Ho Chi Minh City (young people in Vietnam prefer to call it by its original name, Saigon) is a good place to head to for an under-RM1000 weekend trip. Why not longer? It’s a great city, but personally I can only handle the traffic noise in small doses. This was my third trip to Vietnam, but first to Saigon.
My 3 days 2 nights Saigon trip was cheap- just RM958. Even cheaper than my 3 days 2 nights Langkawi trip! Saigon is good for ballin’ on a budget 🙂 There are eight savings tips in this post.
The currency is Vietnamese Dong. RM1 is roughly 5,000VND. Can’t lie, holding a million Dongs in one hand made me chuckle.
Saigon Trip Overview
You can get one-way flight tickets to Ho Chi Minh City from as low as RM40 during the AirAsia sales. But I didn’t book in advance, so I paid about RM300 return for Malindo Air flights. Worth it, considering they include checked baggage and some refreshments in the price.
Accommodation-wise, there are a lot of options. Good budget hotels can be found for as little as RM50 per night, while good hotels start from RM250 or so. I wanted comfort on this trip, and booked a RM300/night hotel that came with a small kitchen, a bathtub, and an amazing view of the river. It was also ~15 minutes away from city centre. Still found the location noisy despite the distance.
This was my hotel’s welcome note. Check out the last two points. This is how I know sex tourism is common in Saigon.
Food is a bit hard to find for Muslims. Pork dishes are insanely popular, halal/vegetarian food is mostly Indian and Middle-Eastern. I had Banh Canh Cua (Shrimp and Crab Noodle Soup) twice on this trip because my tour guide said they don’t contain pork/chicken/beef, but after coming back found out they usually use pork/chicken stock for the soup. Alamak. It’s ok, no sin if didn’t know, I tried. It was delicious though, I’m sad I can’t have it again 🙁
A bowl at stalls like these cost about 40,000VND (~RM8) including iced chrysanthemum tea and that cakoi-like thing.
Savings tip 1: Get promo flight tickets if you can. I selected my flights on Google Flights, but booked via Expedia Flights+Accommodation package via Shopback (note: referral link) for the RM55 cashback.
Savings tip 2: Use a cashback credit card, and layer them as much as you can. I got 5% cashback from my credit card. Read my how to layer in my cashback credit card article here.
Day 1 – Arrival to Saigon
Even though I arrived at Tan Son Nhat Airport at about 4.30pm local time, immigration clearance, waiting for luggage and buying a SIM card took almost one hour. I booked a motorbike tour and was supposed to meet the tour guide at the hotel by 6pm! Got Uber working fairly quickly and booked a ride.
Thankfully made it in time. My guide, Yang, is a 23-year-old university student who took the job to improve her English skills. She took me to a riverside location with a great view, brought me for a Vietnamese meal and dessert, then a bar on Traveller’s Street. I got to experience what Vietnam is famous for – it’s motorbike-filled roads. I highly recommend it! Her company was pleasant. It was informal, like hanging out with a friend. Yang is an opinionated young adult and I enjoyed the conversations.
The bar part was weird. There were high school students drinking alcohol and they had drug devices on their table. I saw at least two inhalers wtf. The girls were dancing sexily to DJ’s mix and one made suggestive winks to my travel companion all night long. They reminded me of Gossip Girls except that they’re Asian and don’t look grown up at all. Later I found out that the only reason why we went there was because it was next to another bar known for its live shows, and that one was full. I found the experience interesting anyhow.
Savings tip 3: Buy a SIM card with data. Something like 3/5GB of data plan will last for a month, and they cost from 105,000VND (~RM21). The counter on the furthest left has the best price, but the line can be long. I got mine for 150,000VND from another booth just to skip the long queue.
Savings tip 4: Saigon has both Uber and Grab, which are way cheaper than local taxis. There are two options: Motorbike and car. Motorbike is roughly about 25-30% the price of car fares, but of course only for one passenger. Use them – I went to Vietnam (Hanoi) twice before this Saigon trip, and was scammed once (driver took the longer route) and almost scammed another time (took a motorbike taxi and midway he told me the 20,000 VND ride was actually 200,000 VND. I walked away mid-ride). Ridesharing apps are probably the safest way to travel around Saigon. Cash is accepted.
