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 sometimes 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 1,000,000d.
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. District 3, Ho Chi Minh City, Ho Chi Minh City. 28/3827–9170; www.buffalotours.com. Half-day tours from 768,000d.
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.
Grain. This state-of-the-art cooking studio was created by Australian celebrity chef Luke Nguyen, who aims to demystify Vietnamese cuisine. Grain offers two three-hour cooking sessions a day, with wine pairing on request, during which guests create a four-course meal. Private sessions and team building events can also be organized. Level 3, 71–75 Hai Ba Trung, District 1, Ho Chi Minh City, Ho Chi Minh City. 28/3827–4929; www.grainbyluke.com.
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 sunset tour of the Saigon River, and a Can Gio forest and spa tour. Ho Chi Minh City, Ho Chi Minh City. 128/592–0018; lesrivesexperience.com. From 1,400,000d.
Maika Tours. A friendly and reliable boutique tour company offering day tours of the city, the Mekong Delta and the Cu Chi tunnels, as well as multiday tours through southern Vietnam. 5A/2 Tran Phu, District 5, Ho Chi Minh City, Ho Chi Minh City. 909/343–760; www.maikatours.com.
Saigon Craft Beer Tours. Set up by a Canadian craft beer expert, these walking tours showcase Ho Chi Minh City's thriving craft beer scene. Choose from an afternoon tour, an evening tour, or a private tour, and expect lashings of beer with a fun- (and beer-) loving guide. District 5, Ho Chi Minh City, Ho Chi Minh City. 9093–43760; www.saigoncraftbeertours.com. Tours from $55.
Saigon Creative Eye Photo Tours. Led by Quinn Ryan Mattingly, a professional photographer who has called Saigon home for more than a decade, these tours explore the characters, light and places that make Saigon a unique place for amazing photography. You’re sure to come away with some great images and new photography knowledge. 128/569–8144 ; www.saigonimaging.com/photo-tours; www.saigonimaging.com. From $200, includes private transportation, photography instruction/guidance, drinks, and snacks.
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 1,000,000d.
Saigon Tourist. One of Vietnam's oldest travel companies, Saigon Tourist is a government-owned conglomerate comprising eight travel service companies, 70 hotels and resorts, and 28 restaurants. The main Saigon Tourist brand offers packaged tours throughout Vietnam and Indochina, day tours, car (with driver) rental, visa services, and flight and accommodations bookings. 45 Le Thanh Ton St., District 1, Ho Chi Minh City, Ho Chi Minh City. 28/3827–9279; 28/3822–4987; saigon-tourist.com. from 1,000,000d for a half-day tour.
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 1,000,000d.
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 and architecture tours are also available on request. Ho Chi Minh City, Ho Chi Minh City. 933/752–402; sophiesarttour.com. 1,500,000d.
Stu's Explorer Club. 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. From 2,200,000d for private vehicle; from 2,000,000d if self-driving (need own motorbike).
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. 126 Dinh Bo Linh , Binh Thanh District, 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 $48.