Pages Navigation Menu

Alleys of Saigon

[Not a valid template]

Saigon* airport, no visa, no return flight, not a great combination at least according to the Immigration officer, who didn’t seem too impressed by our lack of visas. Still going with my rule of not planning too much ahead, we had booked our flights to Saigon from Singapore two days earlier, when he had done our research into visas for Vietnam. Turns out almost everybody needs to apply for a visa before entering the country. Unless you are Scandinavian, then for whatever reason, you can get a 15 day entry permit upon arrival, which is what we were planning on taking advantage of.

However, apparently according to rules, which we had been unable to find anywhere, you need to have a forward flight to take advantage of this. Thankfully after some negotiating, our passports were finally stamped by the still slightly skeptical immigration officer, but at least we were allowed into the country.

Next we were hustled by the bus driver, who claimed that he only took dollars. Took us five minutes of arguing to get him to accept our local currency, the dong (yes, that’s the currency). Still he charged us a little extra, but at this point we just wanted to move on and get to our guest house. After half an hour bus ride, we finally arrived to a narrow dark alley. The alley, according to an address we had, was supposed to have our guest house somewhere hidden within its darkness.

[Not a valid template]

[Not a valid template]

The small unimpressive alleys are everywhere in Saigon, once you know what to look for. They are whole villages onto themselves; there are restaurants, bars, shops, hair salons and whatever businesses on the sometimes not more than a meter wide alleys.

Many of the apartments also keep their doors opened even when there doesn’t seem to be any apparent business going on there. So you can often glimpse into peoples homes as they watch TV in the evening. From one of these small alleys we found our guest house, charming little building, with quite a few other guest houses around it.

[Not a valid template]

After having set base in our guest house, we ventured out into the asphalt jungle that is Saigon; and in that jungle motorbikes and scooters are the dominant species, with only the occasional bus and taxi providing some variance. And more often than not there are at least two or three people on each motorbike. Curiously enough, everyone seemed to be wearing a helmet, which I was not expecting. We later found out that the law for wearing helmets was introduced quite recently and is enforced heavily.

[Not a valid template]

[Not a valid template]

[Not a valid template]

Saigon is a vibrant city and the city center is not overwhelmingly large, you can walk around easily, once you master the art of crossing a road. There are a few basic rules:

  • Choose where to cross, zebra crossing is good if one is nearby, but it really makes a little difference
  • Walk across slowly keeping your eye on the traffic coming towards you
  • If you walk slowly, the motorcycles will “usually” avoid you, but avoid sudden movements
  • Cars will not however try to avoid you, so you are the one jumping out of their way
  • It’s best to follow the locals first when you want to cross

It can be terrifying at first crossing the road, but once you get used to the traffic, it actually makes sense and becomes pretty easy. Then you are free to roam the city, instead of taking a mototaxi everywhere, which seems to be the standard form of taxi for Saigon (basically a motorcycle and a driver). Again probably slightly terrifying on the first try, but you get used to it.

[Not a valid template]

[Not a valid template]

We took a few days easily, doing mostly sightseeing in the city. Usually ending up at our local Bia Hoi bar close to our hostel. A pint of draught will cost you 6.000 dong (about about 0,20 euros), which is ridicilously cheap. In a western bar in Saigon you can easily expect to pay 45.000 dong or more for a beer.

And this place is actually nicer. With only a few staff members to deliver the beers, you won’t be ordering anything more complex than beer here. Besides the few staff members, there was an old lady (might had been the owner), who didn’t speak any English, but basically managed the place. Often moving us around to make room for more people, but it was a great way to meet people, as it was a really popular place with the travelers. Well, you can have seven beers for what one would cost in the western bars just some 100 meters away. So of course it’s going to be popular with backpackers. And you could count on seeing familiar faces here, as well as meeting new ones.

Bia Hoi is a curious Vietnamese beer, it’s fresh beer that is brewed daily. It’s delivered everyday to the local bars, as it doesn’t have any preservatives and so it doesn’t survive for long. It’s a bit too sweet for my liking, but for the price, I am not complaining.

[Not a valid template]

*Yes, I know it is officially called Ho Chi Minh , but Saigon sounds better than Ho Chi Minh, and besides that is what everybody else calls it also. Well except officials, they insist on calling it Ho Chi Minh, but what do they know. Everybody else calls it Saigon, the pilot on the plane, the bus driver, the woman selling the noodles, even the bus time schedule says Saigon. So that’s why I also call it Saigon.

2 Comments

  1. Nice post! It made me remember the panic I felt in any Vietnamese city when I had to cross any road… always ended uo like you said following one of the locals :)

    • Thanks,

      Yeah the traffic is crazy with all those motorbikes, first time crossing a road here was just pure terror :)

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Ha Long Bay - Where Ground Rises Sky High | Arctic Nomad - [...] journey had taken us from Saigon to Ha Long Bay, sort of like that Top Gear episode about Vietnam,…