Savings tip 5: I booked the Saigon at night motorbike tour from via Triip.me. It’s a website that connects travellers and local tour guides. Usually a half-day tour is about $30-50 and above, but I got it for $15 from this website. There are many different types of experiences offered, including bizarre food trips and tea/coffee tasting.
Day 2 – Exploring Saigon City
Took an Uber from the hotel to city centre. First things first, coffee. Vietnam coffee is delicious and available everywhere. Picked a coffee shop with a lot of locals, was not disappointed. 38,000 VND (~RM8) for Iced Coffee with Milk. Surprisingly expensive, but good.
Then I just walked around. Visited Notre Dame Cathedral, the post office, Ben Thanh Market. Had lunch there and bought a pack of chopsticks for 100,000VND, bargained down from 200,000VND (~RM20 from ~RM40). It was on my buy list anyway, and gosh it’s pretty <3 EDIT: The chopsticks turned out to be a shit buy. It’s decorative, not practical.
This is the post office with the portrait of Ho Chi Minh, the namesake of Ho Chi Minh City. His embalmed body is in Hanoi, if you’re into that sort of thing.
Saigon is undeniably charming. It’s very French-meet-Japan-meet-Southeast Asia, and a great place to simply explore. Go through small alleyways and find random coffee shops. Cross the roads and have motorbikes and cars swerve around you. Mind the traffic, keep your purse in front of you and apply common sense – you should be OK.
Then took an Uber to Pham Ngu Lao Street. Picked a good spot – it was Saturday and there was a street market going on in front of Sense Market (an underground mall). I got a mango from a roadside vendor for 20,000VND (~RM4). Did not die, but results may vary. I saw quite a few rats on the streets.
Savings tip 6: Save for truly local/rural areas, Pham Ngu Lao Street is where you want to be for cheap rooms, massages, food, drinks and souveniers. If you don’t stay there, go there.
Day 3 – Travel back to KL
My flight was at 4.25pm. I was there by 11.30am wtf. Received a fake tip about needing to be at the airport five hours beforehand. Annoyed, but too early is better than too late. Still, -_- At least I managed to try banh mi with sardine filling (35,000VND/ RM7). The baguette itself was amazing, but the filling was meh.
I had a leisurely morning though. Hotel’s buffet breakfast was basic, but for some reason there was rice and kimchi, so I gobbled that. Vietnamese yoghurt is yummy (try it!) and goes well with fresh fruits. There was a grocery store near the hotel, I got some condiments. Bought another iced coffee at a local cafe for 15,000VND (RM3). It was nowhere near as good as the first one.
Uber from hotel to airport was 150,000VND. Surge pricing. Airport to hotel was 90,000VND.
Savings tip 7: Good coffee will be a bit more expensive – pay for them. I threw away the 15,000VND one after like three sips. It tasted like gasoline.
Savings tip 8: Coffee makes good souveniers. Buy coffee grounds/packets at grocery stores. The airport charges much more. I saw one brand at double the price.
Total cost for my Saigon trip
Total damage for this trip was just RM958, excluding return ride from house to airport. You can make that even cheaper with cheaper flights, budget hotels and DIY tours. Breakdown of expenses in the table below.
I can recommend Saigon for a short weekend trip. If you’ve been, do you have any other money-saving tips? If you haven’t, what do you want to know?
Please share this if you find it useful, thanks!
|Flight tickets (Expedia)
|Airport to Hotel (return, Uber)||600,000 VND (~RM120)||240,000VND (~RM48)|
|Food & Drinks||400,000VND (100,000VND per meal x 4 meals)
|SIM card||100,000VND (~RM20)||150,000VND (~RM30)|
|Shopping/Entertainment/Souveniers||1,000,000VND (~RM200)||750,000VND (~RM150)|