So trying to do quick run downs of whatever pertinent information I have for you before I get busy with the move and then forget... Its always helpful to have a reliable resource, which since I have become an expat ... know all too well. First of lets say you are a tourist and you want to visit HCMC. Visas are about $25 which one can get at the airport except for a few nationalities, who will need a sponsor letter. You can check HERE to see what the latest developments are on that
Having said that...there is a lot of corruption here and people have faced difficulties with approved visas. Sometimes the immigration official can give you a tough time.. basically in a ruse to get some money out of you. If you are an expat, and you have a business visa you most likely won't be bothered but if you are a tourist...you may actually fare better by getting your visa on arrival. Those of you who need Pre approved visas may need to pay a bit extra... not worth the fuss...just do it as one really may not have a choice.
The ONLY kind of taxi you should be taking is either Mai Linh which is pictured above... though some taxis look like this..
Be sure to read the sign carefully on the taxis as some of them pretend to be these credible ones and will completely rip you off. The other credible taxi company is Vinasun
These two companies run on a meter and won't rip you off. For Vinasun you can dial 08 38 27 27 27 and for Mai Linh its 08 38 38 38 38. Try to avoid taking any other cab if you can. Cabs are easily available and the max waiting time for a cab would be 7 mins. At the airport look for the guys wearing the green shirts who will flag down a cab for you. They may ask you for a taxi card.. which if you are a tourist you won't have but don't worry about it.
Accomodation is varied. You can choose to stay at a resort which is right outside Saigon for $250 a night to staying at a shared bunkbed accommodation for $5 a night. It depends, are you single? are you adventurous? do you want a luxury trip or do you want to join the back packers? For luxury travellers there are many options. The An Lam Villas which are beautiful, and they even have a speedboat service that puts you in the center of town in 15 minutes. Or you have the Hyatt , the Sheraton and the like. You could even just drive around and see where you want to stay.. by the riverside or in the city .. and see who gives you the best deal. You will be better off pre booking of course and if you book online... one generally gets better deals. Try http://www.agoda.com for some decent deals. Or you could always go the Airbnb route. Want to stay someplace for free...? try couch surfing but be sensible and make sure there is plenty of feedback on where and who you decide to stay with
You can go ridiculously cheap as well. In the back packers district you can find accomodation for one for about $30 for a single room with a relatively clean bathroom. Or you can bunk down with others if you are single .. for a bunk bed space you can pay as little as $5 a night. No ensuite bathroom. Word of warning. Back packers district is an exciting area as there is action happening there till the wee hours of the morning. Its the place where, as the name suggests.. all the back packers hang out .. cheap accommodation, cheap alcohol, food, weed, and sometimes women. So if you are coming with the family, pay a little bit and stay at a decent hotel.
There are two seasons in HCMC. Hot. and Hot and Rainy. The hottest it will get is about 34 but the humidity levels are crazy so pack light clothing. Bring an umbrella with you as showers can come unexpectedly. The rainy season is from April to about November latest. and when it rains... it pours. for about half an hour to an hour at a time. Doesn't matter how sunny it looks outside. If you are here during the rainy season.. bring your umbrella as the sun is a deceptive thing that suddenly disappears as the sky darkens and you are rained upon.
If you are a foodie... you will have a blast in Ho Chi Minh City... there are oooooodles of restaurants and cafes to choose from. High end to street food.. all depends on how adventurous you are feeling. You will find all kinds of cuisines here... Singaporean, Thai, French, Continental, food from Laos, Cambodia, Malaysian, Indian, Brazillian, Greek and of course Vietnamese. You can skim through the Ho Chi Minh Food Forum on www.facebook.com to see what the locals are recommending. Its a great forum, even if I do say so myself which has both locals and expats contributing their fav spots to eat at.
Whether its street food you are looking for or high end restaurants .. its all there on the forum. My advice.. take a food tour. Its a great fun way to meet fun people and eat street food. If you have been following my blog you know that I highly recommend www.saigonstreeteats.com
They really helped me get comfortable with the local food. If you have any issues.. for example I don't eat pork.. let them know in advance and they will sort that out for you
If you are coming with your kids... take them to the Golden Dragon Water Puppet Theatre . Trip Advisor suggests you book tickets a day early... click on the link above to get details. Do take advantage of technology. If you don't have the app get it. Trip Advisor is a brilliant resource. What has been a lifesaver for me as an expat and as a tourist is another great app called Foursquare. If you don't have a smart phone don't worry .. as they are on the net as well. Use them. Ad nauseam. You will really find some very helpful tips and tricks which other members of the community contribute to. And please don't forget to contribute your tips as well
Ben Thanh market is worth a visit. You will find everything there. From wigs and fake flowers to coffee and dried sugared fruits to ceramics and lacquered objects. Little tip... usually when one goes to a market... the deeper in one goes... the cheaper the prices get. The opposite is true here as the shops on the outside are government controlled so you will probably get better prices. Do not go to shop early in the morning as the Vietnamese people are superstitious and if you walk away from a sale... you will get dirty looks as they believe their whole day will now go badly. But you can also strike up the best deals in the morning as they are eager to start their day off well. Shops open at 8:00 am .. so go around 9-9:30 is my suggestion.
Everything should be bargained for. Vietnamese people love to bargain and expect it. So don't go for the first price they put out. whatever they say ... start at at least half of what they say and stick to your guns. You will sense then how high or low you can get away with.
You can go dancing at a number of the clubs in town. Best bet is to check out anyarena.com to see what's happening while you are there. Another resource for entertainment is http://www.wordhcmc.com . Maybe your hotel may have a hard copy of the Word. Pick it up... that will list many of the happening events . Some of the happening clubs...
There is Blanchy's Tash very close to the Backpackers district...though it can get a bit sleazy... downstairs one finds the tourists and the old men trying to hook up with young women scene.. upstairs is a bit better which is where more of the expats hang out...
There is Xu bar which is more loungy than a club but the music is far too loud for any real conversation... but if you just want to hang and enjoy the music... that is an option
If you want to just hang out and listen to some Cuban music .. head down to the Caravelle hotel and on the top floor is a restaurant called Saigon Saigon . Food isn't special here... but good to go for drinks and maybe some salsa dancing . That's it for now folks... hope you find this information helpful . There are many tidbits I have shared throughout my blog but the last two posts have been more comprehensive. Till we "meet" again.. have a wonderful day or night.. depending on where you are in the world. If you have any questions please don't hesitate to leave a comment here or write to me firstname.lastname@example.org