Tips for Backpacking to Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam

Ho Chi Minh is getting popular among Malaysians for their cheap price of various inspired tudung and telekung from popular brands; dUCk, naelofar, ariani, etc. Most of the people come here just to shop. Anyway, this is some tips and itinerary for 5 days and 4 nights in Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC), Vietnam.

We bought our return flight ticket from AirAsia for RM375.60 together with travel insurance; we didn't bought luggage. It's a bit pricey since we didn't wait for the promo ticket. If you're on tight budget, I would suggest you to wait for promo period. For this entry, I will try to cover and share the tips that I think might be useful for first time travelers to HCMC. You can read this entry for Common Tips Before Backpack Travel, it might help you out a bit if you don't know where to start. 😎 Don't forget to bring your international adapter too!

Tan Son Nhat Airport (SGN) to/from HCMC
Take green color bus #152. This bus just cost you VND5,000 compared to bus #109 (airport shuttle) which is much more expensive; VND20,000. Both bus is located on right side when you came out from the arrival hall; nearby Burger King. Bus #152 stop operating at 5:30PM. You can also use GrabCar if you wish to have much more comfortable journey from airport to city center.

On your way back to airport, you can take the same bus; #152 from Ben Thanh Market at the opposite direction from where it drop you when you arrived at HCMC. If you are not confident, you can ask the bus driver. 😄

How to stay connected?
You can choose to rent a portable wifi egg or you can buy a local simcard from the booth just outside the arrival hall at the airport. For us, it is much cheaper to buy simcard; we get unlimited 4G internet with 50 minutes free calls that will last for 30 days for only VND150,000. We open it as hotspot and share it among four of us. That's one hell of a great deal i would say. Hurrrayyy!

Where to stay?
It is best if you can find accommodation near Ben Thanh Market or Backpacker Street, but it will get noisy at night. As for us, we book our accommodation a bit far from city center to avoid those busy-noisy-lively part of the city. This is the house that we booked for 5 days 4 nights; Particular Saigon House. It is only RM267.38.

If you'd like to have some discount while using AirBnB, you can use this referral link to get worth of RM120 travel credits. But it applies to first time user only.

AirBnB @Phu Nhuan
Buses in HCMC
1. Buses in HCMC need to be paid in Vietnamese Dong (VND).
2. If you saw and want to take the bus, please ensure you wave your hand to notify the bus driver - Malaysian way; talk to the hand. 😂
3. Buses will not fully stop - it will slowdown a bit just to pickup passengers, but no worries, just get in the bus carefully.
4. Find a spot/seat inside the bus and wait for bus conductor to collect the money from you.
5. Don't worry if you didn't have small changes, they will give you the balance. Ensure the balance they give you is correct.
6. Bus ticket varies from as low as VND5,000 to VND6,000 per trip. Most of the bus will charge VND6,000. The most expensive is VND20,000 which is the airport shuttle bus (#109).
7. If you want to stop, push the button and stand nearby the exit door. Or else, the driver won't know where to stop. 😆

What is attraction(s) place to visit?
As usual, I roughly sketched the location and details info of each attractions and make a map out of it. From that completed map, I will decide which place to go visit on which day. It is so much easier! 😄

