Vintage Skyscrapers? The Evolution of the ‘Tube House’ in Vietnam

The tube house in Vietnam

The tube house in Vietnam

The architecture in Vietnam is heavily influenced by the cultures who have played a big role in the country’s history.  It’s difficult to miss the French-inspired homes with yellow walls and black wrought iron balconies or the Chinese style heavily ornamented pagodas.  Although these types of structures are found throughout the country, the one type of building that exemplifies iconic Vietnamese architecture is the “tube house”.

Tall and densely packed homes are very common in Vietnam. They are colloquially referred to as 'tube houses' because of their narrow tube-like shape.

Tall and densely packed homes are very common in Vietnam. They are colloquially referred to as ‘tube houses’ because of their narrow tube-like shape.

When spending time in Hanoi or Ho Chi Minh City , you are sure to recognize these unique looking homes – usually 3+ floors, incredibly narrow and long, and packed like sardines in a can!  These homes are usually only found in cities because of high population density.  Historically, when people started migrating to the cities looking for work, land was scarce and the population was relatively high.  This is a stark difference from architecture in the countryside, where houses are wide with gardens on three sides of the building.

The Evolution of the Tube House in Vietnam

Why do they look like that?

The population growth in Saigon is no different than other cities where houses naturally tend to be smaller to accommodate a large number of people.  Yet, these ‘tube homes‘ are a truly unique solution to that problem.  The reason for this form of architectural design has to do with old taxation laws in the city.  When Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi started to develop, the laws were such that one would be charged property tax only on the length of the front facade of the home.  Strange as it is, the overall square footage of the home made little difference!

This style of house is not new.  In fact, it dates back to the Le Dynasty (15-18th Centuries AD) where the idea was to pack as many shops and stores on a street as possible, and merchants would use the back or upstairs area as their living quarters.  These old style merchant homes are the most well preserved in Hoi An.  The multipurpose usage of space still exists today – many of these homes use their bottommost floor as a shop of some kind.  Of course, if more living space is needed, the only way to grow is up!  And, as Vietnam has a strong culture of multi-generational families living together, 4- or 5-story homes are quite common and some can be up to 7 floors high.

Tube houses can be very tall with more than 3 floors. It may initially seem like an apartment building but it is in fact just one house!

Tube houses can be very tall with more than 3 floors. It may initially seem like an apartment building but it is in fact just one house!

A bit of an extreme take on a narrow house, don't you think?

A bit of an extreme take on a narrow house, don’t you think?

Influence around the world?

Granted, the architecture in Vietnam is unique, but narrow homes are seen around the world.  In fact, the Philippines also has narrow homes that are only marginally different in design in comparison to the homes in Vietnam.  The State of California is also no stranger to multi-story tube homes.  San Francisco has a high urban density and some homes are generally narrower, although not as packed as in Vietnam.  New development along Santa Monica beach in California looks remarkably similar the Vietnamese tube homes, but with a bit more sophisticated flair!  Did Vietnam make them first and influence everyone else?  In comparison to the western world, Vietnam thought of the idea first of course but it’s doubtful that these homes were modeled after architecture in Vietnam.  Relative to the Philippines, it’s hard to say for sure.  Some ethnologists say ‘yes’, but many have noted that these homes in the Philippines and Vietnam came about at around the same time and perhaps influenced each other.  However, in terms of sheer number of these homes, Vietnam beats out its competition, hands down!  🙂

Tube style houses around the world - along Santa Monica beach in California and in the Philippines. The homes in California seem to take on this shape due to land value and space constraints. The homes in the Philippines look surprisingly similar to the tube homes in Vietnam.

Tube style houses around the world – along Santa Monica beach in California and in the Philippines. The homes in California seem to take on this shape due to land value and space constraints. The homes in the Philippines look surprisingly similar to the tube homes in Vietnam.

What’s inside?

These homes are also quite interesting in their layout.  The bottom floor is usually a shop or a reception area/garage.  Of course this is not a garage for cars but for motorbikes, the vehicle of choice in Vietnam!  The kitchen is usually at the back of the first floor or the second floor.  The floor with the main living space is also the floor for the grandparents.  The other floors are usually just bedrooms for everyone else living in the house.  The roof area, which is usually open air or partially covered, is reserved for a little garden, lounge space, exercise area and the water tank!

