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Getting there & away
Most regional airlines connect with Ho Chi Minh City, including Malaysian Airlines, Thai Airways, Bangkok Airways, Silk Air/Singapore Airlines, Lao Aviation, Garuda Indonesia, Philippine Airlines, United, and Cathay Pacific (from Hong Kong). Vietnam Airlines usually has the best fare, thanks to government controls. If you're flying to Vietnam directly from North America, check with United flights or with Cathay Pacific for good fares and itineraries. Domestically, Saigon is linked by Vietnam Airlines flights from Hanoi, Hue, Danang, Hoi An, Nha Trang, and Dalat.
At the airport in Saigon, you can change foreign currency for VND, but taxi drivers to town don't mind payment in U.S. dollars. Arranging a hotel limousine to greet you will certainly make life a bit easier, but taxis are aplenty outside the arrivals hall. You can also book a taxi at the airport taxi booth just beyond the baggage claim area; the trip to town is around 180,000 VND for a regular taxi or 200,000 VND for an SUV/van taxi. There is a small tourist information booth near the airport exit, but for now it has just a scant few hotel pamphlets. You can contact the airport lost and found at tel. 08/3844-6665, ext. 7461.
In town, the Vietnam Airlines office is at 116 Nguyen Hue, District 1 (tel. 08/3824-4482), or call their reservations office, which is at 49 Truong Son St., Tan Binh District (tel. 08/3832-0320). Just about everyone in town, from the many traveler cafes to hotel front-desk staff or concierge, can book your onward domestic flights on Vietnam Airlines.
To get to town from the Tan Son Nhat airport, taxis wait in front of the arrivals area. If you didn't book a taxi at the taxi booth , stick with established companies. For a fun ride in style, look around at the airport for the few old white Peugeot taxis that still roll around town; the price is the same, but the ride is slow and you'll feel like a khaki-clad colonial. The ride to most locations in District 1 should be no more than 90,000 VND. To get to the airport from town, contact any hotel front desk to arrange the fixed 80,000 VND fare from most locations in District 1. Departure taxes are included in the price of air tickets. Below is the contact information for all airlines in Ho Chi Minh City: Air France, 130 Dong Khoi, District 1 (tel. 08/3829-0981); Asiana Airlines, 34 Le Duan, District 1 (tel. 08/3822-2622); Austrian Airlines, 9 Dong Khoi, District 1 (tel. 08/3829-7117); British Airways, 170-172 Nam Ky Khoi Nghia, District 1 (tel. 08/3822-2262); Cathay Pacific Airways, 115 Nguyen Hue, District 1 (tel. 08/3822-3203); China Airlines, 37 Ton Duc Thanag, District 1 (tel. 08/3911-1591); China Southern Airlines, 21-23 Nguyen Thi Minh Khai, District 1 (tel. 08/3823-5588); Eva Air, 19 Nguyen Hue, District 1 (tel. 08/3822-4488); KLM Royal Dutch Airlines, 130 Dong Khoi St., District 1 (tel. 08/3823-1990); Korean Airlines, 34 Le Duan, District 1 (tel. 08/3824-2878); Lufthansa, 14/F 19-25 Nguyen Hue, District 1 (tel. 08/3829-8529); Malaysia Airlines, 37 Ton Duc Thang, District 1 (tel. 08/3829-2529); Qantas, 170-172 Nam Ky Khoi Nghia, District 1 (tel. 08/3930-2944); Singapore Airlines, Ste. 101, Saigon Tower Building, 29 Le Duan, District 1 (tel. 08/3823-1588); Thai Airways, 29 Le Duan, District 1 (tel. 08/3829-2810); United Airlines, 29 Le Duan District 1 (tel. 08/3823-4755); and Vietnam Airlines, 116 Nguyen Hue, District 1 (tel. 08/3832-0320).
Warning: Scam Alert -- If you go with a taxi driver, even a metered one, from the airport in Saigon, watch out for the hotel bait-and-switch scam. Drivers get commissions for leading tourists to one hotel or another, and they commonly insist that the hotel you're going to is full, has closed, or has some other problem. The driver will pull a dour face and even sound pretty convincing as he tries to take you to his friend's hotel. Sit tight until you're at your intended destination. It might help for you to agree in writing where you're going before setting out. Important: Go with established companies when going by metered taxi (choose yellow Vina Taxi, red Saigon Tourist Taxi, or white Mai Linh Taxi), as many small operators have rigged meters.
