Saigon Transportation and Ho Chi Minh transfer guide
Tan Son Nhat Airport (SGN)
Tel: (08) 845 6654.
Tan Son Nhat Airport is located around seven kilometres (four miles)
northwest of the city centre. It is the largest of the three international
airports in Vietnam receiving more international flights than the capital,
Hanoi. Twenty-two airlines serve 18 cities in Asia and Europe with regular
flights going to Bangkok, Singapore and Kuala Lumpur. The terminal has
been expanded recently and improvements are continually being made to
handle larger numbers of passengers. However, compared to most other South
East Asian cities, facilities are very limited. A project to build a new
international terminal is planned, although it will not be operational
for a few years.
Major airlines: Vietnam Airlines (tel: (08) 832 0320; website:
www.vietnamair.com.vn) is the national airline with a monopoly on most
domestic routes. Pacific Airlines (tel: (08) 932 5979 or 823 1285) operates
flights to Hanoi and Danang, as well as a handful of international routes.
Other major airlines include Air France, Cathay Pacific, Japan Airlines,
KLM Royal Dutch Airlines, Lufthansa, Malaysian Airlines, Qantas,
Singapore Airlines and Thai International.
Approximate flight times to Ho Chi Minh City: From London is 15
hours 15 minutes; from New York is 20 hours 20 minutes; from Los Angeles
is 18 hours 40 minutes; from Toronto is 21 hours 50 minutes and from Sydney
is 9 hours 5 minutes.
Airport facilities: These include bureaux de change, duty free,
a snack bar and shops. There are no car hire providers at the airport.
Business facilities: None.
Arrival/departure tax: There is no arrival tax but there is an
international departure tax of US$14, which is payable in cash on departure,
and a domestic departure tax of VND25,000, which is included in the flight
Transport to the city: There is no bus or train service into the
city from the airport itself but metered taxis wait outside arrivals to
transport passengers to the city centre (journey time 20-30 minutes).
The taxi fare costs around US$5-6 to the city centre.
For passenger services, the main jetty is located at the bottom of Nguyen
Hue on the Saigon River. There are no facilities other than the ticket
office, which provides information on services.
Hydrofoil services: Hydrofoils operated by Greenlines (tel: (08)
826 3201) go to Vung Tau and tickets should be bought in advance at the
booking offices at 1 Ham Nghi and 2 Ton Duc Thang (tel: (08) 821 8061
or 5609). There are nine services daily to Vung Tau (journey time
1 hour 15 minutes) departing between 0615 and 1645.
Transport to the city: The passenger jetty is located in the heart
of the city and most central hotels can be reached on foot. Otherwise,
taxis will need to be hailed.
The road network throughout Vietnam is reasonable but the standard of
the roads varies dramatically from good to appalling. In theory, traffic
drives on the right but in practice drivers take the most direct path
avoiding the many thousands of bicycles, motorbikes and animals in the
road. As self-driven car hire is non-existent, visitors to the country
have to hire a car with a driver. Most will agree that this is the only
way until the country introduces and enforces a system of road rules.
There are basic rules, such as you must stop at a red light and headlights
must be used at night but that tends to be as far as it goes. Long-term
foreign residents are allowed to drive a car but few are brave enough
to do so, preferring to employ a Vietnamese chauffeur. It is safe to assume
that if a foreigner is driving a car involved in an accident, they will
automatically be assumed to be at fault.
Emergency breakdown service: None.
Routes to the city: The national highways are all designated by
numbers. Highway 1 travels the length of the country from the very south,
through Ho Chi Minh City and northwards to Hanoi and beyond to the Chinese
border. Major towns in the south of Vietnam on Highway 1 are My Tho, Can
Tho, Phan Thiet and Nha Trang. Dalat is reached by Highway 20, Vung Tau
by Highway 51 and the Cambodian border (Moc Bai) by Highway 22.
