Visiting HCMC(Saigon), Vietnam?

Note to readers: I am writing with a slant on “low budget”, so please don’t expect 5-star service levels.

Some background:

The backpacker area (generally, the vicinity of Pham Ngu Lao, De Tham and Bui Vien Street) has many hotels. I think some of them may be online too. Try do some research yourself.

From this central area, you can visit: Ben Thanh Market, Chinatown, museums, The Independence Palace, The Post Office.

Join 1 to 3 day tours, available from the many tour agencies in this area too: Places like Mekong delta, Mui Ne, Vung Tau, Dalat (highlands).

Chinatown is at District 5. Visit the big market there, also known as “Cho Lon” or “Binh Tay”. Bus service: Blue color No. 1, take from Bus Station in front of Ben Thanh Market. (The back row of the ticket counters, not the front. Front row is for green buses).


  1. About local tour companies:  The best strategy is to GO to the place, CHECK what tours they have, BOOK the tour(s) & PAY one day BEFORE your intended tour date. Please DO NOT think of booking/paying on the morning of the tour, because it’s (usually) too late, and the bus is fully booked already!
  2. For taxi rides, do insist that the driver uses the meter. Otherwise, don’t take it! Pay for the figures stated on the meter, usually the largest digits on the box (When you first get on, the starting fare should show 10,000 or 9,500; correct as at May 2010). Tips not mandatory; it’s up to you.

And use only the big companies… eg.

(a) Vinataxi (yellow cab, blue logo)

(b) Mai Linh (white & green cab, green & yellow logo)

(c) Petrolimex (white cab, light blue & orange logo)

  1. Currency:  Personally, I think it’s better to bring mostly USD. Then change into VND as u need it. Try not to use USD when shopping, coz then they will KNOW you are tourists, and will charge you the “tourist price”.
  2. Other reminders:
  • Avoid taking those 3 wheel trishaw thingies in the city. They tend to attempt to rip tourists off by charging high costs for short distances.
  • Around Ben Thanh Market area, be careful of snatch thieves. I heard that it happens rarely, but rest assured the situation is definitely not as bad as in Malaysia. Still, it’s better to follow common sense, and not to tempt fate.
  • Tip for shopping in Ben Thanh Market, or any other similar place: bargain like crazy!



The following are some hotels which are alright, based on personal experiences & other peoples’ recommendations:

  1. KIM HOTEL – (backpacker area)

40/18 Bui Vien Str.

(off Pham Ngu Lao St)

District 1


TEL: +848 3836 7495          

  1. THAO NHI HOTEL – (backpacker area)




TEL: +848 3920 1262


46-48 Hai Ba Trung,

District 1,

Ho Chi Minh City

TEL: +848 3822 4446


It’s more fun to do some research on your own, as follows: 


Ho Chi Minh City (“Saigon”) travel info:




Some good tour companies:



  1. QUAN AN NGON (great variety of northern + southern Vietnamese food. However, do treat this as just a “sampling” place; I understand that to the Vietnamese, this place just carries too much variety, and as a result, the flavours tend to have detoured a bit from the originals. For authentic food, you need to look to the “specialist” places)

160 Pasteur, District 1.

  1. BANH CUON LA (specialty: Vietnamese rice-paper rolls)

57 Nguyen Du Street, District 1.

  1. PHO QUYNH (authentic “pho”; Vietnamese beef noodle)

323 Pham Ngu Lao St, District 1.

  1. PHO HOA (another good place for pho)

260c Pasteur, District 3.

  1. DAI THONG (Chinese style + seafood: they have soft-shell crab on menu)

97 Ham Nghi, District 1.

  1. BODEGA SAIGON (Grill House / Bar)

297-299 Pham Ngu Lao Street, District 1.

  1. Le Pub (Bar & Cafe)

175 Pham Ngu Lao Street, District 1.

  1. CAFE CENTRAL NGUYEN HUE Sunwah Tower (sidewalk cafe with coffee, fruit juices, beers, etc)

115 Nguyen Hue Blvd., District 1.

Late night snacks:

  • CHAO DO:  9/12 Huynh Tuc Khang, District 1.
  • TAN HAI VAN:  162, Nguyen Trai, District 1.


 For Catholics:

Week-end Mass times at Notre Dame Cathedral (in Vietnamese: “Nha Tho Duc Ba”) (from Wikipedia: Saigon Notre-Dame Basilica (Vietnamese: Vương cung thánh đường Đức Bà Sài Gòn or Nhà thờ Đức Bà Sài Gòn)

Location: Northern end of Dong Khoi, District 1

Notre Dame Cathedral

  • Saturday: 5.00pm
  • Sunday: 5.30am, 6.30am, 7.30am, 9.30am(in English), 4.00pm, 5.15pm, 6.30pm

Hand-made rosaries are available at the entrance (short version start from VND6,000, long version from VND40,000)

In case you miss the English mass, get a copy of the mass proper in Vietnamese, French, English, Latin (all in one book) for just VND 7,000 (as at Feb 2010). The bookshop: “Nha sach Duc Ba Hoa Binh” (Our Lady of Peace Bookstore) is located about 50 metres from the Cathedral. Exit main entrance of Cathedral, walk straight along the street at the right side, and you’ll come to a gate; go up a flight of stairs and you’ll see the bookshop.


About Stephen T. (Johor Bahru, Malaysia)

Trying to live a simple life in a complicated world. I am a Malaysian (of Chinese ancestry) living in Johor Bahru, Malaysia
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