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  • Writer's pictureRuth Mcbride

Sensory Overload!

Updated: Mar 9, 2023

76/138 2022/2023 Viking Neptune World Cruise. Day 2 Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam.

This morning we had to be in the Star Theatre at 9:30am for our optional excursion which was entitled ‘Saigon by Pedal Cab’. We had seen the pedal cabs yesterday in the city and we were really looking forward to this unique excursion.

Our bus number was called at 9:20am and we quickly walked off the ship, onto the pier and to our waiting bus. The bus was nice and cool and very comfortable and away we went!

Our guide who went by the name of Tom started off the tour by telling us that Saigon had 14 million people and 7 million motorbikes. It seems like the population is multiplying exponentially overnight since yesterday our guide named Sunny had said there was only 10 million people and 5 million motorbikes. Fact checking on google says 9.321 million which has grown 2.69% since 2022.

Tom also mentioned that Saigon’s population is 65% Buddhist and yesterday’s guide said that people in Vietnam do not practise religion. Google says that only 4.6 million people in Vietnam, actually follow Buddhism or 4.78% of the entire population, so maybe yesterday’s guide was right on that fact.

Tom also mentioned today about the helicopters evacuating Americans off the roof of the embassy and the last helicopter leaving from the embassy on April 30, 1975, which again was wrong. Somewhere in between both guides we had yesterday and today is the truth!

On our way to downtown Saigon, on the outskirts of the major downtown traffic we saw a Honda car with a motorbike on its side, slammed into the passenger’s door of the Honda, which was now severely dented. Police were on the scene directing traffic around the crash, but the driver of the motorbike was no where to be found. I hope he or she was ok because from the looks of the car and the position of the motorbike, it did not look good. I wonder how many crashes a day there are in Vietnam? And I looked up that statistic and it is not on google!

After about a hour and 5 minutes on the bus we arrived once again at the Saigon Central Post Office building downtown Saigon, where we met our pedal cab drivers. We were taking photos of each other in the pedal cabs before we got rolling and then Richard’s driver said he would take a photo of the two of us in the pedal cabs. Little did we know that we got photo bombed!!

Smiling for Richard’s driver. Margaret had told me yesterday to wear a mask for the traffic exhaust fumes

We have no idea Margaret is in our photo!

And we had no idea both of them were in our photo! Just after we had this photo taken Margaret came around and said that they had photobombed us! Too funny. Gene and Margaret were taking the included tour today since they did the pedal cab tour yesterday.

We set off in the pedal cabs and what an experience it was!

Driving in the middle of the road with the motorbikes, cars and scooters cutting in and out of traffic! It was crazy!

Heading out on a side street.

Richard and his driver. We were told to bring the Quietvox listening devices with us, but they were useless in traffic.

Yes. We are in the middle of all of that motorcycle traffic, downtown Saigon.

I was not zooming in to take this photo. I was actually that close to the lady on this motorbike.

Richard in traffic!

This photo did not turn out well, but I wanted to post it because the guy on that scooter is carrying a washing machine on the back of his scooter, in downtown Saigon traffic.

The pedal cabs do not stop when they turn right to merge into traffic. The motorbikes know to move over and so they get out of their way, for the pedal cabs and frankly anyone else.

And parked motorcycles everywhere.

I was snapping photos from the pedal cab and the cab driver was happy to slow down when I wanted a better photo. I was able to get a photo of the Ho Chi Minh statue in front of the City Hall from a different angle than yesterday.

Hi there Ho Chi Minh!

I really liked this shot of all the pedal cabs rolling along in front of the Saigon City Hall on the freshly washed and wet pavement.

Richard was taking it all in and enjoying the ride!

We continued on through what used to be ‘embassy row’ (since Hanoi is now the capital of Vietnam), so all of the buildings that used to be country’s embassies are now consulates instead of embassies.

Consulate row in Saigon.

And where did the pedal cab tour end up? At the same lacquer factory as we were at yesterday. Richard has a theory and I am sure he is correct, that the tour company owns a piece of the lacquer factory, has a relative that owns the factory or gets a huge kickback from the lacquer factory for bringing so many unsuspecting tourists to the factory. Linda told me last night at dinner that she saw something at the factory for $25 and did not buy it. When she got back to the ship last evening there was a market set up for the cruise ship at the container pier and she got the exact same thing for $5! So it definitely pays to shop around in Vietnam! And negotiate!!

