you are travelling to Saigon on the weekend, you should buy your ticket in advance, as the trains are popular during this time. On these days, it can get quite crowded on the train, and sometimes they are fully booked.
The cheapest way to get to Saigon is by bus. Unlike the train station, the two bus stations are located on the outskirts of the city. So, if you want to get right to the center of the action, a journey by train may be the better option.
The largest bus station in Saigon is Mien Dong, located in Binh Thanh district. It mainly travels between cities located to the north and east of Saigon. The second, slightly smaller bus station is Mien Tay in the Binh Chanh district. This is mainly used by patrons in the south of the country. Since Saigon is already far south, these stops are mainly towns and villages in the Mekong Delta.
If you are travelling by bus from one city to another in Vietnam, remember that the timetables do not list the names of the cities. Instead, they name the city’s bus stops. You will not see Saigon or Ho Chi Minh City, as the city is now called, on any bus timetable, but instead often the name Mien Dong.
Getting around Saigon
If you spend most of your time in the center of Saigon, don’t be surprised. Generally, all the interesting sights are within walking distance – be it the many parks or impressive landmarks, like Ben Thanh Market. Walking is typically the best option, as you will quickly discover if you use Saigon’s public buses.
However, you should make sure to be aware of traffic when you cross a street. Many drivers here do not pay attention to traffic signs and often run red lights. So remember to always look both ways before crossing the road!
Footpaths are not just used by pedestrians. Motorcyclists, in particular, tend to use them as another lane. In Vietnam, things work quite differently than in Western countries.
One of the fastest ways to get from one place to another in the city is by a motorbike taxi, called Xe om. You can find them at almost every corner of Saigon, especially near landmarks, larger shops, and restaurants. They are also one of the most used modes of transport in Saigon. If you cannot find a motorbike taxi, you can also order one. Apps like UberMoto or GrabBike are ideal for this.
The price for riding a traditional Xe om is usually reasonable. If you only want to cover a short distance, you won’t even have to pay one pound (1.50 dollars). And for about 1.50 to 2.00 pounds (2.00 to 2.50 dollars), you can get from one end of Saigon to the other.
During the ride, you’ll sit behind a local who uses his motorbike to ride through the city. Do not forget to wear the helmet attached to the motorbike, as this is mandatory in Vietnam. Also, watch out for the exhaust when you get on and off so you don’t burn yourself.
Interesting Places in Saigon
Nguyen Hue is one of the most famous streets in the city, and many people refer to it as the Champs-Élysées of the East. And indeed, the beautiful architecture along this long street, with its magnificent houses and shops, will remind you of its counterpart in Paris.
You shouldn’t be surprised to see a lot of people out and about here. It doesn’t matter if you are a local or a backpacker – everyone passes by this area. You might find yourself suddenly running into another person, because someone abruptly stopped to take a selfie.
A visit is especially worthwhile at night, when Nguyen Hue really picks up speed. After all, it is the center of Saigon’s nightlife. It has numerous bars and clubs where young people like to party.
If you want to visit one of the quirkiest places in Vietnam, then the street Bui Vien should definitely be on your bucket list. Although Nguyen Hue is a hot spot, Bui Vien is also a must-see. However, the area doesn’t have the best reputation among the locals and is considered the city’s red-light district.
You will likely find some obscene establishments on Bui Vien, but fun eccentricities as well. Artists like to hang out here and entertain the people who dare to walk through the street. Make sure to take care of your valuables, as many pickpockets lurk around. They take advantage of the street’s many distracting, colorful lights to steal purses and other things.
Pham Ngu Lao
This street is mainly frequented by backpackers. So, if you want to meet other travelers, this is the place to be. However, you should also be aware that it is overtly touristic, and the prices are a bit higher than in other neighborhoods. Nevertheless, it’s worth a visit.
Pham Ngu Lao is Saigon’s equivalent to Khao San Road in Bangkok. There are numerous street food vendors and hostels here, as well as expensive, first-class restaurants. It’s a really diverse mix, where all kinds of people, from wealthy tourists and backpackers on a tight budget, meet in close quarters.
The stunning city of Saigon in South Vietnam is one of the most popular backpacker destinations in Southeast Asia. Numerous airlines connect you with Vietnam’s multicultural center, whether you are arriving from outside the country or you’re already in another Vietnamese city.
Saigon will not disappoint you. Whether it is the breathtaking sights or the hustle and bustle of one of the world-famous streets like Nguyen Hue or Pham Ngu Lao, there is always something going on.
By the end of your trip, the city is sure to take such a hold of you that it will be hard to tear yourself away from it. It’s not without reason that many backpackers return regularly to enjoy Saigon’s cosmopolitan atmosphere.