Likes & Dislikes

Opinions

“Saigon came as a very pleasant surprise, and quickly stole our hearts. A bit part of that was the fact that we arrived right on New Year’s Eve, and the carnival on the street with tens of thousands of motorbikes was a fabulous experience for us.

We’d read about Saigon’s high level of development before we arrived, but reality exceeded our expectations. We spent three full days in Saigon, which was enough time to get a basic idea of this megacity. It wasn’t the tourist attractions which made this city so attractive for us, though the war memorial museum (about a two-hour visit) was interesting, and you could spend an hour or so in the Emperor Jade Pagoda.

The markets were exhausting, and I didn’t particularly like the Benh Tanh Market, especially because of the aggressive vendors, and the Chinese district was a dirty, unpleasant disappointment.

What we liked best was just strolling in the central district, with its good restaurants, parks, little shops, and of course the local people.

We read,  that many people found crossing the road a really scary experience, but I think that’s an exaggeration – you can easily cross at traffic lights with no trouble at all, but even in other places we were able to cross the road between the cars without any particular danger or fear. Even by the end of the first day we had learned the technique, and I enjoyed being able to walk on the road as a pedestrian.

Restaurants are expensive in the city center, at least if you go to tourist places, but we ate very well, that’s for sure.

In general, I’d say the Thais generally strike me as friendlier than the Vietnamese, but my experiences in Saigon have modified that judgement somewhat. We weren’t bothered in most places by pushy sellers, shopkeepers or beggars, and we met a lot of very friendly people. A group of students spoke to us in the park, because they wanted to practice their English. They were lovely.

I really like the dynamism of the Vietnamese, and their eagerness to learn. Our 19-year-old son Andris is firmly persuaded that Vietnamese girls are prettier than Thai girls.” (K.J., 2014)


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The bustle and dynamism of this city are simply incredible – the tourist is left shaking his head in wonder, unable to decide where to point his camera so as not to miss a single instant. The population of this city is enormous, added to which it has approximately 8 million mopeds. We stared open-mouthed as a family of five swerved by on a single moped! Here everyone drives one, from the age of about 15 until they’re 90, and children are born to the two wheels. For them it’s a completely normal way to go to the shops, or to work, or the other everyday journeys. They just climb on and off they go. They use mopeds for things that would seem impossible to Europeans or Americans, and we couldn’t help but smile at the way they load more onto the back of a bike than we could into a car!

Suddenly it doesn’t seem so funny when you have to cross the street, though… The trick is to step out determinedly – just take a look around and go, and don’t try to avoid them, they’ll avoid you. Incredibly, we didn’t see a single accident during our four days there. They must have some secret because if we tried the same at home there’d be pile ups on every street corner.

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“We were in Saigon in the first half of February 2020, and we spent five days there. The Vietnamese visa could be purchased at home on the Internet. It is worth applying through the official government website because it was registered within three days and could be used to go directly to the passport check upon arrival. https://immigration.gov.vn/web/guest/trang-chu-ttdt.
Those who did it through other channels had to stand in a separate queue and wait 20-25 minutes, with extra admin, etc.

From the airport we took a bus (109, departing every half hour) into the city. The ticket cost VND 20000. Tickets can be purchased from the conductor, who will also help you find the right stop for your hotel.

We were staying in a relatively central location, Bui Thi Xuan, District 1, and all the sights were within walking distance. We looked at all the ‘must-see’ Saigon sights (War Memorial Museum, Independence Palace, Post Office, Notre Dame, Bhen Than Market, etc.), but unfortunately we didn’t have time for Bitexcora. Of course, in the evening we also went to Bui Vien Street, which is the ‘sister’ of Pattayai Walking Street.
In addition, we paid for two tours. One was a full day Mekong Islands / canal tour, the other was a half day in the Chu Chi tunnels. On both occasions, the travel agency picked us up at the hotel in a minibus and brought us back there. Both trips were interesting, and there was a separate English-speaking guide. Highly recommended.

We also tasted the pho soup, (not to my taste). Vietnamese coffee, on the other hand, is really good, and the local beers were also good and reasonably priced. Calculating value in the local currency can be a challenge, e.g. VND 70,000-100,000 is the price of a good dinner.

We didn’t have any security issues (we barely saw a police officer in uniform), even though we walked the streets after dark. There were tons of mopeds, nobody pays any attention to red lights, and we had to pay a lot of attention even when crossing at pedestrian crossings with traffic lights and painted lines. On the other hand, we didn’t see a single accident.” (2020)

 

Practicals

Transport

Saigon's population is 8,6 million (in 2020), and the number of scoters is 8,5 million.

