The views over the Ho Chi Minh city were simply fantastic. Irrespective of you go to mekong delta or not, you need to atleast see the mekong delta from the airplane.
The Ho Chi Minh airport is relatively smaller in size but quite modern in amenities. There is also a priority pass lounge available.
On arrival visa office is located on the right side just before the immigration check. You will see clear signs in English so just follow them.
On arrival Visa is very easy and smooth. Visa fees $50. If you don’t have a photograph, fear not the people at the visa office will click it. The officials are very friendly and helpful.
It was not crowded at all, I was positioned at 10-11 in the queue and I got a visa within 10 minutes. The process is simple: Stand in a queue, submit the documents, you will be called, pay the fees and get your visa. Done!
No questions, no objections were raised by the visa officers. I booked the accomodation only for the first day and used it as my address in vietnam in the Vietnam on arrival visa application form.
The official offered me the small return (about $20) in VND but I refused as the exchange was not good. She obliged and gave me the change back in dollars then.
There are a no. of ATMs located just outside the airport building. ATMs have a withdrawal fees There are several money exchanges as well. The money exchanges don’t have a ‘fee’ and the rates are very good.
Public transport in Ho Chi Minh city is very good. The airport has an excellent connectivity by Bus with the city center.
I caught the bus# 152 from just outside the airport terminal. It takes around 30-40 minutes to get to the city depending on the traffic. The bus is pretty basic, has a/c, not crowded at all and clean. Driver understands just enough English to take you to your destination. Ticket is incredibly cheap and costs only 5000/- dongs. You may or may not be charged extra for luggage (upto a max of 5000 dongs), i had a big hand bag and I paid nothing extra.
Alternatively, you can take bus no.109 which takes you from the airport to the bus station in Pham Ngu Lao, the center of the city. The bus 109 is slightly more comfortable than 152 bus also costs a little bit more in comparison (20,000 Dongs = ~$1).
You can take the same buses, 109 and 152 while going back from Ho Chi Minh city center to the airport. The buses go via Ben Thanh market.
The traffic in Ho Chi Minh is just fine, it’s not terrible at all! Traffic in Hanoi in comparison is worse.
Not only rent but you can also buy and sell motorbikes in Vietnam. A popular thing to do if to go on an adventure road trip from Ho Chi Minh to Hanoi, and to sell the motorbike once you are there.
Cu chi tunnel: Give it a skip. It’s a tourist trap. Visit only if you have nothing else to do in the city.
Mekong Delta: It is very much possible to draw up your own itinerary and go on mekong delta trip all by yourself. You can book the accommodation online, rent a motorbike or travel by public bus. Traveling by public bus is not difficult but you need to do your research before hand as locals hardly understand English.
If you are short on time or just want to get over it, take the day trip (or 2/3 days trip) to Mekong delta which is sold by every other hostel/ hotel and also the tour companies. As always ask at couple of places to get the cheapest prices. Remember these tour companies are just a front or agents who sell tickets, the actual trip is organized by few companies and all these agents sell more or less the same tours for a commission.
The best place to stay in the city is Bùi Viện, right in the heart of Ho Chi Minh. Bùi Viện is somewhat like Khao San road of Bangkok. Dare I say even more colourful than the latter. Bùi Viện are has everything that a traveller would want: plenty of cheap accommodation, shopping marts (711 clones), restaurants for every budget and every food preferences (including vegetarians), coffee-shop, bars & pubs, and a loud, exploding night scene. Truly a backpacker’s paradise.
Pham Ngu Lao runs parallel to Bùi Viện and is also a very good area to stay.
The public bus from airport drops your very close to Bùi Viện. Just let the driver know and he would help you out.
Ben Thanh market
You’d find branded Minimart everywhere in Ho Chi Minh city, particularly around the Bùi Viện area. These minimarts are open round the clock and also sell alcohol. For the best prices head to Vinmart, other marts can’t match its cheap prices.
Non vegetarians would be spoiled for choice, even better if you eat sea food. You can eat as cheap as you want, depending on where you prefer to eat. Eat at the small food joints where you’d only see local sitting on plastic stools, to get the maximum bang for your buck.
The trademark dish of Vietnam is Pho (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/PHO), which is basically a noodle soup – usually made a beef or chicken. Vegetarian variety is also available at select places.
Vegetarians are at disadvantage as usual. If you want to try Pho, visit restaurant chains like Pho 2000 or Pho 24, bit pricier but much cleaner imho. To find a list of Vegetarian/ vegan only restaurant head to https://www.happycow.net/.
Spring roll is a must try, and the vegetarian one is delicious as well. Rice paper roll are great too, except they are not crispy as spring roll.
Drinks are cheap, and when I say cheap, I mean really, really cheap. The best way is to drink like local, You can grab a corona for as cheap as 38k Dongs from minimart (In VinMart)
Surprise, surprise! Vietnam is known for its coffee and is currently ranked 2nd in the coffee production! (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_coffee_production)
Vietnamese coffee is drank cold. It’s incredibly easy to make: Add condensed milk and ice cube to the freshly brewed coffee, stir well and tada… your Vietnamese coffee is ready!
Strictly avoid Highlands Coffee, the supposedly upscale coffee chain which is spread like mushroom after the rain. Coffee at Highlands can be best described as bland and an insult to Vietnamese coffee. Seriously, can you imagine drinking Indian chai tea in a luxury hotel? Instead head to small shops where locals usually go.