Saigon is the hub of transport in the south, and all bus lines pass through here. Saigon is the terminus of the "Open Tour" Ticket for budget bus tours, and Saigon's many traveler cafes that line the streets of the Pham Ngu Lao budget travel area are your best bet for convenient onward travel by road, whether by air-conditioned bus or minivan.
Tourist buses also connect Saigon by road via the Moc Bai border crossing with nearby Cambodia. The all-day ride leaves daily in either a minibus or a large air-conditioned coach from the De Tham-area tourist cafes. From Cambodia to Saigon, contact the likes of Capitol Tours in Phnom Penh (or any other budget tour office).
Local buses are, as anywhere in Vietnam, a bit harrowing, but Saigon's bus stations are the most organized and offer myriad routes out from this central hub. Also be sure to leave from the correct bus station (there are three) for your destination.
Mien Dong Bus Station (292 Dinh Bo Linh Rd., Binh Thanh District; www.vexe24h.com) has services to the north of Vietnam, including to the Central Highlands and Phan Thiet. Mien Tay Bus Station (395 Kinh Duong Vuong Rd., Binh Tan District; tel. 08/3877-6594) serves the Mekong Delta to the south. Cholon Bus Station (84 Trang Tu Rd., District 5) connects with nearby towns in the Mekong Delta, as well as west toward Cambodia and the town of Tay Ninh.
For safety reasons alone, if you're renting a car, I suggest that you book a minivan with a tour or arrange a car with driver. Self-driving is possible, but chaotic roads and shoddy insurance can mean some major hassles. Contact any hotel front desk for arrangements. Many of Saigon's hotels are run by the massive government-run Saigontourist, and they offer lots of affordable in-town and regional tour options by private car.
Saigon is the southern terminus of the Reunification Express, Vietnam's north-south rail connection. Ga Saigon, or the Saigon station, is in District 3 at 1 Nguyen Thong St. Bookings can be made at the convenient Saigon Railway Tourist Service Co. in the backpacker area at 275C Pham Ngu Lao St. (tel. 08/3931-2828). The office is open from 7:30am to 8pm, and they're a pretty surly bunch, but you should find English-speakers in the group. Most popular from Saigon is Nha Trang (about 6 1/2 hr.; 316,000 VND), Danang (13 hr.; 665,000 VND), Hue (14 1/2 hr.; 753,000 VND), or all the way to Hanoi (31 hr.; 1,125,000 VND). Prices above are for the fastest trains and comfortable, air-conditioned sleeper berths; budget options are the hard-berth sleepers with six to a car or the masochistic hard seat. Vietnamese trains are quite efficient and a good way to meet locals.
Check out the unique options to connect by boat from Phnom Penh or Chau Doc in the Mekong Delta. One option is the weeklong cruise between Angkor Wat and either Can Tho or My Tho in the Mekong Delta aboard one of the luxury, shallow-draft Pandaw Cruise Boats (www.pandaw.com). Shared rooms on the vessel start at $1,034. Check with budget tour cafes in your departure city.
When going to the airport, specify clearly which terminal you want to go to. International flights leave from the newer international terminal (go straight). Domestic flights (to Da Nang, Hanoi, Nha Trang, and so on) are from the domestic terminal (turn left). If you get dropped off at the wrong terminal, you'll have to dash to the correct terminal via a pedestrian walkway link 600 m away. This is not recommended, especially if you're already late for boarding.
When entering the airport, taxi drivers will add an airport entry fee of 5,000 dong to your total metered fare. This is not to be confused with the airport departure tax, which should have been included in the price of your airline ticket.
If you're booking a bus around the Pham Ngu Lao area, you probably want to consider buying the tickets right at the bus company instead of one of the booking agencies. The FUTA bus line has an office at the corner Pham Ngu Lao / De Tham (orange-green building) and you get the tickets for around two-thirds the price compared to booking in an agency.
Avoid booking trips through your hotel as you'll pay a significant surcharge to join the same trips which can be booked at the plethora of travel agents throughout the city.
