As in many growing cities, traffic congestion is a huge problem in Saigon, and one of the biggest headaches for tourists who are unfamiliar with the city. However, by being aware of the options and choosing carefully, you can usually solve the problem of getting from one place to another in the most efficient manner.
Firstly, you should know that the Saigon bus service is not really geared to tourists, nor is it very useful. So it’s best to leave these crowded hulks of metal to the locals and find more convenient and swifter ways of getting around the city.
The best answer in most cases is to take a taxi to your destination. Fares are inexpensive and the air-conditioned interiors offer a respite from the heat, noise and pollution of the city streets. Make sure that the taxi has a meter, though, as many individuals will offer a ride in their private car at inflated rates.
In the case that you are in a big hurry and everything seems to have ground to a halt, your only option is a motorbike taxi. For these you’ll need to negotiate a fare, wear a helmet and hang on tight as the rider charges into an impenetrable jungle of snarling engines and choking exhaust fumes.
All visitors should take at least one ride in a cyclo, a uniquely Vietnamese form of bicycle taxi in which the passenger(s) ride in front of the rider. With their unrestricted view, they are ideal for sightseeing, though negotiating a roundabout or junction can be scary.
Although you’ll often see two Vietnamese sitting in a cyclo, they are a bit too small to accommodate the additional bulk of two average Westerners, so you’ll need to hire one for each person or risk giving the poor driver an injury.
Cyclo riders know they are popular and drive a hard bargain, so expect to pay more than for a motorbike taxi. If you find a helpful rider, it might be worth negotiating a day rate to take you to several tourist sights around town.
Unfortunately, cyclos are banned on several major roads so they sometimes have to take a roundabout route. Be patient, however, and avoid accusing your driver of ‘taking you for a ride’ as they may well be choosing the shortest possible route in the circumstances…more on Getting Around Saigon.