Here is a typical layout of a Vietnamese tube home!

The general layout of a 'tube house' in Vietnam.

The general layout of a ‘tube house’ in Vietnam.

 

We hope you enjoyed learning a bit about architecture in Vietnam!  To learn more about the architecture in Ho Chi Minh City, both old and new, join us on our XO Tours Sights Tour! Traveling in Vietnam is fun and here are some great tips on how to stay healthy during your time in Vietnam. Please take a look and stay safe during your trip.

Female Travelers – Cultural Sensitivity and Safety in Vietnam

Tips for women traveling alone in Vietnam

Tips for women traveling alone in Vietnam

In light of recent violent acts against women around the world, we think it is only fitting that we tell you a little bit about being a woman traveler in Vietnam.  We feel that it is important to understand the rules of the game when visiting a new country because women travelers may face unique challenges.

Some major issues that concern women traveling alone in Vietnam are:

  • unwelcome attention from men
  • physical assault
  • varying perceptions of gender roles

Fortunately, the answer to the question: is Vietnam tourism safety an issue for women? In general, it is a relatively safe country for women travelers as the incidence rate of violent crime is quite low.  Unlike other parts of the world, women are seldom the victims of sleazy gazes or derogatory advances.  Although there is inherent conservatism in the Vietnamese culture, women are well respected in all multiple echelons of society.

That being said, there are certain things that female travelers should keep in mind when traveling in Vietnam.  Aside from the very obvious points such as ‘don’t walk down dark alleys alone‘ and ‘don’t drink too much and let your guard down’,

What are some Vietnam-specific things you should take into consideration?

1. Clothing – Although many female travellers choose to be less covered up when visiting Vietnam, it is best to be more respectfully dressed.  Vietnam is by no means a place where women have to be covered from head to toe.  In fact, local women can be quite stylish!  However, local residents are usually not skimpily dressed and travellers should follow suit.  As we said earlier, aggression or assault from men is not common here and we are not implying that a woman’s clothing choices should provoke any ill behaviour upon her but making smart clothing choices is the easiest way to not attract unwanted attention.  Additionally, women should be particularly respectful with clothing choices when visiting a pagoda or temple.  At these places of worship, short shorts, tiny skirts, low cut tops or bare shoulders are not considered appropriate attire.

2. Personal belongings – We have said this before in this blog and here we reiterate.  In order to stay safe and avoid scams, please be careful with your purses, phones and jewelry.  Thieves will go to great lengths to snatch purses or other valuable items.  We have read all too many stories where thieves on motorcycles have tried to grab a woman’s purse and dragged the poor woman until the purse was freed from her.  If a situation such as this arises and the perpetrator is stronger than you, the last thing you want is to be physically hurt.

3. Behaviour – Vietnam is a rapidly developing country and western trends are quickly influencing both pop culture and everyday culture.  Many youngsters are seen holding hands and being affectionate.  Although holding hands is fine, other public displays of affection are not deemed respectful.  It is not advisable to kiss in public.

4. Personal Questions – In Vietnam, it is quite common to ask about the marital status of a woman.  There is also a fair chance that some lifestyle choices may not be fully understood or supported.  Many women travelers have reported that they wore a wedding band or said that they were married simply to avoid these questions.  The locals’ exposure to tourists has grown substantially over the past few years but it is possible that you will encounter some people who do not agree or understand why a woman is unmarried past a certain age or is in a common law relationship.

Another question you may encounter often is about your age.  It is very common to establish your age in comparison to the person asking because it denotes how they address you in the Vietnamese language.  For a westerner, this notion can be a bit strange because one never asks a woman’s age unless you’ve reached a certain comfort level!  Though these questions may come across as offensive, it is not the intention.

