Saigon or Ho Chi Minh City is not just about sunlights, moons, joined forces from the gods of fortune, midnights, and high noons. It is the center of trade, commerce, and industry, making it as an important hub of Vietnam with a current population of 7.5 million people. Like Metro Manila, Saigon is a bustling metropolis sans the ubiquitous Philippine jeepneys, westernized commercial districts, and a mass transportation system (currently on the works as of this writing).
Here are the 7 things that you should know about Saigon and I hope that this post will serve as a guide for those who are planning to visit Saigon.
1) Your US Dollars will go a l00000ng way (yep, those repetitive zeroes are intentional).
One of the things that caught me off guard when I went to Saigon several weeks ago was their money. Becoming a millionaire in Vietnam is so easy. For instance, I had my USD150 changed to their local currency (Vietnamese Dong). The rate? A dollar is equivalent to 21,000 VD. Do the simple math, I already have 3.1 million VD! But don't worry, It's still cheap in Vietnam, even cheaper than in Philippines! Which lead us to number two...
2) Saigon is home to a number of manufacturing factories of leading fashion brands.
Overrun means that the products didn't pass the final QA (quality assurance) screening. But who cares about it - it's still authentic and nothing beats owning authentic products because it lasts longer than imitations. Here, you can buy an original (but overrun) North Face backpacks from 400,000 to 500,000 VD (Php 800-1000). If you're into some serious shopping, head on to Saigon Square in District 1. They sell a LOT of overrun products such as Abercrombie and Fitch, Tommy Hilfiger, Super Dry and a whole lot more. Take note though that some stalls sell imitations. We're quite lucky because my ninang had some Filipino friends in Saigon and told us the particular stalls that sell overrun products.
Just remember, haggle if you must!
3) The locals LOVE veggies.
It's not surprising obesity uncommon in the city. This just doesn't apply in Saigon but also to the rest of the country. Most locals are fit, and they owe it to their diet. But you know, even if I ain't a fan of veggies, I find Vietnamese cuisine delicious. My personal favorite? PHO NOODLES. ULTIMATE. COMFORT. FOOD. Now, if you want to shed some weight, head on to Vietnam and eat a lot of Vietnamese food. As what my ninang's friend told us, "Vietnamese can't live without vegetables."
4) Hotels are relatively cheaper in Saigon.
Last September, we booked a boutique hotel in District 1 (Townhouse 50). We chose Townhouse 50 because it's near the downtown area. For our accommodation, we only paid Php700 per night (so that's Php 350 per pax since I'm sharing a room with my travel buddy). But, our room was really nice - air conditioned room, free wi-fi, free breakfast, a king size bed, shower and toilet with bidet, and a 32in LED TV with cable. Sulit, isn't it?
I went back to Saigon a few weeks ago and we were booked at Oscar Saigon Hotel. It's a 4-Star Hotel in District 1, near the Saigon Opera House. We stayed there for two nights and we only paid Php 1800 per night (so that's Php 900 per night). The room comes with the same amenities but the bathroom was the true winner for it had a bathtub! Woot woot! The hotel also had a Yamaha Piano at the lobby and I had the chance to serenade the guests for free. LOL.
5) Sidewalks aren't meant for PEOPLE.
Yep, you've read it right. Saigon is so full of life, in fact the sidewalks could eat you alive for it to sustain its life! The motorcycle is the primary mode of transportation of the locals. Seeing thousands of motorcycles zooming the freeway is amazing and scary at the same time. We all know that during rush hour, people are always in such a rush, and since motorcycles can make their way through the narrow crevices of Ho Chi Minh, they have the right of way instead of the people walking on the designated sidewalks.
Crazy, I know.
6) Be cautious with your belongings and do some research.
There are only two trustworthy taxi companies in Saigon - Vinasun and Mai Linh. Upon arrival at the airport, some 'drivers' will approach you and offer a cheaper fare to downtown Saigon, only to find out that you'll be charged three to four times higher than the regular taxi fare as soon as you arrive at your destination. And like any other major cities in the world, Saigon has its own share of pickpockets. No need to panic though, just don't leave your things unattended. Simple as that.
7) Enjoy Saigon.
The whirr of motorcycles, the delicious Vietnamese cuisine, the unique pre-colonial French architecture of some buildings, the Sequoia trees that lined up almost every major streets of District 1, the aroma of Trung Nguyen and Highlands coffee, and the sound of locals doing their respective activities - those are the things that make Saigon unique and worth visiting.
I would definitely love to visit Saigon again, and again, and again!