Stay in Saigon, exciting and interesting city.
Saigon is dirty, crowded, and a bee hive of activity. However, it is a great hub for traveling around southern Vietnam, and it has a few great attractions and hidden gems that are worth visiting.
I spent four days in and around Saigon during September 2003. Soon after arriving in town and checking into our hotel, my friend Vince and I began wandering around the congested streets. Little did we know how pedestrian un-friendly HCMC is, or how convenient the motorcycles are!
On 15 September, We began by walking from the Bong Sen 2 Hotel on Hai Ba Trung Street to Mei Linh Square at the Saigon River. The first big challenge was just trying to cross the major street called Ton Duc Thang that runs parallel to the water. Lucky for us, a motorcycle driver, who would soon become our tour guide, pulled out into the street screening us from traffic and enabling us to cross safely! We walked along the water’s edge fending off motorcycle and boat touts, passing in front of the modern Riverside, Grand, and Majestic Hotels. Upon turning the corner at Ben Nghe Channel, we saw the pink Ho Chi Minh Museum and headed in that directed until our motorcycle buddy let us know it was closed. We then wandered down a few busy side streets trying to lose this guy… finally he was gone.
Our next stop was the Reunification Palace, then Notre Dame. Walking down Le Duan Street, we passed in front of the US Consulate then finally the botanical gardens. We returned to the Notre Dame via Nguyen Thu Minh Khai Street and past the Opera House on the way back to our hotel. In the course of two hours, we saw most of downtown HCMC!
That first night in town, we met a couple of great Vietnamese girls. One of the girls invited us to her mother’s house the next day for lunch. Her mother lives about one hour north of HCMC by taxi.
We me the girls the next morning, 16 September, rented a taxi, and away we went to parts unknown. On the way there, we stopped at a nice Buddhist temple and had a few glasses of the drink made from crushed sugar cane. We were worried about the local ice in our drinks, but had no problems. Upon arriving at the girl’s house, we were warmly welcomed by the mother, despite her lack of English. She immediately brought us fruit and coffee and bought some coconuts from the local farmer for a cool drink.
On 18 September, we slept in fairly late, then took the hydrofoil to Vung Tau.
We returned to HCMC early that afternoon to meet the girls again. This time one of them invited us to her apartment for a late lunch. We took a taxi to her place and hiked up the six or seven flights of stairs in a huge old building. Her apartment was tiny with only a kitchen and one large bedroom for the two girls who lived there. Luckily, it had a very high ceiling, so they had built a second bedroom above the first with 2″ x 6″ boards, plywood, and a ladder. They served us fresh fruit and cooked up a nice lunch of seafood and rice. We hung out for a few hours, just relaxing and watching music videos on their tiny TV.