Ho Chi Minh City has a two-tier tour industry, with older operations offering adventurous budget (and sometimes uncomfortable) options to the backpacker market, and a fledgling service catering to more upscale travelers. Reliability tends to come at a price. A number of companies offer city tours, on foot or by motorbike, and many reputable travel agencies can recommend an English-speaking guide to give you a personalized tour. Reliable new operators also offer food tours and bicycle tours. Day and multiday excursions outside of Ho Chi Minh City are easy to arrange, and an organized tour is the easiest option.
Back of the Bike Tours. Hop on the pillion of a motorbike for one of this company's three tours showcasing the city and the best of its street food. The company was set up by an American chef to share his love of Vietnamese street food with international visitors, and though he has now gone home, he left the business in the capable hands of his friend and fellow chef, Fred. Custom tours are also available, by bike, van, or car. Ho Chi Minh City, Ho Chi Minh City. 28/6298–5659; backofthebiketours.com. From 1,008,000d.
Buffalo Tours. A well-regarded travel and tour company, set up by a Hanoian doctor in 1994, Buffalo Tours offers day tours in and around Ho Chi Minh City as well as side trips to surrounding areas and longer itineraries throughout Indochina and Thailand. 157 Pasteur St., Ground fl., District 3, Ho Chi Minh City, Ho Chi Minh City. 28/3827–9170; www.buffalotours.com. Half-day tours start from 768,000d.
Cyclo Resto. If you're interested in a cyclo tour, the only way to avoid the super-scammy cyclo drivers that cruise downtown looking for victims is to go with an organized tour, such as the two-hour fixed price tours offered by this company. 6/28 Cach Mang Thang Tam St., District 1, Ho Chi Minh City, Ho Chi Minh City. 28/6680–4235; www.cycloresto.com.vn. 300,000d.
Exo Travel. This professional Asian-based tour company caters to discerning and adventurous travelers with a range of day and half-day tours, side trips from Ho Chi Minh City, and country and region-wide itineraries. Formerly known as Exotissimo, the company has tour desks in the lobby of the New World Hotel and the Sofitel and there's also small office at 41 Thao Dien Street in District 2. 261–263 Phan Xich Long St., Phu Nhuan, Ho Chi Minh City, Ho Chi Minh City. 28/3995–9898; 28/3995–9184; www.exotravel.com. From 660,000d for a half-day city tour.
Les Rives. Luxury speedboat tours of the Mekong Delta, the Cu Chi Tunnels, and Can Gio mangrove reserve are led by entertaining professional tour guides who forgo the places popular with budget tour operators in favor of taking small groups to interesting local areas. Going by boat makes these places, which are not always easy to access, seem much closer to Ho Chi Minh City. Tours include hotel pickup, as well as food and drinks. Options include the Cu Chi Tunnels by bicycle and boat, a Cu Chi tour that includes a cooking course, and a Vespa tour. Ho Chi Minh City, Ho Chi Minh City. 0128/592–0018; lesrivesexperience.com. From 1,700,000d.
Saigon and Cholon Heritage Tours. Historian and author Tim Doling leads two four-hour tours that trace Ho Chi Minh City's development from a Khmer fishing village to the current booming metropolis and Cholon's growth from a tiny Minh Hương settlement to the current sprawling Chinatown. These fascinating tours involve walking interspersed with minibus or car transportation. A minimum of three people are required for a tour to depart. Ho Chi Minh City, Ho Chi Minh City. 0128/579–4800; www.historicvietnam.com. 1,000,000d.
Saigon Cooking Class. Saigon Cooking Class by Hoa Tuc offers four-hour tours (on foot or by motorbike) that promise to unlock some of the city's street food secrets. The tours visit a market and small eateries in some of the lesser-known parts of Ho Chi Minh City. As the name suggests, cooking classes are also available. 74/7 Hai Ba Trung St., District 1, Ho Chi Minh City, Ho Chi Minh City. 28/3825–8485; saigoncookingclass.com. From 1,068,000d.
Saigon Street Eats. The Vietnamese-Australian couple who run these laid-back foodie tours really make you feel as if you're hanging out with friends who are keen to show you the best and tastiest parts of their city. Saigon Street Eats also caters to those who aren't keen on motorbikes, with a morning walking tour and a "scaredy-cat option" of taking taxis instead of motorbikes on their evening tours. Delicious, informative, and fun, the tours offer many insights into local life and Ho Chi Minh City's street food scene, which can be somewhat intimidating. Tours include pickups from most downtown hotels. Ho Chi Minh City, Ho Chi Minh City. 0908/449–408; www.saigonstreeteats.com. From 1,100,000d.
