Tuesday, March 24, 2009


24 Mar 2009 Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) -- We only had a brief stop here, but it was very interesting. We opted for a 2 hour city tour via “cyclo”. A cyclo is a tricycle where the passenger sits in front and the driver sits on a bicycle seat in back and pedals.

Luckily Saigon is very flat, because it was very hot (90’s) and we perhaps weigh a bit more than the average Vietnamese ;-)

Mary and Clyde shared one and Brian had one to himself. Saigon traffic is mostly motor scooters and motor cycles (4 million) and quite confusing with all kinds of vehicles zipping this way and that in and out. One local hair-raising custom is to cut diagonally through oncoming traffic if you are going to drive your scooter up onto the left-hand sidewalk (where driving is apparently okay at times) or into an alley. There are a few traffic signals (mostly ignored) and no stop signs in evidence. Our cyclos apparently did not have to obey any rules in particular, but did stay mostly on the right side of the road, except when turning left into a one=way street where they often executed the diagonal into oncoming traffic maneuver. When we get back, we’ll post a short cycle-eye video to give you a better idea of what it was like. We don’t mind saying that it was a bit scary at first. We got a good tour of the old part of Saigon. The drivers had no English but pointed out local important sights to us. Luckily Brian had a simple map and was able to understand what a few of them were.

This is a vibrant, bustling city and very different from others we visited. Most business was conducted in an open-air setting and there were street vendors selling everything from soup to clothing to haircuts. Some of the cargo loaded on small vehicles was eye-boggling. We passed by the old Presidential Palace (now a reunification museum) and the old American Embassy (now the American Consulate). Pollution was not bad – not in the same league as China. There are a few nice new hotels -- Sheraton and Renaissance. Unlike China we saw no beggars here – but plenty of pesky street vendors selling post cards, fans, “Polo” shirts, coolie hats and mandarin outfits.

After our two-hour ride in the blazing sun we were hot and tired. We went to the Rex Hotel and had lunch on their rooftop restaurant. Nice breeze, good service, good view and decent food. Brian had a local beer “333” or “Ba Ba Ba”.

By the time we finished it was time to catch the shuttle bus back to the ship. A very pretty young Vietnamese woman in traditional dress was the hostess on the shuttle bus. Clyde made her acquaintance, but forgot to get her name.

The port lecturer on board our ship told us that while Vietnam is communist, it has a market-driven economy. Families during the war were encouraged to have lots of kids, but now the target number is 2 per family --- and if a gov’t employee has 3, they can be fired. Early on after the war they tried collectivization of everything. As a result, no one was willing to work and they did not have enough food to feed their people. The first year after they went back to people owning their own property, they had a rice surplus and are now Asia’s number 3 rice exporter. The local currency is the Dong and the exchange rate is 17,000 to one US dollar. He advised us not to exchange currency unless we had a wheel barrow since US dollar is widely accepted. Most street vendors sell stuff for “one dollah”. Anything more than that is negotiable.

Next stop Cambodia


  1. Hi guys - we have been enjoying watching your travels! What FUNNNNN!!!! I had Melissa Jones look at the blog last Thursday and will have her look again this week when she is in the office. She got a kick out of seeing your journey and said her dad had been in many of those places. Be safe! and thanks for sharing!!!!!

  2. Thanks R&B. Glad you are enjoying. Say hi to Melissa for us.