As one of the top cities to visit in Vietnam, Saigon offers many tours around the city. One of which is a Saigon adventure on the back of the bike. What is this tour about and why you should try it? Find your answers in the guide below.
"Saigon" is what people, both locals, and foreigners, use to call Ho Chi Minh City for short. It was the name of the city before 1975, and to many older generations of this city, that name still resonates. Some locals, out of familiarity, even use Saigon to refer to Ho Chi Minh City’s downtown area - District 1.
Even though Saigon is not the capital of Vietnam, an adventure in Saigon is no less dynamic and worthy of a try. Visiting this city, you will see the beautiful combination of modern living and traditional values. Historical sites, religious sites, old buildings, and modern entertainment co-exist to give you the best of both worlds.
Saigon by the riverbank
There are many modes of transportations in the city for you to choose from such as motorbike, taxi, bus, bicycle, and sometimes rickshaw or boat. With quite heavy and complicated traffic, many small streets and back alleys lead you to the best off-the-beaten-track locations, the best way to get around and discover Saigon is on the motorbike. In fact, this two-wheeled vehicle is the most popular and convenient choice (so far) of most locals. There are over 7 million registered motorbikes in the city in 2016 alone!
Traveling around Saigon on the back of the bike will also make you feel more like going on an adventure and getting closer to the locals' lifestyle. You don’t see the attractions, streets, and daily life in this city through windows of a car; you can go fast or slow how you want (within the limit, of course), and make any and many stops as you wish.
With that being said, if you wish to drive the motorbike yourself, you do need a valid license to drive in Vietnam. If you wish to see Saigon on the back of the bike with local guides, check out these Saigon Motorbike Tours.
Motorbike - the most popular type of transportation in Saigon
In Saigon, there are many famous and less famous attractions where you can get good memories of the trips as something to look back on or get to know more about Vietnam's history and culture. In places like temples, churches, museums, and historical sites, there are pieces of Vietnam's past and how history shaped the Vietnamese culture and Saigonese lifestyle.
History. When talking about Saigon's historical attractions, the Independence Palace will be the first to come to the mind of most people. This white and magnificent building was built in 1868 as a place for government officials when Vietnam was still a colony of the French. It was later transferred to South Vietnam’s government and turned into the President's office and stayed during the Vietnam War. The event on April 30th, 1975 has become an important milestone of this palace and Saigon. That was when Vietnam’s People's Armed Forces ran the tank, brought down the entrance gate of the palace, and put Vietnam’s flag on top of the building, marking the reunification of North and South of Vietnam.
Another worth-mentioning place is the War Remnants Museum, displaying graphic pictures, remnants, replicas, documents, and newspapers from wartime, especially the Vietnam War. The museum has been open since 1975 to remind people of the devastation and violence of the wars. Beside the exhibits, the area selling handicrafts made by Agent Orange victims is one of the places leaving a heart-wrenching impression.
Independence Palace and War Remnants Museum
Besides those places, you can visit attractions like the Vietnam History Museum (showcasing Vietnam's history from the beginning of time) and the Ho Chi Minh Campaign Museum (narrating the Ho Chi Minh Campaign to bring North and South of Vietnam to reunification through models and pictures).
Museum of Vietnam History and Ho Chi Minh Campaign Museum
Culture. Religious sites are a big part of the cultural life of the Vietnamese and Saigonese. The famous and grand site, located in the city's downtown, is the Notre Dame Cathedral. This church was the first to be built in Saigon and was finished in 1880 by the French. The Saigon basilica has been an important religious practice place for Catholics in Saigon, then and now. Adjacent to the Notre Dame Cathedral, Saigon Central Post Office, the first post office in Vietnam, is another colonial architecture. Its latest rebuild was from 1886-1891 and the post office is still in use for the transport of telegram today.
Notre Dame Cathedral and Saigon Central Post Office
And like many countries in East Asia, Buddhism and folk religions have the most impact on shaping the cultural aspects of Vietnam. There are hundreds of temples and pagodas in Saigon and Chinese-built temples in Cho Lon. These architectures were built based on the Mahayana, Theravada, Caodaism, or local designs.
