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
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!