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Arriving bleary-eyed off the overnight bus from Phnom Penh, I instantly felt weary of Ho Chi Minh City. The city, more commonly known as Saigon, is beloved by some of my favorite travel bloggers. That, combined with the fact that I love South East Asian cities, from Phnom Penh to Bangkok, led me to assume that Saigon and I would have a long and beautiful relationship.

Saigon

Unfortunately, it wasn’t meant to be. Saigon left me feeling tired, defeated, and kind of icky. Arriving on a morning bus and leaving on a night bus, we spent three full days in the city… and we were itching to get out. It’s rare for me to actually admit that I don’t like a place. So what turned me against Saigon? Read on to find out.

Saigon

The Traffic

One of my favorite things to do in a new city is go for a stroll and get lost. This is not an enjoyable pastime in Saigon. My research tells me that there are 33 million motorbikes for Vietnam’s 86 million people. From what I observed, at least 32.9 million of those bikes must be registered in Saigon.

Traffic in Vietnam

And they don’t stick to the roads, either. Sidewalks, traditionally the safe haven of the innocent pedestrian, are a dangerous place to be in Saigon as motorbikes and cyclos attempt to zoom past the gridlock on the adjacent streets. Respecting red lights and other traditional rules of the road (such as, Don’t Speed Up When Human Beings are in your Trajectory) were flagrantly disregarded. It was total mayhem, and I felt like I had achieved something worthy of a medal every time I crossed the street with all my limbs intact.

Traffic in Vietnam

And of course, if the bikes didn’t kill you right there on the spot, they’ll get you indirectly later! My entire body reacted to the pollution in Saigon: my skin broke out, my eyes burned, and my lungs filled with toxic air.

The Scams and Robbery

Probably 90% of the purse-snatching and scam-artist tales I have heard while traveling through South East Asia have originated in Vietnam. And Saigon is the epicenter of that. A couple in our hotel told of their backpack being slashed while walking through the market. Two girls on our bus told us about having their bags lassoed away from them by two men on a motorbike. In the struggle to hold on to their bag, they were dragged through the streets. Bloggers write about the dangerous scams that can ruin their victims vacations- and bank accounts.

Theft in Vietnam

All of this is to simply say we didn’t feel very safe here. I didn’t feel very comfortable taking my camera out very often, and I was suspicious of local people who approached us. I’m normally the last person to worry about personal safety (sorry Mom!), so it was pretty significant for me to feel this way.

The Attractions

This is going to sound a bit harsh but frankly, there wasn’t much to keep us excited here. We went to the Reunification Palace, the Cu Chi Tunnels, and the War Remnants Museum. (Those had some issues all their own, which I’ll discuss in another post). We did a walking tour that visited many historic sites and buildings. The sights and museums here could fill a few days at most, as opposed to the weeks I could spend exploring many of the world’s cities

The Reunification Palace, Vietnam

The list doesn’t really end there. We bemoaned the lack of great backpacker digs and public transportation. And having just come from Cambodia, we missed all the great boutique and NGO-run eateries and cafes (with the exception of the phenomenal Sozo).

Even so, I could see a glimmer of what all those Saigon-enthusiasts are going on about. For balance, here’ a few things about Saigon that I didn’t quite hate.

The Food

I’m a picky eater, and Vietnam is officially the first country I’ve arrived in and immediately enjoyed the cuisine. I was all about the pho, and it quickly became my daily staple. I was also a huge fan of the French-influence inspired bakeries around every corner.

Food in Vietnam

And this is pretty breaking news, people: In Vietnam I tried curry for the first time and liked it. Shocking, right? Turns out, Vietnamese Curry is fairly similar to the Massaman Curry I’ve been snubbing all these months in Thailand. So, Saigon and I got along pretty well when it came to meal times.

Food in Vietnam

The Nightlife

Saigon, followed by Nha Trang, is the nightlife capital of Vietnam. Bars and pubs are centered around the backpacker district of Pham Ngu Lao (which as I mentioned has a shocking lack of decent backpacker hostels or hotels) while big city nightclubs are scattered downtown. I think a great nightlife scene is a vital part of any city, and Saigon seems to be doing at least that right.

Nightlife in Vietnam

Have you been to Saigon? Do you think I’m crazy for not really feeling it? Go on, tell me how wrong I am!

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42 Comments...
  • Jade - OurOyster.com
    December 28 2011

    I didn’t mind Saigon! But I was there at the beginning and end of my Asia trip – so maybe that made a difference. I was never too worried about theft and luckily nothing happened. And im an experienced jay walker so i survived the traffic as well

    • Alex
      December 29 2011

      Living in NYC for four years I thought I had jaywalking down… turns out I was wrong! Oh well, everyone can’t love everywhere 🙂

  • Linda
    December 29 2011

    Alex:

    This doesn’t sound like a fun place to be. Hope it gets better or you get out.

    Aunt Linda

    • Alex
      December 29 2011

      Luckily we found much better parts of Vietnam to enjoy…. you’ll be reading about them soon!

