Ho Chi Minh City in the south of Vietnam is the nation’s economic capital and a dizzying whirlwind of activity. Formerly known as Saigon, the sprawling city balances Vietnamese tradition with a modern flair.
Wandering the streets, you’ll find ancient pagodas mixed amongst skyscrapers and high-end shops next to mouth-watering street food stalls.
Because the city was under French rule for over 60 years, there is also a distinctly French flair to the city found in its architecture, streets, and even its cuisine.
But before setting off to Ho Chi Minh City, there are a few things you need to keep in mind. In this post, we’ll cover everything you need to know about traveling to Ho Chi Minh City, including:
- What are the costs for travelers?
- Things to know about culture and etiquette
- What are the top attractions?
- How safe is it?
- Local food and drinks
- How good is the WiFi?
- How long can you stay?
Ready? Here are the top 7 things you need to know before visiting Ho Chi Minh City:
Did you know… Ho Chi Minh City was formerly called Saigon, although many still refer to it as so. The official name change came in 1975 when the Northern Vietnamese Army gained control of the city, bringing an end to the Vietnam War. The city is named after Ho Chi Minh, the 20th-century Vietnamese revolutionary who led the fight for the nation’s independence.
1) Ho Chi Minh City Affordability
The currency in Vietnam is the Vietnamese Dong or VND. The current exchange rate is
₫100,000 VND = $4.29 USD, and $1 USD = ₫23,338 VND.
Here are the average costs for travelers in USD:
There is a wide range of accommodations available to suit any budget or travel style in Ho Chi Minh City.
- Average hotel price: One night at a 3-star hotel typically costs around $40, or around $85 for a 4-star hotel.
- Luxury 5-star hotels: Luxury 4-star hotels average $150 per night, and there are plenty of options, especially if you want to splurge. For instance, the La Vela Saigon Hotel has gorgeous suites starting at $540 per night.
- If you’re on a budget: Ho Chi Minh City is a backpacker’s paradise, with countless options for cheap hostels. A bed in a dorm at a well-rated hostel costs between $5-$7 per night, while a private ensuite room averages about $20 per night. Hostels typically provide free breakfast and WiFi.
Not only is the food in Ho Chi Minh City incredibly delicious, there are plenty of affordable options.
- A 3-course meal at a mid-range restaurant for two costs around $25.
- For a cheap meal at an inexpensive restaurant or from a street food vendor, expect to pay around $2.
- A beer costs between $1-$2, while a cappuccino is about $2.
- Public transportation in Ho Chi Minh City is dominated by a massive bus network that can take visitors to any of the top tourist destinations. Fare is based on distance traveled and ranges between $0.15 – $0.50 per journey. It is incredibly cheap, but just know it can also be a painfully slow way to get around.
- Taxi fares start at$0.50and cost an additional $1 per mile traveled. Motorbike taxis are also common and a short trip typically costs around $1.50 for a short trip. Ho Chi Minh City’s preferred rideshare service is called Grab, and it works the same way as Uber. Rates are usually cheaper than taxis.
- Traveling by cyclo is also an option. Cyclos are three-wheeled bike taxis that are slow-moving and often have to avoid certain streets where they are prohibited. An hour-long ride typically costs around $7 – just be sure to negotiate the price before you take off.
- Experienced bikers can choose to cycle the city. Bike rentals are available for about $5.50 per day, just beware that the traffic is incredibly chaotic, so if you choose to bike be sure to ride with caution.
2) Culture And Etiquette In Ho Chi Minh City
Vietnam’s culture and traditions are much different than those found in the West. Make time to read up on appropriate etiquette before taking off for your vacation.
Check this list before your trip! Here are some of the major Dos and Don’ts in Ho Chi Minh City.
- DO show respect at religious sites: When visiting temples and pagodas all visitors should dress modestly or cover up with a scarf. Bow your head to temples and Buddha statues to show respect and speak only in a whisper when inside. Never touch statues or monks, and take off your shoes if requested.
