Today I dragged my injured knee out of bed and hopped into a scooter. For 4 hours, I rode around Vietnam’s largest city and entered places I wouldn’t wander into on my own.
It was not the conventional sightseeing trip. It was breathing in the real life of Ho Chi Minh City, off the tourist trail.
From the countless tour providers in the area, I picked Saigon Adventure – now #2 in TripAdvisor. Apart from their many excellent reviews, they are more affordable than #1. 😛
Henry was my scooter-driver-guide for the day. He arrived at my hostel right on time, with a big smile on his face. I knew it was going to be a fun day ahead, he had me at ‘hello’.
We zig-zagged through the city’s organized chaos – from busy streets to hidden alleyways.
NGUYỄN THIỆN THUẬT OLD APARTMENTS
While District 1 is the tourist central, District 3 is where long-time residents work, live and play. Back in the 70s, this ten-block apartment complex was built for citizens and military officers. It was the most modern, coveted place to live in.
Today, it is the biggest and oldest residential area with a huge network of narrow streets and back alleys.
Because families lived in cramped units, daily life has extended to the streets.
Fun facts: Stairs in these apartments have ramps made for motorbikes to be carried home, up to the top floors. Also, Vietnam’s black noodles are not only found in the kitchen. Can you spot them in the photo below?
Walking around, I felt like time-traveling back to the old Saigon. I wonder what it was like during its best era.
Chillin’ with my homies. 😛
BÀN CỜ MARKET
A few steps away from the apartments is a market that opens every morning. The stalls are right in front of homes so the pathways are small and crowded.
I was unfazed because I am a pro in sneaking into tiny spaces, between people, animals and any moving object. Yey to Philippine life training!
Henry offered to buy me mangoes and jackfruit, perfect snacks for later that day.
Our quick fix for the heat was syrup extracted from fresh sugarcane.
While resting, Henry gave me a short Vietnamese language lesson. Mot, Hai, Ba, YO!
District 5 has the biggest wholesale flower market in the city. Flowers in Vietnam are a major industry because they are used in offerings, rituals and festivals.
MOTORBIKE PARTS MARKET
Of course the long stretch of motor parts shops in District 5 is a necessity in a city where bikes have taken over humans. 😛
DRIVE THRU CHINATOWN
Fun Fact: Ho Chi Minh has the largest Chinatown in Vietnam. Hanoi, the capital city, has no Chinatown.
Try to Google:
Is there a country in the world without a Chinatown?
Where is the oldest Chinatown in the world?
BÀ THIÊN HẬU TEMPLE
This Temple is also known as the Pagoda of the Lady Thien Hau – the Chinese sea goddess Mazu. She is the deified form of Lin Moniang, a medieval Fujianese girl who saved her family members from a typhoon through her spiritual power.
Click on thumbnails to enlarge:
My jacket served as my skirt, easily wrapped around my waist to cover my knees (a must when visiting temples).
Chillin’ with my other homies… :P
CAO DAI TEMPLE
This Dao Cao Dai temple in District 5 is a local branch of the “Holy See” temple in Tây Ninh (the centre of the main Caodaist church).
Caodaism is a religion that started in Vietnam. The faith is named for its supreme being, known as Cao Dai. They believe that all religions are ultimately the same and seek to promote tolerance throughout the world.
Fun fact: The three principal colors of Cao Dai are yellow (for Buddhism), blue (for Taoism), and red (for Confucianism).
Now off to my favorite part of the day (drumrolls)… coffee and food!
Gờ Cafe, a nice open-air coffee shop in District 5 welcomed us, the sweaty duo, with refreshing cold drinks.
Click on thumbnails to enlarge:
HOW TO MAKE VIETNAMESE COFFEE
While enjoying our drinks, Henry took the initiative to recommend an itinerary for my remaining days in Vietnam. His suggestions were better than Google!
BÚN BÒ HUẾ XƯA
Our last stop was a traditional Vietnamese lunch at a family owned restaurant in District 3.
One of the best beef noodle soup I ever tasted!
THE SCOOTER EXPERIENCE
The back of the scooter was indeed the best way to see Ho Chi Minh’s urban collage up close.
The ride itself was a thrilling experience – being elbow to elbow with the young, the old, male, female, and all sorts of sights.
Like pretty women and humongous boxes…
Crazy intersections with motorists from all directions…
And insane roundabouts…
But no matter how unruly it seems, people reach home at the end of the day. Me included!
HENRY THE GREAT
I had been sick since I arrived in Vietnam, stuck in bed for 3 days, weary of exploring the city (hence the groggy haggard look). But I’m glad I took this tour and am lucky I had Henry with me.
He is a smart guide, a safe driver and a good English speaker. He gave me helpful travel tips and treated me well. Best of all, he granted all my special requests like refilling my bowl of soup and running some personal errands along the way.
By the end of the trip, I made a friend.
Cảm ơn, Henry! Thank you for letting me see Saigon’s unseen. You are the star of this trip, Saigon Adventure’s best kept secret. ❤