“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)
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.
“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)