Friday, April 24, 2009

Saigon to HCMC (1)

This city is more famous to western ppl as “Saigon”, but to most Asian young generations, it is “Ho Chi Minh City”. And particularly to the travelers, esp. back-packers, it has a Y-Gen nickname as “HCMC”.
It just took about 2 hours to fly to HCMC from Singapore, and you could find more than 4 airlines (include budget airlines) running daily flights between these two major cities in Southeastern Asia. Without much trouble, you can experience a totally different country with distinguish history, culture and nice food. So it’s reasonable that it became a popular “getaway” destination for ppl in Singapore these yrs. The cost is also quite reasonable: With so many airlines competing in the game, even the so-called “Best of World” SQ only asks for around S$400 for a return ticket with full service and meals. Budget airlines have tickets’ price as low as around S$300, but take the flight schedule, punctuality and other quality factors into consideration, not really worthy…
There are many hotels in HCMC, including 11 5-star ones. Better stay in District 1 (“Quan 1” in Vietnamese), for its short distance and convenience to most places of interests in the city. Pham Ngu Lao Street is the latest “heaven of backpackers”, where you can find A LOT OF budget hotels, travel agencies, money changers, souvenir stores and restaurants. Recommend the Liberty Hotels ( They have three 3-star hotels in this area, high-quality rooms (with air-con, satellite TV, full set of toiletries and in-room devices), good service, and price is about S$100 per night per room. They even put a board in the lobby which lists the names of all guests checked-in every day!

Another thing they gave me really good impression: When I just got off the taxi, I was standing across the road and shocked by the soaring scooters (There were hundreds of them! In total this city has more than 6 millions!). The bell boy came to me immediately, took my luggage and literally “took” me across the deadly torrent of scooters.
Traffic in HCMC is as notorious as Bangkok. Due to the huge number of scooters and barely-not-there traffic lights, jam is eternal. If you are walking, you have to get both techniques and guts to get across. And if you are taking taxi from/to the airport, prepare 1 hour for the 20-km ride. But the taxi fare is quite cheap, compared to Singapore: Single trip between airport and Quan 1 is about 100k Dongs (about S$10), and traveling around within Quan 1 should not cost you more than 30k Dongs. Bare in mind that you should always take a taxi with meters (those got “taxi” lights above them). And if you are skillful and brave enough, can rent a scooter to enjoy normal ppl’s everyday life in HCMC. Those “scooter-taxi” and “tuk-tuk” are not even recommended by the HCMC authorities. And if you are hanging around by yourselves, take a good city map, a pair of comfort shoes and an umbrella for both heavy sunshine and possible sudden rains. Most taxi drivers don’t speak or understand English, so write down the name and address of your hotel in Vietnamese is quite useful.
Vietnamese food is quite famous, but the hygiene condition of those hawkers is definitely questionable, esp. when the temperature is always beyond 30 Celsius. Rules to keep you away from some embarrassing diseases:
1. Don’t eat salad/raw food/cut fruit/etc. outside reliable hotels and restaurants.
2. Don’t drink tap water (actually I doubt if you can drink it given the heavy chemical smell…). 3. Use water kettle in hotel room to make some boiled water and take it with you is a both economic and healthy choice.
3. Don’t let them put ice cubes in your drink, asking for original can/bottles from the fridge instead. Those ice cubes are most likely made from tap water directly…

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