- DON’T go overboard with PDA: Try to keep your hands off each other when out in public, and definitely don’t do any smooching inside religious sites.
- DO keep valuables at home: The Vietnamese people are humble and do not typically display large signs of wealth. Doing so as a tourist could be considered rude.
- DON’T accept the first price: At market stalls haggling over the price is expected, just make sure you do it with a smile.
- DO respect your elders: Show respect to anyone older than you by offering a greeting or a bow.
- DO ask first: If you want to take a photo of someone always ask permission first. Additionally, avoid taking photos in military areas as it could land you in jail.
3) Top Attractions in Ho Chi Minh City
Ho Chi Minh City is full of incredible places to explore. Here are a few of the top things to see and do while visiting:
- Cu Chi Tunnels – An extensive network of small tunnels that were dug and used during the Vietnam War by Viet Cong soldiers. Visitors can take a guided tour and crawl through certain sections of the tunnels.
- Ben Thanh Market- Vietnam’s largest market with over 1,500 traders. You’ll find plenty of retail, souvenirs, handmade items, and delicious food at this expansive market.
- War Remnants Museum – With over 20,000 documents, artifacts, and films, the War Remnants Museum educates visitors on the local perspective of the Vietnam War and the lasting effects it has had on the nation.
4) How Safe Is It For Tourists?
As with many Asian cities, Ho Chi Minh City is very safe for travelers. However, there are still some things that travelers should keep in mind to stay safe during their visit:
- Beware of thieves: Bag snatching and petty crime is very common, so be sure to take extra caution in busy areas or tourist spots. Don’t walk with your phone in your hand, and never leave bags unattended.
- Know how to call for help: If you or someone you are with need emergency assistance call 113.
- Be careful crossing the street: To say the streets in Ho Chi Minh are chaotic is an understatement, and crossing the road, in particular, can be a very stressful event. The best strategy is to wait for a break in the traffic and then cross confidently at a consistent pace.
- DO get travel insurance: Travel insurance can help in health emergencies as well as with covering the costs of any travel mishaps during your Ho Chi Minh City trip. For 5 great options, read more here.
5) Local Eats And Drinks
One of the best parts of travel is checking out the local cuisine, and Ho Chi Minh City is a fantastic place to try new foods. Don’t let yourself leave without trying at least one of the following:
- Snails – Boiled, steamed, grilled, or sauteed snails are a popular street food, especially when eaten with a cold beer.
- Banh mi – a sandwich that can be made with a variety of meats (or tofu), fresh herbs, pickled vegetables, pate, and a chili sauce stuffed inside in a crunchy baguette
- Com Tam – marinated and slow-grilled pork ribs served with broken rice, egg, vegetables, and scallion oil, typically drenched in fish sauce.
- Vietnamese Coffee – Coffee culture in Vietnam is strong and it is sold everywhere, often served over ice and sweetened with condensed milk.
- Sugarcane juice – Fresh stalks of sugarcane are juiced between two rollers producing a sweet refreshing beverage.
- Beer – Popular brews include Saigon and 333. Local craft beers including Heart of Darkness and Platinum are gaining popularity
6) How’s the WiFi?
Using Ookla, an internet speed testing service, the average internet speeds in Ho Chi Minh City for March 2023 were 42.15mbps download and 20.50mbps upload.
7) How Long Can I Stay?
U.S. Citizens must obtain a tourist visa to visit Vietnam. Applications for e-visas can be done online and are valid for a maximum of 30 days and cost $25. Alternatively, visitors can obtain a visa on arrival at the airport if it has been pre-arranged, or from an embassy. These visas can be valid for up to 3 months. All passports must have at least 6 months of validity and one blank page.
Traveler Alert: Don’t Forget Travel Insurance For Your Next Trip!
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This article originally appeared on TravelOffPath.com