Mar 22 - Apr 12, 2015
20 Days in Saigon
Location: Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam
A Place in Saigon
With my Singapore visa expiring, no money left and feeling exhausted from all the wheeling-and-dealing I had to do to keep afloat, I didn't know where to go. Like mana from heaven, I received a message from Tuyen, my Vietnamese friend saying, 'Come back to Saigon! You have a place here.' It was the proverbial parting of the Red Sea for me. I will be going back to Vietnam after being away for only 2 months. Saigon is a special place I would call home.
At The Airport
I arrived at the Saigon airport with only a few Singapore dollars left and no US dollar whatsoever - I was completely tapped out. Tuyen was nowhere in sight. Hmmm. I began to speculate. What happens if she doesn't show up? I don't have her address even though I stayed in her house before. I have no Vietnamese nor US money. I have no Vietnamese sim to give her a call. Hmmm. I should be nervous, but I wasn't. I was more curious how my universe will handle this uncertainty for me. And then Tuyen showed up. Whew!
We met at the meditation course in Battambang in Sept 2014. We met again in Saigon where we traveled across Vietnam from the far south in Phu Quoc Island to as far north as Hanoi. We crossed into Laos and backpacked Pakse, Vientiane and Luang Prabang on a shoestring. The intense interaction we had in those 3 months meeting the unique challenges of constantly being on the move with very little money only deepened our friendship. It was good being with her again in Saigon.
Saigon, this time around wasn't so much about tourist attractions (it never was) but more on food (as it shall always be) and about meeting up with old friends. It was good to see Nhung, Phung and Nhi whom I met in Koh Rong Island back in 2014. Mai Chi from Can Tho visited Saigon. Me and Tuyen took time to catch up with her. Of course, Vien was someone we would default to usually in his Cafetram coffee shop. I would have wanted to see Ben and Ti but that didn't happen.
Vien, an established Vietamese film maker who has become a friend, noticed that he could completely understand me when I speak English - clear, with no accent. He asked me to be his English teacher. We went into a daily routine where I mostly winged the "lesson for the day" based on current need while trusting my own instinct.
As a general rule, I don't say No when an opportunity beckons. I can speak English, but how do I teach it? I had to do some research, and found out the unique challenges facing Vietnamese when learning to speak English. I incorporated that into my teaching guideline and came up with my own methodology that was conversational and written, with focus on how to pronounce, vocabulary expansion,sentence composition, spelling and assignments. Grammar was the least important. With Tuyen's English progress, as I was also correcting her English, I got a sense of what works and what doesn't.
- The Fascinating Peoplescape Of Ho Chi Minh City Apr 23-30, 2019
- Peoplescape Of Ho Chi Minh City Aug 7-27, 2018
- 20 Days In Saigon Mar 22 - Apr 12, 2015
- Exploring Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City) Nov 9, 2014
With Tuyen's up and coming scuba diving certification course, I persuaded her to learn swimming before the scuba course. It's not really necessary, but from a survival perspective, when shit hits the fan under water, she'll need every available life skill she can muster. We both joined a swimming club organized by Instructor Salem and met its members whom we ended up hanging out with after the swim. It was a wholesome group that was fun to be with.
Tuyen wanted to see the much-talked about AO Show at the iconic Metropolitan Opera House in District 1. With a $25/pax price tag, it was a little too rich. I wrote a proposal to the marketing people and made an offer they could not refuse. This got us 2 compli tickets priced at $50/pax - not bad. The cultural show set in a fishing village was engaging with lots of circus-like stunts and choreography. The lighting was dramatic and the live sound orchestration was intense. There was no script so language was not an issue. It was an entertaining one-hour cultural show that capped a perfect evening.
In every place I go to, I search for the blues. It's not easy finding a club with a blues gig in Southeast Asia. Fortunately, there's one here in Saigon with the NOLA Blues Club Saigon who perform either at the Saigon Ranger or La Fenetre or The Snap Cafe. St. Claude, the Texan band leader, took us between songs, to a narrative on how Blues got its humble beginnings and how it spread across the USA. Nice laid-back blues altogether.
Saigon offers a few freebies every once in a while, usually on the cultural scene. The Goethe Institute hosted a free concert by the German-based South American brothers, the Ragga Bund. They performed with such energy they got the usually reserved Vietnamese audience up on their feet dancing. With a whole slew of genres in their repertoire, they kept everyone engaged in a fun-filled evening.