Driving times to Ho Chi Minh City: From My Tho 1 hour 30
minutes; Vung Tau 2 hours; Cambodian border 2 hours 30 minutes;
Phan Thiet 3 hours 30 minutes; Can Tho 4 hours 30 minutes;
Dalat 7 hours; Nha Trang 12 hours.
Coach services: There are several bus stations around the city
that each serve different destinations. Facilities are very basic and
are unlikely to have more than food stands serving local snacks. The buses
throughout Vietnam range from fairly good to ramshackle. Some express
services to Phnom Penh (Cambodia) and Hanoi are in relatively modern air-conditioned
buses but videos can play constantly throughout the journey. Services
on short journeys depart when they are full and those travelling longer
distances generally depart early in the morning. It is not possible to
book tickets over the telephone and visitors should go to the relevant
bus station the day before to check the schedule for the following day
and purchase their ticket. In addition a very useful telephone number
is 1080 where English-speaking operators can give information on timetables.
The bus to Cambodia, operated by Cong Ty Xe Khach Saigon (tel: (08) 822
2496), departs from 145/7 Nguyen Du, District 1, on Tuesday, Thursday
and Saturday at 0600, for the nine-hour journey to Phnom Penh, which costs
US$14. There are no facilities at the departure point other than food
stalls. The Cambodian visa has to be arranged in advance.
Buses to Dalat, Buon Ma Thuot, Nha Trang, Danang, Hue and Hanoi depart
from Mien Dong Bus Station (Ben Xe Mien Dong) (tel: (08) 898 4893), on
Xo Viet Nghe Tinh in Binh Thanh District. There are two bus stations serving
the Mekong Delta. Cholon Bus Station (Ben Xe Cholon) (tel: (08) 855 7719),
on Tran Hung Dao in District 5, is the most convenient for buses to My
Tho and Can Tho. There is a more extensive service to smaller towns in
the Delta, however, from Mien Tay Bus Station (Ben Xe Mien Tay) (tel:
(08) 751 0451) in An Lac, Binh Chanh District. Tay Ninh Bus Station (Ben
Xe Tay Ninh) (tel: (08) 891 4923) in Tan Binh District has regular services
to Cu Chi and Tay Ninh.
The Vietnamese railway company, Duong Sat Vietnam (tel: (08) 843 6528
(ticket prices) or 931 8952 (train information), operates one major route
in Vietnam from Ho Chi Minh City to Hanoi with minor routes linking Hanoi
with northern towns. The route north from Ho Chi Minh City is picturesque
but is the slowest form of transport with express services not living
up to their name. Although in theory the Duong Sat Vietnam telephone numbers
are for train information and ticket prices, being a state-owned company
staff tend to be rather unhelpful. It is better to go to the station,
located at 1 Nguyen Thong, District 3 (tel: (08) 846 8704), in person,
or to a local travel agent for help. Alternatively, a very useful telephone
number is 1080 where English-speaking operators can also give information
on timetables. The railway station has very limited facilities other than
the ticket desks and a small snack bar. As yet there are no rail passes
available and it is advisable to book tickets as far in advance as possible,
since seats and berths in soft class are limited. Soft class has seats
with padding and four-berth cabins with thin mattresses, as opposed to
hard class, which has wooden slatted seats and six-berth wooden berths.
Rail services: The only route to Ho Chi Minh City is from Hanoi
and the journey can take between 32 and 42 hours, depending on the number
of stops. Trains can be seriously affected by flooding in the rainy season
particularly in the centre of the country.
Transport to the city: There is no bus that goes to the railway station
so any journey should be made by taxi.
