As you will immediately notice, the preferred method of transportation in Ho Chi Minh City is the motorbike. Traffic can be hectic to say the least, with over a million motorbikes on the city streets each day. It is recommended to either use a car service or a taxi to navigate the city during your first few weeks of arrival. It can take some time to get used to the traffic patterns of Ho Chi Minh City as well as the driving style of the locals, which at times is not for the faint of heart. Many expats eventually feel comfortable enough with their surroundings to opt for motorbikes, which can be a very convenient mode of transportation.
Taxis in Ho Chi Minh City are affordable and available at any time of the day or night. Unfortunately not all taxis will have properly functioning meters. It is strongly suggested that passengers only hail taxis from one of these established, legitimate companies: Mai Linh, Vinasun, Future, and Vina. These companies have fully functioning, tamper proof meters that display the exact fare. Also, taxis operated by these companies have a 3 or 4 digit registration number on the side which should be recorded in case of any problems.
Most meters start at about 12,000 to 15,000VND and cost roughly 10,000VND from the second kilometer onwards. Tipping is not required, but extra service and courtesy may warrant a small gratuity. Most people will round the fare up to the nearest 10,000VND increment.
Buses are the cheapest way to get around Ho Chi Minh City, however they are designed mainly for locals without personal transportation. Bus routes are only printed in Vietnamese and bus station staff as well as bus drivers will most likely not speak English. Buses can sometimes get overcrowded as drivers will try to collect as many fares as possible. While the bus system in Ho Chi Minh City may not be the most comfortable, it can be fairly convenient and inexpensive. It is best to speak with a local before attempting a journey.
The motorbike taxi or “xe ôm” is probably the easiest form of transportation to get around the city, especially the narrow alleyways that cars cannot access. Motorbike taxi drivers usually park on sidewalks or by the side of the road. They tend not to wear any sort of uniform, but do carry an extra helmet for passengers to use. It will take a bit of practice to spot these drivers, but once you figure it out you will realize that they are everywhere. The general rate for a motorbike taxi is usually about 1/3 to ½ of what a taxi fare would be for the same distance. It is always best to negotiate the price prior to starting your journey.
Driving a car is not recommended for foreigners in Ho Chi Minh City. Many of the streets are extremely narrow and traffic discipline is at a minimum, which makes driving in Ho Chi Minh City very difficult and dangerous. There are also few options to park a car aside from apartment buildings and major shopping and office buildings. Many expats and companies are going with the option of hiring a car and driver. There are many car rental companies that provide vehicles, drivers, and fuel for daily or monthly rent. Rental rates start from 60 USD daily or 1,200 USD monthly for a middle range seven seat car. Some companies offer English speaking drivers for a higher fee. Most companies enforce a cap on distance traveled and number of hours in service. Generally the customer will have to pay for any overtime accrued or extra distance traveled on top of the rental fee.
Still want to drive?
If you have decided that you want to drive a vehicle, whether it be a car or motorbike, you will need to obtain a local Vietnamese driver’s license. The easiest way to do this is to convert your current license from your home country to a local license. This can be done after a few relatively simple steps and for a nominal fee.
If you do not have a valid license from your home country, you will be required to pass both a driving test and a written test. Currently the written tests are only offered in Vietnamese language so if you are not fluent in Vietnamese, passing the written exam is nearly impossible.
One important thing to consider before getting on a motorbike or behind the wheel of a car here is your health insurance policy. Most insurance policies will not cover you if you get into an accident while driving without a license.
Finally, if you do end up on the roads, always keep safe and calm. It can be a true test of patience & instinct on the roads in Ho Chi Minh with the general lack of traffic discipline, concern for safety and the awareness to use the horns correctly, so a cool head is a must!