Think Saigon and push-bikes come to mind but these days, Ho Chi Minh City is a sea of motorbikes. So to really feel part of this swirling city you need to explore it on a motorbike. Here are three reasons you should try it.
1It’s so very French
The French occupied Indochina (Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia) in 1858 and as the capital of the colonised region, Saigon benefitted from elegant French architecture.
Scoot past what was once Saigon’s premier luxury hotel, the Majestic, a 1925 French colonial building on the corner of what used to be Rue Catinat and the waterfront Quai de Belgique.
Pull up outside the Majestic for a peek. Inside, its marble-floors and pillared lobby evokes memories of colonial times. The city’s oldest hotel, the Continental was made famous by Graham Greene’s novel The Quiet American.
Opposite, dominating Lam Son Square, the stately architecture of the Saigon Opera House stands regally beside manicured lawns complete with French-style fountains.
There’s the city’s train station-like General Post Office which was designed by Gustave Eiffel, architect of the eponymous tower, and the neo-romanesque Notre Dame cathedral, the Reunification Palace, originally built as the home of the French Governor General. The palace played a symbolic role in the fall of Saigon in April 1975 when its gates were breached by North Vietnamese tanks and the victors’ flag flown from the balcony.
2You’ll see the real Saigon
A motorbike is a good way to experience real life in Saigon. Take the Thu Thiem ferry, which is packed so tightly with motorbikes you’re almost rubbing shoulders with the other riders and passengers.
At the other side of the river, ride around the back streets and discover life as it is today in the suburbs of Saigon.
There are rows of single storey terrace homes with doors thrown wide open, children playing badminton on the streets and workers sipping coffee at open-air roadside stalls.
Stop along the main road to sample water-coconuts being sold out of the back of a wooden boat moored along the banks of one of the river tributaries.
3You’re more likely to eat snails
Ride through the Pham Ngu Lao area, which is popular with backpackers for its cheap hotels and snail stalls.
I tried two kinds of snails from a roadside stall. The first was a small scroll-shaped seaside specimen cooked in coconut milk and lemon grass sauce while the second was a round rice-field dweller that tasted like mussels.