These temples and pagodas in Saigon are dedicated to deities of religions like Buddha, Earth God (Ong Dia), Fortune God (Than Tai), and Sea Goddess (Thien Hau), national and historical figures (like Tran Hung Dao and Le Van Duyet). Some famous pagodas and temples in Saigon you may want to visit are Vinh Nghiem Pagoda, Xa Loi Pagoda, Minh Dang Quang Buddhist Institute, Thien Hau Temple, and the Jade Emperor Pagoda.
Xa Loi Pagoda and Nhi Phu Temple
Some other interesting attractions you should visit to understand Vietnamese culture are the Vietnamese traditional medicine - Fito Museum or the city's green belt, Saigon Zoo and Botanical Garden - established from the 19th century.
Fito Museum and Botanical Garden
Visiting key attractions in Saigon is important to get an overview and understanding of the city. But if you want a better insight into the life of the locals at present, you will have to see Saigon’s other side on the motorbike. The small alleys, old residential areas, or communities where they do tradings, selling, and everything in their daily life. The big Chinatown and the floating market in Saigon are among the most intriguing ones.
These narrow alleys are only accessible on the back of the bike and are too small for cars to navigate.
You can find delicious cuisine, hidden temples, refreshing coconut juice, and tropical fruits on the boats by the canals. This is where you see the locals in their everyday struggle and hear their stories and tales of the place they have lived in for a long time. It is also a good time and chance to shopping in local markets for souvenirs at a reasonable price, like dried fruits or snacks.
An old apartment in District 5 and the floating market in Saigon
Vietnamese coffee becomes more of a worldwide brand, known for its interesting making style and flavor. You can visit big chain coffee shops or even small local streetside cafes in almost every corner of Saigon to taste this strong and aromatic drink. But suppose you want to do it the Saigonese’s style. In that case, you will have to try the coffee made from the aluminum drip filter, mixing with a good amount of sweetened condensed milk and sitting on the low stools and tables, watching people running their motorbikes out on the streets while waiting for the drop of coffee slowly falling down into the cup.
Drink Vietnamese coffee like a local
Get the world-leading travel insurance for your adventures in Saigon:
Saigon is one of the places with the most variety of foods. Tasting the good foods in Saigon is one of the best and fun ways to explore culture through cuisine. You will have famous foods like:
Pho and Banh xeo
You can also try Hue dishes, one of the best cuisines in Vietnam, like Banh beo - steamed rice flour topped with shrimpy powder and dipped in the spicy, savory fish sauce. Other popular dishes with the locals are:
Goi cuon and Banh cuon
Snacks to have between meals can also be found anywhere, on many stall carts in Saigon, like:
Banh trang nuong and Che
With hundreds of dishes and eateries in small streets and alleys, eating in Saigon is a foodie adventure for anyone.
A Saigon adventure on the back of the bike at night will allow you to see the city in new eyes. Not an old city with old architectures but a dynamic and fun place to be at night. Lights on every street and attraction; stores are opened to offer different kinds of foods, shopping, and entertainment.
Some famous attractions that you can visit in both daytime and nighttime in Saigon are the Central Post Office, Independence Palace, and Saigon Opera House. At night, the lighting will highlight their edges and beauty. Taking a walk on Nguyen Hue Street, you will also notice colorful neon lights nicely decorated on many skyscrapers, and shining boats cruising on Saigon River. Many locals choose this time to go shopping, watching movies, or stage performance in theatres because the weather is cooler and night is the time to loosen up after a working day.
Notre Dame Cathedral and a Saigon’s busy street at night
Street foods in Saigon get even more attention at night. Streetside BBQ parties are the most common with marinated pork, beef, shrimps, shells, octopus, and vegetables like okra, onion eggplants. Having refreshing local beers and a good time at bars and clubs in the backpacker’s district or Vietnamese beer restaurants along the canals are also good choices. And if you wonder whether you can get coffee at night in Saigon, the answer is yes. Coffee shops in the old apartments on Nguyen Hue Walking Street, or other places, open till late at night for the night workers and serve many other drinks like juice and smoothies for those who don’t want to stay restless afterward.
Streetside BBQ dinner and a refreshing local 333 beer
With many attractions to see, eateries to try, and stores to shop, Saigon is one of those beautiful cities where you need to make a lot of stops to grasp all of its history and culture. Besides, the small streets and alleys housing amazing hidden places and containing interesting stories of the city will give you an urge to explore more. A Saigon adventure on the back of the bike will give you a full experience touring the city at day and night, in both crowded and fewer traffic sites.
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