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Getting around Ho Chi Minh City, at first glance, may appear to be a daunting task. With some 7.6 million motorbikes for its more than 9 million residents, simply crossing the street is often a challenge.
Expats living in Ho Chi Minh City usually take some time to get acquainted with the chaotic traffic conditions that the city is famous for.
The public transport system in Ho Chi Minh City centres around the city's extensive bus network. While buses are cheap, most expats prefer using motorbike taxis or private taxis. These prove to be the most efficient way to travel around Ho Chi Minh City.
Public transport in Ho Chi Minh City
Ho Chi Minh City has a comprehensive network of bus routes. The bright green public buses are a cheap, safe and comfortable mode of transport.
Ben Thanh Bus Station, which lies directly across from Ben Thanh Market in District 1, acts as a transport hub for the city's buses. From here, buses serve the majority of suburbs in Ho Chi Minh City, as well as some of the outlying areas.
Expats should get a map of the bus system, which can ease the trouble or confusion of finding the right route. Expats may find that locating the correct line or station may be a challenge, especially if they are unable to speak Vietnamese.
Though construction has begun, there is no intra-city rail network that serves Ho Chi Minh City.
The city’s main train hub, Saigon Train Station, is located in District 10 and is a short taxi ride away from the city centre. It is the transit hub to other destinations in Vietnam. Trains are an ideal, inexpensive way for travellers to get around the country, with connections to Da Nang, Hue, Nha Trang, and Hanoi.
Taxis in Ho Chi Minh City
Taxis are a comfortable and affordable way to travel around Ho Chi Minh City. There is an ample supply of taxis driving throughout the streets, so finding one isn't difficult.
The challenge will be avoiding dishonest drivers and taxi companies, as well as potential scams. Expats should ensure that taxi drivers are using a meter and that it is switched on at the start of a journey.
Expect very slow speeds during morning and evening rush hour. For groups travelling together, a taxi is the best way to go. For solo travellers, it will be cheaper and faster to find a motorbike taxi.
Most taxi drivers in Ho Chi Minh City speak very little English. To avoid confusion with the mispronunciation of street names, it is best to have the address written down for the driver.
A good way to sidestep language barriers and potential scams is to make use of a rail-hailing application such as Grab.
Motorbike taxis in Ho Chi Minh City
Motorbike taxis are by far the most efficient way to get around in Ho Chi Minh City. They can easily be found anywhere in the city, with drivers lining the pavement waiting for customers.
Expats should make sure they set a price before starting a journey. This is imperative and will save one from being overcharged at the end of the journey.
It is also advisable that newcomers to Ho Chi Minh City have the address of their destination written down, as this saves time. Don’t be afraid to get to know a driver if they seem competent and friendly. It is not uncommon for expats living in Vietnam to receive a driver’s number and call them later to arrange another ride.
Expats should always ensure they wear a helmet when using motorbike taxis in Ho Chi Minh City, as the authorities enforce hefty fines if this rule is broken.
Driving in Ho Chi Minh City
To drive legally in Ho Chi Minh City, expats will need an International Driving Permit. This is only a temporary solution, though, and expats who plan to drive in the long term should find out about obtaining a Vietnamese licence as soon as possible.
Most expats prefer not to get behind the wheel in Ho Chi Minh City because of the chaotic traffic conditions. Driving without intimate knowledge of the area and the peculiarities of Vietnam drivers put them at risk. Another reason to avoid driving in Ho Chi Minh City is because of the lack of parking. Most of the parking facilities in the city are devoted to motorbikes rather than cars.
Motorbikes in Ho Chi Minh City
Many people who settle in Ho Chi Minh City find themselves renting or buying their own motorbikes to get around. For expats staying in Vietnam for an extended period of time or a traveller seeking an adrenaline rush, there is an endless number of places that rent motorbikes. However, it is worth taking the time to search around and find a reputable company that offers a standard monthly rental rate.
Riding a motorbike in Ho Chi Minh City is best left to those who feel experienced and comfortable enough to conquer the city’s unique traffic patterns.
Expats should be aware that local motorbike drivers and passengers in Vietnam often shake their arms and hands at waist height to let others know they will be switching lanes or turning.
The parking facilities run by the city authorities in Ho Chi Minh City caters for motorbikes rather than cars. Many places will have attendants that keep watch over vehicles parked there.
Cycling in Ho Chi Minh City
Expats moving to Ho Chi Minh City will soon see that locals love using their bicycles to get around. However, new arrivals are likely to find that cycling in Ho Chi Minh City is difficult in terms of keeping up with the fast-moving traffic.
Those who do decide to cycle in the city should remain focused and aware of their surroundings. A horn will also help make one's presence known to other road users.
►Find out about expat expenses in Cost of Living in Ho Chi Minh City
"Ho Chi Minh City is THE city of the motorbikes. Everyone is used to taking a Grab (a taxi driver on a motorbike) that will take you to your location at a very competitive rate. After a few months of understanding the ways people drive, it is best to buy your own motorbike or scooter to be able to move around and be more independent." Find out more about living in HCMC in our interview with French expat Guillaume.
"The most used vehicle is the motorbike and taxis. The car fees are very high so only some expats have a car but then also with a driver. You have to live in this chaos for a while before you want to put yourself in the traffic. There is a metro in progress. Also, the bus lines are very good and very cheap." German expat Anne shares some of her experiences in HCMC.
Are you an expat living in Ho Chi Minh City?
Expat Arrivals is looking for locals to contribute to this guide, and answer forum questions from others planning their move to Ho Chi Minh City. Please contact us if you'd like to contribute.
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