I’m gonna be really honest here – Saigon was as underwhelming as a bad movie. Except in a bad movie, you’re probably seated in the comfort of an air-conditioned theatre with your fill of film snacks on your lap. It’s luxurious.
However, in the low-rated film that is Saigon, you’re trapped in a dusty, busy city with incessant honking on the roads and rubbish on the streets. There’s nary a moment of absolute calm or thrill.
I’d flown in to Saigon from Singapore for one night, and would return for two the following week. I didn’t end up going back and instead went to Phu Quoc (read my island musings here) simply because I didn’t wanna spend the last days of my trip in Saigon. I am a city girl, but only if I’m able to form a connection with the place, which I unfortunately hadn’t with Saigon.
I make my experience sound so bad, but really, Saigon serves as a great mid-point for shuttling between its neighboring cities. I also got to meet up with Ale – she lives there now! – and had a wonderful day with her. She brought me for her favorite pho and we had a lovely night in the city with her boyfriend.
Where to eat in Saigon
Turns out Phở Hòa Pasteur is pretty famous! Ale was running late and when the food arrived, I hesitated adding the extra greens into my bowl, but I’m glad I did, under her persuasion. The basil and mint do a miraculous job of lifting the flavors, and the soup immediately tasted yummier. It’s crazy what a tiny leaf can do.
However, here comes the crazier bit. After we finished with our meals, we stayed and chatted for a bit more. I noticed that little oil islands, as I have chosen to name them, started forming on the surface of my soup. The oil islands pretty much took over the bowl in the end.
What to do in Saigon
Before meeting up with Ale, I spent the morning-afternoon walking around District 1. Saigon is segregated into districts and District 1 is populated with backpackers and visitors – it’s a great area and is situated near the bus station with food stalls aplenty to choose from. I weaved through alleys and nearly stumbled into actual residences, raising curious eyes amongst the locals enjoying their day.
My hostel sat near a wet market and it was lovely seeing older folks at their stalls, chatting with the locals who were making their grocery shopping rounds. On my little stroll, I saw this happy family preparing for lunch with their doors wide opened. How cute?? It took me a bit of time before I approached them – really didn’t want to disrupt their day – and got this obliging photo of the squad.
Another very happy Viet. Mr. Phuong was hanging out outside my hostel the afternoon I arrived – I know this story already sounds dodgy – when we got to chatting. He showed me his notebook of reviews from visitors all over the world and it was impressive to boot. He suggested sending me to lunch with Ale and bringing me to historical sites for some tourist attractions. I declined the latter because I wanted to catch up with Ale, but his hospitality left a deep impression on me. It’s a shame I couldn’t see him again before I left.
Where to stay in Saigon
Traveling on a shoestring meant my budget for hostels was pretty small, but I didn’t realize how small it could get. For USD7, I put up in a decent 10 bed mixed dorm right in the heart of District 1.
I’ve stayed in many backpackers hostels, and Saigon Backpackers Hostel is, for lack of a better word, basic. You get a locker, a bed, a shower and a help desk. Oh, and a beautiful rooftop hangout (I didn’t see anyone up there once, probably because it was way too hot).
The rooms and showers are smaller than what I’ve had previously, and the common area isn’t particularly inviting. You’d hardly exchange ‘Hi’s with other backpackers because there’s a limited shared space. The main gate also gets locked up pretty early, and you have to wait for the staff to come get you. Ultimately, while the location is great, you do get what you pay for. I’m sure there are better options on Hostel World to choose from.
I’d love to hear how your personal experiences with Saigon was like. Perhaps I’m missing something and there’s beauty in the city to discover!