Very pleasant surprise on the first day; changed US$100 into Vietnamese Dong and I became an overnight millionaire ($100 = 2,0000,000 Vietnamese Dong). You can imagine my great pleasure at finally becoming a multimillionaire 🙂 . Good surprise after getting ripped off with the taxi scam upon arrival.
Saigon is one huge city with tons and tons of scooters; which are used as primary means for transportation (people and goods). Everyone drives a scooter; scooters everywhere. So have to be careful crossing streets as scooters come from everywhere. It is similar to India but somehow much more civilized. Hard to describe. Also, the pollution from these scooters is not noticeable somehow. Traffic is never jammed, and I believe it is mostly because at non-major non-traffic light intersections, none of the scooters or cars stop; they simply melt into the ongoing traffic without stopping; and the traffic that has the right of way obligingly gives the joining traffic space to join the bustle of traffic.
Saigon is known for its markets, where everything and anything is sold. Close to where we were staying, (Lan Lan 1 hotel; 3 star, for $40/night including breakfast for 2) was the Ben Thanh market where you can get everything (food, vegetables, meats, flowers, clothes, sunglasses, bags, luggage, jewelry, cooking utensils etc etc). All kinds of knock-off clothes & handbags. Found that in Saigon, the vendors were more aggressive than in similar markets in Cambodia. Cambodia as mentioned in previous blog, is like Vietnam 10 years ago, where people still smile while bargaining.
So ended up buying some knock off clothing, shoes, jewelry etc in the markets. Also visited Cholon, which is the Chinese part of Saigon, about 45 minutes from our hotel. There, they have huge wholesale marketz called Binh Tay market and An Dong market, in which similar stuff is sold, but with less bargaining as prices are already lower as these market are wholesale market. The markets are very crowded with lots of small traders/shops stocking tons of stuff in very small spaces. See pics for a better idea.
Taxi transportation is very cheap in Saigon (except our first taxi ride in Saigon), with a 10 min taxi ride costing about $1.00. Wonder if they use Natural Gas instead of Gasoline?
Food is incredibly tasty, with great Pho (beef) and curries etc everywhere. One beef dish we had (Bo Tung Xeo: grilled beef), was the best tasting beef I have ever eaten. And very cheap; 2 of us were eating full dinner with drinks for $11-$15 in a very nice restaurant (mid-end). Lunches ran about $6 for 2 people. The food is healthy and filling but you never feel heavy in your stomach even after eating a lot of Vietnamese food. And coconuts (cold) were available everywhere for $0.75 each. Had several every day as the coconut water was very sweet. I am definitely a huge fan of Vietnamese food after this.
Massages were about double of what we were paying in Cambodia; about $9-$10 per hour. Still a great deal.
Saigon has plenty of nice, well preserved buildings from the Colonial times, an Opera house, tons of nice hotels, Museums, Reunification Palace, Notre Dame church, old colonial post office building etc. Streets are all kept very clean inspite of the large population and lots of street eating places. People are very entrepreneurial here. You can also see some poverty here, but nowhere as bad as in India.