5. Transportation – The motorcycle is definitely the vehicle of choice in Vietnam.  One form of public transportation here is the ‘xe om’, which literally means ‘hugging bike’.  Many men around the city will offer rides to tourists on the back of their motorbike for the fraction of the cost of a regular taxi.  The xe om is fast, cheap and more agile in the crazy city traffic.  Many tourists, including women, take the xe om without consequence. Traveling alone as a woman in Vietnam is fairly common at all ages so a foreign woman will not raise any eyebrows for simply being a ‘woman’.  Some women may have a difficult time getting on a bike with a stranger but for the most part they are safe.

Important Note for Women Travelling at night in Vietnam

The etiquette when on the bike is that if you are a woman, you can put your hands around the driver’s waist (but you may certainly ask first if it makes you feel more comfortable).  Men are to put their hands on the driver’s shoulder.  At night, however, we highly advise women to take taxis rather than xe om mainly because of the personal safety factor.  An added reason is that drinking and driving is becoming an increasing concern in Vietnam so it is more likely that taxi drivers will drive responsibly since they are actually ‘on duty’.

Female tourists do take the xe om to get around the city, but we advise this only during the day time.

Female tourists do take the xe om to get around the city, but we advise this only during the day time.

 

We wish you safe travels from XO Tours!  If you want to learn more about how we ensure safety on our tours, read about the XO Tours Accident Insurance!

TOP 10 THINGS TO BRING TO VIETNAM!

Things to bring to Vietnam

Things to bring to Vietnam

 

After weighing the pros and cons, most can agree Vietnam is a great travel destination. As with other travel destinations, there are certain things you should bring with you to minimize hassle during your trip.  Use the following list to appropriately pack for your travels.

Top 10 things to bring to Vietnam

  1. The Essentials
  2. Appropriate Luggage
  3. Appropriate Clothing
  4. Appropriate Shoes
  5. Medication
  6. Bathroom Supplies
  7. Sun Protection
  8. Insect Protection
  9. Electronics
  10. Proper Information

 1. The Essentials 

Passport and Visa!! – In addition to the originals, keep photocopies or scanned copies of your passport and visa in case you lose your passport.

Travel medical insurance information – Keep a printout with you.

Cash – Keep enough cash with you as many stores and restaurants only take cash.  Many tourist restaurants and stores take credit card but they will often add a surcharge of 2-3% on top of the international transaction fees you will incur through your credit card company.  ATMs and banks can be found throughout the city if you need to take out cash.  Money exchange booths are also plentiful, especially around tourist haunts.

Money belt – Remember, like any large city, be cautious of petty theft and use a money belt to keep your money secure.

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2. Appropriate Luggage

Soft shell bags – If you plan on taking bus or train rides in the region, soft bags are recommended as the overhead luggage compartments can be quite small.  Keep in mind that the baggage tariffs on internal flights and flights in the region can be quite high so soft shelled bags can save a lot of extra weight and therefore a lot of money.

Daypacks or backpacks – For short excursions, treks and day trips around the city, a daypack is essential for carrying a water bottle, snacks, sunscreen, insect repellent, and shopping.  A secure and sturdy daypack is the perfect thing to keep all your belongings with you as you go about your day.  And, any souvenirs you buy along the way can be kept safe in your bag without having to carry extra plastic bags.  Be careful with how you choose your daypack – a bag that sits close to your body and has thick straps is advisable as thieves can cut the straps and take your bag before you even realize what has happened. It’s a common scam in Vietnam.

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 3. Appropriate Clothing

Ponchos are a popular rain attire for bikers around the city.

Ponchos are a popular rain attire for bikers around the city.

Moisture wicking clothing – In Ho Chi Minh City, rainy season is from June to November and dry season is during the rest of the year, although it stays between 25-35C throughout the year.  Lightweight clothing is important for this kind of weather.

Light rain jacket – For the rain, a light jacket is fine but a plastic poncho may also work well.  You will see many locals wearing ponchos while riding their bike in the rain so the poncho may be more suitable if you plan on doing cycling or motorcycling tours around the country.

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4. Appropriate Shoes

Walking shoes – Ho Chi Minh City and other cities in Vietnam are very conducive to walking, once you get past the occasional motorbike driver on the sidewalk!  You may find that you end up walking several kilometres a day so good walking shoes are a must.

