Vietnam is a wonderful country with lovely people, and I had such a great time during my three weeks there. However though, there are some people who will try to scam you, and most of them are waiting outside of the arrival gates at Saigon Airport.
Arriving at Ho Chi Minh City airport can be daunting, especially when you are traveling from a European destination. As you come out of the airport there are so many people yelling “taxi, taxi”, trying to get you into their car.
I landed in Saigon in the evening, after a 12 hours flight from Madrid to Hong Kong, 10 hours spent sightseeing around Hong Kong and then another 2 hours flight from HK to Ho Chi Minh City. I didn’t manage to sleep at all on the continental flight, so I was pretty much knackered. I knew exactly how much the fare would be from the airport to the city but for some reason, I still managed to get scammed.
As I went out of the arrivals terminal, I headed towards the taxi ranks, knowing which two companies are trustful. This lady comes to me straight away, asks me where I’m going and pretty much almost shoves me into the cab standing in line. Little did I know she was involved in the scam and the real taxi ranks were a bit further up the road, not where she was standing.
The driver did not speak English but he had a meter, so I imagined I am in a proper taxi. To my shock however, as we reached the destination, he demanded 900,000 dongs (for a ride that shouldn’t have been more than maximum 200,000). Of course, I started to argue with him, telling him pointless that his meter is rigged and that the price was not fair. Unfortunately for me, I only had 500,000 bills, as the ATM didn’t give any smaller ones. He took it from my hand and refused to give me change. I threatened him with the police, and by this point he started driving slowly again. I refused to get out of the car until he gave me some change. In the end he pulled out his money and gave back a note. Now, you see, in Vietnam money is a bit confusing, especially when it’s your first day. 20,000 can easily seem 200,000. That was the card he played, he gave me a 20,000 back instead of a 200,000. I took it, got my bag and get out of the car, realising only later that there was a “0” missing.
As of January 2018: 23,000 dongs = 1 dollar.
What a horrible welcome to Vietnam… and it’s such a shame because all the other people I met in this beautiful country were kind and helpful!
Currency Exchange & ATMs at Ho Chi Minh City airport
As a rule of the thumb, do not exchange money in the airport, no matter where you are. The exchange rates are very poorly. Wait until you get into town and take money out from the ATM to pay for transport to your hotel.
There are 2 ATMs in the arrivals hall at Saigon airport: a City Bank and a BIDV one, facing each other. From the City Bank you can take out 10,000,000 dongs whilst from the BIDV only 3,000,000. ATMs in Vietnam do charge an extra fee, usually 3% of the amount you are taking out. The only one I found to have a lower fee, 1.5%, is Sacombank.
The Taxi Scams
There are two types of taxi scams at the airport, and if you haven’t pre-booked a car, the chances are that you will fall into one of them.
First, there’s the rigged meter – what happened to me. Because the Vietnamese currency has so many zeros, the meters won’t show the entire amount, so you never know if you are reading 10,000 or 100,000. If the meter changes too fast and the first digit of the number jumps higher and higher, then you are about to be scammed.
There are two legit taxi companies in Saigon: Vinasun and Mailinh. However, many others try to imitate them and brand their cars with Vimasun for example, using very similar logos and phone numbers. At the airport I simply would not risk getting into a metered cab again.
The second scam is when someone approaches you and offers a cheap ride into town. Of course, it’s much cheaper than the official rate, so you would be tempted to accept. As soon as you get into the car, the driver will ask you to pay in advance because they need to pay for the airport access. Beware, the airport access is 10,000 dongs only! The drivers might seem very friendly and chatty, but they are only trying to scam you. At the end of the ride they will quote you another amount, saying that what you already gave them was for the airport access.
How to get from the airport to the city without getting scammed:
Prebook a car:
The easiest way to get to Ho Chi Minh City from Tan Son Nhat International Airport is to pre-book a car. The driver will wait for you with a welcome board before driving you to your hotel, in an air-conditioned car. The service costs £7 and it’s by far the stress-free way to travel from the airport to the city. You can book the transfer here.
Book a car in the arrival’s hall for 220,000 dongs:
After you collect your luggage from the carousel and get out of the airport, you will pass through a corridor with a few yellow stands where you can book a car to the city for 220,000 dongs. If you don’t want to deal with the hassle of getting into town and you are prepared to pay a little more than a normal cab would charge you (160,000 dongs), then you should stop here and order a car to your hotel.
Take the local bus:
If you book a hotel in District 1, in the Pham Ngu Lao area (the backpackers’ zone), then you can easily take the bus from the airport. For only 20,000 dongs, this air-conditioned bus is a perfect low-cost hassle-free solution to avoid all the taxi scammers. On my second time at Saigon airport I took the bus and it couldn’t have been more convenient. The bus station is just behind the Biu Vien street, where most of the cheap hostels are concentrated around. It took me 5 minutes to walk to my hostel. The bus is a great option if you don’t have a lot of luggage and you are on a budget.
There are 3 buses that you can get at the airport:
Number 109, the yellow bus, operates from 5:30AM until 1AM and it takes between 30 and 45 minutes to reach the city centre, depending on the traffic. The cost of a ticket is 20,000 dongs which you can either buy in the station or on the bus. You can find the bus station as you come out from the airport, on the right hand side.
Number 49 is a shuttle bus that will drop you off directly to your hotel rather than in the central bus station. The fare for a one-way ride is 40,000 dongs and it runs from 05:30AM to 00:30AM, every 40 minutes. The bus also has free WiFi.
The green bus number 152 is Government operated and follows the same route as the yellow 109 but stops more often and it’s cheaper. A ticket costs 5000 dongs, with an extra 5,000 for every piece of luggage you have.
Call a Grab
Grab is the “Uber of Vietnam” and personally I have had great experiences every time I ordered one. However, in order to be able to order a bike or a car through Grab you need to be connected to a WiFi network or have a Vietnamese SIM card. Besides the price quoted in the app, remember that you will also need to pay an extra 10,000 dongs for the airport access.
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