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7 Things about Sai Gon Your Teachers Wouldn’t Tell You

Crossing the road in Saigon can be a nightmare. The trick is to disconnect the part of your brain that processes fear. Be Moses. Walk slowly and confidently – the sea of motor scooters will part every time. After this, you’re ready to for some serious fun – a trip on a motorcycle taxi (xe-om or moto for short). While a few vice peddlers at the bottom of Dong Khoi give these chaps a bad reputation, and few speak much English, it’s the only way to see this town. Note that your moto driver will be getting a kickback from some places he’s recommending. He needs it to live, so if you get a good moto, tip well. If not, stop at the nearest corner and duck into a shop until he’s gone. 20,000 for short trips, 150,000 plus tip for a half-day. Taxis are also plentiful are less likely to try to get you into tourist fleecing dens. They are a much safer bet late night.

Maps: Most hotels will provide a free tourist map of district one although these vary in quality and tend to be advertising based. The Sheraton has one of the best of these and will provide one if you ask at reception. Within District 1, ‘Bookazine’ at #28 Dong Khoi (between Ngo Duc Ke and Ho Huan Nghiep) have larger city maps if you plan to venture beyond District 1. The one published by Du Lich & Giao Thong has a street index on the back. Fahasa Books also carry a full range of available maps. They have two large stores in District 1 – 185 Dong Khoi, just down from Le Thanh Ton, and 40 Nguyen Hue, just down from Mac Thi Buoi. MySherpa Travel has also published tourist maps of central District 1 with all shops and points of interest marked. Outlets in Saigon include Gaya, Dolce Casa, Annam Fine Foods, T&V Tailor, Galley Deli, and some two star hotels.

Let me show you private tour Saigon when you have the plan to visit our city.

Walking tour

The walking tour Saigon starts from Saigon River, walk to Nguyen Hue Street, District 1. End of the street is the building of the People’s Committee of Saigon City. Entry is not allowed however you can take photos in the small park in front of this building. It appears that this area is one of the most beautiful spots of the city with buildings, hotels, shopping places, trees, flowers, people, and vehicles, etc. During the biggest festival in Vietnam, Tet (Lunar New Year), Nguyen Hue is the amazing flower walking street.

Walk back a little from Nguyen Hue Street, turn left to Le Loi Street, you will see the City Theater (City Opera House), the intersection of Le Loi and Dong Khoi Street. On big festivals such as Tet, Victory Day 30 April, National Day 2 September… live bands performs at the open area in front of the Theater, and people gather to watch.

Walk on Dong Khoi Street against the one-way direction; you will reach the Notre Dame Cathedral. It is very crowded inside and outside during Christmas night time (December 24 and 25).

On your right-hand side, there is the Central Post Office.

travel

Continue with the Dong Khoi Street, after passing the Notre Dame Cathedral; the same street is named Pham Ngoc Thach. Walk straight; you will see Le Duan Street. Turn right and walk to the end, intersection with Nguyen Binh Khiem Street, the Zoo and Botanical Garden (Thao Cam Vien) is there. Animals and flowers… in the zoo are normal, but there is quite a good museum about Vietnam since the beginning which worth a visit, Vietnam History Museum. Walking into the zoo, you will see it on your left.

Go straight from the zoo entrance to the other end of Le Duan Street, intersection with Nam Ky Khoi Nghia Street, you will reach the Reunification Palace (Thong Nhat Conference Hall, Dinh Thong Nhat, Dinh Doc Lap). Around this Palace is a green park with stone chairs for you to rest. There are Book Exhibitions in this park sometimes. No park border nor gate.

Going out from the Reunification Palace, turn right and walk on Nam Ky Khoi Nghia Street towards Saigon River direction, on your left you will see the City Museum near Ly Tu Trong intersection with Nam Ky Khoi Nghia Street. Walk straight and turn right to Le Thanh Ton Street, walk for a few blocks, you will see Ben Thanh Market.

Or going out from the Reunification Palace, walk on Nam Ky Khoi Nghia Street, away from Saigon River direction until you reach Vo Van Tan Street, turn left again and walk straight to the War Remnants Museum (Nha Trung Bay Toi Ac Chien Tranh) near Le Quy Don Street.