Activity based shoes – If you plan on doing outdoor activities or trekking, special shoes are very important.  If you forget to bring them, many hostels and hotels can provide shoes that guests have left behind but your size may not be available.  Even buying shoes here may be difficult if your shoe size is larger than that of the average Vietnamese person.

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5. Medication

Brand name medication – The medication regulations in Vietnam are different than in other countries such that over-the-counter medicines are both cheap and readily available.  Many of the brand name medicines like Pepto Bismol and Tylenol are quite expensive but their non-brand name counterparts are very cheap.  If you prefer to take a certain brand of medicine, bring extra!

Special medication – Some non-mainstream medications may be difficult to find here.  Bring enough for your stay.

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6. Bathroom Supplies

Toilet paper – It may be beneficial to keep toilet paper with you while traveling, especially on long bus rides.  Most hotels, hostels and restaurants in the city have conventional toilets but many bus stop bathrooms have squatting-style toilets without toilet paper.

Female supplies – Sanitary napkins are easy to find here but tampons are not.

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7. Sun Protection

Aloe vera, called "nha dam" in Vietnamese, is readily available at the markets but it's impractical to carry the leaf around during your travels.

Aloe vera, called “nha dam” in Vietnamese, is readily available at the markets but it’s impractical to carry the leaf around during your travels.

UV protection – The sun is very powerful here so high SPF lotions or sprays are a must.  Even local residents protect themselves from the sun by wearing long sleeves, hats and sun umbrellas!  Of course long sleeves in this heat is not very pleasant but neither is sunburn!

Aloe vera gel – Aloe vera gel in a bottle is very difficult to find here but fresh aloe vera is readily available at the market.  Using real aloe vera is very soothing but it is not efficient or practical when traveling by bus or train so bottled aloe vera gel can be quite handy in these situations.

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8. Insect Protection

Insect repellent with Deet – Dengue fever and malaria are transmitted by mosquitos so an insect repellent with Deet is a good thing to have.  Although malaria is rare and is confined to the rural areas, dengue fever is more prevalent.

Cortisone cream – Bites can be highly unpleasant and the last thing you need is an infection from scratching too much!

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9. Electronics

Many outlets in Vietnam are of the combination type and will accept three different plug shapes.

Many outlets in Vietnam are of the combination type and will accept three different plug shapes.

Chargers and backup chargers – Remember to bring all necessary chargers for your electronics.  Pre-charged battery packs are very useful for long bus and train rides.

Shape converter – Most hostels and hotels will have outlets that accept multiple plug shapes but the voltage is still 220V.  A shape converter may come in handy for outlets that don’t accept your plug type.

Computer-like gadget – A smartphone or iPod is a great thing to have!  WiFi is readily available almost anywhere.  You can call home for free or use GoogleMaps, which works very well in Ho Chi Minh City.  A laptop might be too bulky to carry around and too expensive of an item to have stolen.  When you are using your phone on the street, make sure to do it discreetly and away from the curb.  It is all too easy for someone to grab the phone while on their motorbike.

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10. Proper Information

Travel books – Travel books can be invaluable here for important information about hospitals, money, embassies, and more.  Keep in mind that the latest edition of a travel book is usually a year out of date so locations and phone numbers for restaurants or stores may change.  Fortunately, the location of public service offices are usually less transient.

Translation cards – If you have food intolerances, make sure you print out your translation cards before you come here.

Location information – Have with you the addresses, phone numbers, location and maps for your hotels before arriving so that you can relay information to your taxi driver.

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If you forget any items, most things are available here but at a premium.  Proper packing will ensure that you have a relaxing and hassle-free vacation!

 

If you want to do an off-beaten track Vietnam tour, you can book our Ho Chi Minh City or Hoi An tours.