Saigon Tourist. One of Vietnam's oldest travel companies, Saigon Tourist is a government-owned conglomerate comprising eight travel service companies, 54 hotels, 13 resorts, and 28 restaurants. The main Saigon Tourist brand offers packaged tours throughout Vietnam and Indonchina, day tours, car (with driver) rental, visa services, and flight and accommodations bookings. 49 Le Thanh Ton St., District 1, Ho Chi Minh City, Ho Chi Minh City. 28/3827–9279; 28/3822–4987; www.saigontourist.net. from 1,046,000d for a half-day tour.
Saigon Tourist. budget office in Café Apricot:, 187A Pham Ngu Lao St., District 1, Ho Chi Minh City, Ho Chi Minh City. 28/835–4539; www.saigon-tourist.com.
Saigon Unseen. Set up by two Australians, both named Adam, who share a passion for Ho Chi Minh City and urban photography, Saigon Unseen offers three informative and photo-centric half-day tours of their adopted home. Tours include hotel pickups from most downtown hotels. Bookings are taken by email only. Ho Chi Minh City, Ho Chi Minh City. www.saigonunseen.com. From 534,000d.
The Sinh Tourist. One of the more reputable budget tour agencies in the backpacker area, the Sinh Tourist (formerly known as Sinh Café) offers a range of tours in and around Ho Chi Minh City ranging from day trips to Cu Chi and Vung Tau and longer intineraries to Cambodia or Hanoi. A full-day city tour includes visits to pagodas, Cholon, the Reunification Palace, and the War Remnants Museum. Walk-in prices are much cheaper than those advertised on the website, but be aware that you get what you pay for. 246–248 De Tham St., District 1, Ho Chi Minh City, Ho Chi Minh City. 28/3838–9597; www.thesinhtourist.vn. from 160,000d.
Sophie's Art Tour. These fascinating (even for philistines) four-hour art tours conducted by British art historian Sophie Hughes examine Vietnam's recent history through the eyes of its artists. The tour includes visits to private collections and galleries as well as the Ho Chi Minh City Fine Arts Museum, where Sophie points out the highlights, including the war artists, who needed less equipment than photographers to record the realities of the battlefield. The tour is just as much a stimulating narrative journey as it is a visual one. Family tours are also available on request. Ho Chi Minh City, Ho Chi Minh City. 0121/8303–742; sophiesarttour.com. 1,100,000d.
Stu's Explorer Club. One of the newest tour companies in town, Stu's Explorer Club, set up by British birder Stu Palmer, offers two-day jungle trips from Ho Chi Minh City. The two-day Rumbles in the Jungle, which can be done by self-driving a motorbike or taking a private car, includes a jungle trek, overnight camping, and a morning hike to a lake for a swim. Camping equipment, permits, hearty meals, and guide are all included. 0933/752–402; www.facebook.com/stuexplorerclub. 2,500,000d by private vehicle, 2,000,000d if self-driving (own motorbike required).
Vietnam Bike Tours. This is a reliable company that offers multiday bicycle tours from Ho Chi Minh City, as well half- and full-day trips around the city and to the Cu Chi Tunnels, Can Gio mangrove forest, the port city of Vung Tau, and the Mekong Delta. The outfitter also organizes the popular free Sunday Bike Ride, which departs every Sunday at 6:30 am from the Ben Thanh Market in District 1. 163–165 Tran Hung Dao St., Level 6, District 1, Ho Chi Minh City, Ho Chi Minh City. 28/6653–0372; www.vietnambiketours.com. From 3,374,000d per person.
XO Tours. The initials stand for xe om (motorbike taxi) but these are motorbike taxi tours with a difference—all the tour guides are female, dressed in the traditional ao dai, and offering in-depth local knowledge with a unique perspective. Choose from a shopping tour, a foodie tour, or a highlight-of-the-sights tour, all of which are fun, friendly and informative. Hotel pickups are included in the price. Ho Chi Minh City, Ho Chi Minh City. 0933/083–727; xotours.vn. From 855,000d.