Any time of the year is nice to visit Ho Chi Minh City. Once referred to as the “Pearl of the Orient, this breathtaking destination has pleasant year-round climate and rarely sees harsh storms. If looking for the best time to visit Ho Chi Minh City, go for the dry season over the wet. The dry season runs from December – April, but it is also the hottest. You can expect average temperatures of 82 degrees Fahrenheit and peak temperatures of 102 degrees Fahrenheit in April. December experiences high humidity; therefore, if you are not one for heat and sticky weather, stick to January – April when the moisture in the air gradually declines. For the activity calendar, you see peaks of events for Christmas and New Year’s in the city. Hotels have colorful decorations during this time of year. Lunar Year, which is January – February, is when most stores close down and airlines are overbooked. Therefore, you must plan and book ahead of time if you are eager to visit during this time.
There are no direct flights from the US to Ho Chi Minh City. For flights with 1 or more stops, you can choose from Vietnam Airlines, All Nippon Airways, Korean Air, Air China, Cathay Pacific, American Airlines, Etihad Airways, United Airlines, Delta Airlines, Japan Airlines, Singapore Airlines, and many more. Cheap flights to Ho Chi Minh City are offered by Air China, Jetstar, and Asiana Airlines, but most have multiple layovers and stops. Depending on how much time you are willing to spend in transit, you will need to plan accordingly.
Tan Son Nhat International Airport is the gateway into Southern Vietnam. It is just 4 miles from city center and has an astounding flight capacity that can take on as many as 10 million passengers annually. The Arrivals terminal at the airport has an information desk, currency exchange counter, and access to public transportation. While staffers here are friendly, many do not speak English; therefore, you may want to pick up a few basic local words in case you have questions as you land and find your way out of the airport into the city.
The main taxi queue is on your left, immediately after you exit the main doors and onto the ground floor of the airport. When you get into the vehicle, make sure to request that the driver starts the meter. On average, you will pay 150,000 – 170,000 VND for District 1, which is the city center and where most hotels are located in the city. You will need to pay 10,000 VND for the airport surcharge. The Mai Linh taxi company offers a single city center trip at approximately 300,000 VND, which includes all tolls.
The air-conditioned airport bus, #152, is the most affordable and safest way to get into city center, which is Pham Ngu Lao Street. It costs 5,000 VND per person with a 5,000 VND fee per bag. The bus leaves every 15 minutes and you need exact change to board.
Uber operates in the city and is generally cheaper than taxi services. Rates during low traffic times cost approximately 100,000 VND and include the airport fee.
Car rental agencies in the area come with a driver, because no rental services can legally allow self-driving for international visitors. You are required to pay for all fuel, which costs approximately 20,500 VND per liter of unleaded gasoline. Given the traffic, you will appreciate having an experienced driver help you move around the city center area.
Like most cities in Vietnam, the traffic is heavy in Ho Chi Minh City. Luckily, you can still get around, explore the major attractions, and not spend hours waiting in lines.
Taking a taxi is one of the easiest ways to get around the city, and in District 1 you can usually travel to anywhere for approximately 10,000 – 15,000 VND and 6,000 VND per kilometer thereafter. Popular taxi companies in the area include Mai Linh Taxi and Vinasun.
If you are up for the adventure, the motorcycle taxi lets you weave in and out of the traffic, skip the lines, and get from one point to another much faster. It is also an inexpensive way to travel in the city, costing approximately 25,000 VND per hour. Rental companies provide you with a helmet for safety.
Sit back, relax, and enjoy the city on the cyclo. While a slowly diminishing form of travel in the city, you can find them near landmarks, temples, and other tourist attractions. The hourly rental rate is approximately 20,000 VND. Cyclos can seat 1 – 2 people per bike.
Air-conditioned and non-air conditioned buses are available throughout the city center. Look for the buses with the white and green exterior, which have air conditioning and tickets for as little as 300 VND. Major bus terminals are close to the main attractions too.
In the future, the HCMC Metro will let you avoid the chaos above ground and quickly get from one area to another. While not functional yet, it is expected to open its doors in 2020.
Top car rentals in Ho Chi Minh City
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No matter how long you are planning to stay, you will see very easily that Ho Chi Minh City has earned its name and tourist popularity for a reason. While small, it is incredibly packed with activities and attractions. While you are here, try as many foods as possible and taste the local cuisine. You are exposed to authentic, real-deal Vietnamese fare. As far as sightseeing goes, here are a few attractions to prioritize on your itinerary:
Street vendors are seen throughout the city and can be quite pushy. For the most part, Ho Chi Minh City is quite safe for American tourists. However, there are a few important tips to keep in mind while visiting this city:
Avoid certain areas
While small, there are some neighborhoods in the city it may be best to avoid, especially at night. Avoid the Tan Binh District, 23rd September Park, and Hoa Binh Park at night. Prostitution and drug use along with robbery are the type of crimes that thrive in these neighborhoods.
Avoid the heavy traffic times
Traffic runs heavily from 7 – 9 am and 5 – 7 pm, much like in the U.S. when people are heading to and returning from work. As a tourist, you want to avoid taking taxis or riding bikes during these hours, because locals are in a hurry and rarely keep an eye out for you as they wind their way through the busy roads.
Be prepared for some smells
The eating and drinking places of Nhieu Loc – Thi Nghe Canal are exciting, but also tend to have a foul odor that can be quite overwhelming if you are not used to it. While the HCMC Zoo is exciting, be aware that the facilities are outdated and some tourists have reported poor conditions for the animals and their cages, along with smells that can be quite unpleasant.