How We Survived Backpacking in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam

Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam closely resembles my country, in terms of the climate and surroundings. Walking during the day would easily make you sweat, and the sun could easily burn your skin (which is why when we arrive, we rent a motorbike in Vietnam for a few weeks each time). But the one thing that will always make me remember Saigon is their fear-provoking traffic and cheap beer. So how did we survive our 4-day backpacking trip in Ho Chi Minh City? Here’s how…

HCMC Traffic

BE WARNED. Traffic is horrendous with all the motorcycles driving by. And crossing the streets in Ho Chi Minh is scary beyond belief! I’m really attentive when crossing the streets back in my hometown. But it’s really different how the people in Saigon carry it out. Traffic lights are also quite scarce from the area where we stayed, which was in Phạm Ngũ Lão.

TIP: How to avoid becoming an instant road kill? Simple. Walk at your own pace. Don’t sprint to the other side and don’t walk too slow either. The motorists will try to avoid you anyway.


Eatery at the market

How did we feed ourselves? It wasn’t difficult for our tummy to adjust to the tasty and spicy cuisines in the country. But since we were traversing a different culture (add to that a slight language barrier), my beau and I would usually point out the photo of the food from the menu. And when we felt oblivious to what the people were already putting and eating from their bowls, we would just sit and observe. Then we’d put the same garnishes into our mixing bowls afterwards. It was quite amusing actually.

TIP: If you are used to facility maintenance in USA, you can eat at a restaurant if sanitation is a concern. Just avoid the eateries by the market and sidewalk.

How did we quench our thirst? In terms of Agua, bottled water is abundant in every corner of Ho Chi Minh. A 1-liter bottle can range from 6,000 – 8,000 VND ($0.30 – $0.40). You’re going to need a bottle or two wherever you may wander off, as the weather may get scorching throughout the day.

TIP: Buy the ones from the sidewalk. It’s cheaper there compared to those being sold in the mini-marts.

Vietnam is actually known to have the cheapest beer prices in the world. So what better way to cap off our night by having a few chilled Saigon beers, right? Depending on the brand, beers in the city would usually sell for 10,000 – 25,000 VND per bottle ($0.50 – $1.20).

Red Saigon Beer

TIP: You can get your cheap beers from the shops selling by the sidewalk. You can also enjoy your cold drink here while sitting on small, monoblock chairs or by the gutter (literally!). Now, the best drinking place would have to be in Bùi Viện, where all the different nationalities dine and mingle.

Night scene

How did we survive from going broke? Other than haggling our way into buying souvenir items, we also refrained from having all of our money converted in one day. Avoid doing so, as loose change may not be converted back when you return to your country of origin. Vietnam doesn’t really want their money being brought out of their country.

How about you? Do you have any Saigon survivor tips to add to this list?

Written by Mylene Flores

Mai writes from Manila, Philippines. She's a Filipino, budget-conscious wanderluster, who notes expense breakdowns and writes various trip itineraries for family and friends. She shares her adventures and misadventures through her blog as a means to document her dreams of seeing the world, one step at a time.


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