- Can Gio - the virgin mangrove forest 30 km south of the city. Entrance to the park is near Ca Cam Bridge.
- Can Tho is the biggest city of the Mekong Delta and famous for its floating market, delicious food, and fresh fruits. The name comes from "cầm thi giang", river of poems. The city is also referred to as "Tay Do" meaning "Western capital". It has an estimated population of 1.5 million. Can Tho is 169 km (3 hr) from Ho Chi Minh City. You can get tickets at Le Hong Phong in district 3 and take a free shuttle bus to Ben Xe Mien Tay, where the air conditioned buses leave. Tickets to Can Tho cost around 100,000 dong. Free shuttle buses in Can Tho will take you directly to your hotel.
- Cu Chi Tunnel - day-trips are tirelessly flogged by travel agencies around Pham Ngu Lao, and can be done as a half-day trip, or as a full-day with a stop at Tay Ninh to see the Holy See of the Cao Dai religion. Tours, including admission, should cost 70,000-110,000 dong, and are available every day of the week. Cu Chi tunnels are about a 1.5 hr drive out of HCMC centre. It's worth taking the trips to see these amazing structures so cleverly carved underground and used for survival during wartime. One way to get to the tunnels is by speedboat.
- Dalat - popular temperate mountain side "European" escape. Consider going via Cat Tien National Park to see wildlife (including primates, rare birds, and crocodiles) and spectacular jungle scenery.
- Mekong Delta - boat tours are available with an almost infinite mix of itineraries. They can be short overnight trips, leisurely meanders over several nights. If doing a two or three day Mekong tour, which is worth-while, expect to be shuffled between tour companies along the way. 2-day, 1-night organised trips to the Mekong Delta can cost as little as $US25, including transportation, tour guides, lodging and several meals.
- Mui Ne - popular beach resort about 4-6 hr away by bus
- Tay Ninh - Cao Dai Holy See and Ba Den mountain.
- Vung Tau - city with good beaches, about 2 hr away by bus, or less by boat along the Saigon River. The boat ride costs 250,000 dong.
- Phnom Penh - a 6 hr bus journey to the capital of Cambodia ranges from USD10–12 (210,000-252,000 dong). When you pass into Cambodia and the bus stops for 15 min, do not buy anything from the roadside cafe. Instead, cross the road to purchase drinks or food from the roadside shops because prices can be up to 50% cheaper than the bus stop cafe. Alternatively you could book a tour with boat and bus to Phnom Penh in Cambodia, which will have you spending a night in a cheap hotel in Chau Doc before making the trip over the border (cross-border package prices may include visa support, which should cost 360,000-530,000 dong).
- Vinh Long - You can get tickets from Phuong Trang Company at 231 - 233 Le Hong Phong, district 5 and take a shuttle bus to Ben Xe Mien Tay, where the air conditioned buses leave and cost around 90,000 dong. Mai Linh express bus also provides the service to Vinh Long, traveling time is around 2.5 hour, you can buy the ticket at Ben Xe Mien Tay or 400A Le Hong Phong. Shuttle bus from Le Hong Phong to Ben Xe Mien Tay is available.
- Ha Tien - close to Cambodian border, by the sea. You can get tickets from Phuong Trang Company at 231 - 233 Le Hong Phong, district 5 and take a shuttle bus to Ben Xe Mien Tay, where the air conditioned buses leave. Mai Linh express bus also provides the service to Vinh Long, traveling time is around 2.5 hour, you can buy the ticket at Ben Xe Mien Tay or 400A Le Hong Phong. Shuttle bus from Le Hong Phong to Ben Xe Mien Tay is available.
- Rach Gia - often used as a gateway to take the ferry to Phu Quoc. You can get tickets from Phuong Trang Company at 231 - 233 Le Hong Phong, district 5 and take a shuttle bus to Ben Xe Mien Tay, where the air conditioned buses leave. Mai Linh express bus also provides the service to Vinh Long, traveling time is around 2.5 hour, you can buy the ticket at Ben Xe Mien Tay or 400A Le Hong Phong. Shuttle bus from Le Hong Phong to Ben Xe Mien Tay is available.
See more Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) travel guide at here.