After a slightly delayed flight I arrived in Vietnam and had to immediately navigate the taxi system. There are two trusted taxi companies, Mai Linh Taxi and Vinasun Taxi but you’ll find it much cheaper to get an Uber. Mine cost £2.50 to get from the airport to Lee Hostel in District 1.
Although Lee hostel is the cheapest, the breakfast included is really just a piece of bread and the water didn’t work at all during my first morning there, which meant no shower. You get what you pay for at 3 pounds a night. The good thing is that it is full of friendly backpackers and has a Mexican themed restaurant downstairs with beautiful Aztec murals. The area is also great for nightlife with Bui Vien street right outside featuring plenty of clubs and bars. There are also a number of nice restaurants nearby but expect slightly higher prices as this is a tourist area, having said that you can still eat here for just £3.
Seeing as I only had a few days to see the city, I thought the best option would be to get a ride with a moto taxi. They expect to come across tourists and many will offer to take you on round trips of the city stopping at different attractions for as long as you like. Mine asked for 100,000 Vietnamese dong (£3.15) which I thought was very reasonable to cover all the attractions I wanted to see. I later found that he meant 100,000 per hour and after spending 3 hours exploring I had racked up a bill of 300,000. Having only 250,000 on my person, I offered him the entirety of my funds for the day which he took begrudgingly.
The tour featured a number of pagodas. Vietnam has many different types of temples including Chinese, Buddhist and Catholic showing its cultural diversity and the interesting effect of the influences from other Asian countries. The first stop was the Notre Dame Cathedral of Saigon followed by the War Museum. This museum is quite harrowing but really gives a thorough representation of the Vietnamese side of the story in the Vietnam war. It also features photographs of how the after effects of the war continue to devastate the lives of the Vietnamese today.
The history museum is more towards the North of the city and took about half an hour to walk to from Lee hostel. It’s definitely worth a visit. The Saigon zoo is also next to it, but the animals are quite depraved. I was disheartened to see elephants kept in pens barely big enough to house the three of them. I don’t recommend spending money on this as the financial support will only encourage this kind of mistreatment.
To see Cu Chi tunnels, one of Ho Chi Minh’s biggest attractions, you can book a private or group tour to take you out of the city in a mini bus and its about a 2 hour drive. Our tour guide had some useful information about the tunnels and stopped on the way for lunch which wasn’t included in the price but a nice part of the excursion. The guide ordered for us so we were able to try some Vietnamese food in a beautiful setting. These types of tours can be booked from a hostel or hotel and are around 350,000 Vietnamese Dong (£11).
On my last day I visited the many markets. Bến Thành Market is the biggest and most well known but there are also a number of smaller markets which pop up on the weekend. Most places will take Vietnamese Dong or US dollars and you can get high quality shoes and clothes for much cheaper than you would pay for the same imported products elsewhere. I found 10 dollars was enough for most items and I managed to get a backpack for just 4USD. Even when you’re haggling, the Vietnamese vendors are very welcoming and charismatic, making the usual hassle of navigating hundreds of stalls a lot more enjoyable. Most markets will also feature some interesting and incredibly cheap local food, making them the best place for authentic and affordable dinning.