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mistybleu Saigon - A travel report by Amanda
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Saigon,  Vietnam - flag Vietnam -  H÷ Chí Minh
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mistybleu's travel reports

Sing-a-long 'Viet Nam Ho Chi Minh'

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Whilst the official name of the city is Ho Chi Minh City locally a lot of people still call the city Saigon and throughout there are many references. It is a great vibrant city! report of the month contest
Jul 2010

Saigon travelogue picture
After completing the 8km driver from the airport you get to the centre of town and the Ben Thanh Market; the traffic here is horrendous with motorbikes fizzing past. It is a loud vibrant city and whilst it isn‘t the capital city, it is the largest in Vietnam and the economic centre of the country.

I’m not sure what it is like during the rains but the weather is hot, from early morning to late at night the people hustle around constantly just adding to the temperature. The weather here is very humid and the average temperature is around 25 degrees, by April the temperature increases to an average 38 degrees.

Like quite a few of the Asian nations, the common mode of transport is by motor bikes, especially for the young as they take pride in being independent, especially the women. They all fizz past weaving around the pedestrians which can be a little daunting. Motor Bikes are used for everything, they are delivery vehicles, people carriers, taxis and the family saloon. If you don’t have one you are a nobody in Saigon. The strangest thing was that I didn’t see any traffic jams although there were so many motorbikes on the road.

The local currency is the Dong, but US dollars is always accepted and in fact, people usually quote prices in both currencies. In the tourist areas English is widely spoken and throughout you will at least find one person who will understand you.

It is advisable not to drink the water or ice, but I saw many people doing so. I tend to be careful so I only had bottle water.

To explore Vietnam, starting is Saigon is perfect, and from here head north. The only other thing to mention is the people. They are so friendly and helpful and for me a credit to Asia.

Favourite spots:
Crossing roads
Crossing roads
My favourite part of the city, was an experience that I would never forget and that was just crossing roads.

Initially it was a nightmare and I saw the horror on most tourists face as they attempted to do so. In fact you can tell how long a foreigner had been in the country by the look of horror when they crossed a road.

But when you study the traffic it seems like a choreographed circus performance; as onward coming traffic weaves it way through the traffic in the opposite direction to turn right.

What makes this worst is that vehicles seem to be allowed to turn left on the red light, so as the traffic lights turn red and you believe that you can safely cross, the bikes weave themselves around you.

My survival tip is, when crossing, use a zebra crossing and just walk out, don't look at the oncoming bikes. Just keep on walking; they will find a way to miss you. Don't run, as this will confuse them and they WILL run into you.

And after every crossing cheer!

What's really great:
Saigon travelogue picture
The Mekong River is the 12th longest river in the world with its source in the Tibetan Plateau and flows through six countries - China, Burma, Laos, Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam. The mouth of the river is in Vietnam where it forms the massive delta to the south west and empties into the South China Sea through its distributaries.

In Vietnamese it means Nine Dragon river delta and varies in size depending on the season. The area is famous for growing rice (which is one of their main export crops) and life in the area surrounds the river.

Exploring, you get to travel on a hand paddled boat through the many canals to see how the locals live. I went to Coconut Island and got an insight on how they earn money. They grow many fruits especially coconuts, where they use every part of the coconut - they make coconut wine, sweets, they drink the water, and make souvenirs from the shell and use the husk for burning for cooking, the branches are used to make brooms, baskets fans etc.

Notre Dame Cathedral
Notre Dame Cathedral
The city is very diverse and so there are lots to see. Firstly there are buildings that were built by the French, buildings like City Hall, Notre Dame Cathedral and Central Post Office.

Then to get an insight in the turbulent past: the War Remnants Museum (mainly military weapons from the US conflict), Reunification Palace (which was rebuilt in 1962 and was the site where Saigon fell to invading forces).

Ho Chi Minh City Museum, Ho Chi Minh Museum (the old residence of the former prominent leader) and the Historical Museum.

China town and the Xa Loi Pagoda, Giac Lam Pagoda (the oldest pagoda in HCMC), Saigon River, Dong Khoi Street, and Dam Sen Cultural Park to name a few.

The ladies of Hue, Sai Gon and Ha Noi
The ladies of Hue, Sai Gon and Ha Noi
In the backpacker area you can find many 2 and 3 star hotels that are moderately priced. Some of them are seem good with clean rooms and decent sheets. Usually the accommodation comes with breakfast and free internet access including wiFi. In fact quite a lot of the restaurants, bars etc offer free wiFi.

The rooms in Saigon are either standard or superior. The standard rooms are rooms without windows and the superior one with; and are usually en suite.

They provide a decent service even changing money for you as well as providing tours. The tours that they offer can easily be obtained from one of the many tour operators and they will be a couple of dollar less then if obtained from your hotel.

Bars in Saigon
Bars in Saigon
Between Pham Ngu Lao and Bui Vien that are many bars, restaurants and hotels which are moderately priced. This is the backpackers area and you will meet up with a lot of travellers here. One of the main bars is the Crazy Buffalo. It is pretty nice sitting in the open drinking and watching the people going to and fro.

Ben Thanh Market on the busy intersection
Ben Thanh Market on the busy intersection
Ben Thanh Market is the largest market in HCMC; it was built in 1914 and is considered a central point of the city. It’s distinctive feature is the clock tower with 4 faces. It is a great place to find nearly everything you desire, from cheap souvenirs, to clothing and flowers etc. Not only can you buy goods but also fruits and of course food. In the centre of the market there are many stalls which sell local food. The food is simple but very tasty and it’s open all day. In the evening the market closes but the roads around Ben Thanh turns into a night market with a mixture of souvenir and food stalls.

A popular dish is beef pho which is rice noodles cooked in broth and top it off with a shaved ice dessert.

Other recommendations:
Mekong Delta
Mekong Delta
Around 65km for HCMC to the northwest is the Cu Chi district; it lies between the Saigon River and the Vam Co Dong River. The Cu Chi area played an important role during the fight for independence and is now marketed as the Cu Chi Tunnels. It is an underground village with a network of tunnels which allowed the resistance soldiers to live there for years without having to return to the surface. Portions of the tunnels have been widened to allow westerners to explore as initially they were only 60-70cm wide.

Published on Tuesday August 17th, 2010

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Sun, Jul 22 2012 - 04:00 AM rating by louis

Great read! It brought me back a lot of memories from Saigon, although I have been there for only one day. I completely agree with you that crossing the road is the most challenging thing in Saigon.

Tue, Sep 28 2010 - 08:55 AM rating by hieronyma

Sunday I will go to Vietnam and I will start in Hanoi, thank you for all the information, I am well prepared now. Hieronyma

Fri, Aug 20 2010 - 10:06 AM rating by pesu

Great read, Amanda! So many interesting infos and fine descriptions ('Don't run!' or the difference between standard and superior rooms...). No concern about the open ice dessert? ;-)

Wed, Aug 18 2010 - 02:07 PM rating by krisek

Great report, Amanda. Sadly, I did not find the Vietnamese as friendly as you did... But I agree that one should start exploring Viet Nam from Sai Gon. ;)

Tue, Aug 17 2010 - 04:12 PM rating by eirekay

Love the description of the choreographed circus traffic! What terrific read! Beautifully done!

Tue, Aug 17 2010 - 01:31 PM rating by jacko1

Excellent report, lots of interesting info. & well written, a good read!.

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