Saigon Waterbus: Guide & Itineraryadmin
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The Saigon Waterbus should be near the top of every visitor’s (and, for that matter, expat’s) itinerary for Ho Chi Minh City. As a way of seeing the city’s increasingly impressive skyline, of experiencing its many different neighbourhoods, and for sheer value for money, the Saigon Waterbus is pretty much unbeatable. And yet, the Saigon Waterbus doesn’t receive nearly as much attention in the travel media as it deserves. Jumping on and off the Saigon Waterbus should be right up there with the most popular attractions in the city. In fact, if I were to suggest an itinerary to a friend for a couple of days in Saigon, the Waterbus would be in the top 5 things to do, along with exploring the alleyways, street food streets, Apartment Cafes, wet markets, and the Midnight Loop. The Saigon Waterbus is far more rewarding (and far cheaper) than most of the usual so-called must-see attractions in the city. What’s more, the Waterbus is its own itinerary: by hopping on and off at each of the stops and wandering around, you have a tailor-made route around the city for the day. Each stop has its own character and local life, with street food, interesting architecture, and local neighbourhoods to delve into. The following guide to the Saigon Waterbus includes all practical information and a stop-by-stop itinerary.
GUIDE: SAIGON WATERBUS
On this page, I’ve written a full guide to the Saigon Waterbus, including a detailed route map, practical information about times, prices, and how best to use the Waterbus, and a Stop-by-Stop Guide & Itinerary with suggestions of places to eat, drink, see and do around each of the Waterbus stops. The Waterbus is really good fun and can be used in many different ways. I’ve tried to cover as much as possible in this guide, but you can also check the official Saigon Waterbus website for a full timetable and route map. Click an item below to read more about it:
- Blue ferry icons: waterbus stations in operation
- Grey ferry icons: future waterbus stations
- All other icons: things to see & do, eat & drink
Below is a brief introduction to the Saigon Waterbus, including some background, suggestions about how to use it, and descriptions of the boats and stations. Click an item below to read more about it:
Introducing the Waterbus: The Saigon Waterbus is the city’s first, multi-stop, public transportation to utilize the river. Saigon’s relationship with its river has changed of late: a decade ago, it seemed as though the city had turned its back on the waterway; now, however, the river is becoming a focal point: a place to promenade, hang out, a desirable address to live and work: much of Saigon’s riverside land is being developed into condos, offices and public spaces. The Saigon Waterbus is part of this transformation.
The Waterbus is cheap, fun, comfortable, easy to use and, without a doubt, one of the best ways to see the city’s increasingly impressive skyline. Although only a handful of stops are currently operating, many more are planned for the near future. But, a couple of years since opening, the Saigon Waterbus is, apparently, failing to attract commuters. This is understandable: the stops are few, the boat stations not all that conveniently located for residents, and the competition (from cheap taxis and ride-hailing apps) is fierce. But, as a way of seeing the city and as an enjoyable activity, the Waterbus is one of the most worthwhile things to do in Saigon, and should be touted as such by the tourism industry. Indeed, most of the passengers on board the Waterbus are sightseers (the majority are Vietnamese) rather than commuters.
The Saigon Waterbus coming into dock at Thanh Da station, Binh Thanh District
Ways to Use the Waterbus: There are several ways to use the Saigon Waterbus. You can ride it all the way from one end to the other just for the fun of it. The journey takes a little under an hour and is scenic and interesting. Or you could use the Waterbus as a full-day city itinerary, by getting on and off at different stops, wandering around each area, and getting some food and drink, before hopping back on again to the next stop (see my Stop-by-Stop Itinerary). Or you could use the Waterbus simply as a means to get from A to B: each boat station has motorbike parking, so you can ride to a Waterbus stop, take the boat into town and back, and pick your bike up on the way home. Or you could use the Waterbus as a floating bar/picnic: take a flask of something (coffee, gin and tonic, wine) and a snack (sandwiches, fruit) on board the Waterbus with a couple of friends and enjoy the ride with some food, drink and good company. You could even use the Waterbus as a date: take the sunset boat (around 4-5pm), enjoy the cruise, have a chat, get to know each other, and have a drink and dinner at one of the stops along the route. Or you could use the Waterbus as a work space: bring your laptop (make sure you have data) and a cup of coffee, and work for an hour or two floating along the river with the Saigonscape passing by the window. For Saigon residents, in particular, the Waterbus is an excellent opportunity for a ‘staycation’ – a break from the city without actually leaving the city, because on the Waterbus there’s a lovely, cool breeze, the air is fresher and cleaner, noise pollution and chaos is minimal, there’s more light and space, and the horizon gives you some perspective on things – none of which you get at street level in Saigon. Or you could use the Waterbus as part of a ferry circuit by changing boats at the Bach Dang pier, from where you can connect to the Saigon↔Vung Tau ferry.
