Ho Chi Minh City, or Saigon, is the financial heart and the most chaotic city in Vietnam. With numerous modern skyscrapers and enchanting historical French colonial buildings, Saigon has a population of 10 million citizens, not to mention up to 5 million visitors every year. However, this crowded city still remains a place that can be enjoyed if you have tight money. Here is some tips to do Saigon on a budget.
Food & Drink
Vietnam is relatively inexpensive in terms of eating, and Saigon is definitely a paradise for foodies. As a matter of fact, a normal meal here is expected to be under 3 USD per person, and there are dozens of sidewalk dishes priced around 20,000 VND (~1 USD). Restaurant options are also reasonable in prices – at only around 100,000 VND (~5 USD) per meal.
Tip: Some restaurants provide free iced tea but some others may charge you 2,000 VND per glass (~ 10 cents USD). Meanwhile, regular tissue papers are free and wet towels wrapped in plastic covers cost normally 2,000 VND each.
In order to reduce the percentage of your budget spent on food, eat at street vendors. Here are some recommended dishes, where to get them, and how much to pay:
Banh Mi (French Style Baguette)
Filled with various types of meats and veggies, banh mi, is said to be one of the world’s best street foods. Banh mi carts are everywhere in the city and you can have these sandwiches as a light meal.
Banh Mi Heo Quay – 97 Tran Dinh Xu Street, District 1
Currently, most large and small banh mi stalls in Saigon serve roast pork sandwiches, but the most famous overall is addressed at 97 Tran Dinh Xu, District 1. With only 20,000 VND (less than 2 USD), you can get a banh mi fully stuffed with roast pork, onion, pickles, cucumber, cilantro, and a little bit of meaty pate.
Com Tam (Broken Rice)
Com tam or broken rice is one of the few dishes to have originated in Saigon. The grains are broken to make it more porous and taste different from the normal rice. A delicious com tam plate often includes grilled ribs, shredded pork skin, meatloaf, eggs, and pickles, but the ingredients still vary depending on the diner’s preference.
Com tam places for the commoner can be found everywhere on the street. They can be glass carts with or without a com tam sign. However, you will still be able to recognize them since there will be grills, barbecue, charcoal, and a lot of smoke. There are no menus so just combine however many ingredients as you like. A standard plate costs from 20,000 to 25,000 VND (~ 1 USD).
Com Tam 390 – 390 Cach Mang Thang Tam Street, District 3
Com Tam 390 is a very authentic place for broken rice. The food quality will not disappoint even the trickiest of customers. Normally, a standard dish here costs around 25.000 to 35,000 VND, which is about ~ 1.5 USD.
Vietnam’s pho always ranks high on the priority list of foodies interested in Vietnamese cuisine. The de-facto national dish of Vietnam, pho can be found anywhere around the country. People love pho for its delicious and sophisticated broth that is a combination of the freshest of ingredients. A bowl of meal consists of long ribbons of rice noodles served with beef or chicken and various types of herbs (cilantro, bean sprouts, mint, etc.)
In fact, there is a greater variance in prices of pho compared to banh mi or com tam, going from roadside carts with a couple of plastic chairs and tables that normally charge under 1.5 USD/ bowl, to luxury restaurants charging seven or eight times as much. On average, a bowl of pho is priced around 30,000 VND – 40,000 VND (~ 1.5 USD – 2 USD), which may be slightly higher than other dishes but the size of the meal would keep you full till late evening.
Pho Minh, 63/16 Pasteur Street, District 1
Located in a small alley, Pho Minh follows the traditional recipe of the north. The impressively quiet location and traditional flavor make Pho Minh a familiar address for a lot of local diners. Not to mention that the price of a standard meal here is only around 35,000 VND, which is inexpensive compared to other restaurants that offer this dish.
Read more: The Best Pho in Saigon
Coffee is something ingrained in the everyday life of the average Vietnamese and drinking coffee here is quite cheap. As a matter of fact, with only 10,000 VND (half a dollar), you can buy a cup of Vietnam coffee from a roadside cart.
Coffee Net Filter (Ca Phe Vot) – 330/2 Phan Dinh Phung Street, Phu Nhuan District
Running 24/7 for the past 60 years, this is one of the oldest sidewalk coffee places in the city. The cafe is not only famous for its high-quality brew, but also for the old-fashioned brewing method. Spoon net filters are used instead of normal Phin filters you find everywhere else, which makes the coffee significantly stronger and more flavorful. Above all, a cup of coffee, hot or cold, with milk or without, will only cost you under 15,000 VND – a price that definitely pleases any budget travelers.
Read more: Saigon Street Food: Ca Phe Vot
Saigon has a great nightlife and party scene, and the country’s beers are quite popular with the travelers and often a favorite in Southeast Asia.. Besides familiar brands like Heineken and Tiger, Saigon Beer and 333 are the two well-known local names you also should try. How can you resist, especially when their prices are under 1 USD for each bottle?
Bui Vien Street
If you want to hang out at night and drink beer on a budget, Bui Vien (the backpacker street) is worth a go. This is a bustling area with numerous sidewalk shops where you can get a seat and a beer for a very decent price. Besides, bars and pubs on this street regularly have happy hours and there are a couple that operate an all you can drink for a set price offer.