At the lacquer factory we ran into Mike and Sharon who were doing the included tour today. Luckily the factory has a nice cafe out front that is shaded and we were able to sit near the front sidewalk, where they even had misting fans running! Richard had an espresso while we waited to get back on the bus for our next stop. There was free wifi too so i was able to download a few maps for later in the day.

Sitting in the cafe at the lacquer factory.

Our driver had us get back on the bus after about 30 minutes at the lacquer factory so we could be driven from District 1, which has all of the touristy sights, to District 5 where our lunch was going to be today.

In the price of our tour today ($155 CAD/person), lunch was included. The driver had asked us earlier if we had any dietary restrictions and I had said no shrimp or pork.

We arrived on a major street and the bus let us off so we could follow our guide Tom down a small alley of a street. We were amazed by how the motorbikes were parked on this street, since the people who are first to park, seemed to be totally blocked in. We were not sure how it worked to let them out, but I am sure they have a system or they would not park there!

Chaos in motorbike parking.

The Mandarin restaurant was our destination for lunch.

Richard at the Mandarin restaurant in Saigon.

Lunch was prix fixe and included beer and soft drinks. This menu looked good I wonder what our menu will be?

The two kinds of beer being offered were ‘Ba Ba Ba‘ or ‘Saigon Beer’ both very common beers in Vietnam. Richard had the Saigon beer and he liked it as much as the Bintang he had in Bali (he is not much of a beer drinker though).

Lunch being served today.

BIA Saigon Special beer.

My meal came with chicken and mango spring rolls instead of shrimp spring rolls. I used some of my bottled water to wet the rice paper wraps to make them stick together properly.

My rice paper spring rolls.

Richard said these spring rolls were so fresh and delicious and the presentation was delightful!

The next course was a fish cake coated in what looked and tasted like green Rice Krispies. A little weird looking but they tasted good.

Don’t they look like they are coated in green Rice Krispies?

The main course was chicken and vegetables, shoestring vegetables served family style and individual coconut rice bowls. I asked for some hot sauce as the food was a little bland and all I could taste was fish sauce. The server brought me the really hot sauce instead of the sweet Thai chili sauce, which after eating it, gave me a ‘glow!’

The last course was a coffee or caramel flan. We tasted them but didn’t finish them as we wanted to find a good French bakery instead for some French pastries.

The tour was continuing on to a temple and to a wholesale Chinese market but we asked our driver if the tour was going anywhere near the big Ben Thanh market or to a landmark we could walk from, to that market. We knew the tour was heading back to district 1 so the driver said the bus would drop us off at the Post Office. Perfect. Third time’s a charm for us visiting the Post Office in two days!

The Post Office was not as busy today without as many Viking Tours filling it up. so we went inside and bought two post cards for Richard’s family back home who we have been sending postcards to from around the world. We also bought stamps and for two cards and international stamps the cost was $4USD. We still had not found the chance to find a bank machine to get some local currency, so luckily the shop at the Post Office took USD in small denominations.

Let’s hope these cards actually make it back to Canada, to their final destinations!

An artsy photo I took today of the Saigon Central Post Office.

We started walking towards the Opera House after our third time at the Post Office. We had been by this area on our pedal cabs this morning and since I’m a ‘Human GPS’ as Richard likes to call me, I knew where we were going next.

We found a large mall that I had seen that had both an H&M and Zara in it and we went inside and found a Bank machine run by Citibank. I took out 2.000.000 Dong which we figured cost me about $115 CAD. I had done up my conversion cheat sheet last night so I don’t have to keep converting from Dong to CAD on my phone. It’s so much easier to have a cheat sheet handy, than looking for my phone, the calculator app and doing the conversion to CAD each time I want to check a price on something in a store or market.

Our first mall stop was to find more body wash. I am out of Body Wash and do not like the Freya product onboard the Neptune. We found a nice brand name shop which I had bought from before in Seoul South Korea. I tried out the different fragrances of body wash until I found one I liked. The body wash was about $17 CAD. Not bad from a high end store.

Innisfree is a brand from Jeju Island, South Korea. I have visited Jeju Island twice, and as soon as I saw this store, I knew I had bought some facial cleanser and moisturizer from them before when I was in Seoul, S. Korea.

We wandered around the mall a bit since it was nice and cool inside. The temperature outside was hot, hot, hot at 32C with very high humidity, so we were craving any chance for air conditioning!

We didn’t buy anything else at the mall and starting walking to the Opera House. We had to look at our tourist map we had picked up at the Post Office’s tourist office, and finally found the right road to take us to the big Ben Thanh market.

We found another high end air conditioned mall on the way to the Ben Thanh market so to cool down again, we walked around the mall for a bit. It’s amazing how a little bit of walking in this heat is causing sweat to roll down our backs.

