Learning Saigon By Experience
Having a backpacker’s budget means you should always be ready for a few surprises. Cebu Pacific flight from Manila? You’re pretty much guaranteed to arrive at your destination when people are already sleeping. So complimentary pick-up advertised on website becomes “Oh no, that’s too late. Can you take a taxi from the airport?” Well, okay. For US$20 a night, we figured we couldn’t ask for too much.
When arriving in a new country, there’s a tendency to trust the first friendly person you see. In this case, the taxi driver.
Lesson #1: Those friendly taxi drivers are hoping to relieve you of your dollars.
Yep, we learned a few things by experience. And lucky for you, we’re happy to pass on our knowledge. When traveling in Saigon, go with either MaiLinh or Vinasun taxis. They’re government owned, use meters, and are trusted by the locals. Airport to city center should only cost you between US$8-$10.
Ngoc Minh Hotel
Our home for the next few days was located on a side street off Pham Ngu Lao in District 1, which is most famous for being an area favored by backpackers. Hotels and travel agencies are highly concentrated in this part of Saigon, and is ideal for being just a walk away from tourist spots like Ben Thanh market.
Lesson #2: Manage those expectations!
I have specific ideas about how a hotel should look, even if they’re budget ones. But once you get to Saigon, it’s probably wise to throw those ideas out the window. Getting to our hotel at 1am meant carrying our luggage through a side street that is apparently one homeless person’s bedroom of choice. I privately freaked out to avoid scaring Patti, but my heart fell to the floor when we got to the hotel and saw that it was closed complete with roll-down metal security gates. I was trying to come up with a Plan B when Patti spotted the doorbell.
We rang and in just a few moments, the metal security gates roll up halfway. We crouched down to show ourselves and the metal gates rolled up completely. They’d been expecting us.:)
That brings us to lesson #3: Make sure of those reservations!
In Saigon, it’s not uncommon for hotels to close by 12. And it’s not uncommon for hotel guests to come home as early as 5 in the morning. It’s no problem because they’re used to tourists. Just get comfortable with the idea of waking people up if you’re planning to stay out all hours. (And taking your shoes off at the lobby. Some hotels and dining establishments require it.)