Sketched map
1. Mekong River
If you want to go here, I'd strongly recommend you to book for a tour from established travel agency. It would be a bit hard to get there by yourself. We get our self tour from Bismillah Tour & Travel for only RM55 or VND300,000. This packages is for 1 day tour that includes everything inside. I highly recommend this agency to both Muslim and Non-Muslim travelers. You can find Bismillah T&T at Malaysian Street. Anyway, you'd better not to have any plan or not in hurry since we might be back later than scheduled time.
  • Take chartered air-conditioned bus from Bismillah T&T.
  • Stop at coffee shop for famous iced milk coffee. (incl one small iced coffee)
    • They also sell coffee beans if you're coffee lover. The coffee taste somewhat like "Neslo" or Mocha. The price for each pack is around RM14 - RM20. Yes, you can pay in RM.
  • Take chartered cruise boat to Unicorn Island. (incl coconut drink)
    • The coconut drink is very nice! Should've bring plastic spoon with me. Just manage to get the top part only. 😐
  • Stop at coconut candy factory. (incl coconut candy tester)
    • I'm not a fan of coconut candy, but their candy taste better compared to the one that my ex-colleagues bought before. One pack for VND50,000 and if you buy 5 pack, you'll get 1 pack for free.
    • You should try their coconut ice-cream though; VND10,000 only. It's so delicious! I think I'll missed this ice-cream for quite some time; taste like Sangkaya with crunchy peanut topping. OMG, can't still get over it. 🤤
  • Stop at bee farm shop. (incl honey lemon tea and some banana crackers)
  • Experience horse carriage around the village. (incl fee)
  • Stop for lunch at Halal restaurant. (incl halal foods)
    • The restaurant also provide separate prayer room for men and women.
  • Went for famous Vietnam boat cruising along the small canal. (incl fee)
    • Each small boat have two people who row the boat; one in front and another one at the back. The boat can fit 4 adults passenger. 
    • You don't have to buy their traditional Vietnam hat (triangle shape like tudung saji) to pose and take pictures. Each boat will provide you the hat for free, of course you need to return it once you get off from the boat. 😂
    • Do give some tip to them, RM1 per passenger is considered enough. So, roughly one boat is RM4. If you want to tip more, it's really up to you. But surely, they will expect to received some tip from you. 
  • Stop at tropical fruit shop. (incl various fruits and hot tea)
    • They serve few types of fruits and it's very sweet. If you crave for durian, you can eat it at your own expense.
  • Stop at souvenir shop and clothes factory for shopping.
    • Before we went back to HCMC, the bus will stop at souvenir and clothes factory.
    • At the souvenir shop, you can get yourself or your family Vietnam printed t-shirt from as low as RM7 to RM10 each, depending on the pattern. They also sold few other items; example three clothes for RM40.
    • At clothes factory, there's plenty of telekung, scarf, shawl, cotton, silk, lace, etc from various brands. Some of the items here are not as cheap as what I read from other blogs. So, do check and compare the price before buying. For example; scarf priced from RM25 each here when you can get the same brand and pattern at Ben Thanh Market/Malaysian Street for RM10 only. 😮

2. Cu Chi Tunnel
We also take Bismillah T&T as our travel agency to take us to Cu Chi Tunnel. It takes about 1 hour 30 minutes to reach. It only cost us VND265,000. However, this package only for half day and does not include lunch.
  • Take chartered air-conditioned bus from Malaysian Street.
  • Stop at Handicap Handicraft Center.
    • During war, civilians and armies inhaled toxic/poison gas, but nothing happen to them until they conceived baby where the baby is severely deformed and are born disabled.
    • The handicraft center hire disabled person to work with them and some of the percentage will be donated to disabled organization.
    • They will bring and brief you the steps on how to make a really nice paintings using egg shell.
  • Went to Cu Chi Tunnel. (incl fee = VND110,000)
    • You will get to experience going into the underground tunnel. For those who is claustrophobic, you might not want to go under. It's dark even though there's some light installed.
    • You'll get to learn on how the Vietnamese defend and protect themselves from enemy.
    • They will provide tapioca for free on your way back too! 😚
    • If you're interested on trying to fire a real gun, this is the place you should go. You can share 10 bullets with another person for only VND600,000 (it's VND60,000 per bullet for AK47).
  • Stop at restaurant for lunch.
    • They didn't have halal food, but if you're starving, you can order vegetarian food.
    • We ate Nasi Lemak that we bought at Malaysian Street before we went here.

3. Saigon Zoo and Botanical Garden
We didn't actually go inside the garden as I just found out the entrance fee already increased twice the previous price. Plus, when we reach there, we only have around 1 hour before the garden closed. So, we just take a stroll around the garden only.

