Arriving in Ho Chi Minh City roughly 20 hours after departing Vancouver, a hotel and a soft bed was the only thing on our minds. The short mini-bus ride from the airport offered a small glimpse of what was to come as we weaved through relentless horn tooting traffic and small alleyways, host to bustling food stalls and the energy that only a Southeast Asian city of millions can provide, all in the hot and humid air of the night.
But as overwhelming as Ho Chin Minh City is at night, the bed won over.
Waking the next day well rested and just past the crack of dawn, we had the full day to explore Ho Chi Minh City, or Saigon as many locals still like to call it. Even at 6 a.m. the alleyways and streets of Saigon are already buzzing back to life — not that they likely became dormant during the night. Vendors cleaned their stalls, deliveries of the day’s supplies arrived and the enticing smells of Vietnamese cuisine slowly began to grip the streets. We would begin our day with a simple bowl of pho (rice noodles) and fresh glass of mango juice. Fueled up and keen to hit the streets, it was time to get out and explore Saigon’s rich and turbulent history.
In a city of eight million residents, who own a staggering collection of three million deafening motorbikes/scooters, one million pedal bikes and roughly 300,000 cars, wandering the streets is not for the faint hearted. Although one would have the urge to run across the street where red lights are a mere suggestion, you must walk slowly through the barrage of oncoming motor vehicles, bikes and cyclos and attempt to make eye contact, allowing motorists time to calculate their swerve around you. With 100-150 deaths and 750 injuries per month from traffic-related accidents, not everyone in Saigon makes it to their destination. Not to worry though, most accidents are motorbike on motorbike collisions.
We elected to explore by cyclo, and after successful negotiations with a cyclo driver our first stop would be some of Saigon’s French colonial architecture. Cyclos are a three-wheeled reverse tricycle. Powered by a knowledgeable driver, and strong pedaller, they roll at a great pace for people looking to take in the sights.
Or so we thought. After a hair-raising ride through no-stop four-way intersections and an excursion the wrong way down a one-way street, we arrived at the red brick Notre Dame Cathedral. There, we thanked our driver and told him the rest of our day’s explorations would be best done on foot.