Bus travel: Traveling on a bus is recommended when you are new to the city and want to have a quick tour. Buses are new, clean and air-conditioned. Ticket costs about VND3,000. There are many bus routes, but for tourists, these two buses are good for city tour:

– Airport Bus (Xe Buyt San Bay) connects Tan Son Nhat Airport and City Center including backpackers’ area Pham Ngu Lao Street, De Tham Street, etc.

– Cholon Bus (Xe Buyt Cho Lon) leads you to China Town in District 5.

Arriving & Departing

Saigon City’s Tan Son Nhat International Airport ( SGN ) is the destination of choice for those coming to the city or anywhere else in Vietnam. Flying from the United States (generally Chicago or California) usually involves a stop-over in Asia, be it Seoul, Singapore, Hong Kong, Taiwan, etc. so be prepared for a long haul.

Arriving

You will be given a two-part customs form to fill out before your arrival. Upon landing, follow the signs to immigration, where you may pick up your luggage. Afterwards, you will head to the customs counter to present your passport, visa and customs form. They will take the customs form and return you a yellow receipt. Keep it! You need it for departure.

Taxis may be accessed just outside of customs. The cost to most hotels in the city center is only $5.

You can use the airport pick up Saigon service to save the cost when you travel this city.

Departure

Taxiing to the airport costs approximately $3.90. Until recently, a departure tax coupon ($14) had to be purchased before entering customs, but this is now generally included in the price of your ticket. After leaving customs, head up an elevator, where you will submit your departure tax coupon (if required) and then head to immigration. At immigration, you present your passport, yellow receipt for the customs form (don’t forget!) and boarding pass, and then you may head for your departure.

Weather & When to Go

It rains a lot in Vietnam. A LOT. The wet season lasts from May to October in the south, and the best times for traveling to Saigon City are late November through January. Consider that “dry season” is a relative term in Indochina. Temperatures range from hot in the winter to hotter in the summer, and the humidity nears 100 about every day. Expect tropical storms often in the summer.

That said, the Vietnamese take little notice of bad weather. Nothing stops for rain (though you might want to sometimes–road conditions are still pretty poor in some places, and travel by bus or motorbike can be extremely dangerous in wet conditions). Air conditioning is standard throughout the city, so you needn’t worry too much about the heat.

The biggest national festival in Vietnam occurs in late January or early February and is called Tet. This is an excellent time to visit the country, as the streets erupt with color and… well… festivities. Tet lasts about a week (or, for some Vietnamese party animals, up to a month) and is scheduled around the lunar calendar, so you’ll have to check for this year’s dates.

This Saigon Saigon City Weather Page has annual averages for temperature, rainfall, and humidity – as well as the up-to-the-moment weather at Saigon’s Tan Son Nhat International Airport.

Saigon Health & Safety

Being the biggest city in Vietnam, Saigon City inevitably invites people from other provinces come here to live, study and work with hope for a better life and they make the city so crowded. It is no danger to travel here, no war, no storm, no flood, no natural disaster, no political issue, but caution is always necessary. Watch out when you cross the street or walk along the streets as the traffic is almost out of control. Some, not only poor people, will look for chances to earn from you, so keep your money and credit card in your pants. Try not to carry any bag when you go out. Cameras, handphones, and bags are snatched, not too often, but quite at the higher rate compared with other cities. When talking on your mobile, stand near a wall instead of walking and talking in the crowded streets.

If you rent a motorcycle or a bicycle, always let people keep with a fee (VND2,000 or 3,000. U.S.$1 = VND16,000 as of June 2006) when you go into a shop or a market, etc. Keeping it in a big parking lot of a bank or supermarket, in front of Fahasa bookshops or inside any park when you see keepers in colored military uniform looks safer. It’s common that a keeper after giving you a ticket (as a receipt to keep your bike) will normally take your bike to park somewhere, but it has been reported that when you come back, they say this is not the real ticket.

If you travel alone, it’s not necessary to advertise this. It’s a tip everyone knows, but you can always say your wife or husband or sister is in the hotel, and you just stepped out to buy something. Male travelers may sometimes strike up a conversation with a local lady and wish to take her to their hotel room. The hotel will keep the lady’s ID card and return it to her upon departing. They may ask the lady to leave after 10 pm. Ask yourself “Can you trust her?” Do you feel you’re safe with a stranger you just meet? Remember if anything happens, people will not report it out of shame. Avoid dark streets at night. Prostitution is strictly prohibited in Vietnam, but girls still stand there to catch customers. The problem is without proof; policemen cannot arrest them. Their manager may rob your belongings, not the girls themselves. You may see “thin” hotels (small and with many floors). See if you have exits in case of fire. Houses burn down occasionally due to bad electrical wiring or any number of other reasons.

