Transportation in Saigon Vietnam: crossing the street, public transportation, and Grab promo codes

What's the best transportation from Saigon airport to the city? Is there good public transportation in Saigon? How are the public buses in Ho Chi Minh City? What's the best method for getting around in Saigon?

Should I call it Saigon or Ho Chi Minh City?! Oh, and where did Uber go?!

Read on below for tips and different options for getting around Saigon!

OK, first off, no one will care whether you call it Saigon or Ho Chi Minh City. My experiences have been mixed, but within the city most people have said Ho Chi Minh City to me (probably for clarity). I use them interchangeably.

On to the transportation!

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I'll start with the most important thing: Ho Chi Minh airport transfer options. Then, we'll rank your options from cheapest to most expensive, pros and cons of each.

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In this post:

  • Transportation from Ho Chi Minh airport to city

  • From cheapest to most expensive:

    • 1. Walking or biking, plus how to cross the street in Saigon

    • 2. Public buses in Ho Chi Minh City

    • 3. Motorbike taxis

    • 4. GrabBike or GrabCar options - the Uber alternative in Saigon (with promo code for signing up!)

    • 5. Taxis (reputable companies)

    • 6. Private cars

    • 7. BYO Motorbike


Transportation from Tan Son Nhat International Airport to HCMC

If you're a real moneybags, get your fancy hotel to arrange a driver. They'll have a sign with your name on it, and they'll wait if your flight is delayed. It will probably be nice and it will definitely be expensive.

If you want to save a bit of cash but you are still hoping to keep it easy (which is understandable if you're on a long flight beforehand), follow the signs to the taxi line once your through the baggage area and customs. Grab a reputable taxi like Vinasun or Mai Ling. VietnamOnline.com has some great tips in avoiding taxi scams, and I'll just direct you to them because we don't really use taxis!

Another fabulous option is the public bus system. Before you go, use Google Maps bus option to check out your specific route, then have the location to which you are traveling (or any transfer stop locations) written out in Vietnamese. Just show that to your bus driver or the helper... or anyone on the bus who will talk to you... and they'll tell you when to get off! People are so nice and helpful in Vietnam.

The 152 bus will take you to the backpackers street. Read more about buses below -- seriously, the public bus system in Vietnam is super cheap and easy!

1. Cheapest Transportation in Saigon Vietnam: Walking and Bicycling

It's pretty obvious, but walking for free is certainly the cheapest way to get around. If you're new to our blog, spoilers: we walk everywhere constantly. The biggest issue with walking in the insane Saigon traffic!

If you can get ahold of a bicycle, then follow the rules of walking and you'll be fine. It seems like a pretty bikable city but we haven't done it due to the traffic. We see lots of bikes, though, and if we lived here permanently we would probably be cyclists!

Important tips to remember when walking in Saigon:

  1. Motorbikes (ebikes, motorcycles, scooters) will drive any direction, on the street or the sidewalk, so be aware and look around.
  2. Honking is a notification -- if it sounds like it's in your direction, quickly look around to make sure you aren't in the way.
  3. Traffic is everywhere, so don't let it stop you from walking where you need to walk.
  4. Traffic lights are suggestions, as are Walk/Don't Walk signs. Proceed with caution using our method below!

How to cross the street:

This is a contentious topic, mostly because people tell you to look down and step into traffic. OK, you probably won't die this way, but it's kind of a jerk thing to do. We have seen many foreigners bring four lanes of traffic to a stop... DON'T BE THOSE PEOPLE.
  1. Look both ways before stepping off the sidewalk. As stated above, sometimes people come from either direction.
  2. Line up and hold on to each other. Basically, make yourself the main person's shadow so that traffic only has to weave around one person.
  3. Step into traffic when there are no buses coming (or they will pass before you get to them). Buses can't, and often won't, stop for a dumb pedestrian who steps in front of them.
  4. Walk at a constant speed. Do not jump forward or backward, as this is hard to anticipate and makes drivers nervous.
  5. Make eye contact with drivers to ensure they see you.
  6. If someone doesn't see you, raise you arm or wave your hand at them directly.
Remember that the drivers don't want to kill you, so just let them go around you. Don't do it blindly, because it's a jerk move, and you could completely stop traffic in a VERY busy city.

