Motorbiking Around Saigon

After taking a break this afternoon with a visit to the Park Hyatt’s pool, I went for a tour of Saigon with Ao Dai tours (AoDaiTours.vn). This company conducts several different tours all under the same premise – you ride around the city on the back of a motorbike driven by a young lady dressed in traditional Ao Dai attire. I opted for a night tour and was collected by my tour guide at the hotel at 6:00 p.m.

Her “English” name is Ivy but, being the polyglot that I am, I just called her by her Vietnamese name – Vy. Vy is a 21 year old student who is finishing her last year at the university where she is studying Hospitality Management and hopes to work in the hotel industry upon graduation. Fluent in English, she is also studying Korean in school.

Clearly, the main attraction of this tour is the actual riding about on the XO and the chance to have some conversation with a resident of the city. Our first stop was out in District 5 in the Chinatown area. It must have been about 10 miles from the hotel and we stopped at a street stall for rice paper cakes filled with meat and grilled. Similar in finish to a quesadilla, they are served in a banana leaf and accompanied by an “Arnold Palmer” type drink.

Eating street food in Saigon

Eating street food in Saigon

At each stop, we met up with other guides and their clients from the tour company and there was a little opportunity for us all to chat and share stories. After about 15 minutes at the food stall, we headed off to another spot, I’m not sure where, where we all met up for smoothies from another street vendor. Upon recommendation, I took a blend of mango and raspberry and it was quite good.

Vy lives with her mother, father, brother and his wife and says it is very common for families to have three generations under one roof because of the cost of housing. Her father was from Ha Noi and her mother from Hue and they will travel to see grandparents over the upcoming Tet holiday which is the lunar new year celebrated by both the Chinese and Vietnamese.

Family is very important in most Asian countries and the celebration of the new year is marked by spending time together as a family, making traditional rice cakes, honoring one’s ancestors, and decorating with and dressing in red for good luck in the coming year. The Vietnamese years are identical to the Chinese ones with the exception of Vietnam using the snake instead of the rabbit for their calendar.

Our final stop was across the river to see the skyline of Saigon. Apparently, the residents are proud of their new tunnel under the river that was opened about three years ago and is the first one in Vietnam. Once across the river, it quickly becomes very quiet and uncrowded but Vy says the government has recently approved development for this area in the upcoming year.

The skyline of Saigon and all the lit up boats on the water were nice. Most of you have probably seen at least one of the main buildings in Saigon – the Bitexco tower – as it housed the offices of Stark Industries in the Iron Man movie.

Saigon Skyline at Night

Saigon Skyline at Night

When Vy dropped me off at the hotel, she asked if I would mind if she looked in the lobby of the hotel. As a local, she is not really allowed to go in the hotel and with her desire to go into the hotel business, she was thrilled to walk around the lobby and see the restaurants and lounge for all of 3 or 4 minutes. One sometimes forgets how life works in other places, I guess.

I finished up my night by having a couple of drinks across the street at the Saigon Saigon rooftop bar at the Hotel Caravelle.  During the Vietnam war, international correspondents hung out here regularly waiting for the daily press briefings which became known as the “Five O’Clock Follies” because the accuracy of the information was so poor.  Perhaps it is cliche to have a Saigon beer in the Saigon Saigon bar overlooking Saigon, but also a little cool.

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