We really had very low expectations for Saigon/Ho Chi Minh City since we are not really city-people and were only planning to stay there 1 day before heading to the Mekong Delta for a 2 or 3 day tour.
We were supposed to arrive in the evening of November 26th flying from Krabi over Kuala Lumpur to Saigon, but due to bad weather in KL we could not land on our way from Krabi and were redirected to Johor Bahru for a temporary stopover until the weather got better. Unfortunately that meant we missed our connection to Saigon and had to stay overnight in KL – bummer.
Very tired after finding a hotel late and getting up at 5 to catch the plane to Saigon we arrived to find a much nicer city than we expected. Both in terms of the people living there and the layout of the city. Driving in the taxi from the airport we saw parks, playgrounds (big plus for a family, especially coming from Thailand where playgrounds don’t seem to exist), nice building but most of all a really nice feel to the city. We had booked a room at Mai Guesthouse in the backpacker area before we got there (which meant that we missed a night there due to the missed plane in KL). We got a nice big room with 4 beds – at the 5th floor which meant lots of free exercise. The houses in Vietnam are extremely narrow and tall, so our room was the only one on the 5th floor, so our “shared” bathroom was not shared at all, simply outside the room. The owner was really nice and helpful throughout our stay there.
One thing about Vietnam that can be a bit frustrating sometimes is how little English the Vietnamese can speak, especially in rural areas. But in Saigon, whenever we went to public places like parks and playgrounds we were almost attacked by groups of students who wanted nothing more than the opportunity to speak English with us. Some of them as part of their English classes at school / university or simply out of interest. They would ask things like how we like Vietnam, where we are from, what Denmark is like (most of them had never heard of Denmark) and what our favourite Vietnamese food is. It was truly a positive experience even though it could be hard to keep an eye on our kids for the herd of students around us:-)
In Saigon you have to be prepared for the traffic, especially when travelling with children. It is crazy by western standards. There are 10 million people living in the city and they have around 6 millions scooters. Often there are no traffic lights and if there are, don’t expect anyone to respect them. It was really nerve wrecking the first day to cross the streets with the kids (grandparents please don’t read this) but we quickly learned the trick: the best way is to follow some locals. If that is not possible, simply walk slowly out into the street while waving your hand over your head and go side by side with children or carry them. Never ever back up, but keep going, and never run. The scooters keep coming from both directions, but they will go around you if you just keep calm. We later heard from a tour guide that nobody want’s to hit a foreigner (apparently that’s worse than hitting a local) because you will be punished very hard for that.
Of course in a city with that much traffic, it is not possible to let the kids run free on the sidewalks, scooters even drive there too when the roads are too crowded. But therefore it is really nice that the city has a very long park in the city center with a playground in the middle and lots of room for kids to burn off energy.
Saigon and the surrounding area have much to offer, which is also perfectly suitable for children.
We ended up spending 3 days in Saigon because we liked the city so much and because we needed to go to an ear hospital to get Vitus treated as he had caught a bad infection in his left ear. Here are some of the things we did while in Saigon:
Boat ride on the Saigon river
One of our days in Saigon we were crossing the street from the end of the walking street and were Shanghaied (ha ha) by a man who wanted to sell us a 1 hour boat ride on the Saigon river. We bargained with him (Jesper had a hard time doing so since Line felt sorry for the man in a very obvious way) and payed 350.00 Dong for 1 hour. The ride itself wasn’t spectacular since the river is full of garbage, but it was a good experience to see how the people of Saigon still use the river for fishing, washing and living. And we got to rest while looking at the Saigon skyline.