My highlights and tears from crazy Saigon

Vietnamese woman with lycheesa bike full of

That one time when I arrived in Saigon (Ho-Chi-Minh-City) and realised I am a multi-millionaire. But also how a sightseeing tour brought me to tears, a theatre where puppets dance on the water and a boat tour right through the jungle.

My first impression when I arrived in Saigon was: The city is crazy. There are cars and especially motorcycles everywhere. The latter replaces the family van. Parents and three children fit easily on one motorcycle. It’s loud, it’s crowded and especially for a Westerner like me, it is confusing. In case you want to cross the street there are often no traffic lights and if there are some there are still motorcycles that ignore them (in Vietnam they sell t-shirts with the slogan Red means I can still go). Especially the Rush Hour is horror. People told me for pedestrians the trick is: Keep walking.

💡 Information about Saigon
The city Saigon (Sài Gòn), or how it is called nowadays: Ho-Chi-Minh-City (Thành phố Hồ Chí Minh) is with 7 million inhabitants the biggest city in Vietnam and also its primary economic centre. Both names are still in common but the official name is Ho-Chi-Minh-City since the reunification in 1976, named after the further president of the Northern part of Vietnam. Until 1975 It was the capital of the Southern part of the country when Vietnam was divided.
Oops, I am multi-millionaire

One other overburdened thing is the money. The lowest banknote in Vietnam is 1,000 VND (circa 0.04 US$), the highest is 500,000 VND (circa. 21.78 US$). So when I first came to the bank I took 2 million VND (circa 87.11 US$) from my bank account – I never felt richer.

❗️ Money tips for Vietnam
If it is your first time in Vietnam, the money could be probably a bit confusing. The banknotes are high, all notes are colourful but have the same person (Ho Chi Minh) on them. A nice idea is to install an app for currency translation to check how much money you spend on something. A helpful rule of thumb is around 25,000 VND are one US-Dollar. Don’t let yourself rush by paying because unfortunately, there are people who try to utilise the situation and get more money from you by not telling you that you paid one zero too much or giving the wrong change. But these people are the exception most people I met in Vietnam were really friendly and helpful. You will get pretty fast used to the high numbers on the banknotes. Also, remember that bargaining is part of the culture (only on markets, not in stores). Best is to inform yourself before how much money you should spend on taxis or articles from the market.
Sightseeing in Saigon
City Hall of Ho-Chi-Minh-City
The City Hall

In my opinion, Ho-Chi-Minh-City does not offer too many Sightseeing-places. They have some pretty buildings in the French colonial style as the post office (built by Gustave Eiffel the engineer of the Eiffel Tower in Paris), the Reunification Palace or the old City Hall with a little park and a statue of Ho Chi Minh in the front. All the places are nice to see but you can not really spend a lot of time there. Therefore, I would recommend the War Museum and the Water Puppet Theatre.

Tears in the War museum
The War Remnants Museum

The War Remnants Museum costs 40,000 VND (circa 1.75 US$) and shows different photos, articles from newspapers and some videos about the First Indochina War (1946-1954) and the Vietnam War (1955-1975). They tell some really personal stories about different people who got killed in the war or even more cruel through war crimes as massacres. People who were born in the last 35 years (some of them are my age or younger) have to live with the worst deformation of their bodies due to the toxic Agent Orange. But also of victims of the war who lost their legs and/or arms and who are top athletes or painters today. I have to admit that I had more than once tears in my eyes. Tears because of the incomprehension of how so many people can protest all over the world against this war but can not do anything against it. Tears because of the never-ending possibility of the cruelty of people in killing, destroying and torturing others which make me feel sick and so angry. But also tears for the hope that the people in these stories can give you about living a successful and happy life whether they have to live with limitations or diseases.
In my opinion, learning about the history, culture, and people of places I visit is very important. It helps to understand a lot about the political but also cultural approaches of its inhabitants in which circumstances they were born and raised. Especially when they had to live through a war. I admit visiting a war museum is not exactly a fun activity but I think it is very important to learn from the mistakes of the past and try to understand what happened in Vietnam in the past decades. This is why I really would recommend you to visit the museum. If you are even more interested in history you can also visit the exhibit of the Independence Palace.

Dancing puppets on the water
Water Puppet Theatre
Dancing Water Puppets

One of my absolute highlights was the Water Puppet Theatre. The tradition of the theatre goes back until the 11th century and is from Northern Vietnam. The show in Saigon was around 45 minutes long. I paid 200,000 VND (on a Sunday evening, circa 8.70 US$) and showed several little stories about animals and humans in the water combined with traditional live music, singing and sometimes speaking (in Vietnamese). The puppets are made out of wood with lacquering and dance, swim and walk through a small pool. The puppeteers are hidden behind a drop.

🚌 How to reach
📍 War Remnants Museum
The museum contains exhibits about the First Indochina War and the Vietnam War and is at 28 Vo Van Tan, Ward 6, in District 3.

📍 Water Puppet Theatre
In Ho-Chi-Minh-City, the most famous one is the Golden Dragon Water Puppet Theatre in 55B Nguyen Thi Minh Khai in District 1.

The War Museum and the Water Puppet Theatre are just 5 minutes away from each other by foot and both just an approx. a 10-minute walk from the Independence Palace.
Shipping through the jungle
Boats on Mekong Delta

Many hotels and travel offices offer different kinds of tours. Really famous are one-day tours to the Mekong Delta or the Cu Chi Tunnels. I decided to do the former. Some agencies already offer group tours for around 10$. The Mekong Delta is a region in Southern Vietnam. The Mekong is a huge river that extends over six countries: Vietnam also China, Myanmar, Thailand, Cambodia and Laos. I would guess most Mekong Delta tours offer a similar programme. We went to a little temple on our way and at the Mekong Delta, we took a boat, tried some tea and domestic fruits. We went to a coconut farm, rode in a horse-drawn carriage and of course the highlight – taking a rowing boat along the different canals.

First written on Wednesday, February 8th, 2017, you have read the blog post My highlights and tears from crazy Saigon on My Travel Journal-Blog.