Eating Gluten Free and Other Food Restrictions in Vietnam

Food allergies in Vietnam

Food allergies in Vietnam

Vietnamese food is among the most delicious in the world, and is generally very fresh and healthy. You can try the famous Vietnamese sandwich Banh Mi. However, food allergies and restrictions are less common here than in many parts of the world.  In fact, many people here may not even know what a food allergy is.  Because Vietnamese cuisine is quite versatile, there are always ways to accommodate for food allergies, as long as you can communicate what you are able and not able to eat.  Here are some words of advice on working around your restrictions while still enjoying the delectable treats this country has to offer!

FOOD ALLERGIES IN VIETNAM

  1. No gluten
  2. No dairy/ no peanuts
  3. Vegetarianism/Veganism

NO GLUTEN

This simple Vietnamese rice dish with grilled meat and vegetables is a safe bet for those who eat a gluten-free diet.

This simple Vietnamese rice dish with grilled meat and vegetables is a safe bet for those who eat a gluten-free diet.

Eating gluten-free is not as difficult as it may seem because Vietnamese food is heavily rice-based. However, there are several things to be cautious about.  Most noodles, rice paper products, and rice sheets are primarily made of rice but they can often contain tapioca flour and wheat flour.  The best option is to stick with dishes with names that contain “com” (which translates to steamed rice).

Another important precaution is to avoid all dishes with soy sauce.  Those of you who adhere to a gluten-free diet already know that most soy sauces contain wheat.  However, you may not know that many Vietnamese sausages and patés may also contain soy sauce and wheat products, even if you don’t detect the flavour in the food.  It is best to avoid processed meats altogether for this reason.  Fortunately, fish sauce is the primary condiment in Vietnamese food so flavour is not compromised if soy sauce must be eliminated.

Vietnamese sausage should be avoided if you are unsure of how it was made as it may contain wheat or soy sauce.

Vietnamese sausage should be avoided if you are unsure of how it was made as it may contain wheat or soy sauce.

Please note that if you wish to cook a meal at your home/hotel, gluten-free products are available at An Nam Gourmet Grocery Store, located at 16-18 Hai Ba Trung Street.

Use these guides to communicate your restrictions to restaurant staff and to learn the names of foods you should avoid:

Gluten Free Translation Card 1
Gluten Free Translation Card 2

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NO DAIRY/NO PEANUTS

Vietnamese coffee is often served with a generous serving of condensed milk at the bottom.

Vietnamese coffee is often served with a generous serving of condensed milk at the bottom.

In Vietnam, peanut sauce is a very common accompaniment to certain dishes.

In Vietnam, peanut sauce is a very common accompaniment to certain dishes.

 

 

 

 

Peanuts are often served as a garnish in many dishes.

Peanuts are often served as a garnish in many dishes.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Avoiding dairy in Vietnam is quite simple – avoid coffee with condensed milk and most sweets.  However, be cautious with bread products.  Some breads, especially white breads, will contain small amounts of milk.

Vietnamese food is much harder to navigate for people with peanut allergies.  Peanuts, and other nuts such as cashews, are ubiquitous in Vietnamese food – it is present as a garnish, as an oil for cooking, and is ground in sauces and condiments.  If you eat at a restaurant, you will have to rely solely on your communication skills and your willingness to trust the chefs!  However, please be aware that at a restaurant, even if your dish does not have peanuts, it is very likely that your food may have been in contact with them simply because nuts are a staple of a Vietnamese kitchen.  Pho or other soup-like dishes are usually a safe bet as it rarely contains nuts and nut oils, although you will still have to make sure the chefs know about your allergy.

To learn some keywords in recognizing allergens in your food or to communicate your allergy to restaurant staff, please use the following:

No Dairy Translation Card
No Peanuts and Nuts Translation Card

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VEGETARIANISM/VEGANISM

In Vietnam, people are able to find vegetarian and vegan food quite easily.  Vietnam has a heavy Buddhist influence and although most of the country eats meat, many people will eat vegetarian food once a week or during certain holidays and auspicious times.  For instance, according to Buddhist tradition, followers will eat vegetarian food on the 1st and 15th of the lunar month.  On these days, vegetarian restaurants may be packed with local residents.