Public transport within the city is very undeveloped, as most people either
have their own transport in the form of a bicycle or motorbike or rely
on cyclos (see Cyclos below) and taxis. There is one private bus company
operating routes within the city, Saigon Star Bus Company (tel: (08) 864
2762). There are four bus routes. Buses to Binh Tay Market or Mien Tay
Bus Station start from Me Linh and pass through Ben Thanh Market. The
buses to An Nhon/Thanh Loc or An Suong leave from Ben Thanh Market, right
at the heart of the city. The Binh Tay bus operates every 6-10 minutes
0500-1920; the Mien Tay bus every 13 minutes 0430-1940; the An Nhon/Thanh
Loc bus every 7-10 minutes 0430-2000; and the An Suong bus every 8-10
minutes 0500-1930. Fares cost VND1000 on all routes and tickets are purchased
on the bus.
There are several taxi companies operating within the city and they are
usually metered. Restaurants, bars and hotels are quite happy to summon
a taxi, otherwise vehicles can be hailed on the street. Visitors are advised
to check that the meter is turned on. The meter rates starts at around
VND12,000 for the first two kilometres, then around VND5000 for each additional
kilometre. There are some taxis that are unmetered, where the fare must
be agreed upon before departure. However, the price of these is no cheaper.
Tipping is not necessarily expected but always welcome. Reputable taxi
companies are Ben Thanh Taxi (tel: (08) 842 2422); Mai Linh Taxi (tel:
(08) 822 6666); Saigon Taxi (tel: (08) 842 4242) and Vinataxi (tel: (08)
These are a fun way to travel around the city, although rather nerve-wracking.
The cyclo is like a rickshaw but the driver sits behind the passenger
instead of in front. This means that you are pedalled rather dramatically
into the oncoming traffic, which consists of fairly lawless cars, buses,
motorbikes, bicycles and other cyclos constantly careering across your
path. The authorities are slowly banning cyclos from the city and now
many central streets are out of bounds to them. However, they generally
hang around outside hotels or cruise along the street soliciting business
from pedestrians. A rate should always be negotiated before setting off
and a short journey should not cost more than US$1. Visitors should also
keep a tight hold of bags and cameras and hide necklaces, as opportunist
thieves have been known to snatch them as they pass by on a motorbike.
Limousines are not available. For a tourist, car hire always means car
plus driver but that is the closest to a limousine that Ho Chi Minh City
Driving in the City
Most visitors to Ho Chi Minh City are quite traumatised when they encounter
the traffic for the first time. The streets are crammed with bicycles
and motorbikes, which dart between the vastly outnumbered cars. Bikes
regularly travel the wrong way along a one-way street and appear out of
side roads without even a cursory glance in the direction of the oncoming
traffic. Motorbike riders remove their wing mirrors allowing them to squeeze
through the smallest gaps. Happily, visitors are only allowed to hire
cars with drivers. Long-term residents are allowed to drive, however,
although very few do. Those that do drive their own car will find little
provision for secure parking but will always find somebody willing to
keep an eye on their car for a tip. Visitors should be aware that police
are likely to target foreign drivers for on-the-spot fines
so steady and defensive driving is advised.
It is not possible to hire a car without a driver but cars with English-speaking
drivers can be arranged through travel companies. The following companies
can arrange a car with a driver for the day: Exotissimo (tel: (08) 825
1723; website: www.exotissimo.com); Saigontourist Car Rental (tel: (08)
829 8914; website: www.saigontourist.net) and Vidotour (tel: (08) 933
0457-0469). Rates cost US$26-30 per day for travel within the city, with
additional charges for evening use.
Bicycle & Motorbike Hire
A popular place for this is the area around Pham Ngu Lao, which is the
backpacker hangout. Every other building advertises bicycles and motorbikes
for hire and daily charges can be expected of around US$1 for bicycles
and US$5-15 for motorbikes, depending on the size of the bike. Clients
have to leave their passport as a deposit. Checks should be made to ensure
that the motorbike is roadworthy. An International Driving Permit endorsed
for motorbikes is required for vehicles over 50cc. Bicycles and motorbikes
should always be parked in the areas set aside for them (gui xe), otherwise
they are likely to disappear and visitors will be liable for buying a
replacement. It is always worth taking a padlock for additional security.