  • Karla Stride
    February 1 2012

    If it wasn’t for your Mui Ne post we would have been stuck in Saigon for 2 nights! My partner & I love’s Massaman curry so we are looking forward to try the Vietnamese curry. Apart from the food there’s nothing else I am excited about Saigon. Traffic in Manila is bad but I think Saigon is much worse!
    Karla Stride recently posted..Gong Xi Fa Cai!

    • Alex
      February 2 2012

      I LOVE the Vietnamese curry. And pho is great too! I admit the food in Vietnam is great!

  • Adnin
    February 27 2012

    Hi, so you took an overnight bus to saigon from phnom phen..was it safe? i heard only the desperates took night buses there…and where did u stay in saigon? thanks a lot! 🙂

    • Alex
      February 27 2012

      Hi Adnin! We took that bus because we prefer to arrive somewhere in the morning as opposed to after dark and wanted to save on a night’s accommodation. We felt safe. However if we had more time I would have taken one of the boat trips that has you arriving via the Mekong! As for where we stayed, it was one of the many cheapo guesthouses on Pham Ngu Lao. Can’t remember the name, sorry. Good luck!

  • arnaud
    March 6 2012

    Hi Alex, it’s funny that you don’t like very much Saigon, as I am there now, I don’t like it much also, but for different reasons, as for crossing the streets with hundreds of motorbikes, I must say it’s the thing that I prefer about this city, I like the food, though I prefered it in Bangkok much better. Have a nice travel if you’re still in SE Asia.

    • Alex
      March 7 2012

      I agree, Bangkok is a great city! I did love the the food in Saigon as well though. I can always find something to enjoy…

  • saigondude
    April 10 2012

    Funny, I was reading through your blog looking to find out about the dangers of Cambodia and was surprised to hear that you seemed more concerned about the dangers of Vietnam! I really like Saigon, but I’m here for business purposes, not too much of a tourist. Someone did try to slash my girlfriend’s purse amongst a massive crowd on at the Saigon fireworks on New Year’s Eve 12/31/2011. Nothing came out of the bag, but the leather purse (from Florence! 😐 ) was ruined. I was also the near-victim of a much scarier 3-person armed robbery attempt in Melbourne restaurant in 2009 though, so it seems crime can happen almost anywhere these days.
    Thanks for the informative blogging!

    • Alex
      April 10 2012

      It’s very true, crime happens everywhere! However, I trust my gut heavily and I was shocked by how unsettled I felt traveling through Vietnam compared to the rest of Southeast Asia. Everyone’s experience will be different though!

  • apato
    June 29 2012

    you almost touched very Saigonese corners 🙂
    apato recently posted..Saigon Pho Life

    • Alex
      June 30 2012

      I’m not sure what you mean by that, Apato! All I can do is be true to my experience, but I know not everyone will be happy with it 🙂

  • Jasmine
    August 14 2012

    I have been lapping up your blog from the beginning for a full 10 hours now, impatiently waiting to get to your thoughts on my favourite country, Vietnam. I must say I loved Saigon, though we travelled from North to south so by the time we got there we were so enamoured with the country that we may have been wearing rose coloured glasses. I look forward to reading about the rest of your Vietnam experience.

    • Alex
      August 14 2012

      I’m just catching up with your comments now 🙂 I must say, I really enjoyed parts of Vietnam but Saigon was my least favorite place, perhaps on all my travels! Just goes to show… we see places through our own lens!

  • Leah
    November 8 2012

    Titi Hotel is great! We stayed there for a couple nights and the family that runs it is beyond helpful (they were very concerned for my purse and continuously reminded me to wear it cross-body style so that it wasn’t snatched by the motorists). Super clean, with adorable little balconies that look out onto the tiny but full of character side street, and very close to the main backpacker drag. Just a tip in case someone is looking!

    • Alex
      November 8 2012

      Leah thank you SO much for that recommendation. I will definitely look them up if I’m ever back in Saigon, always great to have a good recommendation!

  • Allegra
    March 8 2013

    I’ve just discovered your blog, and it has made me want to travel everywhere! I have lived in Saigon for about a year and a half, and I love it! It’s too bad you didn’t enjoy it, but there’s so much to explore once you get off the beaten path. If you ever have any desire to come back, let me know and I can show you some gems.

    • Alex
      March 9 2013

      Thanks Allegra! I probably won’t return to Saigon (though I’ll never say never!) though I will definitely return to Vietnam some day… I want to see the north! It’s a great big world out there, and I guess not everywhere is for everyone 🙂

  • Personally Saigon is one of my most favorite city I have traveled. There is not much of attractions in the city, but the vibe of the city made me fall for it.
    Rambow from Romancing The Planet recently posted..All Inclusive Holidays: Why Choose Them?

    • Alex
      June 14 2013

      I guess if we all had the same opinions the world would be quite boring 🙂 Personally I love the city of Phnom Penh, which I often hear of people disliking. It all comes down to our individual tastes and experiences!