When I arrived Saigon, I had no money and Tuyen had to feed me and put me under her roof - that's really nice of her. But Saigon doled out some abundance leaving me with loose change in my pocket - enough to tide me through for another month...maybe 2. While I try not to lose sleep over money, it is still a relief to have dollars in my pocket again. Even with that, I have no idea when the next cash comes in - so there is no reason to splurge for anything.
I thought that by staying in Saigon, I could finally relax and be still. Not really. Saigon is dynamic and there were new and exciting things that took place. I love the food, the energy, the people, the culture and the abundance it brings. This is a place I will keep going back to. It's a home, in a belonging sense of the word. Of course, Vietnam is not Vietnam without Tuyen - my traveling buddy and my dear friend whom I'd been quite comfortable being with. At some point, I will have to venture out on my own and rediscover Vietnam on my own - I know I had been an overstaying house guest. With my visa expiring, I now have to pack up again and venture out of Vietnam. This visa-factor creates a repeating pattern - arrival at a new country, visa expiry, packing-up, then back to arrival at a new country. The process keeps repeating itself which brings about continued renewal and discovery.
--- Gigit (TheLoneRider)
YOGA by Gigit | Learn English | Travel like a Nomad | Donation Bank
p.s. - Thank you for everything Tuyen! I know I was a very imposing house guest with my persistence on taho, kem, nouc mi, che, etc. But you were very patient with me. Thank you!
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Reader Comments:Fil Deacosta
(Apr 20, 2015) You are a very luck man.
(Apr 19, 2015) I believe the Lord has been looking after you all this time.
(Apr 19, 2015) You deserve good things for all of your wholesome energy, optimism and good will. I've learned a lot of things from you. You're such an inspiring man.
Vi Suyt Dep Gai
(Apr 19, 2015) I really like the way when you travel, it sounds very local. You are so lucky 'cause u have such a confidant friend like Tuyen! Waiting for next posts about Cambodia :X
"You are so lucky 'cause u have such a confidant friend like Tuyen" -- Vi Suyt Dep Gai
(Apr 19, 2015) Yes, I am indeed a lucky man. Tuyen and I drift into each other's karmic orbit manifesting for the other, what we both desire and need.
(Apr 19, 2015) Hello teacher, how are you?
"how are you?" -- Van Cong Vien
(Apr 19, 2015) Doing well here in Kampot, Vien. Kampot is as charming as it is generous.
Next stop: Teaching English to Vietnamese
HO CHI MINH CITY BLOGS
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- Banh Canh Cua Obsession Apr 23-30, 2019
- The Fascinating Peoplescape of Ho Chi Minh City Apr 23-30, 2019
- Ho Chi Minh City on a Visa Run Apr 23-30, 2019
- Nomad Travel Buddy Aug 27, 2018
- 20 Days in Ho Chi Minh City Aug 7-27, 2018
- Exploring Binh Tay Market, Ho Chi Minh City Aug 26, 2018
- Pho Beef Soup Exploration of Ho Chi Minh City Aug 7-27, 2018
- Rediscovering the Cafe Tradition of Ho Chi Minh City Aug 7-27, 2018
- Where is the Best Banh Canh Cua in HCMC? Aug 7-27, 2018
- In Search of the best Banh Mi in Ho Chi Minh City Aug 7-27, 2018
- Peoplescape of Ho Chi Minh City Aug 7-27, 2018
- Rediscovering Ho Chi Minh City Aug 7, 2018
- AO Show, Ho Chi Minh City Apr 10, 2015
- Free English Apr 1, 2015
- Teaching English to Vietnamese Apr 1, 2015
- 20 Days in Ho Chi Minh City Mar 22 - Apr 12, 2015
- Discovering Ho Chi Minh City's Cafe Culture Nov 9 - Dec 17, 2014
- Ho Chi Minh City's Fascinating Motorbike Culture Nov 18, 2014
- Exploring Ho Chi Minh City (Ho Chi Minh City) Nov 9, 2014
Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam
Ben Xe Mien Dong
Mien Tay Bus Station
Saigon Railway Station
Tan Son Nhat International Airport
Queen Ann Hotel - luxurious and modern, District 1 location, 10-minute walk to Ben Thanh Market
Sakura Hostel Cholon - 9.0 Stars (out of 10) from 24 reviews on Booking.com based on cleanliness, comfort, facilities, staff, value for money, free wifi and location!