If you follow the rules above, Ho Chi Minh City is very walkable!

2. Cheap and easy: Public buses (XE BUYT) in Ho Chi Minh City

I was intimidated to use the public bus system in Vietnam, but it's incredible. The buses are generally clean, many are air-conditioned, they run often and are easy to hail, have good routes and friendly staff, and are super cheap. It's not the fastest, but we're never in much of a hurry.

How to catch a bus:

  1. Use Google Maps to plan your trip. There's a BusMap app, but in my limited experiences, it sucks compared to Google Maps.
  2. Go and hang out in the bus stop area. Sometimes there is an actual bus stop with a place to sit, a bus map, and a roof. Other times there's a sign on a pole that will indicate the bus with a picture or "XE BUYT" (bus) written on it. Occasionally, there is no indication whatsoever -- just stand where Google Maps tells you the bus stop should be.
  3. Wait for your bus number. It will be written on the front of the bus, or sometimes just on the side in the window.
  4. Put out your arm and wave to the bus driver; when they see you, they'll pull over.
  5. Get ready! The bus might not stop all the way and you're expected to jump on. Watch both doors, as they may only open one. Grab on and jump in whenever the bus slows enough.
  6. Find a seat and look to the driver. You will either pay the driver (he'll signal for you to come up to the front) or an assistant will come to you to sell you a ticket.


  7. Pay your fare with the closest change you have. You don't need exact change, but smaller bills are always welcome. The fare is usually around 6000vnd for non-concession tickets (aka students and seniors). They'll give you a ticket; hold on to this just in case they come around and check for them later.

  8. When your stop is coming up, either stand up and signal to the helper that you're getting off, or press one of the many buttons on the bus. Be ready to get off when the doors open, because again, the bus probably won't stop completely. Look both ways before you step off because sometimes scooters or bicycles will be going around the bus and you don't want to get hit!
Another good thing to remember is to be polite. If the bus is packed, stand out of the way. Give your seat up for the elderly, pregnant women, or children. Just, y'know, be nice.

Cost:

We have taken buses for 10 minutes or 1 hour and they're either 5000 or 6000vnd, as of April 2018. At the time of writing this is around US $0.25 per person, per trip. So cheap!

3. Cheap, convenient, and fun: motorbike taxis

This is my favorite way to get around, and I think many people would agree that it's a good balance between cost and convenience. I usually use Grab (see section below) but Xe Om ("say ohm" -- means something like "hug bike" but refers to public motorbike taxis) are also great.

VietnamOnline has a great resource on using Xe Om. You'll easily be offered a ride, which is sort of negotiable and fairly safe. These are nice because you can become friendly with your driver and use him the entire time you're in Vietnam. This helps you feel safer/more relaxed in an otherwise stressful environment.

If you want to blend in, read up on what to buy before you get here and how to dress like a true Vietnamese street ninja!!!

Cost:

VietnamOnline indicates that 10,000-15,000vnd per km is reasonable, so use this as a guide to not get swindled.

Motorbike warnings:

It's not the safest thing to do. Wear closed-toe shoes. Always wear a helmet. Try not to look where you're going because it will only scare you. Keep your bag in your lap, not easily snatched. Hold on to the back of the scooter in case of sudden accelerating or decelerating.

Look around and enjoy the ride!

4. Western-friendly motorbike taxis: GrabBike

In April 2018, Grab is the best motorbike taxi option.

Uber has been absorbed into Grab so it no longer exists in Vietnam, and although competitors like Ryde may be popping up soon, a GrabBike is your best option. It's pretty much just like Uber!

If you haven't used Grab before, sign up using promo code WYZKREOO or using this link, for free or discounted rides.

I love Grab because they track your rides and you rack up points to use for discounts. They add up quickly, and with GrabBike rides costing around 20,000-40,000vnd (US $1/$2) the discounts can give you free ride pretty often. They also have promo codes frequently which offer other discounts.