Ben Thanh market in the distance. The market is one of the earliest surviving structures in Saigon dating back to 1912 and is an important symbol of the city. The market operates year round and opens at 6am-6pm and then the day market transitions into a night market around the outside of the building until 10pm. Over 10,000 people a day visit to shop at the market and the market has 1,500 booths with more than 6,000 small businesses selling wholesale and retail goods.

We finally after all of our air conditioning stops, got to the Ben Thanh market and it was chaos! Everyone wanted to sell us something and of course there were people everywhere and it was hot inside! We negotiated well for some souvenirs and did the trick of walking away like we were not interested. One item the vendor was asking 800,000 Dong and we were able to purchase it was 200,000. One vendor stated calling Richard the 150,000 man because that was all he wanted to pay for everything!

Food area of the the market. While it looked interesting, I think we will pass on eating here.

The Viking shuttle bus was running from the Opera House at 5pm and the last shuttle back to the ship was at 6pm; and it was first come first served. So if we did not get back to get in line for the bus before 5pm, we might not make that bus, so we started to walk back to the Opera House where we knew the shuttle bus would eventually pick us up.

Richard looked at me as we are walking back to the Opera House and said “How would you like to get a foot massage?” “Wow! I would love a foot massage, as my feet were killing me from all of the walking we had done!

We skipped the head washing…

Sure enough I looked up and there was a foot massage place. Richard negotiated a 30 minute rate, down from a 45 minute rate, as that was all the time we figured we had before we had to get back to the Opera House.

What a fabulous 30 minutes getting a foot and leg massage! My feet felt like I was walking on pillows after the massage. The therapist used some ginger Linament on my feet and legs and wow! Was it ever good! I would go back again tomorrow after walking around all day. It is the absolute best thing to have after a long day with many steps!

When we arrived back at the Opera House about 4:30pm there were already about 30 people in line ahead of us. We were wondering what size of shuttle bus Viking would send, given there are different sizes of buses! We certainly did not want to wait for 6pm for the next shuttle bus, if the 5pm bus was too small for us to fit on.

We had brought a tin or Pringles in a Richard’s backpack, so we stood eating pringles and waiting for the bus. Richard had brought me a fresh squeezed orange juice after my foot massage too, so while it was hot and we were tired, the snack livened us both up.

The shuttle bus arrived at 4:50pm and we got on the bus and unfortunately Richard’s seat was broken. His seat was reclining back onto the people behind us. All of the seats on the shuttle were full and some of the Viking staff who were also waiting for a ride back to the ship, had to wait for the next shuttle bus at 6pm. Richard had to sit forward in his seat for the 60 minute ride back to the Neptune.

Our first order of business once we got back on the ship was to order some drinks and take showers! We had another great day in Vietnam!

Richard had never been to a market like the Ben Thanh market before. He couldn’t believe the sensory overload! I am familiar with Asian markets having been to Itaewon and Numdaemun night market, in Seoul, South Korea on numerous occasions so the market was a great chance to get some souvenirs and to haggle a good bargain! I think we need to go back again tomorrow, because now that I am reviewing what we did purchase, I’m wishing we had picked up a few more things from the market. Quite a few people purchased rollerboard suitcases today for all of the extra things they have been buying around the world. We will have to buy another suitcase too, but Richard did not want to buy one today.

And we get to do it all over again tomorrow, but on a private tour which should be fun. I’ve already messaged the guide not to bring us to the Post Office, Opera House, or Notre Dame since we have already been there umpteen times already! I think we will have a different experience tomorrow with a private guide in Saigon, who is meeting us at the Caravelle Hotel, across from the Opera House at noon. We have to be on the 9am shuttle to Saigon since the shuttles are not running every hour. We will be meeting Gene and Margaret who are coming with us at 8:30am in order to make that shuttle. We should have some free time before we meet our guide tomorrow and our guide has given us some shopping spots to visit before we meet him. Another day of adventure in Saigon awaits us!

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1 Comment

Allan Yoshimura
Allan Yoshimura
Mar 09, 2023

Sounds like a great day! Sorry for the nit-picking, but if there are 4.6 million Buddhists among 9.321 people, that would be 49.35% of the population. As I recall from the war, Buddhists made up a majority of the population. They were highly discriminated against by the South Vietnamese government. Maybe you recall pictures of monks setting themselves on fire in protest. Too bad that the South Vietnamese were more interested in fighting their own people instead of the North while we had so many of our service people killed trying to help them.

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