Getting from Ho Chi Minh’s Tan Son Nhat Airport to the business end of town – that’s District 1 to you and me folks – should be cinch. The airport is located a mere 6km from the centre of town and transportation options are myriad.
The impression that some travellers form of Vietnam as a nation populated by money-grabbing rip-off merchants is, however, often caused by the often-unfortunate welcome they receive upon passing through customs.
Vietnam is an endlessly rewarding destination, but it is often chaotic and the lack of a coherent infrastructure is especially apparent at Tan Son Nhat. Stick to a few simple rules of thumb, however, and you should be alright. There are a number of taxi firms that ply the route between the airport and town, but the two most reputable (remember this for future reference while you are in the city too) are Mai Linh and Vinasun.
A meter taxi with one of these two shouldn’t cost more than VND120,000 (around $6) from the airport to downtown or to the backpacker enclave of Pham Ngu Lao. Often, however, there’s a large queue or none of the aforementioned companies can be found. If that’s the case, you’ll need to use your bargaining powers or organise a taxi at the desks inside the terminal.
Drivers will likely start things off at a whopping $15 but it should be simple enough to get them down somewhere around the right price. Even if you can’t get them below $10, it’s not a huge amount to pay in the bigger scheme of things and they don’t tend to stiff you if a price is agreed beforehand.
Other options include getting a xe om (motorbike taxi). This, however, involves a walk to the entrance of the airport – not usually what the doctor ordered on arrival in a strange destination. If you are on a tight budget, however, this option should set you back no more than VND60,000 (around $3).