Bustling Saigon in less than 48 hours

Jul 11, 2011

We only stayed in Saigon for less than two days. It was just a layover since there was no direct flight from Manila to Siem Reap. But despite staying there for a short period of time, we were able to do a LOT.

For the city is BUSTLING.

We arrived at around 2am and headed to our hotel in the backpackers district, De Tham St. And the place was still alive. Blasting sounds and backpackers just drinking the night away. There were a lot of small shops and most of the restaurants were still open. I knew I was going to like Saigon. :)

So what happened during our less than 48 hours in Saigon?
1) We fell in love with their staple food - PHO!!!

2) We drank and bought lots of coffee!
From those being sold by the sidewalk - which I loved the most despite the fact that they serve it HOT in a plastic cup.

Whether it's hot or cold. It's instant or brewed. We just loved it. :)

3) We did the CuChi tunnel tour. It was okay. Let’s just say that we could have done something else given the short period of time we were there. But we still had a great time. We laughed our way out of the tunnels, which made it harder for us to crawl but made it super fun. You should always bring a Mayen to this types of trips. Thanks Mayen! ;)

Our tour bus broke down on our way back so we had to ride a public bus. The people were really nice and they smiled a lot. Since we didn’t know how to speak their language and they didn’t know how to speak English, we just waited and waited until the place looks familiar enough for us to go down. Which never really happened. Good thing all the buses stop in the Ben Thanh Market.

3) We shopped.

- the rejects/fake North Face/Deuter bags
- the old books and photocopied books
- the novelty t-shirts

My friends shopped again during the 3-hours interval between our arrival from Siem Reap and checking-in for our flight back to Manila. More bags and coffee!

4) Fell in love with their parks and the old French architecture

I loved the way this park was so taken care of. I loved how relaxing it was to stay there especially in the early morning, despite the chaos of motorbikes surrounding it. The way the sunlight rays peek through the tall trees and form lines through the grass.

Notre de Dame Cathedral

Post Office

5) We got sort-of scammed which we just charged to experience.

Scam 1: My friend and I saw this lady who was selling sweets. So we made hand signals to ask her how much it was. Before even answering or clarifying our question, she was already preparing one serving for us. We tried to stop her but she pretended as if she didn’t hear us. When we asked her how much it was, she showed us a 50,000 VND bill, which was around USD2. It was that expensive. It was equivalent to one meal in Siem Reap’s Pub Street. And it wasn’t really that special.

Scam 2: After a while we realized that the bags they were selling in the Ben Thanh market were quite expensive. My friend said that there was this one street where they sold relatively cheap knock-offs. We asked a taxi driver where the place was. He said that it’s quite far. Since most of us were quite tired already and we wanted to have coffee while watching the sunset in the pier area, we decided to just ride the taxi. We figured since there were seven of us it would be cheaper. So we asked this taxi driver to take us to the place, he even agreed to charge us using the meter. But after less than five minutes, including traffic, we already arrived in our destination. That was how near it was from the main market. It was apparently just two blocks away from where we came from.

It maybe because we were so tired and sleep-deprived that we didn’t have energy to care anymore, but we didn’t get mad at the taxi driver. We were just laughing at ourselves for what happened. We thought that at least the taxi had aircon. It’s always nice to have fun, spontaneous friends during travels.

Scam 3: During our less than two days in Saigon, we experienced three or four types of taxi metering.

But one thing that stuck with me, personally, was how indifferent and strong the personalities are of the Vietnamese. Well at least those we encountered in the Saigon city proper, and how they treated the Asian tourists quite differently from the Westerners. I took it quite negatively.

And looking back now, I realized that it was wrong of me to have judged them so soon. I should not have compared them to the Thais or the Khmers. I should have had a more open mind. The Vietnamese are survivors. The world has not been easy to them.

I realized now that it is part of Saigon’s charm and identity. And a tourist like me should not have asked differently and should never have judged.

And I should have stayed longer in Saigon. I should have tried eating at the sidewalk noodle places along with the Vietnamese. I should have gone ahead with asking a motorbike driver to take me around the city or back to our hostel. And most importantly, I should have bought more packs of G7 instant coffee. All other instant coffees taste blah compared to G7.

These are the reasons why I’m going back there this December or early next year. And I’m going further north to Hanoi, Hue, Hoi-an, and the other towns along the way. With a more open mind, less shopping, but more coffee and pho and old books.

I can’t wait. ;)

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