Visiting Ho Chi Minh City, or Saigon, can be a great experience. Although it’s not the country’s capital, Vietnam’s largest city has a diverse amount of things to do, interesting sites to visit and places to stay.
If you’re visiting the south of Vietnam for the first time, it’s important to be prepared before you take off. Use the 10 tips below to prepare for your trip, from visas to your to-do list, hotels and other accommodation, must-eat foods, and more.
1. Check Vietnam’s Visa Requirements Before You Book
Philippine citizens do not need a visa to enter Vietnam, but if you’re from another country you may need to prepare a visa invitation letter or apply for a visa from your local embassy before your trip.
2. If You Need a Visa, Get an Approval Letter Online
The easiest way to get a visa for Vietnam is to pick one up upon arrival at the airport. The visa desk at Tan Son Nhat International Airport is usually pretty efficient, meaning you’ll be able to pick up your visa in 30-60 minutes after landing if you have an invitation letter.
To get your invitation letter, you’ll need to apply through a Vietnamese visa agent online. You can find these by Googling “vietnam visa” or similar keywords. Another option is to apply for a Vietnamese e-visa, which offers a 30-day stay without any need to wait at the airport.
3. Digital Nomad? Make a List of Cafés to Visit
Vietnam is famous for coffee, and Ho Chi Minh City is one of the best places in the country to enjoy great cafés. If you’re a digital nomad, try one of Vietcetera’s best digital nomad cafés to enjoy fresh Vietnamese coffee while getting some work done.
4. Enjoy Ho Chi Minh City’s Famous Street Food
Vietnam is equally famous for its great street food, from classics like bánh xèo and bún bò to international favorites like phở. You can find all of these cheaply and easily available from Ho Chi Minh City’s street food stalls — if you’re new, use Legal Nomads’ guide as a reference.
5. Stay in District 1, 2, 3, 4 or Binh Thanh District
Ho Chi Minh City is a huge city with a population of almost nine million, making it vital that you stay in a central area to avoid dealing with long taxi rides to get around.
For the most central experience, it’s best to stay in Districts 1, 3, or 4. These are closest to the city center and offer easy access to local sights. For a more relaxed experience, consider Binh Thanh District or District 2, which are a little further afield but still fairly central.
6. Tight Budget? Stay in HCMC’s Backpacker Area
Bui Vien is Ho Chi Minh City’s backpacker street, and it — along with the surrounding Pham Ngu Lao Street area — is where you’ll find most of the city’s backpacker accommodation.
Although it can be loud at night, this is the cheapest central area to stay in. For a quieter night’s sleep, it’s best to look one to two blocks away from Bui Vien, where you’ll be able to find quieter hostels that offer a more relaxing atmosphere, such as Pin Poshtel and Ipeace Hotel.
7. For Long Stays, Book an Apartment Instead of a Hotel
If you’re staying in town for longer than a week, staying in an apartment will usually be cheaper than staying in a hotel.
For apartments in District 1, 3, or 4, the best approach is usually to look on Airbnb or reach out to local serviced apartments. For Binh Thanh District or District 2, apartments like The Vista An Phu and Vinhomes Central Park are great for long stays.
8. Be Aware of Common Travel Scams
Ho Chi Minh City is generally a safe place, although there are a few common travel scams and crimes that you should be aware of before visiting.
First off, regardless of where you are in the city, be careful whenever you use your smartphone or reach into your bag. Like other big cities, Ho Chi Minh City has its fair share of snatch thieves who target people on their phones or with vulnerable, easily accessible bags.
Second, be careful of fake taxis. These often operate with rigged meters that charge you two to 10 times the regular fare. To avoid taxi scams, use the Grab app, or only take taxis from trusted companies such as Vinasun or Mai Linh.
9. Master the Art of Calculating in Vietnamese Dong
Vietnam’s currency, the dong, can be a little confusing to get used to. For example, at current exchange rates, one peso is worth somewhere between 445 and 470 dong. This can make it difficult to calculate prices, especially when you’re in a hurry.
To avoid overpaying for things, either memorize the current exchange rate before you visit or download a currency converter app for your time in Vietnam.
10. Check the Season and Weather Before Booking
Like other tropical cities, Ho Chi Minh City’s rainy season can be brutal and quite unpleasant for traveling. Rain showers are common, and some parts of the city can flood quickly due to heavy rainfall when storms break out.
The rainy season runs from May to October but can sometimes extend into November. From the end of November to April, the weather is dry, sunny, and hot, making this the perfect time to plan your visit if you want to avoid the rain.
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Roxanne is an aspiring digital nomad. A virtual assistant since October 2009. She is a hobbyist blogger, photographer and travels a lot.