 

Taxis are unregulated in Vietnam which means owners can legally charge whatever they want and they set their meters to spin at an alarming rate. If you get stung by a rip off taxi driver, meter or not, you can refuse to pay. This might lead to a heated situation, but eventually, he has to take what you offer. Use the word “tourist police” a lot to get his attention. These rip off taxis will sometimes not drop you off in hotel aprons or near other taxis because they know you will then have people to support you. If you do get into this position, make sure you get the taxi number and report it to the police. To avoid this type of situation use only company taxis. Hotels will recommend them, and some hotels provide city maps with the names of company taxis on the back. They are distinguishable from private taxis by the phone number on the side which is much longer.

Saigon Neighborhoods

Saigon City is divided into 24 districts: 7 named urban districts, seven numbered districts, and five outlying named suburban districts. Most of the things to do in the heart of the city occur in District 1 and District 3: this is where you’ll find most of your sights, museums, best eateries, bars, etc.

The best neighborhood for the budget traveler to stay is Pham Ngu Lao, where cheap but reliable guesthouses abound. You’ll find the least expensive accommodations tucked just a few steps away from the most obvious options, tucked away on the alleys (this goes for throughout HCMC). You can find your full of food here for the US $0.35 and up–don’t leave Vietnam without a hearty dose of cheap street-side pho’ (a hearty noodle soup usually eaten for breakfast).

The Dong Khoi area is one step up regarding ammenities and prices. While you’re in Saigon City, be sure to check out Cho Lon (“Big Market”), where the city’s ethnic Chinese population is concentrated. The market is also known as “Cho Tan Dinh” where you get fair prices although be aware of “fresh” quotes. Make sure you negotiate pricing for 20-30 % off the quoted price. If you are a foreigner, tell them that you are an expat and are living here, so please give you a fair price. Learn some VN will earn some respect and invite a more friendly negotiation experience.

Another large market is just a few blocks away from the five-star hotel, Sheraton Saigon. It is a wise bargainer who shops some of the hotel shops, small stores before venturing into the markets. Another tip – the bargain in Dong, not USD as it is much more finite in pricing and the total price will be considerably less rather than rounding to the nearest USD (around 18,000 Dong to USD 1).

From Saigon you can make a trip to visit the neighborhoods areas such as Mekong Deta. If you want to discover this beautiful you and you friend can visit mekong delta within 2 days.

Saigon Architecture

Unexpected architectural delights found in Saigon City are the Post Office with its high arched ceilings (look up!), and the Notre Dame Cathedral, which is supposed to be a smaller replica of the original.

Ho Chi Minh City History

Situated on the banks of the Saigon River, Saigon City has gone by several names over the centuries, most recently in 1975.

Saigon City was originally founded as Prey Nokor, a small fishing village and main port of Cambodia under the Khmer, in the 16th century. The name Prey Nokor meant “forest city” or “forest land” and referred to the swampy forests upon which it was founded. In the 17th century, Vietnamese settlers flocked to Prey Nokor and by 1698, Nguyen Huu Canh, a Vietnamese noble was sent to expand Prey Nokor into a Vietnamese settlement. By that time, Prey Nokor had became known as Gia Dinh officially, but Sai Gon more popularly (Sai Gon coming from obscure etymology but most assuredly referring to the forest area of the city).

In 1859, the French conquered Saigon and incorporated it as the capital into the newly-formed French colony of Cochinchina, which later became French Indochina and subsequently South Vietnam. There, the French labeled Prey Nokor Saigon. The French architectural style is visible in many of the remaining nineteenth-century buildings, for example, the Museum of Fine Arts and the Saigon City Museum.

During the Vietnam-American War, Saigon was the capital of the Republic of Vietnam (South Vietnam) until its unification with the North Vietnamese in 1975 which united the two halves. It was subsequently renamed Saigon City in honor of the pseudonym of the Vietnamese guerilla leader-Saigon (real name Nguyen Tat Thanh).

Today, Saigon City is the largest city in Vietnam, larger than even the capital Hanoi, with more than 8 million people, and hosts the largest number of businesses in Vietnam – over 300,000. It is climbing, slowly but surely, into the new millennium.

 

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