Spot the green Grab helmets!

Simply order a bike, put on the helmet that they'll give to you, and hop on. You don't have to haggle or speak Vietnamese since you have already entered your address. The same motorbike warnings (above) apply!

Cost:

Most rides in town are around 20,000vnd. When I took Vietnamese lessons, my 25 minute Grab ride from District 8 to District 3, a three mile ride, was 25-30,000vnd. If I pay with GrabPay (which you load with a credit card in 100,000vnd increments) I can sometimes get 5000vnd taken off. About every fifth ride I take 20,000vnd off with a discount code.

5. Much tamer option: reputable (car) taxis

You can easily find someone willing to give you a ride, but it's best to stick with the reputable companies, namely Mai Linh and Vinasun. You'll be in a car, which is cheaper with 3+ people if your alternative is a motorbike taxi. It's better in bad weather and safer.

The drawbacks of a car taxi are that it's not nearly as fun, it's more expensive, and takes longer (because motorbikes weave around cars and buses). You also might have to barter, or argue to get the driver to turn on the meter. It's less likely to happen with these two companies (click for their contact info).

Call Mai Linh
Contact Vinasun

I think they also have apps, but I don't use them much. There are taxis all over the place, so just hail one.

Cost:

Fares are 12-15,000 per km, and larger taxis (like minivans) will cost a bit more. There is an airport fee around 20-25,000. If it takes longer, that may add up too. It's quite a bit more than a motorbike if it's just one person because of how much faster it is on the back of a bike!

If you love your driver, or the weather or traffic sucks, a tip is appreciated.

6. Most expensive option: private driver

Lots of expats have private drivers, which is an awesome thing and it's honestly not expensive by Western standards.

You can easily arrange a private car through your hotel, or by going to a hotel and asking them. You can get a driver who helps you during your entire trip, or just brings you somewhere. The car will be clean, you can control the A/C, he'll wait for you, he'll drive well, and you can even find drivers that speak pretty good English.

Cost:

All that said, in our exhaustion we accidentally took a private car once (read about my day of travel fails, including this fancy expensive mistake) and it cost about 6 times what a regular taxi would have cost. It was still under $40 for a long ride for two people, in a nice and new and clean car, but it was very unnecessary for us.

If you're three people, you're nervous about motorbikes, and you want a clean and reliable option, the cost is reasonable.

7. Very cheap or very expensive? Renting or buying a motorbike

If you're in Vietnam and driving between cities, want to go to remote areas, love driving motorbikes, and you are feeling adventurous, it's very doable to drive your own motorbike. You should probably have a motorbike license, or at least be willing to pay your way out of a ticket if you don't! Be warned, this is a dangerous option... but it sure is fun!

You can go to dealers or buy off of individuals. Craigslist works, too. City Pass Guide offers some good tips on renting, such as asking for an automatic if you don't know how to drive a manual.

Cost:

Cost-wise, this one goes either way. If you're renting a motorbike, around 150,000vnd per day seems to be a reasonable expectation as a westerner (around US $7). If you buy a motorbike you can get one for as cheap as US $200, and of course sell it before you leave. If you stay for three months and ride it every day, you could write off your $200 and it's still only about $2.20 per day, which is quite cheap.

Driving Warnings:

If you don't have a license or aren't a legal resident, getting pulled over will be a huge hassle. Getting into an accident is a nightmare. This isn't even considering the physical consequences of an accident... be very careful! We are way too cautious to buy or rent a motorbike, and I'd say that unless you're living here, it's probably a better bet to use motorbike taxis.

We'll walk, thanks!

Conclusion

If you're capable of walking, then it's an awesome and mostly safe way to get around. For longer distances and when you have the time, hop on a public bus and you're going to be safe and comfortable. If you're adventurous or in a rush, GrabBikes are the way to go! If you haven't used Grab before, sign up using promo code WYZKREOO or using this link, for free or discounted rides.

Do you have any crazy Vietnam transportation stories? Comment below!

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