Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Ho Chi Minh: Everything I Knew About Saigon I Learned from Manila

Leaving Tan Son Nhat airport, I was transported back to Manila and would have thought I am really in Manila if not for the signages written in Vietnamese and the moving multitudes of motorbikes.For quite a short stay in Ho Chi Minh (Saigon), the place certainly reminded me so much of Manila with the exception of the motorbikes

1. Stop, Look and Just Cross the Streets
 One of the most dreaded thing that I knew I have to face in this Vietnam trip is crossing the very busy streets of Ho Chi Minh where motorbikes almost numbered the same as the city's population.I have heard all the horror stories of playing stop and go with these motorbikes and but I'm quite confident with my lifetime experience of navigating the streets of Metro Manila. I thought I can definitely handle the puny motorbikes, and boy was I wrong. From the time the taxi left the confines of the airport, I got my first look at the notorious motorbikes that snakes it way among cars and with no intention of slowing down even if there are people crossing the streets  as they just maneuver around these people. Gasp! Jaw drops! (buwis buhay tumawid sa Vietnam)
The first episodes of crossing the streets are like playing the Filipino game of patintero, of stepping one at a time and making sure no motorbikes will sped past you and making you wish that you have purchased a travel insurance.

2. Traffic rules and regulations don't exist
Just like Manila, those whites stripes on the streets are just that - white stripes and not considered as pedestrian lanes in Ho Chi Minh. Even as we try and we knew that it is a futile thing to do, we feel that it will make a difference if we take the pedestrian lanes when crossing.Maybe just maybe these motorbikes will slow down. And did I just wrote futile - there is no difference, the motorbikes just keeps on going ang going much like that Energizer bunny

3. Sipa - Vietnamese style
Our hotel happens to face a park and I noticed that parks seem to be a social hub of the Viets. I would see group rehearsing a dance number, young and old crouching , talking and drinking ( I presume is coffee or tea), an ongoing badminton game and interestingly a game very similar to our very own "sipa". We are about to go to Highlands Cafe when our attention got caught by a group of 3 guys and a girl playing a game which seems like a hybrid of "sipa" and volleyball. The two people will face each other and will take turns to hit the "sipa like contraption" using only their foot to hit it towards the opponent. We just stood there transfixed by the game when a lady approached and asked us if we wanted to purchase the "sipa" and we did! The "sipa" is very much different from the pinoy version of "tingga" and "supot/straw", it is made up of a stack of plastic chips with a single feather passing through the stack.What ensued next is a frenzy of sipa games the pinoy way by using the foot, hand and elbows.

4. Stay away from Tourist markets if you don't have the haggling skills
Benh Tanh Market is always cited in internet searches and travel guide books as the place to buy lacquerware, dried jackfruit and other pasalubong. On Saturday afternoon, we walked towards this famous market to buy our pasalubongs.It was quite huge with several stalls but it was hot inside.We strolled among the corridors of numerous stalls asking prices of items that caught our fancy and we noticed that the prices are quite expensive as compared to the small souvenirs shops in the Central Post Office. Since I frequent Divisoria and 168, I haggled to as much as half of the asking price. I was able to buy few pieces of fridge magnet and 1/4 kilo of dried jackfruit as for the lacquerware, I still find the prices expensive. As we continue to walk along the maze of stalls, we found ourselves in a section that has this cardboards hanging in the ceiling that says "Fixed Price" and as we checked out the prices it was almost half of the initial prices offered inside the market though there are lesser choices of item designs found in this section.

5.For Hire, Not for Hire
Taxicabs in Vietnam are as notorious as our Manila taxis. It is almost the same modus operandi from not using the taxi meter and offering a flat fare, tampered meters, taking longer routes to have a higher fare and the classic Sorry, no change. We were told to only take the Vinasun taxis which is considered as the reliable taxi operator but a word of caution there are other taxi operators that have names very similar to Vinasun, so make sure your taking the right one.

The dangerous game of "patintero" with the motorbikes, an accidental game of sipa, rediscovering the art of haggling and taxicabs misadventure all made a very nostalgic visit to Vietnam and a sad realization on how the beautiful pearl of the orient dubbed as the second largest economy in Asia during the 60's is now at par with a  war ravaged agrarian country (side comment: and they even have a better international airport than ours)


  1. nice one! this is really helpful. haven't been to Vietnam and the thing that stops me frm travelling alone is I;m pretty scared to cross tha street w. all those motorbikes. haha

  2. hi gael :) oo nakakatakot talaga sa umpisa parang sumusulpot na lang bigla ang mga motorbikes..pero lakas lang ng loob sa pagtawid at liksi ng kilos..keri na maglibot sa Vietnam heheheh

  3. Napansin ko nga rin na mahilig sila mag-sipa.. Naalala ko pa na kinakalaban nung bata yung pader sa paglalaro nito. Hanggang ngayon iniisip ko pa kung sino nanalo.. :) Thanks for this very helpful article.

  4. haayy napakalalim namang palaisipan yan..pader ba o yung bata :P Salamat sa pagbisita sa blog :)

  5. taking notes...haven't been to Vietnam, should have been but cancelled the last minute and travelled to El Nido instead..hehehe

    looking forward to reading your El Nido adventures.. :)

  6. lesson #1 scares me. I hate crossing the streets. I just get petrified. I have Ho Chi Minh on my Nov 2011 itinerary and this post is really helpful. :)