Motorcycle, Ho Chi Minh City
General advice on these guys; on the whole they are reliable and safe, I always look for the oldest bike mainly because with foreigner on the back they can't go fast. Late at night is not a good time to use them, especially around Phan Ngu Lao, there are lots of reports of dodgy dealings so either use one you know (used before) or get a taxi.
BTW: Xe means motorbike and Om is cuddle, cuddle bike because you have to hold on for dear life, also check for BO before you get on.
I face bumper to bumper traffic everyday but it nothing compared to Ho Chi Minh City! Motorcycles are everywhere, including on the sidewalks. I saw accidents everyday I was in Vietnam but since the city speeds are not very fast the damage was minor.
The Vietnamese are incredible drivers. They have to be to make the system work. Cars are not too common but it seems everyone owns a small motorcycle or at least a bicycle. People are very adept at carrying everything on them. On various motorcycles I saw air conditioners, a 2 1/2x5 foot sheet of glass, a mannequin, and up to 5 people at once all being transported.
Other driving techniques I noted were;
During quiet hours people do not stop for red lights. We took a couple of early morning cab rides and not once did the drivers stop for red lights, just blew the horn and sped on through.
People turning right do not stop they keep going and just merge into traffic.
Use your horn for everything!
Whether you decide to join in simply watch from a street side café I really think it is the best show in town!
For many first arrivals to HCMC, crossing the streets in HCMC is a most daunting frightening task as the flow of motorbikes never seems to stop....and they really never do (as nobody really cares about traffic rules). The trick is, WALK ACROSS SLOW AND WITH CONFIDENCE. Most of the drivers do not really bike fast, so they will steer clear of you. Traffic will just part aside around you. There's a mutual understanding between pedestrian and motor-bikers. Don't let the avalanche of motorbikes scare you.
Most people in Saigon use small motorbikes which are called "xeom" but they'll often call them a "moto". You will often see whole families on these bikes with groceries and other assorted stuff. The most people that I saw on a bike was 5 and I've heard of people seeing 7 people on one bike. You can hail a bike as a taxi anywhere in the city and the price is often between $1 to $3 depending on your barganing skills.
Please note that it is technically illegal to have more than 2 people on a bike. Helmets are now required as well but most people refuse to wear the "rice cookers".
The small motorbikes used by the vast majority of Saigonese to get around are referred to as "Hondas", although they are many brands. They cost about $400. USD and there are over 1 million of them in Saigon's streets.
You can hail a motorbike "taxi", or, as I did, ride on the back of a friend's bike. It was initially scary, but gradually I settled into the chaos that is driving in Saigon. See the link for the facts about the dangers.
You can also see that many people wear masks to protect from the pollution. Helmuts are now required in some areas, but people have been slow to comply, calling them "rice cookers".
Undoubtely the best way to move around the city. There are, in fact, little cars in Saigon, but the motorbikes are enough to make huge traffic jams in a noisy atmosphere.
You don?t have to rent one to experience this way of transport: many locals will offer you a ride in their own bikes as you walk by the city. They are not oficial taxis or so, just people who want to eran some extra money.Bargain first, and don?t pay more than 1 USD for any ride!
Travelling by Motorcycle is the best way to travel around Ho Chi Minh City. It is much faster than taking a taxi. Although at first it may seem a bit dodgy not wearing a helmet, urban speeds never seem to exceed 40-50 km/h, so if problems arise you have plenty of time to react and land safely. I personally had no problems at all.
Hiring a motorcycle taxi is easy, just walking down the street is a sure way of someone calling out after you. Negotiate the fare BEFORE hopping on the back. Don't pay in US Dollars, pay in Dong. If the fare being offered appears far too high just walk away - this will certainly result in a lower offer. Prices in tourist areas (i.e. Ben Thanh market and Dong Khoi) will always be much higher. If your trip is short into these areas you can ask the driver to return to pick you up, or wait for you for a bit more money. If you speak in Vietnamese this sometimes helps bring the fare down a bit.
The traffic in Saigon(HCMC) is nothing I've ever seen before in my life! As I watched locals hurrily make their way through countless busy intersections and congested roads and streets, I watched in awe. The rule of the road is fairly simple in Saigon: if there's room, then you proceed; Yes, even if it means claiming the sidewalks...hahaha....My point being...If you think you can handle the kind of traffic with people recklessly maneuvering their way around you. Then by all means purchase or rent a motor scooter (usually 125cc) and take the traffic head on. I'm not sure about renting motor scooters in this city, but a new and decent scooter (Chinese made model, Japanese made model is a lot more) is about 5.2 Million VND which equates to roughly $300-350 USD.
Frankly, Saigon traffic scares me. However, after a while, you'll get used to it. Eventually I got up the nerves to ride a motorbike around, and it was actually kinda fun.
Crossing the streets here requires a leap of faith. You just have to take a deep breath, close your eyes, and lunge forward (I'm exaggagerating a little, but not much). You're like an island, and traffic sort of flows around you.
You probably can just walk if you're staying in the city center, where most landmarks are within walking distance. You can always hail a cab. We typically spent around VND50000 (around USD3.5) to go from the suburbs to the city center.
An alternate mode of transportation is riding on the back of someone's motorbike. Many of them stand at street corners offering rides. A ride is typically 3 times cheaper than what taxis cost, and you get to feel like a local. However, they don't wear helmets (though new laws may change this), so make sure you're comfortable with the idea. With motorbikes, you should discuss the price before hopping on.
Most of the drivers only need to be told where to go and they'll take you there. Unless you mispronounce badly.
Honda Om. This is how you refer to hitching a ride on the back of a local's motorcycle. This is also an inexpensive way to see the city, and a little faster than a cyclo...but hold on, some of these guys are crazy!
On the sidewalk in small "parking lots" -- sometimes roped off as this one was near our hotel and sometimes there is just a bunch of bikes and a person to take your money.
Going around HCM using motorcycle (or xeom) would cost only 5,000 Dong. People in xeom who are taking passengers are usually wearing a cap.