When you leave the airport an official-looking guy will wave you to a blue taxi on the left (last time I went there was a line of these guys, from the airport door to the taxi rank, so everyone goes that way, of course). That will cost you US$9, at least. Instead, turn right for a few steps and cross over to the yellow cabs - US$4. That's the standard charge from the airport to downtown.
All the tips on taxis overcharging so far are based on tourist experience. You need to know that there are licensed and "private" cabs. Licensed cabs have company names printed prominently and the last 6 numbers (company tel no) are always in a pattern. Eg (08) 8 383838. Even these licensed cabbies bring you for a long ride at times. The biggest culprits are "private" unlicensed cabs - they have small stickers (some camouflage themselves so well that they look like the licensed cabs), no patterns in their tel no, and meters that have been tweaked to go at double the rate.
Unique Suggestions: The AIRPORT : The new HCMC airport opened in Aug 2007. It's much nicer and less intimidating than the old one. No longer will you be able to move out to hail the cheaper taxis. Instead, the various taxi companies post their own "guides" who will try to get you on to their cabs at the highest price. So you have to bargain around and see which will give you the best price. Determine the price before you board so that you are not brought on a long ride.
GENERALLY : I always take Taxi Vinasun because they maintain a very professional standard and I have never been ripped off by a Taxi Vinasun. And there are many white-&-green Taxi Vinasun cabs around. Next is the yellow Vinataxi - also quite reliable. The blue Savico-Comfort ripped me off twice in a row and Saigon Tourist once.
Please refer to the following site for more details on taxis in HCMC and on how to distinguish between the real and imitation cabs!!!
Fun Alternatives: You can always hire a car with driver (from one of the travel companies in Pham Ngu Lao) for about 800,000-1 mil VND to bring you around for a whole day (8 hrs). I did that when I had a big group of 7-8. Convenient and value for money.
The adventurous will rent a motorbike but I've yet to try - not that adventurous.
You can get on the local illegal motor bikes alias "xe om" or "Honda om" (about 10,000-15,000VND for short distances within town) - well, it depends on your bargaining skills but always determine price first. And you ride at your own risk! But with the new compulsory helmut law coming in Dec 07, I doubt if I'll be taking any more of these xe oms - God knows how many hundred people would have used the helmuts these xe oms provide.
We wanted to buy a handbag on Friday/Saturday at Ben Thanh Market and we were quoted US10 after much haggling (the inital price was US$15). We decided not to buy. Then when we went on Sunday afternoon - we were pleasantly surprise that the vendor agreed to sell the same handbag for US$7. That was a marked difference.
Unique Suggestions: I cannot assume that this is widespread at Ben Thanh Market but looks like the vendors would not budge on the prces if it is Friday/Saturday as there will be so many tourist who would be willing to pay the price quoted as they would be leaving by Sunday.
So be wise and shop on Weekdays.... when there is slim pickings for the vendors
Fun Alternatives: Visit Andong Market
The one and only eating place at HCMC international airport is an absolute rip-off. Everything is priced in US dollars, which is very annoying. A sandwich I had there was US$4 and a bottle of water was an incredible US$2. I was so hungry and thirsty, that I forked out the cash. The prising of stuff in HCMC is annoying when it's in US dollars. Ofcourse, the locals think that all tourists are rich, but when you're not from the States, Japan, or Europe, a few US dollars can add up to too much!
Fun Alternatives: Make sure you get something to eat before you get to the airport, or if you can hold on, wait till you get on the plane.
We got into a cab after we left the airport, and started haggling with the cabbie about the cab fare. In the end, we agreed to pay USD7 (we had not changed our money into the Vietnamese Dong yet, we only had USD with us then). Just before we reached our hotel, the cabbie stopped and insisted that we pay him the fare. We sensed that something was amiss, but paid up anyway. Satisfied, he then drove us to the hotel.
We soon realised that we were over-charged...the amount is no big deal, really, but it really sucks to have been cheated on the first day..just after arrival...If we had paid the original amount he wanted, we would feel worse!
Always insist on travelling in a metered taxi, and get the cabbie to switch on the meter! Most cabbies in HCMC are ok, but some of them would try to over-charge tourists at the airport.
Staying at Omni Saigon, we knew that a cab ride from District 1 only costs 48,000 dongs (eq. USD 3). We were trying to go to the War Remnant Museum from Ben Thanh Market (Dist. 1), which is a much much much shorter distance that cannot be more than how much we pay to go back to hotel. The driver insisted that, according to the meter, I should pay 100,000 dongs or 8 USD as he quoted. He pointed to the few un-used digits space on the meter where numbers weren't even shown and insisted that those should be counted. I refused to pay what he asked for and told my friend to get off the car first. The driver tried to grab me from his seat. I yelled at him immediately and ran off after throwing in a few notes that added up to approximately 10,000 dongs which was what shown as I saw from meter. Polices were around but not helpful.
Unique Suggestions: We were totally freaked out and forgot to write down the company name. All I remember it was a small Toyota that looks a bit old, the company logo on the door is relatively small to be even "eye-catching". Suggested fellow tourists to ride the newer taxi van which usually have their logo stickers big enough to cover half of the taxi door. Also, remember the taxi id which is usually a 3-digit number printed inside the taxi. Taxi companies suggested by hotel are Vina Taxi or Mai Linh Taxi.