About the Boats: Waterbus boats are easy to spot: they’re squat but fairly attractive, hamster-like vessels painted almost entirely yellow, except for band of black and white check around the perimeter of the hull, and a white roof. The style is, presumably, an echo of New York taxi cabs or traditional American school buses. I think it’s fairly distinctive, and the bright colours make the Waterbus shine out from the milk tea-brown waters of the Saigon River on which it sails. Entered from the stern, most of the seating is inside the bright and airy cabin: two rows of three seats separated by a wide aisle. Seats are hard plastic but comfortable enough. There are life jackets under every seat and a TV screen at the front of the cabin. Windows are large and there’s a good breeze through the cabin due to open doors at the bow and stern. The most coveted seating is on the back deck, on a long bench in the open air. A toilet and little bar (don’t expect much) are also at the stern of the boat. Personally, I’d head for any of the seats in the front row, because this gives you views over the bow as well as starboard and port (right and left), and a cooling headwind. At full capacity, the Waterbus could probably seat roughly 60-70 passengers.
About the Stations: Although only 5 of the proposed 12 boat stations are currently open, they’re all nice, neat, modern little places. Clearly labelled with the Waterbus logo (a yellow, green and blue ‘W’) and the boat station name (in Vietnamese, ga tàu thủy means ‘waterbus station’), they’re distinguished by a rectangular entrance of yellow bars. The stations have hard seating for waiting passengers, toilets, river views, vending machines, motorbike parking, ticket kiosks, timetable and route map displays, and floating piers for the boats to dock. For more details, see my Stop-by-Stop Guide.
Below is information about the Saigon Waterbus schedule, times, ticket prices, bookings, and station stops. Click an item below to read more about it:
Stops & Stations: Currently, only 5 stops are operating on the Waterbus route. However, a further 7 stops will be added in the near future. At the time of writing (February 2020) the 5 stops in operation are, from south to north: Bach Dang, Binh An, Thanh Da, Hiep Binh Chanh, and Linh Dong. [See my Stop-by-Stop Guide for much more information about each stop and the surrounding areas]. On my map, I’ve marked stops currently in operation with blue ferry icons, and future stops (not yet in operation) with grey ferry icons. Check the Saigon Waterbus website for any updates on new stops opening.
Schedules & Times: The Saigon Waterbus schedule is available online on the official website and on display at all of the Waterbus stops. The schedule is colour-coded and fairly easy to read and understand (see the images below). Every day, there are between 6-15 sailings northbound and/or southbound to/from all 5 Waterbus stops currently in operation. On weekends and public holidays, additional sailings are laid on. The more central stops (Bach Dang and Binh An) have a few more sailings per day than the other stops. The Waterbus essentially operates between 7am and 7pm every day of the week: the first boat of the day departs Linh Dong at 7.00am, and the last boat of the day arrives at Binh An at 7.25pm. The Waterbus route map (also available online and at the boat stations) is pretty good, and includes nearby bus routes, too. The schedule and the route map are in English and Vietnamese. However, although a lot of thought has clearly gone into the map and schedule, it does take a little bit of focus before it becomes clear (at least it did in my case), and it’s not perhaps quite as elegant as, for example, the London Tube map.
This is the Saigon Waterbus route map (also available online on the official website)
This is the Saigon Waterbus schedule (also available online on the official website)
Tickets & Prices: At 15,000vnd per person (regardless of how far you’re going), tickets for the Saigon Waterbus are extremely good value for money. Vietnamese citizens over 70 years of age go free, as do children under 1 metre in height. Tickets can be bought at the kiosks at any of the Waterbus stations. There’s no discount for return tickets and the price is the same whether you go just one stop or the entire route. There’s a seat number printed on the ticket but, unless the Waterbus is very busy, no one pays any attention to their allocated seat.