There are many vegetarian restaurants in Vietnam who will cater to your dietary needs and many restaurants are strictly vegetarian.  But, if you are traveling with people who prefer eating non-vegetarian food (see: Vietnam with kids), restaurants that cater to tourists are a safe option.  For example, in the backpackers’ district in Ho Chi Minh City, many local eateries not only offer a wide array of dishes but usually have a whole page of just vegetarian dishes.  Or, along the major tourist haunts such as Dong Khoi Street or the major shopping centres, the restaurants are quite accommodating to vegetarians.  However, one thing to be aware of is that although many local restaurants may not add meat to your food, avoiding condiments such as fish sauce may be difficult.  For particularly strict vegetarians, eating bread products here can be a problem as many baguettes are made with egg yolk.

Fish sauce is the most frequently used condiment in Vietnamese cooking.

Fish sauce is the most frequently used condiment in Vietnamese cooking.

Veganism is not too different from vegetarianism in Vietnam.  Western food items that distinguish the two such as dairy and honey are not as commonly used here.  Give the restaurant staff the following statements to ensure there are no meat products in your food.  If you want to take a hand at pronouncing these words, be extra cautious when saying the word for vegetarian (chay) as the colloquial word for dog meat is very similar (cay)!!

Vegetarian/Vegan Translation Card

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The best way to navigate around your intolerances and allergies is to be prepared.  Print out the translation cards and communicate it with the restaurant staff and learn to recognize the keywords.  Although it may seem challenging at first, it is entirely possible to have a unique and complete culinary experience without worrying about food poisoning. With a willingness to understand Vietnamese food ingredients, the adventurous but restricted dieter can enjoy unlimited possibilities.  Bon appétit!

We hope that you found this Vietnam Travel Trip from XO Tours – Vietnam Motorcycle Tours useful!  If you want to safely eat some amazing street food while in Saigon, you might consider booking our highly acclaimed “Foodie” tour by clicking on the banner at the top of the page.

A comprehensive guide to avoiding taxi and cyclo scams in Ho Chi Minh City

Taxi and cyclo scams in Ho Chi Minh city

Taxi and cyclo scams in Ho Chi Minh city

Taxi and transportation scams are a part and parcel of any large metropolis, and Saigon is no exception.  As a seemingly unsuspecting foreigner, you are the perfect prey for many taxi and cyclo drivers around the city.

Taxi drivers can be very shrewd and unwavering in their attempt to scam you.  Many tourists get into cars with broken meters or “quick” meters, get driven several kilometres in the wrong direction or even in circles, agree on a fixed price that is likely more than what the meter would cost, or take a “fake” taxi.  Some tourists have reported instances where the driver asked for a hefty tip at the end of the drive and refused to give them their luggage until they paid the tip.

**** If you would prefer to avoid dealing with taxis altogether, or if you’re arriving to Ho Chi Minh City very late and/or you have young children, we can highly recommend Drive Vietnam for the best Saigon airport transfers ****

The incidence of cyclo scams is just as frequent as taxi scams and sometimes more dangerous.  You will see cyclos on almost every corner in District 1 in Saigon just waiting for their next customer.  Cyclo drivers may scam you by agreeing on a price with you and demanding more after the trip by stating that the agreed price was only per person or per hour.  People have described situations in which a cyclo driver will drive a customer to an alleyway and demand more money while implying physical harm on the customer.  In fact, the city is making an effort to restrict cyclos to only certain parts of the city due to the large number of complaints.

Here are some important tips in avoiding taxi and cyclo scams in Ho Chi Minh city.

(Please click on the link below to jump directly to the section you would like to see)

  1. Taxi scams
  2. Cyclo scams

TAXI SCAMS

Before the trip:

In Vietnam, the two taxi companies, Vinasun and Mai Linh, have proven to be most reliable (although scams still occur) in comparison to others.  Other companies do not have as strong of a reputation of good customer service.  Mai Linh taxis are either all green or all white with green. Vinasun taxis are white with green and a red stripe. Both these companies require their drivers to wear a tie.  And, check the dashboard for the picture of the driver and make sure it matches. Beware of taxis with slightly varied names – Ma Linh, Vina Taxi, and more!

