Saigon, Vietnam

Ho Chi Minh City

This one is about my time in Saigon in Vietnam and the time I had there on the river and around the city. You can fly from Bangkok or take a long bus ride.

Saigon, or Ho Chi Min City as the winning general named it, is a big bustling city, with a lot of pedal cycles, but less so now that it is recovering from the war and the tourists are discovering what it has to offer.

It’s a clean city, mostly, more so than Bangkok where rubbish is left where it falls.

You can hire a very pretty guide for the day who will take you to the best places on a little motorbike and won’t charge much at all. Seeing Saigon this way gets you to more places than doing it on your own and in good company too - and will probably save you more than it costs to hire the guide as she will know all the best places to eat, and transportation is included in the price. She’ll also tell you to tip and when not to, and keep you away from the areas not so good for the tourists.

When you take a tour on the river, keep your camera ready. There are so many interesting things to see: barges laden to the waterline, floating markets where you can get fruits and quick meals. The Vietnamese people, unlike the Thai who think photos are lucky, don’t like their photo being taken and will try to keep their backs to you if they see the camera, so be quick if you see a good shot.

As you go up the river you will see banana boats stacked high, and pretty ladies in their boats selling hot coffee brewed in the boat.

Along the river of the Mekong Delta...

The small boats are propelled along by one oar, from the rear of the boat and are something to see as they make their way around the river.

On a day tour along the river you will go up one of the tributaries to the rice factory where they strip the rice down until it’s white, which is for the humans, while the brown goes to the animals.

There are sweatshops where girls work over fires making thin pancakes to dry in the sun. These girls work in heat that is like a furnace all day long for not much money at all, and then have to put up with the hordes of tourists ogling them as they work.

Mid-day you stop for a meal, after which you go back along the river to get you back as the sun goes down.

You can also hire a boat and driver to go see what you want. The floating village is a good place. People live in their floating houses their whole life; there are some great photos to be taken here with the right lens.

Around the city:

The Vietnamese are not as friendly as the Thai on a whole, maybe because of the war and a distrust of foreigners, but as time goes by and they see more tourists and the money they bring they will open their hearts more.

The temples are more conservative than the Thai ones, and are more like shrines or museums for the tourists - at least the ones I saw were.

  • Shop around and you can get some really good deals: new cameras at half the price, huge lenses to get in close for not a lot of money, exotic clothes in the markets, pointed straw hats for the sun; anything you can want can be found fairly easily.
  • Traffic can be fierce so best to be bold and not afraid to cross in between the cars and bikes, or you may be left standing a long time.
  • There are lots of parks to sit under a tree or go for a stroll in and just be.
  • Places to stay are numerous to suit all budgets.
  • For the time I was there it seemed like a safe place to wander around. I never heard of anything to worry about.
  • The beaches and islands are as good as Thailand. The trains are slow but very interesting to travel on.
  • Saigon, and Vietnam in general is well worth the visit, but they still have a ways to go to be up to par with Thailand and its flourishing tourist industry.
  • The heat is the same as anywhere in Asia depending on when you go there. It was bearable when I went there in November on 11.11.11.
  • Always get a room with air conditioning so you can go back to cool down and rest in.
  • Use mosquito spray; citronella I find to be the best for morning and evening when they come out to bite.
  • I’ve spent two years in wandering around Asia and have been bitten by mosquitoes many times, and so far haven’t caught dengue fever or malaria, but then I’ve stayed away from those areas where it’s most likely to be. It’s the same for the fighting that goes on in some places, if you stay away from it then it won’t affect you.
  • The heat can be vicious if you’re in it for too long so have lots of water to drink frequently. And always carry a card with the address of the place where you are staying, it’s not hard to get lost.
  • Plan each expedition as a safari and you shouldn’t go wrong. There really are some amazing things to see with just a little bit of effort to get out there.

Saigon can seem like a strange dream at times with its hustle and bustle and goings on, but it’s all part of the adventure. So take a few precautions. Don’t upset the natives, and have a great time.