Entrance fee: VND50,000
From Ben Thanh: Bus #19

4. The Museum of History
It's in the same compound or gate with Saigon Zoo and Botanical Garden. We decided not to go inside as well. Just reading and take some pictures from outside.

Entrance fee: VND40,000

5. Book Street
Located next to Saigon Central Post Office. You can see a lot of book stores along the street. It's also a nice place to take pictures too.

6. Central Post Office
This post office is fully operational, but due to it's unique building architecture, it has become a tourist attractions from all over the world.

7. Saigon-Notre Dame Cathedral
Opposite Central Post Office, you will see this cathedral. There's nothing much to do here besides taking picture only.

8. Independence Palace
This palace is situated nearby Ben Thanh Market. You can reach here on foot. The building itself is huge. Do visit all level if you'd like to explore more on what each rooms/spaces cater for. There's bunker underground, and also rooftop. They also have cinema room! 😱

Entrance fee: VND40,000

9. War Remnant Museum
We didn't go here. Hence, no review for this. But according to my research, it is one of the must go attraction at HCMC. There's an entrance fee.

10. Ho Chi Minh City Hall
It's also located nearby Ben Thanh Market. You can reach here on foot.

11. Nguyen Hue Street
Street located in front HCMC Hall. There's a statue of their national hero, Ho Chi Minh.

12. Opera House
We just strolling and take picture of the Opera House only.

13. Ho Chi Minh Museum
We didn't go here also.

14. Russian Market
We didn't go here also.

15. Binh Tay Market
From Ben Thanh Market, there's a lot of bus going to Binh Tay. It is also known as Cho Lon. You can buy a lot of items/goods here for a lot cheaper price tag compared to Ben Thanh Market. They also sell clothes (kain ela) to make baju kurung. Most of the shops outside Binh Tay will sell ready-cut clothes with fixed 3.5 meter only. No worries, you can still get full baju kurung with 3.5 meter. They will only accept VND.

16. Thanh Durong Jamiul Islamiyah
One of the mosque in the city. It's relatively small, but I'm so proud to know even though there's not even 1% Muslim from their populations, there's a mosque here. There's a halal pho (Vietnamese cuisine) nearby the mosque.

17. Nguyen An Ninh/Malaysian Street
You'll see a lot of Malaysians here. Even the street vendor know how to converse in Malay. They also accept RM. There's a lot of halal restaurant nearby. At this street, you will see a lot of scarf, telekung, shawl from various brands; you name it with a very cheap price! It gets cheaper at night, you can get naelofar scarf for only RM6. This place is a shopping paradise for Malaysians.

18. Pham Ngu Lao/Backpacker Street
We just have a brief walk at Backpacker Street. There's a lot of pub, bar and hostel nearby. It is walking distance from Ben Thanh Market.

19. Sept 23 Park
We didn't go here.

20. Ben Thanh Market
Ben Thanh Market is one of the main attractions at HCMC. It is similar with our Malaysia Pasar Payang at Kuala Terengganu, Terengganu. They sold various things; from clothes, shirts, souvenirs, bags, suits, foods, etc. This market will closed at 7PM to give way for the night market to open.

How to know which bus to take?
You can use Google maps application. Choose your destination and click on the transit option. But once you get on the bus, open the normal maps. I tried using the transit features, but I missed our stops as it doesn't follow the real time route, but instead based on schedule. So sad. Owh, please make sure that you are on the right direction.