Vinasun taxis are found throughout the city - the characteristic white with red and green striped car is hard to miss!

Vinasun taxis are found throughout the city – the characteristic white with red and green striped car is hard to miss!

 

MaiLinh is one of the best taxi companies in Saigon and the cars are either white+green or all green

MaiLinh is one of the best taxi companies in Saigon and the cars are either white+green or all green

 

The MaiLinh fleet also contains vehicles that are all green.

Green Mai Linh Taxi

 

Beware of fakes! Look closely - the name of this "company" is Ma**inh and the phone number is wrong!

Beware of fakes! Look closely – the name of this “company” is Ma**inh and the phone number is wrong!

 

Tan Son Nhat airport is a prime location for taxi scams.  As you come out of the international or domestic arrivals, walk to your left towards the taxi stand. Let the taxi attendant know that you only want either a Mai Linh or Vinasun Taxi.  While waiting at the taxi stand at the airport, you do not have to take the next available taxi.  Saigon Air Taxi has a monopoly at the airport but try to avoid them in favor of Vinasun or Mai Linh.  Feel free to wait if you don’t see one and if anyone pesters you, let them know clearly that you are waiting for a car from one of these two companies.  Please note that Mai Linh and Vinasun are reported to have established a tourism desk inside the airport, although some people have said that they are hard to find.  Hiring a taxi from the desk eliminates a lot of hassle but they do charge a small premium.

Alternatively, if you want a cheaper and relatively safe option get to the city center, you can take the yellow 109 bus which follows the following route from the airport:

To City Center:  International Terminal – Domestic Terminal (Tan Son Nhat International Airport) – Truong Son – Tran Quoc Hoan – Hoang Van Thu – Nguyen Van Troi – Nam Ky Khoi Nghia – Ham Nghi – Le Lai – Ben Thanh Bus Station – Pham Ngu Lao – 23/9 Park

Note the closest street to your hotel if you’re staying in District 1 and get off at that stop. If you’re not staying in District 1, then it’s better to take a taxi.The ticket price for the 109 bus is 20,000 VND per person (less than $1 USD). The 109 bus departs every 15-20 minutes and runs from 5:30am to 1am. The 109 bus is much better than the old 152 bus because it’s cleaner, roomier and has more luggage space (no extra charge for luggage), and there are signs and announcements in both English and Vietnamese. To find the 109 bus, turn right as you exit either the domestic or international terminal and follow the signs posted on the walls.

109 Airport Bus

109 Bus

 

If you don’t mind paying a little a higher fare to be dropped off directly at your hotel in District 1, you should consider taking the 49 Yellow Shuttle Bus, which like the 109 bus offers a safe, comfortable ride from the airport to the city center. The fare for the 49 shuttle bus is 40,000 VND per pax (less than $2), which is double the fare of the 109 bus but as mentioned before you are dropped directly at your hotel. The route and running times for the 49 bus is the same as the 109 bus.

49 Yellow Shuttle Bus

49 Bus

 

If you want the cheapest possible option to get to District 1 then you can also choose to use Bus No. 152 from the Airport to Ben Thanh Market.  As you exit the international terminal, look to your right and you will see the Bus waiting across from the Burger King.  If you cannot see it, ask a uniformed guard at the airport.  Note that many taxi drivers may try to give you false information.  The bus fare is 5000 VND per person and 5000 VND per bag – try to have exact change.  The bus only runs until 6 PM.  Once you reach Ben Thanh Market, the taxi fares to your hotel will be substantially lower. Please keep in mind that that the bus attendants only speak Vietnamese so you need to pay attention and know which stop to get off at.

Bus #152 from the Airport to Ben Thanh Market is a cheap and hassle-free alternative to a taxi

Bus #152 from the Airport to Ben Thanh Market

 

If you decide to take a taxi from Ton Son Nhat airport, it’s very important to understand your route. Look at a map and take note of the general direction in which you need to go.  Understanding the layout of the city will help immensely if the driver is really driving you around in circles or taking you somewhere completely different than where you want to go.  Understanding the route will also help you determine where to flag a taxi.  Walk to the nearest intersection or corner where you can see a clear route towards your destination.  Saigon has many one way streets and it is very easy for a driver to take a longer route with the excuse that he is avoiding the one ways.