Walking:

It is a challenge for a first-time visitor to cross a street, even on a crosswalk. Based on first impressions, being a pedestrian here means the lowest of the living world, roughly the pigeon's status in my home city. However, as my size is more extensive, local drivers won't hit me to avoid causing damage to their vehicle.

Taxi

Vinasun and Mai Linh are safe taxi companies. They always have a taximeter in their cars. If you don't see the driver's identification sticker on the dashboard, you shouldn't board.

There is a taxi counter in front of the exit at the new international airport terminal, and there they offer fair fixed prices. You pay in advance at a counter, and someone accompanies you to the specific taxi.

If you are satisfied with the driver, give a tip of 5-10 thousand dong. It's optional; they don't expect it.

Motorcycle taxi (xe ôm)

For short distances, a motorcycle taxi is a fast, convenient, albeit adventurous means of transport. It’s a bit stressful that you have to bargain in advance for the fare. It helps a lot if you already have some experience in haggling.  Motorcycle taxi should be cheaper than the cab. A five-minute trip should cost no more than 20,000 dongs (less than one USD).



Warning:

Don't spend more than VND 300.000 if you're going to Cu Chi tunnels in Saigon. Anything more would be a rip-off.

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“In Saigon, or as it is currently called, Ho Chi Minh City, one of the most iconic sights is the traffic itself. The city has nine million inhabitants and five million mopeds. The direct consequence of this is that there is no time of day in this city when everything – roads, sidewalks, squares, and markets – isn’t crammed with mopeds. I would say that there are two types of conditions, the first when there is a lot of traffic, the second is when there is an absolute ton of traffic. Both what I’ve heard and what I’ve seen suggest that being a pedestrian means being at the bottom of the food chain – there is nothing lower. The pedestrian here is in roughly the same position as a pigeon back home. People don’t even notice them. And they probably avoid hitting them just so as not to damage the family moped.

Our local man gave some advice on how to try to get by as a pedestrian, but we seriously thought Bear Grylls should have been on hand to show us how to survive on foot here. According to our local friend: never run, because it confuses the locals, try to make eye contact with the biker, don’t even think about stopping, and always put your hands up before crossing… needless to say, when we first walked to the edge of the sidewalk, our legs were shaking. The ancient axiom that the simplest solution is always the best once again proved true. We watched the locals do it and suddenly everything became clean. The local came, saw and conquered. He pulled himself together and, without paying much attention or performing any kind of ritual, set off determinedly for the other side, the scooters dodging round him front and back like a shoal of herring. Not for a moment did he slow down or speed up, he just walked forward. This became the solution, never to be disturbed by anything. After that, getting around was a breeze, and we too just smiled at the clueless tourists, who stood timidly on the side of the road, sometimes making an abortive attempt to cross. Incidentally, the use of mopeds has been raised to a fine art in Asia, and especially in Vietnam. It’s not uncommon for a family of four to be on a small moped, together with luggage and sometimes live hens, but we also saw a breastfeeding mom, and a guy who had so much stuff packed around him that he can hardly have been able to see anything. Here, mopeds are an integral part of everyday life, without which they would not be able to exist. To use a trendy term, the Vietnamese have achieved peak moped.” (2017)


Saigon - public bus - b.g. photo

Saigon - traffic - o.e. photo

Food

“Vietnamese cuisine is very different to that in Thailand. It’s much less spicy, and uses different herbs and spices, but it really is excellent. Being an Asian country, rice is also central here, and there is a strong Chinese influence. After all, Vietnam was a vassal of its giant northern neighbor for nearly a thousand years. One of the best-known Vietnamese dishes is pho, which is also enjoyed for breakfast, and at all times of day. Pho is made by placing in front of the diner a pleasantly aromatic stock, and on a separate plate a large stack of all kinds of exotic vegetables, pasta, and meats. This is thrown into the soup by the diner, according to taste. There are thousands of versions of pho, eaten mainly in the morning, with rice. It is like the products of a certain Hungarian arms factory: each one is unique and in each case the user must complete the assembly. :) For my part, I quickly fell in love with it: it is a pleasant, delicious, light food that can be easily digested during the frequently humid and warm weather. By the way, the correct way to eat pho is to throw the desired amount of pasta, meat and vegetables into the stock, test it with the included spoon, and fish out the contents with chopsticks. It is not forbidden to slurp the soup, so there is plenty of noise when people eat pho. Today I had lunch at a diner in a chain called Phó24 where pretty much everyone was eating pho, so you can imagine the noise in the background. :)”


Shopping

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Saigon - supermarket - meat deli - b.d. photo

Fun

“Vietnam has to feature on any list of destinations with insanely cheap alcohol. It’s not difficult to enjoy yourself in a country where even in what could be called the most tourist-oriented places a beer – good beer – costs about twenty cents. Of course, there are more expensive bars and entertainment venues here as well, but you genuinely don’t have to look for long to find such low prices.

