It’s easy to hire a motorised 5m-long boat to tour the Saigon River. There’s always someone hanging around the Bach Dang jetty area looking to charter a boat. Ask them to bring it to you, rather than you going to the boat.
The price should be around US$8 per hour for a small boat or US$15 to US$30 for a larger, faster craft. Since you hire boats by the hour, some will go slowly because they know the meter is running. You might want to set a time limit at the start. Interesting destinations for short trips include Cholon (along Ben Nghe Channel) and the botanical gardens (along Thi Nghe Channel). Note that both channels are fascinating, but filthy and a little whiffy, as raw sewage is discharged into the water. Tourists regard the channels as an attraction, but the government considers them an eyesore and has attempted to move residents out. The channels will eventually be filled in and the water diverted into underground sewerage pipes. Of course, although cruising the Saigon River can be interesting, it pales in comparison with the splendour of the canals in the Mekong Delta.
Ferries across the Saigon River leave from the Bach Dang jetty dock at the foot of Ð Ham Nghi and run every half-hour or so between 4.30am and 10.30pm.
Travel agencies, hotels and cafes are all in the car-rental business. Most vehicles are relatively recent Japanese- or Korean-made machines – everything from saloons to minibuses. Not long ago, classic American cars (complete with tail-fins and impressive chrome fenders) were popular as ‘wedding taxis’, but these have all been hoovered up by collectors and are rarely seen.
If you’re brave you can rent a motorbike and really earn your ‘I Survived Saigon’ Tshirt. Many say this is the fastest and easiest way to get around the city – or to the hospital, if you don’t know what you’re doing. Even if you’re an experienced biker, make sure you’ve spent some time observing traffic patterns before venturing forth.
Motorbike rentals are ubiquitous in places where tourists tend to congregate – the Pham Ngu Lao area is as good as any. Ask at the cafes. A 100cc motorbike can be rented for US$7 to US$10 per day, including some sort of helmet, and your passport may be kept as collateral. Before renting one make sure it’s in good working order.
Saigon Scooter Centre (848 7816; www.saigonscootercentre.com; 25/7 Ð Cuu Long, Tan Binh district; 10am-5pm Mon-Sat) is a reliable source for restored classic Vespa and Lambretta scooters, which are also rented out by the day. Daily rates start from US$10 and discounts are offered for long-term rentals. For an extra fee it is possible to arrange a one-way service, with a pick-up of the bikes anywhere in Vietnam.
On a similar theme, Vietnam Vespa Adventure (09-0365 2068; www.vietnamvespaadventure.com), which operates out of Café Zoom offers guided tours around southern Vietnam, including a loop up the back road from Vung Tau to Mui Ne and some beautiful trails through the mountains near Dalat.
Traditionally, few tourists have made use of the city buses, but this may start to change as they are cheap and plentiful, serving some important destinations around town. They are also safer than cyclos and xe oms.
There are now more than 130 local bus routes around the city and beyond. There is a useful and free Ho Chi Minh Bus Route Diagram (map to you and me) available at the Ben Thanh bus station.
Some useful numbers from Ben Thanh include the 152 to Tan Son Nhat Airport, 149 to Saigon train station, 1 to Binh Tay Market in Cholon, 102 to Mien Tay bus station and 26 to Mien Dong bus station. All buses have air-con and uniformed drivers, and the average ticket price is just 3000d. Buy your ticket on board from the attendant.
Metered taxis cruise the streets, but it is worth calling ahead if you are off the beaten path.Lots of companies in HCMC offer metered taxis and charge almost exactly the same rates. The flagfall is around 12,000d to 15,000d for the first kilometre. Most rides in the city centre cost just a couple of bucks. Note that cranky meters are much less common here than in Hanoi.
The following contact details are for HCMC’s main taxi companies.
Ben Thanh Taxi (3842 2422)
Future Taxi (3818 1818)
Mai Linh Taxi (3822 6666)
Saigon Taxi (3823 2323)
Vina Taxi (3811 1111)
Vinasun Taxi (3827 7178)
For pedal power devotees, a bicycle can be a great, if slow, way to get around the city. Bikes can be rented from a number of places, including hotels, cafes and travel agencies.
Bicycle parking lots are usually just roped-off sections of pavement. For about 2000d you can safely leave your bicycle, bearing mind that theft is a big problem. Your bicycle will have a number written on the seat in chalk or stapled to the handlebars and you’ll be given a reclaim chit. Don’t lose it. If you come back and your bicycle is gone, the parking lot is supposedly required to replace it.