Currently (February 2020), only 5 Waterbus stops are in operation (out of the 12 stops that are planned). Below I’ve written a brief description of each of the 5 stops, including suggestions of things to do, eat, drink and see around each one, as well as a small image gallery for every stop. I’ve written the following guide from south to north along the Waterbus route, starting from Bach Dang station, in downtown District 1, and ending at Linh Dong station, in Thu Duc Distrcit. Click a stop below to read more about it:
- BACH DANG Waterbus station (District 1)
- BINH AN Waterbus station (District 2)
- THANH DA Waterbus station (Binh Thanh District)
- HIEP BINH CHANH Waterbus station (Thu Duc District)
- LINH DONG Waterbus station (Thu Duc District)
- Address: 10b Ton Duc Thang Street, District 1 [MAP]
- Food & Drink: ROS Yacht Club, Waterbiz Coffee
- See & Do: Tran Hung Dao statue, river & skyline views, Apartment Cafes, Walking Street, Opera House, Dong Khoi Street, Bitexco Tower, rooftop bars, transfer to Vung Tau ferry
- Motorbike parking: Yes (not overnight)
- Departures: 10-15 daily (northbound only) [view schedule]
Description: The southern-most stop on the Waterbus route and by far the most glitzy and glamorous, Bach Dang station is right in the heart of downtown Saigon. Situated on the west bank of the river, at the foot several high-rise banks, hotels and office blocks that cluster around a statue of Tran Hung Dao at the centre of a busy traffic circle, Bach Dang station is an excellent vantage point: there are views across the river to the remaining greenery and construction sites of Thu Thiem; upstream to the gigantic apartment complexes of Vinhomes and Saigon Pearl (including the impressive spike of Landmark 81, currently Southeast Asia’s tallest building); and downstream to Saigon Port where large tankers lie anchored in the muddy water. Bach Dang station has a swish riverside bar, ROS Yacht Club, and a cafe, Waterbiz Coffee, both of which have outside seating on a concrete landing that’s perfect for sunset views. As this is downtown Saigon, many of the most famous tourist attractions are within walking distance of the boat station, such as Dong Khoi Street, the Opera House, Nguyen Hue Walking Street, and the Bitexco Tower and Skydeck. Also reachable on foot from the Waterbus stop are two of Saigon’s fabulous ‘Cafe Apartments’, 14 Ton That Dam Street and 42 Nguyen Hue Street. And, if the views from the boat pier aren’t quite good enough for you, take a walk to one of the many rooftop bars in the area, such as Liberty Central Hotel, The Myst, The Grand, or The Majestic, some of which have happy hours around sunset (4-6pm). Bach Dang Waterbus stop is by far the busiest, most-visited, and tourist-friendly of all the boat stations: signs are in English, the schedule is clearly displayed on a digital screen, and there are lots of staff. [Click an image below to expand, and press back to return to the gallery]
- Address: Đuong so 21 Street, District 2 [MAP]
- Food & Drink: B&A Cafe, Pho 23 noodles, Quan 1976 restaurant, Sushi Nhi
- See & Do: city views, leafy cafes, affluent residential streets
- Motorbike parking: Yes (not overnight)
- Departures: 9-15 daily (northbound & southbound) [view schedule]
Description: Just south of the Saigon Bridge, Binh An station sits on the east bank of the Saigon River as it swings away from downtown, dividing Binh Thanh District (to the west) and District 2 (to the east). Binh An is a quiet and leafy stop, most notable for its impressive views across the river to Landmark 81 skyscraper (currently the tallest building in Southeast Asia) and the enormous apartment complex of Vinhomes. Particularly photogenic at dusk, when the sun sets behind the glass tower forming a glowing red-orange halo around the high-rises, the views can be taken in from the riverfront walkway or from the chairs beneath the shade of tropical trees at B&A Cafe, just north of the Waterbus station. Set back from the riverfront are several other cafes and food outlets, including Phở 23, which serves up a decent bowl of beef noodle soup. Walk down the lanes a block from river and you enter an affluent neighbourhood where the streets are lined with pretty trees and peppered with new villas, international kindergartens, and offices. This is a pleasant and interesting stroll until you hit Tran Nao Street, a large, busy road. Try lunch or dinner at Quán Ăn 1976, serving good northern Vietnamese dishes. Or, if you don’t mind a 10-minute walk, head up Tran Nao Street to Sushi Nhi for excellent value sushi.
