Ho Chi Minh or Saigon is a city of contrasts. Extreme wealth and extreme poverty sit side by side. The traffic is insane. But in a good way. The crazy holds no aggression. The constant beeping of horns is to let you know someone is there. People laugh, there is no road rage. Traffic signs are treated as a guide only, not a rule. It is a content and comfortable kind of crazy. Just like mad uncle Jack – completely insane but hard not to love.
The scooters are everywhere even the pavements and they carry anything from mum’s with sleeping baby’s cradled in one arm, while steering with the other, to families of four on the school run, to trees, ladders and kitchen sinks. And there are literally millions of them. Traffic lights mean little, turning across traffic, headed the wrong way down one way streets, round about’s with 7 roads colliding – it’s all on. And although warned about it – there is nothing like experiencing it first hand. To cross the road you just step out slowly and keep walking. Scooters, buzz past you and swerve around you. It is terrifying and exhilarating all at the same time.
The city is divided into 10 districts and just like in Paris, the districts spiral out from the centre, meaning district 3, is next to district 10. Which makes perfect sense in a city that is crazy. The only way to experience it is to join in. Embrace the crazy.
When staying in Saigon, you need to stay in District 1. Everything is a relatively easy walk from there (if you don’t count crossing roads) . We chose the Reverie Saigon and have not been disappointed. The hotel is stunning and opulent. The staff and professional, discreet, thoughtful, helpful and kind. Nothing is a bother, turn down happens, rooms get made up, room keys get repunched (The husband must have forgotten his 5 times at least!). The service matches the stunning interiors and the location is fantastic, right on Nguyen Hue – the main wide walking boulevard, perfect for a stroll after dinner.
We were very fortunate to be upgraded to an executive suite, meaning we had lots of space and got access to the club lounge, with stunning river views and cocktails and canapés included. It is absolutely worth the money. And compared to hotels of a similar standard globally, it is incredibly affordable.
The main sights of city itself can be covered in a day, leaving a second day to venture further a field to the Cu Chi Tunnels or explore the Mekong Delta.
As for Ho Chi Minh itself, the sights can be explored on foot or by army jeep or by scooter. The cyclors are best avoided as are the taxis unless arranged through your hotel. While the city is generally safe, petty crime does happen. Uber here is known as Grab. It is a scooter taxi. Once you recognise them, you realise they are everywhere. If you are brave enough and can’t be bothered walking – you can download the App and Go Grab.
We chose to walk and found it easy to navigate the streets with a hotel map and a sense of adventure. The city is a juxtaposition of culture and chaos, of have’s and have not’s of old school and new school. This was very evident as you wandered about. The street sellers, hawking “handmade” cards sitting right outside the Gucci store, the old woman selling fruit from the back of her bike while her grandson plays on a mobile phone at her feet, the $3,000,000 USD mansions on the river that look across at the boat houses on stilts on the other side, where every day it’s hand to mouth. It is fascinating and sad all at once.
If you have older children in tow then I highly recommend the War Remnants Museum. But be warned it is confronting. We chose not to see all of it with a small person. Just know it paints a brutal and very different Vietnam War than you see in the movies. It is moving though, and well worth a visit.
We also chose a Jeep and Boat tour through Les Rives and had a wonderful guide “Wing”, who showed us the crazy, out of the way places as well as the main sights. I loved the fertility temple we saw – Chua Phuoc Hai, where couples go to be blessed with children, the flower markets and navigating the insanity of the scooters, while standing on the back of a jeep. Of course, the sudden afternoon downpour was as hilarious as it was soaking! It is not easy holding an umbrella, in a downpour on the back of a jeep!
The second half of the tour had us on a boat exploring floating temples, fresh coconut traders and seeing first had the children of the river. Our guide was brilliant. She explained everything in great detail and juggled things around to ensure we saw what we wanted and not what we didn’t. It was a real eye opener for me and made me very grateful that we have free education in our country. It is not so in Vietnam and the really poor, simply never educate their young, because they cannot afford to, condemning entire groups to perpetual poverty.
It is something that I am glad we showed Charlotte as we returned to our 5 star accomodation and the luxury of our lives back home. It was a great reminder of just how lucky we are.
So, if you are visiting Ho Chi Minh, stay somewhere central, make sure you have air conditioning, get out on the river and embrace the crazy.
Highlights from Small Heights
For one, traffic lights mean little. Honestly, Mum they mean naught, nil, nothing and nada. It’s exhausting really, correcting all those mistakes.
So, as for the city of Minh Chi Ho, where do I start? Ah, the traffic. The perfect example of lawlessness and freedom-and a lack of accidents. Miraculous, really.
Whether it is in the rain, siting in a roofless jeep with two broken umbrellas, or a calm view on the river, or even through a windows in your dry hotel room, Minh Chi Ho is quite interesting…however, so is my book.
The Reverie, our hotel in the backwards city of Hinm Ihc Oh, was pretty cool. My parents arrived horribly underdressed in travel clothes, but the rest of the hotel was decorated beautifully. With okay views, and amazing rooms, which we didn’t spend enough time in, the Eirever is a place I’d book again.
This is a very back to front post.
Two top tips: Drive around laughing at traffic, and go on a river boat thingy, they’re pretty fun.