Not Enough Time in Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon)


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Asia » Vietnam » Southeast » Ho Chi Minh City
March 6th 2015
Published: March 8th 2015
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I was standing at the end of one of the laneways from Mekong-Logis Guesthouse on Thursday morning, still waiting for my bus station pick up at 6.30am. He was late, my bus was leaving at 7.00am, and I hate cutting things fine.

Linh's mother, from the guesthouse, pulled up beside me on her moto. She had unlocked the gate for me so knew what time I'd left and how long I'd been waiting. She made a call on her mobile and within minutes a taxi pulled in. She handed me a bag containing 6 dinner rolls and a hand of tiny bananas, as she knew I hadn't had breakfast. She bundled me into the taxi, paid the driver herself, and waved me off. Now I'm feeling the 'friendly family guesthouse' thing..

I got to the bus station in plenty of time to pay for my booked ticket and find my seat. A service runs every hour between Can Tho and Ho Chi Minh City, so had I missed this one I would have soon been on another. Once again I'm travelling with Futa Buslines and my ticket cost $7 for the 3.5 hour trip.

The bus station in HCMC is on the outskirts of the city, and the usual mob of touts met the bus. Not knowing how far I had to go to get to my accomodation, I decided to treat myself to a taxi instead of a moto driver with my suitcase between his knees again. It was a good decision, the half hour trip cost me 250,000 dong, or $15.

My accomodation for the next two nights is Little Saigon Corner Boutique Hotel, smack bang in the middle of District 1, the backpacker area. I booked this through the hotel website as a half price promotion. I have a lovely room on the third floor with a soft bed, rain shower and breakfast, for $38 per night.

I settled in then went out again, as I always do. District 1 was buzzing, lots of shops and restaurants, people and motos everywhere. I got a street map from a travel agent to find the huge Ben Thanh Markets were within walking distance, as were Reunification Palace, Notre-Dame Cathedral, the Post Office and Chua Ba Mariamman Hindu Temple. I am going to be busy!

Whilst I was walking a cycle rickshaw pulled up beside me. The driver persuaded me to hop in for a ride to Emperor Jade Pagoda. As usual I asked him his price, he dithered and was non-commital, and I should have been more persistent. Eventually we reached the Pagoda to find it crowded with locals. Today was a holy day, he informed me, and visiting today would bring me good luck.

Built in 1909, Emperor Jade Pagoda is one of the most spectacularly atmospheric temples in HCMC, stuffed with statues of divinities and grotesque heroes. The pungent smoke of incense filled the air, and hidden chambers had altars and woodcarvings depicting scenes from Taoist and Buddhist myths. The Jade Emperor is said to be 'heaven's gatekeeper'. It was an interesting visit as this pagoda was vastly different from any other I had seen on my travels.

Next 'place of interest' he took me to was Vinh Nghiem Pagoda, also crowded with worshipping locals. This is a large complex and one of the first pagodas in HCMC to be built of concrete. It was festively decorated with lots of flags and the street outside the gate was filled with vendors selling incense sticks.

I decided my last stop with this fellow would be the Art Museum. He could drop me there, I would pay him, and that would be that. We stopped to buy a drink at a small shop, as he pointed out the museum further down the street. From under the seat of his cycle rickshaw he pulled out an A4 sized pad full of glowing recommendations from previous passengers....they all seemed genuine and some of them even had passport photos pasted on the pages.

Then we got to the 'you pay me now' bit. He wanted 500,000 dong per hour, which is $AUD30, and I spent 1.5 hours with him. So, technically, I owed him 750,000 dong, or $45! This was a ridiculous price, and I didn't have that much cash with me anyway. He suggested I withdraw from an ATM and then pay him. I told him I wasn't paying him that much...no way. The conversation started to get heated, I gave him what cash I had, 150,000 dong or $9, and walked away. Thankfully he didn't follow me.

I never got to the Art Museum as I now had no money for the entrance fee. Thankfully, I did have my map so walked back to my hotel instead. I spent an hour in the air con, grabbed my ATM card and headed out again, map in hand.

All the streets are well signed, and once I got my bearings, it was easy enough to walk to the places I wanted to see. Reunification Palace was my first stop. It was just closing so I was unable to go inside but would be worth another visit. From here I walked to Notre-Dame Cathedral and then the Post Office which is opposite the Cathedral.

Finished in 1883, Notre Dame Cathedral is a Catholic cathedral named after the Virgin Mary. It is a brick, neo-Romanesque church with two 40m high square towers tipped with iron spires. The walls of the interior are inlaid with devotional tablets and there are some beautiful stained glass windows. Hymns were playing whilst I was there and people were sitting in the pews, praying.

Across the street is Saigon's Central Post Office. This building is one of the oldest in HCMC, and is a big tourist drawcard because of it's beautiful French Colonial architecture. You feel that you're walking into a 20th century railway station in Europe, rather than a post office in an Asian country. Its ornate furnishings, gorgeous patterned tiled floor and the massively high ceilings all speak of another time, another place. The beautifully restored phone booths, now house ATM machines.

The next day (Friday) was my only full day in HCMC, and I booked a half day private motorcycle tour with Saigon Unseen Tours. This tour didn't take me to tourist attractions but to places I wouldn't usually see, off the tourist trail. My driver and guide, Mr Ut, a happy laughing man who was excellent company, was right on time at 8.30am, and after a quick rundown on where we'd be going we hit the road. The traffic in Saigon is unbelievable, there are 2.2 million motorcycles on the roads, Mr Ut informed me. Thankfully, he was a local and had been manoeuvring a bike through this traffic for years, so I tried not to hang on too tightly as we wove our way around the streets.

We visited lots of interesting places, travelling out as far out as District 7, a newer area geared at expats and rather expensive to live in. We dropped into a local home in one of the poorer areas, visited local markets including a huge wholesale market, churches,the riverside and Chinatown. It was a good way to pass a morning and I relaxed during the afternoon. I had laundry to pick up, a suitcase that badly needed repacking and a book to finish.

Tomorrow I fly to Danang to enjoy a couple of days in luxury at the Sunrise Resort in Hoi An.


Additional photos below
Photos: 25, Displayed: 25


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The Post OfficeThe Post Office
The Post Office

The beautifully renovated interior.
The Post OfficeThe Post Office
The Post Office

These were once phone booths, now housing ATMs.
Mariamman Hindu TempleMariamman Hindu Temple
Mariamman Hindu Temple

The walls reflected blue across the diety statues all around the upper walls.
Mariamman Hindu TempleMariamman Hindu Temple
Mariamman Hindu Temple

Incense burning inside with the brightly coloured walls behind.
Mariamann Hindu TempleMariamann Hindu Temple
Mariamann Hindu Temple

Devotees praying, touching the back of the shrine.
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Saigon Unseen Tour

This little girl lived in a house we visited.
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Saigon Unseen Tour

Huge apartment blocks in District 7
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Saigon Unseen Tours

Saigon Skyline
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Saigon Unseen Tour

Catholic Church at the end of busy local market
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Saigon Unseen Tour

Something you wouldn't see very often - a statue of Christ flanked by Chinese Dragons
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Saigon Unseen Tour

Local woman in a laneway
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Saigon Unseen Tour

Frogs waiting for the dinner pot
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Saigon Unseen Tour

Vendor at a local market
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Saigon Unseen Tour

Chickens for Sale


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