During the trip:

Always use a meter!  Insist on it when you enter a taxi.  A legitimate meter will turn on automatically as you start driving.  However, you may encounter taxi cars with “broken” meters or jumping meters.  Pay attention to how much the meter goes up by as you drive and ensure that it goes up consistently.  To give you a general idea of how much a taxi ride should cost, most companies charge between 12000 – 14000 VND at the start or the ride and the first kilometre or so.  The fare goes up by 1200 – 1400 VND every additional 200 metres.  Saigon is a relatively small city so if you have a rough idea of how far your destination is, you will know how much a reasonable fare is.  For instance, from Tan Son Nhat Airport to somewhere in District 1 should be roughly 150,000 VND.

Most importantly, be very clear on where you want to go.  Know the address and write it down if you have to.  It is all too easy for the driver to say that they did not hear you or understand you.  Pronunciations are quite tricky in Vietnamese so unless you are extremely confident in your language skills, write down the name and address of your destination.  Please note that if you do write anything down, the accents and tones are essential.

At the end of the trip, you should also be careful when you pay in cash to the taxi driver. Recent news shows that there are taxi drivers scamming customers by changing their 500,000 VND note to 20.000 VND.

This is the 500,000 VND note that the passenger gave to the driver

He quickly replaced it with a 20,000 VND note and asked for more money

After the trip:

Tipping for taxis and cyclos is not expected in Saigon.  If a driver demands a tip, do not feel obliged to give him more money unless you feel that you want to reward them for their work.  If you do give the driver a tip, 5-10% of the total price is more than enough.  Some instances have been reported where the taxi driver has withheld the customer’s luggage until receiving extra payment.  It may be good practice to make sure the driver opens the trunk as soon as you arrive at your destination.  Or, if you are traveling in a group, let one person remove the luggage while the other pays.

If you find yourself in a situation where you are the victim of a scam, there are a few things you can do. The first is try and negotiate as much as you can – whatever their demand is, start with half and be as steadfast as you can.  You can also try taking a photograph of the driver of the car – that tends to intimidate them.  In the event that you feel physically threatened, try to bluff and say you’re calling the police or pay an amount that will allow you to leave the situation.  However, tourism is very important to the Vietnamese economy so is it highly unlikely that drivers will hurt tourists.

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CYCLO SCAMS

Cyclos found throughout the city in search for their next customer.

Cyclos found throughout the city in search for their next customer.

 

If you are certain that you would like to take a cyclo, only book them through your hotel or tourism company.  Many cyclo drivers around the city speak English well enough to sweet-talk tourists into hiring them.  However, be aware that you are more likely to be scammed by these independent cyclos versus the ones you book through a hotel.  In order to avoid overpaying for their service, hone your negotiating skills!  Bargaining is very important in Saigon.  Even if you are not bargaining the price much lower than what is offered, you must do it just on principle.  If you don’t bargain, it will be a signal to the driver that you will give into their demands.

Before you start the ride, be very clear on what the price agreement is.  Make sure you understand what the total price is and what it includes.  You should be clear on whether your agreed price is per person, per hour, or a total price regardless of the number of people or amount of time.  Writing it down and confirming with the driver may help to eliminate the possibility of a misunderstanding.  Also, if you are using a cyclo throughout the day and the driver will have to wait for you while you sightsee, make sure that the total price includes waiting time as well. Finally, if you are taking a cyclo as simply a means of transportation rather than for the novelty, we recommend that you take a taxi as cyclo scams have the potential to be more dangerous.

Although it may seem daunting to have to be on edge and alert the very minute you are in need of transportation, many scams are quite easy to spot.  Simply remember the key points and use your street sense.  Safe travels!

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We hope you found this post from XO Tours – Vietnam Motorcycle Tours useful.  For more amazing Vietnam Travel Tips, please revisit our blog regularly! We will be delighted if you book a scooter tour to discover Vietnam in a unique way.