  • Miss Mae
    January 17 2014

    Hi Alex!
    I totally understand what you experienced. Its just that Vietnam is still developing to welcome more Tourist.
    Im a Tourism Graduate and I admit I dont want Vietnam to become the next Bangkok. I love this country and the beautiful landscape. However Saigon is not really a friendly city. Of course there are many friendly people but as some have stated earlier we have a of migrant. My cousin told me yesterday that we have 8 million Saigonese but only 2 million are real Saigonese. The rest moved to the city for work. Thats the problem in bigger cities. Less jobs, less money, more crime.
    If you go out of the city for example to Can Tho, Ben Tre and Vinh Long people are superb friendly. They didnt scam me or my friend. I felt very welcomed.
    Its just Saigon is crazy. Some might love it, some might hate it.
    Miss Mae recently posted..Quan Cuc Gach ( A taste of Brangelina in Vietnam)

    • Alex
      January 18 2014

      Hey Miss Mae, thank you for chiming in! I will definitely put the Mekong Delta on my list of places to check out when I return to Vietnam. Thank you for your insights!

  • Andrew Low
    May 15 2015

    Hi Alex, I get your drift. When I was in HCMC last December, I felt the same. HCMC just did not give me the homely feel as much as Bangkok or Phnom Penh. However I did enjoyed the street food and beer too…that’s the only consolation…

    • Alex
      May 16 2015

      I did enjoy the food in Vietnam, even more so than neighboring Cambodia, which is one of my favorite countries!

  • Ray
    September 15 2015

    I agree! I lived in Vietnam for over a year working for a local, now gone airline. I chose Hanoi over HCMC rather quickly and fell in love with the city. I dreaded having to work from Saigon and was glad when I got to fly back to my apartment in Hanoi! Spot on review!

    • Alex
      September 17 2015

      I hope to check out Hanoi on a future trip, Ray. It looks fantastic!

  • Alex
    November 11 2015

    You would be surprised by the food pollution in VN and probably in the others developing countries too. Air, food, water , soil pollution. A good cocktail to get cancer.

    Funny for a few days of holidays, but not sustainable for long term term living. I’ve been living in south east Asia for 9months.

    • Alex
      November 15 2015

      I’ve been based in Southeast Asia off and on for a long time, too, so I’m familiar with the pollution. However I’m sure it’s particularly problematic in Vietnam due to the history of chemical warfare there. So sad.

  • Sheila
    February 2 2016

    My first trip to VietNam was to Hanoi. I fell in love with the country since. I’m going to Saigon this May. I hope my love for the country won’t decrease or change. But, let’s see about it. Thanks for your insights on Saigon.

    • Alex
      February 6 2016

      You’re welcome, Sheila. It wasn’t for me but that doesn’t mean it won’t be for you 🙂 Enjoy your trip!

  • marina
    June 25 2016

    Everything I read talks about the fabulousness of Saigon.I dont see it.It doesnt help that I drink very little so drowning myself in alcohol wont work and as someone mentioned-food pollution-my research shows that everything is contaminated. Maybe it tastes good but I’d rather have access to clean food. If youre a fan of war history a few days might do you because there’s nothing else.I did the Mekong Delta trip, cause you do, right? I did the market, walked around, looked at buildings.Saigon is an Experience but not an enjoyable one

    • Alex
      June 26 2016

      Sorry to hear you didn’t fall in love with Saigon, Marina — me neither. There are other parts of Vietnam that I really loved though!

  • For 91 Days
    January 21 2017

    We’re about to head to Saigon for 3 month! I hope we’re going to like it better than you. Reading your article made us nervous!
    For 91 Days recently posted..For 91 Days in Oviedo – The E-Book

    • Alex
      January 31 2017

      Every person can’t love every place 🙂 I hope you love it too — let me know!

      • For 91 Days in Saigon
        January 31 2017

        We just arrived,

        and all of our worries are gone. We’re now here for almost a week and we love it here. So happy we’re not staying at the Backpacker District, there I would feel extremely uncomfortable. Our Apartment is in District 19, what a difference.
        For 91 Days in Saigon recently posted..For 91 Days in Oviedo – The E-Book

        • Alex
          February 6 2017

          So glad to hear you are enjoying yourself 🙂 Wishing you a fabulous few months!

  • ThuongDaLat
    April 7 2017

    Sadly, the guides did not take you to the good sights and the bad guys plundered the streets. Hopefully one day you come to Vietnam I will take you to Phu Quoc or the western water of Mekong region, usually seafood in Phan Thiet…

    • Alex
      April 9 2017

      I actually did not use a guide in Vietnam, I was traveling independently!

  • Grant
    April 28 2017

    Saigon is a dump. I lived in PHnom Penh for 5 years and enjoyed it thoroughly. In Saigon you have jaded locals trying to take advantage of westerners daily. The SE Asian mind state is; take what you can get now. Forget repeat custom. I hav lived in Can Tho for a year and the people are much friendlier there. Fuck Saigon, it’s a shithole

    • Alex
      May 11 2017

      Ha! Well Grant you certainly don’t mince words! Clearly I’m no big fan of Saigon but I too LOVE Phnom Penh.

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