The Saigon Travel Guide is part of the Trip Report: The $77,000 Trip Heard Round the World which covers 5 Continents, 13 Countries, and 17 Cities.
- Tokyo, Japan
- Melbourne, Australia
- Wellington, New Zealand
- Sydney, Australia
- Colombo, Sri Lanka
- Saigon, Vietnam
- Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
- Hong Kong
- Cape Town, South Africa
- Knysna, South Africa
- Durban, South Africa
- Johannesburg, South Africa
- Doha, Qatar
- New York, New York
- Helsinki, Finland
Guns or butter? Fight or food? This post contemplates what you should do on a trip to one of my favorite cities in the world, Saigon, Vietnam.
- A trip is composed of two factors: Labor And Lazy
- Anything on the line (Production Possibilities Frontier for my fellow economists) is an efficient use of your time depending on your tastes and preferences.
- Anything inside the line is inefficient as should be avoided.
- Anything outside is aspirational but may be impossible to do given the constraints of time and resources.
- The opportunity cost (what is given up) for relaxing and being Lazy is gained by being adventurous in the form of Labor and vice versa.
In the present case, the choice is literally between guns and butter. Do I spend my time going to the Cu Chi Tunnels and shooting old Soviet guns or do I wander the streets lost searching for the best phở? The answer to this question depends on your appetite.
- Crossing the Street
But before we get into what you should do, I have to discuss safety. The most labor intensive part of your trip will be crossing the chaotic streets of Saigon. Like a game of Frogger, it takes skill and confidence to get from one side to the other. The strategy is simple: walk at a normal pace in a straight line without stopping. The motorbikes will not hit you. If you panic and freeze then you’re putting your life at risk.
- Cu Chi Tunnels
Museums aren’t my cup of tea but live history is. The Cu Chi Tunnels are located outside of central Saigon and should not be missed. They are an intricate web of underground tunnels that were instrumental in fighting the American in the Vietnam War which is called the American War by the Vietnamese.
Part of the tour includes a presentation where the tour guide describes why it wasn’t difficult to fight the American forces. They had the American combat strategy mastered: The Americans would send their fighter jets and drop bomb after bomb. This would be followed by ground troops. In response, the Vietnamese would hide out in the tunnels trying to withstand the air raids. When the forces came they would engage them in the battlefield and lead them to the tunnels where the husky Americans could not enter. Those that did met their demise by way of medieval booby traps. Despite the Vietnamese’s technological limitations compared to the US, this was an innovative, effective strategy.
After the tour, visitors have the option of shooting old AK-47s and M16s. This is probably worth skipping unless you’ve never done it before.
There is also a War Remnants Museum in central Saigon which has a collection of American Might that was shot down during the war. Inside, there are photographs of the devastation from the war.
- Bargaining Market
The bargaining market is where you can find sunglasses, souvenirs, I Love Pho tee shirts, as well as beer and liquor for some day drinking. Don’t pay more than $2 for a tee-shirt and $2 for sunglasses (reference the guide for Bargaining Abroad). The sunglasses salesman will try to convince you that his glasses are better than those on the street. Even if they are, don’t pay more. They will come down on the price!
- The Pho Tour
The Pho Tour is right in the middle of the Labor/Leisure part of the graph because it is a combination of both. Nothing is more relaxing than a savory bowl of pho but nothing is more exhausting than the after effects of said bowl. Here is a list of the best pho in Saigon.
- Party Time
Somehow in Saigon partying is less labor intensive than shopping and site seeing. Here were the best places to party. Note that in the end you will end up at the tourist trap of Apocalypse Now.
In Saigon, bars can’t stay open past midnight. The police show up at this time and everyone ‘hides’. The club turns off the music while the police does its inspection. Then the party is back on, sort of.
This place was nuts. There were bottle after bottle of liquor being drank, crazy light shows, and happy party goers. The Americans who ordered one bottle were put in the back corner near the wait station while the locals who bought a dozen bottles had comfortable booths.
Tourist Row Intersection: De Tham and Bui Vien streets
Every tourist will find his or her way to this corner at some point during the trip. Across from the Wild Buffalo Bar is another with cheap beers and a shady nightclub upstairs. Down the street there are even more bars with even cheaper drinks. It’s Saigon’s baby version of a Khaosan Road.
- The Park Hyatt
After doing all that, it’s worth the points splurge to relax by the pool at the Park Hyatt Saigon.
Saigon, go if you haven’t, return if you have.