Where to find halal food?
1. Nguyen An Ninh/Malaysian Street (near Ben Thanh Market)
- The street is located at the left/west gate of Ben Thanh Market.
- There's plenty of halal food restaurant to choose from. Almost all restaurants here caters Muslim travelers; Halal Amin, Hajjah Basiroh, Haji Mansour, just to name few.
- Halal Amin is the cheapest and serve delicious Vietnamese pho compared to other restaurant. Average price for this restaurant is VND50,000 while other restaurant will charge you VND70,000 for similar menu.
- Plain water will only cost you VND5,000.
- If you want to try out their street foods, you can try their Vietnamese Bun known as Bahn Mi, bingka ubi, nasi lemak and murtabak.
- If you're craving nasi lemak, you can wait for one uncle with kopiah around 7-8AM. He will come and sell nasi lemak with his motorcycle. The taste is quite different from Malaysia's nasi lemak, but still, it taste quite oke. All menu sold by this uncle is RM4 or VND20,000.
- You should also try their famous Saigon coffee that the local are proud off. Its only RM3 or VND15,000.

2. Thu Khoa Huan (near Ben Thanh Market)
- Located at the north/back gate of Ben Thanh Market.
- There's one restaurant named D'Serai Classic Restaurant Halal and this restaurant is situated next to Ben Thanh Street Food Market. In Ben Thanh Street Food Market, you can find one halal stall that sell turkish kebab (VND50,000).
- If you go a little bit further, you can find another halal restaurant; Kampung Pandan.

3. Le Lai (near Ben Thanh Market)
- Situated along the main road; same road as Ben Thanh Market main entrance.
- There's one halal restaurant called The Daun Restaurant. For us, it is a bit overpriced compared to other restaurants nearby. We ordered pho and it cost us around VND100,000 each. That's twice the price from Halal Amin's pho.
- If you go straight down the Le Lai street, you will find two kebab stall; Turkish Kebab (VND25,000) and Roza Kebab & Coffee. You can also eat Lasani Restaurant which serves Indian food.

4. Pham Ngu Lao/Backpacker Street
- Located at Hem 28 Bui Vien Street.
- There's one halal restaurant called Hummus and Grill Halal Restaurant.

5. Hem 457 Tran Hung Dao (nearby mosque)
- Nearby Thanh Durong Jamiul Islamiyah.
- There's one halal stall named Pho Muslim. To go there, you need to walk a bit as it is located behind the mosque. For those who are not familiar with the area wouldn't know about this stall.

Where to perform prayer/solat?
1. Thanh Durong Jamiul Islamiyah
2. Halal Restaurant
- Almost all halal restaurant will provide you some space to perform prayer. Don't worry, they also provide prayer mat and telekung.

Should we bring empty water bottle for toilet purpose?
Almost all the attractions that we go provide toilet with water hose. But there's no water hose for public toilet, airport and shopping complex.

Where to shop?
This are places where I think might be the best places to shop.
1. Binh Tay Market aka Chinatown
2. Ben Thanh Market
3. Nguyen An Ninh aka Malaysian Street
4. Clothes factory

Is it worth to send clothes to the tailor?
Personally, I'd say no. We went to the recommended famous tailor shop that's been viral among Malaysians. Even though they promised to complete the clothes within 24 hours, well, they didn't deliver it on time. As for our case, they only manage to complete our clothes after 3 days, that's 72 hours. 😩 The charge itself is not cheap; RM50 for a blouse and RM70 for a pair of baju kurung. Both of it is without the material.

How to check-in flight from SGN?
Once you reach airport, go to 2nd floor. There's a monitor where it shows your flight number, take note on the second last column. It will display which gate to check-in. The counter will open for check-in three (3) hours before departure. Please note that there's no halal food inside, so, please tapao some food before coming to the airport.

Shocking Facts
1. There's no cemetery land. They will be buried on their own land. On your way to Mekong river, don't get shocked when you see tomb scattered at the paddy field.
2. There's total of more than 6 million motorcycle on the road in HCMC only. The cost of having/owning a car is so expensive, it might be twice or triple cost of having a car in another country. So did their fuel/petrol.
3. HCMC is jammed all the time. It is so crowded and cramped that even if your car is being scratched or dented, you can't do anything about it.
4. Crossing the road is like fighting for your life. They wouldn't even stop on red lights, so, be careful and take care of yourself.

Wonder how much we spent for this backpack travel? You can read the Total Cost for Backpack Travel to Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam. :)