I have had the good fortune to visit a relatively large number of places in Vietnam, and I can say that of all the cities I’ve visited, Saigon has the best nightlife. Rooftop bars with beautiful views, casinos, live music venues, roadside plastic chair “sit-outs”: here everyone can really find a place to suit their taste.

My favorite part of town is called Pham Ngu Lao, which is also the center of backpacker tourism here: there are dozens of cheap and cozy bars and street eateries open all night long. It is a great experience to sit down by the side of the street with one (or more) cold beers and watch the hustle and bustle: typically so many people gather here during the night that the tables and chairs start to be pushed out onto the road, so the police go there every half hour to move people back from the road. Once they leave, of course, it all starts all over again.” (2017)

Saigon - cafe - k.s. photo

Public safety

GrabBike driver snatches the cellphone of the woman holding her child (street camera photo)

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“According to our local guide, Saigon is the most dangerous place in all of Vietnam. Unfortunately, we had the opportunity to experience this for ourselves, as in the evening a bag containing passport, money and everything was ripped from the hands of one of our fellow travelers. So it is highly recommended to make a copy, and put your passport in the safe. Also, you should only take as much money as needed. It is advisable to leave jewelry at home, and to avoid ostentatious clothing. Put the strap of your camera (if you have one) around your neck, and don’t wave your phone around too much, either, because a moped driver can snatch it from your hand just like that. Also, in the market, keep a hand on your bag at all time. And pay special attention in the evening. It’s good to be vigilant during the day too, of course, but the evening is the most dangerous time. The north of the country, e.g. Hanoi, is said to be much calmer. There are a lot of foreigners from Thailand, Malaysia and India who have settled in Saigon, who are trying to earn a living by stealing from tourists.” (2016)



Saigon - police

Health

,,The concentration of people and motorbikes degraded the city into a broad mix of smog and trash. Often the air is so hot and smoggy that it feels thick when breathing."

Saigon - smog

Background

Destination in brief

The official name is Ho Chi Minh City since 1975, however, all locals, even people elsewhere in the country, use the name, Saigon. . “Saigon” represents the colonial and pre-unification situation (pre-1975), while Ho Chi Minh City is the name given once the Communist North won the war, and the country was unified.

Saigon is in the southern part of Vietnam.

Population (in 2020): 3.4 million (City area) and 8.6 million (Urban area) - Saigon is the largest city in Vietnam, larger than the capital city, Hanoi (8 million), if the Urban area considered.

Average net monthly salary (in 2020): 400 USD (Hanoi's average: 420 USD)

Nowadays

Tourists can not choose but stand the constant harassment by street vendors and tricksters. Typically, these guys start a friendly conversation with you, hiding their business intentions. At least, in this phase of communication, you'll experience how much they know about your country. They are surprisingly knowledgeable about far-away places.   

People

“The heat means that people spend most of their time out of doors. This is where they eat, sit chatting on small chairs, play games on the floor, and sell their wares. And when they get bored of it all, they scoot home on their mopeds. In Saigon, more than eight million people use mopeds to get around. And if you, a mere mortal, just want to cross a street on foot, you will feel that all eight million scooters are right on that street, making the  simple task impossible. With a little practice, though still with some sense of fear, it is easy to master crossing the road, as the Vietnamese moped user is very predictable. One thing is for sure, if they see someone in the road, they will avoid hitting them.

We haven’t been able to figure out yet whether they’re genuinely always in a hurry or if it’s just their mindset. Because we have found that with while with Europeans such as ourselves they are very kind, helpful, and courteous, at the same time, seeing them in everyday life, They sometimes give an impression of ‘every man for himself.’” (2018)

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“The Binh Tay Market and its surroundings are fantastic, and there are fewer white tourists... You can see really interesting, local, real people and events, and walk past beautiful pagodas.” (k.m., 2020)


Saigon - birthday dinner - c.n. photo

Attractions

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