The traffic in Ho Chi Minh City can be insanely crowded. There are a lot of private vehicles on the street like cars, taxis, motorbike, or even cyclos, while the public transportation system is still not properly developed. Hopefully, the city will have its first metro done by the end of 2018, but until now, public buses are still the one and only choice. Here are some useful tips on how to get around the city while you are here.
In Saigon, you can easily catch one out of hundreds of taxis running on the street. Because most of them use the kilometer clock, you don’t really have to bargain with the taxi drivers. However, make sure that you check whether you are going in the right direction on Google Maps in advance to avoid being scammed by the bad drivers. One more thing, try to use either the white taxis (Vinasun), or the green taxis (Mai Linh) only – they are the two most popular and trustworthy brands in term of taxi service in Vietnam. You can check the updated information about these two brands as follows:
|Vinasun (4 seats)||11,000 VND/ for the first 0.5 km and 14,500 VND/ for every km thereafter||+84.8220.127.116.11|
|Vinasun Innova J (8 seats)||11,000 VND/ for the first 0.5 km and 15,500 VND/ for every km thereafter|
|Mai Linh Kia Morning (4 seats)||10,000 VND/ for the first 0.741 km and 13,600 VND/ for every km thereafter||+84.818.104.22.168|
|Mai Linh T. Innova J (7 seats)||11,000 VND/ for the first 0.741 km and 15,800 VND/ for every km thereafter|
Grab is rising as a serious rival of traditional taxis. Besides being able to rate the driver and so get safer and more efficient services, the cost of going by Grab is also significantly cheaper. Here are some useful tips on using Grab in Ho Chi Minh City:
- Grab allows customers to choose to pay by cash or credit card;
- You can book a car even without a local SIM card;
- You can be picked up by different types of vehicles, from motorbikes to cars and these are also subdivided.
- Grab gives a lot of promotions for members. Therefore, remember to have a look at the promotion tab;
- Using Grab is not always cheaper than the normal taxis, especially during rush hours. If you travel in “x2” or “x3” timeframes, estimate the taxi fare and make a comparison before booking;
- One more thing, Grab’s motorcycle team is way safer than taking a traditional motobike taxi if you don’t speak Vietnamese.
There are more than 150 public bus routes throughout the city, and some even drive to neighboring provinces. Although the system can be relatively complicated to newcomers, the quality of buses in Saigon is not too bad. The bus fare for a short distance is around 6,000 VND, while it could be a little bit higher for further destinations. Overall, buses offer the cheapest option and a quite reliable way to get around town. It may help you to avoid the heat of Saigon at noon, but still, be careful with your wallet.
There are many motorbikes and vehicles congesting the streets and the city itself is not particularly pedestrian friendly. However, because most of the city’s attractions are located in District 1 and District 3??, making your way around the city’s center on foot is a reasonable option to save some money.
There are many majestic colonial monuments and buildings of historical significance in Saigon. Some of these are:
Notre Dame Cathedral
Entrance: Free. Being one of the first Catholic churches in Saigon, Notre Dame Cathedral has always placed high on the list of tourist attractions in term of both religion and architecture. It is under construction since the middle of 2017, so you only can see it from outside.
The Central Post Office
Entrance: Free. Designed with an interesting mixture of European and Asian décor, Saigon’s Central Post Office attracts a huge number of visitors everyday. What’s more? You don’t have to pay to get inside. You can even send a mail to your loved ones!
Ho Chi Minh Fine Arts Museum
Entrance: 10,000 VND/ person. Founded in 1987, this gallery displays more than 21,000 valuable artifacts and artworks to visitors. Coming here, you will see how Vietnam has positively changed after the War.
The War Remnants Museum
Entrance: 15,000 VND/ person. This museum documents the Vietnam War and the Indochina War with numerous war memorabilia. This place would definitely give you a lesson on the Vietnamese war from the domestic perspective.
Nha Rong Harbor – Ho Chi Minh Museum
Entrance: 15,000 VND/ person. Nha Rong Harbor can be seen as the most immaculate structure among all constructions in the city. Inside, there is also a museum showcasing the noble life of Ho Chi Minh – one of the most important characters in Vietnamese history.
Entrance: Free for sightseeing the commercial floors and 200,000 VND/ person for going up to the Skydeck on the 49th floor. Bitexco is the tallest building in Ho Chi Minh City and is also one of the most beautiful.
The Walking Street
Entrance: Free. This is one of the latest constructions of the city. Every night, there are hundreds of people that gather here and organize interesting street activities.
Thu Thiem Riverside Park
Entrance: Free. Thu Thiem Riverside Park is located on the other side of Saigon River. From this site, you can admire the bustling city at night when it puts on itself a colorful outfit made of millions of lights.
Overall, as a continuously developing city, Ho Chi Minh City offers a lot for you to see on a budget. Food, transport, and accommodation can easily be found for prices that are very reasonable so you can save more money to spend on other things. Hope you enjoy this beautifully dynamic city!
Read more: Saigon’s Best Art Destinations