How to Get to District 1 (HCMC) from the Airport (Tan Son Nhat International Airport)
- take the #109 Airport Bus (5:30am to 1:00am, departs every 15-20 minutes, 45 mins, 20k Dong or $1.00) Route: International Terminal - Domestic Terminal (Tan Son Nhat International Airport) - Truong Son - Tran Quoc Hoan - Hoang Van Thu - Nguyen Van Troi - Nam Ky Khoi Nghia - Ham Nghi - Le Lai - Ben Thanh Bus Station - Pham Ngu Lao - 23/9 Park
- get off at 23/9 Park to get to the cluster of backpacker hostels
Ho Chi Minh City Travel Tips
- best money changer rates in District 1 is Ha Tam Jewelry near Ben Thanh (refer to map for location)
- unlike most destinations in Thailand, Cambodia or Vietnam, Ho Chi Minh City is too big for the major bus companies to provide a drop-off service with their shuttle minivans. If you are coming by bus, you get off either at the Western Bus Station or Eastern Bus Station depending on where you are coming from. From there, you can take the cheap local bus, the Xe Buyt to get you closer to your destination.
- you can get around the city by moto-taxi or rent a motorbike - but be warned that motorbike riding in Ho Chi Minh City is unlike riding anywhere else in Asia!
Ho Chi Minh City Cost Index
Budget price in budget places (US$1 = Vietnam Dong VND 23,255 = Php 53.20 as of Aug 1, 2016)
- VND 10-15,000 baguette sandwich (banh mi)
- VND 25-30,000 noodle soup (pho)
- VND 10-15,000 black filtered coffee
- VND 5,000 sugar cane juice (nuoc mia)
- VND 8-10,000 fresh coconut
- VND 10,000 one beer bottle
- VND 10,000 1.5 liter drinking water
- VND 80,000 bicycle rental, 24 hours
- VND 80,000 cheap lodging
- VND 10,000/kg laundry
- VND 8-10,000/km but flag-down starts at 20,000 motorcycle ride
- VND 20-35,000 rice meals (com tam)
- VND 100-140,000/day motorbike rental
Vietnam FYI / Tips / Dos and Don'ts
- Hanoi Grapevine HCMC Update - for the latest events in Vietnam
- Vietnam establishments will not accept US dollars, unlike Cambodia. You have to use Vietnam Dong (US$1 = Vietnam Dong VND 23,255 = Php 53.20 as of Aug 1, 2016)
- Vietnamese smokers will smoke in air-conditioned establishments, air-conditioned buses packed with people including women, children and babies. They also smoke inside hospitals with no smoking signs.
- Vietnam ranks almost the same as Thailand and Cambodia for cheap price. Laos, Myanmar and Malaysia cost more
- internet speed is generally fast and reliable but during important events like Tet holiday, election, etc., it slows down
- Vietnamese generally do not speak or understand much English. It will be a challenge.
- best to dress appropriately, not revealing too much skin (Saigon is an exception - the ladies there set the trend in very short shorts)
- remove your shoes when entering a home or place of worship
- ask first before taking someone's picture. If they say no, don't persist or offer money
- best to carry your hotel's business card with you when going out. You can just show it to the cab driver or XeOm driver if they don't understand English
- leave your valuables, passport, travel tickets, etc. with the hotel's safety deposit box
- when lying down, don't point your feet or the soles of your shoes to anyone or to a family altar
- carry only enough cash for your needs that day
- don't lose your temper in public - Vietnamese people are warm, generous and polite. They look down on people who lose their composure
- don't take pictures of military installations - you can go to jail
- refrain from taking videos of minority people until permitted to do so
Lesser-Known Vietnam Destinations
- Phu Yen Province - by the beach
- Hoa Binh Lake - locals' alternative to Halong Bay
- Ninh Binh - Trang An Grottoes, Tam Coc, Mua Caves, Bai Dinh Pagoda, Van Long Nature Reserve
General Travel Tips
- avoiding scams - as a general rule, I ignore the touts or anyone I don't know who call out to me. The calling comes in many forms - "Hi! Where are you from?", "Excuse me! Excuse me!", "Where are you going?". I don't look them in the eye and I remain non-verbal with them. If you reply to them, you just gave them an 'in' to hound you. In order not to look rude, I smile and wave the 'not interested' hand to them, without looking at them.
- power bank - hand-carry your power bank. Do not check it in. You can be called in when you are already inside the plane to go all the way to the loading dock so you can personally remove the power bank...and chances are, you'll have to surrender it to them. And you might delay the plane departure!
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