- Address: Đuong so 3 Street, Cu Xa Thanh Da ,Binh Thanh District [MAP]
- Food & Drink: Quan Kin Kin seafood, Island Coffee, street food & drink vendors
- See & Do: riverside walkway & park, fascinating old apartment complex, local life
- Motorbike parking: Yes (not overnight)
- Departures: 6-13 daily (northbound & southbound) [view schedule]
Description: At the confluence of the Thanh Da Channel (Kênh Thanh Đa) and the western-most point of an large oxbow meander of the Saigon River, Thanh Da station is currently the middle stop on the Waterbus route. It’s also one of the most pleasant. Thanh Da is an island in the Saigon River, created by a man-made channel which cuts out the need for boats to travel all the way around the oxbow meander. Thanh Da Island has long been popular as a place to escape the city without actually leaving it. The boat station opens onto a park with tall trees. Just west of the boat station, a spacious waterfront walkway and park runs along the east bank of the channel. Great for a picnic, a stroll, or a ball game, the park has views over to Binh Trieu Bridge to the northwest and back to the high-rises of downtown to the south. It’s breezy and cool in the mornings and evenings. At night, several places to eat and drink open up along the road by the park: seafood, street food, beer, coffee, milk tea, desserts and juices are all available. I particularly like Ốc Kìn Kìn for a typical, local shellfish feast. Fronting the park is a large and fairly dilapidated apartment complex, which runs a couple of blocks further back from the waterfront, too. The complex is fascinating to walk around: there are food vendors around, tight alleyways, and interesting nooks and crannies to explore. If you’re looking for an espresso, Island Coffee is a short walk through the apartments, where they roast their own beans. [Click an image below to expand, and press back to return to the gallery]
- Address: 70 So 10 Street, Thu Duc District [MAP]
- Food & Drink: Tuy Tam vegetarian, Schiller River Club, N2N Coffee, Bach Coffee
- See & Do: riverside bars, cafes, restaurants, event spaces, local market, old apartment block, leafy & affluent residential streets
- Motorbike parking: Yes (not overnight)
- Departures: 6-10 daily (northbound & southbound) [view schedule]
Description: Probably the quietest and most affluent of all the Waterbus stops, Hiep Binh Chanh is a peaceful neighbourhood on the west bank of the Saigon River, with easy access to leafy, well-to-do streets, smart villas, boutique cafes, riverside drinking and dining options, and a lovely cool breeze. Hiep Binh Chanh is a great area for strolling around: taking in the modern architecture of the fancy villas, stopping for food and coffee, gazing out over the river to the greenery of Thanh Da Island with the high-rises of downtown Saigon in the distance. Until fairly recently, this area would have been considered quite far from the pulse of the city: indeed, it still has a pleasant, sleepy, suburban feel to it. But there’s plenty to do, especially in the evenings when there are a lot of large Vietnamese beer, BBQ and seafood joints along the riverfront and back a block. Don’t miss Schiller River Club, which is perfect for a sunset drink on the water and they also have live events most weeks. During the day, coffee shops – such as N2N on the river and Bach Coffee on a shady back street – are good places to relax. Head to Thuy Tam for a vegetarian buffet or check out the local wet market (chợ Hiệp Bình Chánh) for some street food. As well as the affluent streets, there’s a fascinating old apartment complex crumbling in a square a couple of blocks back from the Waterbus station. [Click an image below to expand, and press back to return to the gallery]
- Address: Đuong 36 Street, Thu Duc District [MAP]
- Food & Drink: lots of local street food, fruit juice & cafes
- See & Do: riverside walkway, local life, Vien Dung temple, alleyways, ferry to Binh Quoi
- Motorbike parking: Yes (including overnight)
- Departures: 6 daily (southbound only) [view schedule]
Description: Currently the northern terminus of the Saigon Waterbus, Linh Dong boat station is a quiet and serene pier at the northern tip of a giant oxbow meander in the Saigon River. Here, the waters are wide and muddy, and the setting is semi-rural. From an attractive riverside walkway, the barges, container depots and loading cranes of Phuc Long Port can be seen lining the banks to the east; but to the south the tropical plants, reeds and weeds of Thanh Da Island have a hint of the Mekong Delta about them; and in the distance the hazy silhouettes of downtown Saigon look (and feel) a very long way away. There are some interesting alleyways to the west of Linh Dong boat pier that are worth a wander. Along Duong 36 road, leading north from the boat pier, there are lots of street food stalls and drinks outlets. Vien Dung Temple is also worth a visit. A regular ferry (accommodating passengers and motorbikes) crosses the river due south over to Thanh Da Island, from where Binh Quoi Street will take you back into Binh Thanh District. [Click an image below to expand, and press back to return to the gallery]
via Vietnam Coracle