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There are several inexpensive ways to get around Ho Chi Minh City, from cyclos to rented motorcycles. Keep in mind that traffic has increased dramatically in the past year. It can be bumper-to-bumper, or more accurately, wheel-to-wheel at rush hour. Fortunately, if you're like most people, you'll spend 90 percent of your time in District 1.

While you can, of course, walk, practically speaking, few people do. With the exception of central District 1, sidewalks are considered commercial space and are usually crowded with motorbikes, informal restaurants, hawkers and even barbers. The result is you end up walking in the street, as in the middle of traffic. For short distances it can be fun, but for distances greater than a kilometer, read on!

Note: When crossing the street, don't wait for a break in traffic; simply walk into the melee and keep going at a steady pace. Traffic will go around you. It's a little scary at first, (actually, it's downright heart-stopping) but it works.

Metered taxis are plentiful and cheap. You can go virtually anywhere in District 1 for less than US$3. Tipping cab drivers is not customary or expected; however, we notice these guys never seem to have any change.

Perhaps the most romantic way to get around town, and certainly the most nostalgic, is by cyclo, the Vietnamese version of a pedicab. Particularly for short distances, cyclos are an inexpensive and pleasant means of transportation. Most one-way fares within downtown can be negotiated for 5,000-10,000 VND. A typical hourly rate is 10,000-20,000 VND. The cyclo is quickly becoming an endangered species in Ho Chi Minh City. They are already banned from certain streets. Take advantage of this classic form of transport while you can.

The cyclo is being replaced by Honda Om (literally "Honda Hug"). Young men will take you where you want to go on the back of their motorbike for a buck. (If you're good, you can negotiate for less than a buck.) While lacking the charm of a cyclo, it's an inexpensive and fast way to get from point A to point B. Don't worry about finding a Honda Om, they'll find you.

Many tourists, and even expats have reported difficulties with cyclo and Honda Om drivers. The most common problem is that you will agree on a price, or a driver will tell you to pay what you want, then upon arrival at your destination, he will insist the fare is two, three or even 10 times that amount. These guys are well-practiced at this. They will not accept the dollar or two you hold out and will become belligerent, frequently attracting a crowd.

The fact is that the vast majority of cyclo and Honda Om drivers are honest and hard-working men who can be a great source of information and even serve as impromptu interpreters. In fact, the drivers themselves are the ones who tell me all the tricks and scams their fellow drivers pull and how to avoid them. If you find a good driver, don't let him go. He will be delighted to meet you at an agreed-upon time later that day or even the next day.

Your best bet is to always agree on your destination and price in advance. If hiring a driver for several hours, agree on a start and end time as well as the total price. If you do not know enough Vietnamese to do this, make sure you get an English-speaking driver. Write down the destination on a piece of paper and ask him to write the amount. The honest ones will be impressed, the less honest ones will grudgingly agree; if not, find another driver.

If you plan to spend some time in the city and want to get around on your own, you can rent a bicycle or motorbike. Be forewarned: Negotiating traffic in Ho Chi Minh City is challenging at best and often downright dangerous. If you are not an experienced rider, stick with a bicycle. Better yet, just take a cyclo or Honda Om. At US$6-$8 per day, a motorcycle is unlikely to save you money anyway, plus you have to figure out directions.

If you do decide to rent a motorcycle, try to spend a few days observing the traffic patterns (or lack thereof!) from the relative safety of a bicycle. Another good idea is to make your first outing on a Sunday, when traffic is reduced to a relative trickle. You are technically required to have an international driver's license with a motorcycle endorsement to operate a bike over 50cc, but nobody will ask you for it until you are involved in an accident or pulled over. Then it's automatically your fault!

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