Fun Alternatives: Ride the hotel shuttle if available
Overpricing is a -ve point in Vietnam. if you are a foreigners, especially people with golden hair, american and japanese tend to have thier disadvantage here. 2 things to note, they goods from the trips to the bags, soveniers, t-shirts are all over price. Make sure you cut 40% off their usual tag price. If not dun buy and its really not clever to buy things in USD. Always ask for DONG.
Beware of paying too much at the markets especially if you're a first timer to Vietnam...I paid $12 US for an item last year and this year was offered the same thing for $3!!!!! Incidentally, I thought $12 was a fair price!!
Fun Alternatives: Don't buy at the first stall no matter how tempting. Walk away and the price will all of a sudden be reduced.
On one occasion at the famous Ben Thanh market, my friend and i were interested in buying a man utd replica jersey. To our shock, we were quoted $68!!! Luckily for us we did not fall for the trap and bought it for $10 instead. This experience just makes me wonder how many ppl have been duped to pay such extravagant prices.
Looks like even the reputable Vinasun taxi has gone down in reputation. My friend and I followed a local friend's advice faithfully and only took Vinasun or Mailinh cabs while at HCM. But 95% of those we took tried to get more payment from us!
The cab from the airport wanted USD 8 for a ride to our hotel in Cong Guynh street. I paid him USD 10 upon getting down and he did not even bother to look for change and was about to walk away! He only grudgingly looked into his wallet after we asked him where our change was. And he gave me 20,000 dong, which was worth only USD 1++! Other drivers adopted this attitude as well, refusing to give us our change.
The scariest experience was with a lady driver! Upon stopping at the street in front of our hotel, she turned and looked at us with this devilish look and demanded 20,000 dong (the meter read 16,200 dong). When we asked why, she kept repeating herself in Vietnamese. When we gave her 16,200 dong exact, she threw the 200 dong to the floor of the cab in a gesture that was eerily graceful, in a witch-like manner. She also kept trying to reach out to our wallets. We saw a security guard nearby and wanted to ask for help. She then looked somewhat frightened, but still demanded some money. I gave her 2000 dong more and we left. Before we left, we memorized the license plate number. Upon reaching our hotel, we related our predicament to our receptionist, who helped us lodge a complaint with the Vinasun company.
So beware! Not even Vinasun is safe now, if you do not look or speak Vietnamese.
Unique Suggestions: Be firm. Most drivers will be frightened if you stand up to your rights and refuse to pay more than you are entitled to. Try to look for outsiders such as security guards for help. And do memorize the license plate number and get your Vietnamese friend/ hotel staff to lodge a complaint to the taxi company.
The cabby picked me and my mum up in front of ben thanh market, heading back for our apartment in district 1, which was not very far away. Normally the whole trip would cost us only about 20,000 dong. However, shortly after we got onto the cab, the meter jumped to 23,000 dong. The cabby took a route that was unfamiliar to the both of us, so we did not know where he was supposed to be heading, until when he drove to a park, where the apartment was just down the road. However, instead of just heading straight for the apartment, he made a left turn and drove further and further away. My mum asked him if he knew where the place was, which he insisted he did, and mumbled some things in vietnamese which we did not understand. In the end, we told him to stop the cab when the meter read 54,500 dong, which is obviously a ripoff since the trip from the airport to the apartment only cost about 60,000 dong. We paid him 50,000 dong and then took another cab back to the apartment for about 17,000 dong. The license plate number of the cheating cab was 0533.
This place stands out because of the location right on the corner and for the neon sign on the top of the smoking buffalo. Now be warned this and the Go Too bar across the street are the most expensive ones in this area. Now don't get me wrong for a foreigner it's still cheap, but when you get charged 52,00 dongs for a beer about $2.50 US for a beer and just down the street they charge 10,000 dongs about .50 US cents then you'll realize that this place is overpriced. The touts that stand outside also are annoying, they surround you and try to get you into there area's !!! Also be alert when you pay that you get the right amount back !!!!
As it was only a short trip to Pham Ngu Lao, I agreed to a price of 15,000 dong. As we travelled the cycle driver was very friendly and we had a brief conversation. When we arrived at the destination, the cyclo driver insisted on 150,000 dong! His manner and expression changed and he was quite threatening.
Unique Suggestions: There is not much you can do to avoid this unpleasantness as there can be no forewarning. Just pay the cyclo driver what you initially agreed.
Don't be fooled by the prices they tell you, especially in markets. My tourguide told me to ask for 30-40% discounts. It's a good thing i asked for more since they double or triple their prices, just like in China.
You find these souvenir shops all around Asia. The prices are about double the price outside. The tour guide gets a commission for just bringing you to these shops. Don't buy anything, but if you must, buy some small stuff like a keychain or fridge magnets costing about US$1 to US$2. Otherwise, just note down whatever items you like and try to find them at Ben Than Market.
Unique Suggestions: For just entering this shop, you'll get a free mini plastic fan which is useful during the hot season. This particular shop is in Chinatown.