Our first month in Saigon was just like our first motor-taxi ride: fast, fun, scary, exhilarating, and over before we knew what was happening. This city is a blast. We’ve had an amazing time getting comfortable with its pace, and getting to know its history, culture, people and food.
Mike: Visiting the Grand Cao Dai Temple in Tay Ninh was a really special experience. It was so atmospheric and strange, with the exotic music and chanting, and the white-robed believers bowing and praying. The fact that, prior to our visit, I had never even heard of Caodaism… while in the temple, I was overcome with this sense of how varied, complex and wonderful the world is.
Jürgen: I’ve loved every single scooter taxi ride I’ve taken at night. Zipping by the beautifully-lit skyscrapers, going over bridges and weaving through traffic. It makes me feel so alive and free.
Mike: This is so hard, because many of the meals are so similar to each other, and they’re all so delicious. But I’m going to say “Bún Thịt Nướng“, which is cold noodles covered in grilled meat, fresh herbs and cut-up spring rolls. Every time we have to decide what to eat, this is what I suggest.
Jürgen: I like almost all the street food we’ve tried. But my favorite is when I get to roll my own spring rolls, like with Bo La Lot or Nem Nướng.
Mike: Before arriving, I had been nervous about admitting my country of origin. It’s not like the USA has always been a “force for good” in Vietnam. But not only do they have no problem with my nationality, they seem to love it! It’s been so shocking to me, seeing faces light up when I say I’m from the States. Almost everyone has family there, has studied in the US, or plans to go someday. Our countries are more tightly intertwined than I realized.
Jürgen: The traffic is crazy here, but I’ve been most shocked by how well it seems to work. The motorbikes have no problem advancing, and traffic rarely comes to a total standstill. The only thing which messes up the rhythm are the cars and trucks.
Mike: Some of the city’s most well-known sights have left me unimpressed. The Notre-Dame is big and boring, the Backpacker’s District is obnoxious, the famous Rex Hotel has a snooty vibe out of sync with the rest of the city, and we couldn’t stand Cholon. Also, we’ve been disappointed in the more popular, Western-oriented restaurants. Give us street food and local life! You can keep your pizza and malls.
Jürgen: That the city is changing a lot (even after our first month). The progress seems to be rolling over a lot of people. But at the same time, I’m excited to see what it looks like ten years from now.
Mike: Oh god, every day we see such unexpected, hilarious and strange things, it’s almost impossible to pick one. But this cracked me up. You know how Western kids will copy/mock Chinese? When eight-year-old Mike saw an Asian person, the next words out of his mouth were almost definitely “Ching chong, ling long”. (Eight-year-old Mike was a little racist.) But it turns out, Vietnamese kids do the same thing to us! Sometimes, we’ll walk by a group, and they’ll slow down their speech and shout out something which sounds like “Darf borfa dorf dorf”.
Jürgen: In this coffee shop where I often work, the owner just loves to rub my belly. Every time I go in, here comes the belly-rub! Either he’s doing it for good luck, or has a crush on me.
How Expensive? From 1 (cheap) to 10 (expensive)
Mike: 2. I almost can’t imagine a place cheaper than Vietnam. There are expensive, western-oriented places, but these are easy to avoid. It’s ridiculous how little we spend on food and entertainment. Even the times we’ve “splurged”, and done something more expensive, it’s still cheap. Our priciest meal here was like $25, together, and we felt guilty afterwards. But it’s like… get a grip. If that’s the most expensive meal we have in Saigon, it’s hard to complain!
Jürgen: I’d give Saigon a 3 if you stay away from District 1. You’ll most likely always pay more if you’re a foreigner, unless the prices are displayed or you learn how much things are supposed to cost. It also helps to ask about the price up front: Bao nhiêu?
People from Saigon Are…
Mike: … laid-back, open, and interested in how we perceive them and their city. They’re super-nice, and will assist us in translating menus or providing directions, even when we haven’t asked for help. What strikes me most is how normally we’re treated. It’s this perfect balance of dealing with foreigners, that you don’t always find in other cultures; the Vietnamese are curious without being annoying, polite but not fawning, and truly hospitable without having some sort of agenda. We love it.
Jürgen: They’re on the shorter side, especially the older ones, and they love pointing out how tall I am. It’s like… “Oh, am I? I had never noticed!”
Saigon in Three Words
Mike: Hectic, Exhilarating, Insane
Jürgen: Fast, Furious, Fun
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