Scooter Mania! – Our time in Saigon, Vietnam

Posted by on Mar 5, 2012 in Asia, Vietnam | 1 comment

Our red eye flight from Manila, Philippines landed in Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City), Vietnam at 1 am. We prearranged a visa online, and it awaited us at immigration. The visa was easy as pie, immigration and customs weren’t too bad, and we were ready for Saigon.  Well, it was 2 am by this point so we were mostly ready for bed. Haha. We shared a cab to the backpacker haven of Pham Ngu Lao.

Our taxi ride wasn’t far and at 2am on a Wednesday, the streets were vacant.  Then we arrived in the Pham Ngu Lao part of town and everything changed. Scooters buzzed in every direction.  Their horns blasted constantly. Neon lights of every color lit the sky. The energy of this town was amazing. We were no longer tired as we pushed our way through crowded streets. An impromptu karaoke bar had sprung up in front of our hostel. Huge speakers blasted weird Asian music and drunken people sang their lungs out. It’s 3 am by this point.  It’s a Wednesday night! Crazy. It was like Chinatown and Las Vegas had a demon baby.  Our hotel was the only thing closed, ah the plights of travel.

We fought our way through the labyrinth of Asian madness trying to find a hostel. We headed down side alleys. The Alleys are 4 feet wide. We danced around people seated on the concrete in front of their homes. Scooters horns blow and then they race past us. We follow neon lights to a hostel and luckily they have a room for us.

alley during the daylight hours

We crawled into bed. Wondering what we got ourselves into.  Saigon was a whole new world from Manila. Manila was a whole new world from home. We wanted different, and we got different.  My head was busy tying to put sense to all the madness as I fell asleep.

Despite the late night, we woke up early, energy renewed with the prospects of exploring a new city. However, we had a strong Vietnamese coffee anyways. Something tells me you can never have too much energy in Saigon.

We wanted to see Ben Thanh Market so we grabbed a map, planned our route and started out of the hostel into the alley. Once we hit our first real street we were dumbfounded. How to cross the street in this mad ocean of scooters?

After watching a couple of locals we caught on.  You just walk. Walk at a slow and steady speed and the scooters maneuver around you. Looked easy enough. Sounded easy enough. We grabbed each other’s hand, held our breath and started our journey.  We took slow, deliberate steps, as scooters flew around us. They always waited till the last moment before slightly veering around us. And every time you could feel the breeze as they zipped by.  After what seemed like an eternity, we made it across. Our hearts pounded with adrenaline and we were shaking at the knees but we made it across. The next street wasn’t as bad and by the 3rd it was fun.

The market was full of all kinds of Buddha trinkets,  shirts with funny sayings, and paintings. The food section of the market was where we found the most interesting stuff. We found a durian stand for our Asian Food Challenge. They are easy to find just follow the rotting fruit / locker room smell. True to the legend, it tasted horrible. Worst thing I’ve ever ate. I washed it down with a bottle of coke.  Which gave me plenty of burps the rest of the day. Durian burps.

You can read about the Asian Food Challenges here.

There were also bottles of alcohol with cobras and scorpions in them.

And dried sea slugs. At least that’s what I called them. Not really sure what these were, or how they are prepared. I tried to ask. Every time I got the answer “animal.” Well that narrows it down.

We were ready for our first real meal. All the fruits, animal parts, and sea creatures worked up an appetite in us. The best way to get food is to find little street stalls. All the street stalls have these little tables at them. The tables would be perfect for a 5 year old’s tea party, but I found them a pain in the butt. We sat on the short stools and enjoyed a $1 bowl of soup.

The picture below is another restaurant we ate at. Not the $1 bowl of soup. We went to an actual sit-down restaurant with full-size tables and chairs. This bowl of soup had shrimp and a $2 price tag. It was some amazing pho!

The Reunification Palace was interesting to see. Even though the Vietnam war was before my time, the pictures of helicopters evacuating people and tanks crashing through the palace gates are iconic.

The palace still looks the same, but from the top you see the new skyline of Saigon like the Bitexco Financial Tower.

There was a guy hawking us to buy coconuts and water. We didn’t want to buy anything but he was super friendly and over zealous with his sales pitch. I decided to help him out and carry his water for him for a bit.

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One Comment

  1. I could almost smell some of that food! If it skirms or bites back try to avoid it. Take care. Love the pictures. Jan

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