Bui Vien location
Bui Vien is the street to be in Ho Chi Minh City, by locals still called Saigon. Its location is quite far from the airport. When you catch a motorbike taxi just outside the airport compound, they will charge you around 100.000 VND (Dong), with an exchange rate of nearly 22.000 dong for $1 makes that just under $5. A normal taxi will probably cost you more, especially when you know the crazy traffic in Saigon of which you can read more in another post on this site. A Grab will cost you a bit less. Those who go to Pham Ngu Lao (Fam Nu Lau) need to be around the corner of Bui Vien.
Bui Vien has the reputation to be the nightlife scene of Saigon. They even hung a light above the street when you enter at one side with the text Bui Vien Walking Street, with a Vietnamese hat next to it. An obvious link to or copy of Pattaya’s Walking Street in Thailand. The differences are plenty though. Bui Vien walking street is full with cars and motorbikes. Even in the night time. It takes away a lot of the charming effect of what could be a great idea for a famous nightlife tourist area. You can walk, but not in the middle of the road and not without paying attention.
The reputation of Bui Vien is to be a backpacker area. But when you see today’s prices, it can hardly be called cheap any longer. Most beers cost between $1.5 & $2 a small bottle or can. Most of the restaurants and bars charge between $4 & $7 for just a snack. That’s equal or more than at many places in Thailand. To give you a comparison, a Ban Chau ‘pancake’ cost $4 as where it cost max $2 in Cambodia. Another part of the reputation of Bui Vien is the hassle. You can hardly walk or sit without being hassled by sellers of sunglasses, Zippo’s and any other thing you can think of. In nearly 20 years time, nothing has changed regarding this issue. Some might call that charming and a part of Vietnam. Others find it clearly disturbing.
Massage belongs a bit to southeast Asian countries. Women and girls on the sidewalks asking almost every passerby if they want a massage. Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia, Malaysia, you meet them all over the place. The girls in Bui Vien come walk to you when you’re still 20 meters away. Some are quite pushy. Pull you on your arm. Many decide to block your way by standing in front of your feet and tell you to listen 1 minute to their offers. The price is around $7 for an hour full body massage. In case you want a happy end, you will need to discuss that (price) probably inside as it’s not printed on their menu cards.
Bars, Hotels & Agencies
What Bui Vien exist of are bars, hotels and agencies, with some restaurants too, but often they are a combination of a bar/club and a restaurant. Find local small restaurants or street stalls for the cheaper Pho (noodle soup), but big chance that you will still be hungry after that. All the bars/clubs bring a lot of noise in the evening. Plenty of hotels are available in Bui Vien, but a quiet room won’t be a guarantee. Prices can be around $15 – $25 a night. For tours to the Mekong Delta ($12 a day), or the Vietcong tunnels at Cu Chi, there are plenty of agencies on and around Bui Vien, just as supermarkets.
Overall it’s nice to have seen Bui Vien, but it’s recommendable to take a hotel just a bit outside. It has little to do with traditional authentic Saigon or Vietnam. For backpackers and youth it’s more of a place than for older people. The Walking Street idea is a joke. The prices are touristic. The positive thing of Bui Vien is that there is a free wifi network, although written in Vietnamese language it can be hard to log-in. You can’t really compare, but the old French Quarter in Hanoi has character and traffic ban. This makes Bui Vien in some ways overrated, although worth to visit.
An impression video can be seen here https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VWYCINzrw7s