I always like to refer Ho Chi Minh City’s old name which is Saigon. It just give me a nostalgic feeling about it.
Firstly, this is not a holiday. I am there for a conference so most of the time I am in the hotel. There will not be much sightseeing. Instead of the usual where I chronicle my journey by day, I will just sum up the places I have been to or my journey.
My flight to Saigon is smooth. The plane is about only 40% filled. As you can see from the picture, it is a pathetic sight for the airline but good for me. I can at the least enjoy the peace and quiet.
Reaching Saigon in the afternoon and it is going to rain. I was lucky that I have the hotel (New World Hotel) to arrange airport transfer for us. Once the group gathered, we proceed to the hotel.
This is the first time I am in Saigon. As expected from what I see from the documentaries, the road is filled with motorcycles. Everybody is horning everybody. So in the end, I do not know what is going on with the traffic.
Upon reaching the New World Hotel, I proceed to my own hotel. The story is that for the first night, we are suppose to pay for our own room as the host will only pay for the next 2 days. USD$124 per night doesn’t really sit well with me. So before I arrive in Saigon, I have already book a room with another hotel which cost me USD$35. The hotel is Asian Ruby 2 Hotel.
On a side note, there are plenty of hotels to choose in this area. If you cannot find one, just walk along the street and you can easily find another. The only difference is the quality.
It was still drizzling but after 10mins, I found my hotel. The receptionist is very polite and dress in a traditional Vietnamese dress and she looks demure. (oh…… where am I heading??!!!) I am assigned to the 7th floor which is the highest level. At the least they have cable TV and the room is decent and clean. It is a budget hotel so I could not ask for more. In Saigon, the first level is actually the Ground floor and the 2nd level is actually our 1st level.
After putting down my things, the first place I went is the well-known Ben Thanh Market. The market is only a 5 min walk from the hotel. Upon entering the market, you are greeted by the bustling mood in it. You can see that there are many tourist and you are just spoil for choice. After walking the market for a few minutes, you will discover that the market has been segmented by the type of goods they sell. The market is also make up of two parts; the outer ring where there are staff that wear uniform and the inner part. According to signs pasted on the outer ring, the stuff sold there are fixed price. However, you still can try to bargain with them and they do not sell things cheap there and you will have to bargain hard.
As for the inner ring, they will quote a very high price and you will have to at least slash it by 70% initially. As you walk within the market especially in the part where they sell t-shirts, many stall staff will ask you to buy from them. Most of them are not pushy but my friend was grab by the hand and lead into a stall on the 3rd day. They wanted to sell us 6 t-shirts for 1 million VND. I told them 500,000 VND. Even with this price, I find it exorbitant. My friend finally settled it for 650,00 VND which I actually wanted to strangle him on the spot.
In the market, there is a huge billboard at the center of the market. When you just enter the market, look up and find the advertisement displaying there and remember it. If you get lost, try to look for the advertisement and guide yourself out. Of course, it will be good if you can recognise the surrounding from where you came in from.
For the dinner on the first night, we went back to the market after 7pm. When the market start closing, the stalls located outside the market will open. The road will be close to cars but motorcycles will still able to enter. There are many food stalls for you to choose so do not jump into the first one you see. There are 2 streets so walk slowly and make your choice. We settled for one and frankly, we do not know what food to order but it is pretty tasty and cheap. We only spend about S$40 (508,000 VND) for 3 person with 4 dishes.
During our stay there, my friend found out from the Internet that there is a good French restaurant in Windsor hotel. However, when we reach there, we were told that it has close down! The bell boy then recommend us a place to eat. We do not know what he was talking about but just went with it anyway. He hailed a cab for us and tell the driver where to go. For his effort, we gave him a small tip for appreciation.
When the cab reach the place, all we see is a construction site. We just can’t believe our rotten luck! Fortunately, someone walk up to the cab driver and tell us the new location of the restaurant. It is actually just along the next street. Till now, we still do not know the restaurant name but we can see that business is good and frequent by many tourist. So it must be a well known place. The food is ok but nothing spectacular. What attracts me is the building which looks pretty colonial.
As mentioned earlier, there isn’t much time for us to do sight seeing here. So most of the time we just walk around the vicinity of the hotel. We went to a restaurant called crazy buffalo there and the food there taste terrible. If you are looking for those higher end products, you can start your tour near Sheraton hotel. Gucci, LV and others are located there.
Saigon has some very nice buildings especially those of colonial type. I do not know what buildings but they are pretty awesome.
As for the Vietnamese people, I would say that they are very friendly and hardworking. I remembered when I first pull out a map at the side of the road, a Cyclos driver drive up to me and offer me his service. I politely turn down his offer and he did not pester me anymore. To avoid any scam, I just stay out of them.
The weather there is hot and humid. I just step out of the hotel for 5 mins and I am perspiring like a tap flowing.
As for currency exchange, once you collect your baggage, you will see some money exchange counters. Check all the rates for comparison. For my case, two of the money exchange offer S$1:12,300VND but the one located in the extreme left offer me S$1:12,600VND. In New World Hotel, they even offer me S$1:12,700VND. So do not rush to change all your currency at the airport and always ask for small change. They will be happy to do it for you.
If you are staying in a 3 star hotel, you may even buy pre-paid SIM card from them. They will be kind enough to activate the SIM card for you. This is what I call service!
The hotel staff in New World Hotel is great. From the concierge, the chambermaid to the bell boy, they are very professional and really take great pride in their work. I encounter two short electrical breakdown during my stay. At the first time, the lift that I took went up and come down suddenly. All the passenger is wondering what happen when we exit the lift. A security guard came quickly and apologize to us explaining to us what happen. Lift service is restored within 5 mins. The second time is in the middle of the night and the electricity just went off. Before I can pick up the phone in pitch darkness, the electricity is resume. To many people, electricity failure is unacceptable in a 5 star hotel. However, I remind myself that this is Vietnam there they are still improving. It is their way of handling the situation that impress me.
As for the traffic situation, I am even more impressed by it. As mentioned, they are always pressing their horns. The zebra crossing is there but is virtually useless. No one will stop for you. I bet my life with the advice that is given by the Internet users from Tripadvisor; walk straight, don’t run, don’t panic, don’t walk backwards, steady and you will be fine. I can say that I survive to be able to write about this. Saigon traffic may look chaotic with thousands of motorcycles on the road. It will be impossible for you to imagine yourself crossing the road. However, the Vietnamese display the spirit of defensive driving to the max. They will try to avoid you if you follow the method I have mentioned earlier. It seems that there are some order within the un-orderliness in Vietnam traffic. They will just swerve around you and pass you. I will take more precaution if it is a car, bus or truck.
Saigon may not be as built up like Bangkok but it is this that make Saigon unique.
And I must say this again, Vietnamese girls in their traditional dress really look pretty (I am not a sex predator!!!). It is even a unique sight for me that they ride a motorcycle in that dress!
I have taken some pictures, not many. You can view it here.