10 Fun and Free Things to Do in Saigon

By: City Pass Guide

Ok ems and anhs, here are 10 free fun things to do in Saigon today. Keep in mind, that my sense of “fun” may be different from yours and yes, I have actual fun at libraries.

Visit a Library

There are actually libraries in Ho Chi Minh City, even if it doesn’t look like it at the first glance. Many international schools and universities have libraries that are open to the public if you behave properly. However, if you want to borrow books, you need to register.


Rainbow Bridge

The rainbow bridge near the State Bank in District 1 and District 4 is a popular place to hang out for young Vietnamese couples. It’s actually a nice place to go on Saturday evenings. If you can get your hands on a padlock, you can write the name of your soulmate on it and fix it somewhere there. Don’t worry, the architect used to be Eiffel. His tower still stands upright in Paris, so your little lock won’t crash the bridge.

Rainbow Bridge


Walking Street, Nguyen Hue

Since the opening of the new walking street next to Saigon City Hall on Uncle Ho’s birthday, it became a major point to hang out for Saigonese on free evenings. Walk around, play with the fountains and tease the cops whose job it is to guard the statue so nobody can get close to it. Don’t ask me why somebody would guard a huge bronze statue, but that’s how it is. If that is not enough fun for you, you may want to marvel at the efficient precision with which the traffic lights have been synced to form an absolutely useless system.

walking street Nguyen Hue

Photo by: Khoi Nguyên Peter


Songbird Singing Competition

In the morning, Tao Đàn Park is the place to be. At the café next to Cách Mạng Tháng Tám street, hobby ornithologists are gathering with their feathered friends and the air is filled with different songs. It’s one of my favorite spots to unwind with a cup of Vietnamese coffee before the heat and bustle of the day starts gripping you by the nose.


Pretend to be a Tourist

This one aims at our expats in Saigon who already have forgotten how the city feels for tourists. Get your funny hat, a backpack with a bottle of water, camera and mosquito spray and that old I-Love-Vietnam-Shirt from the suitcase that is rotting under the bed. If you especially want to mimic a German tourist, don’t forget to put on white socks under your sandals.


Visit a Free Concert

On Saturday mornings, you have a chance to witness a free concert right in front of the Opera House. Just go there and watch, it’s really cool and features different orchestras. Sometimes it’s a march orchestra, sometimes a traditional performance and once I saw a group playing the strings.


Smile for a Change

Take some time and smile at all the obnoxious attention that you get whilst walking along the street. I know, we all got used to simply ignoring xe om drivers, massah girls and crap-selling students, but sometimes it might be nice to smile at them and listen to their stories. It’s been some time since we have been invited to play poker at some odd house, been offered some weird guy’s cousin for marriage or being proposed the best business opportunity of our life.


Challenge an Elderly

In some districts or at parks you find elderly men sitting there with their chess boards and playing. If you see one sitting alone, you can inquire if he’s up to a game. Keep in mind that he plays that game every day, so you will probably lose. If losing is not a shame, not knowing the rules is: check them out first, because Asian chess is different than ours.

chess

Photo by: Paro Nguyen


Free Music Shows

At various holidays and sometimes just for kicks, they set up a stage at 23/9 Park, near Ben Thanh Market. Sometimes also opposite of Highlands Coffee on Pham Ngu Lao. It’s free for all and you may experience some nice songs and group performances.


Weathering the Storm: Flooding in HCMC

By: Jesus Lopez Gomez

During last year’s monsoon season, the Centre Asiatique de Recherche sur l'Eau (“Asian Water Research Centre in English) recorded an astounding 44 flooded streets.

The six-month rainy season officially starts in May, but the centre has already recorded 22 flooded streets in 2017.

Issues with Infrastructure

“Misuse of water diversion infrastructure – filling canals or blocking water drains – has in the past been the driving cause of Ho Chi Minh City’s flooding events, and Asian Water Research Center researcher Tran Ngoc Tien Dung said that remains the key culprit. “The situation [has not] changed,” Tran said in an email giving the centre’s flooding findings for this year.

The research centre defines a flooding event as water accumulation over 10 cm and if the water remains 30 minutes after a rain event.

flood-in-saigonImage source: acv.com

Beyond being a nuisance to drivers, flooding can threaten critical resources, as in Tan Son Nhat airport in 2016 when flooding there endangered the power station serving the airport. A disabled power station would have shut down the control tower.

Ho Chi Minh City responded with an immediate US$16 million worth of flood abatement construction.

This represents a fraction of the city’s ongoing financial commitment to flood relief. In September, Ho Chi Minh City announced a VND 97 trillion (US$4.3 billion) water control effort, which will span the next five years and calls for the construction of three reservoirs and a group of pumping stations. A centerpiece group of projects is an eight kilometre, three metre-wide sewage pipe to keep trash out of a key natural water diversion resource, the Saigon River.

Seeking International Relief

The flood effort has won international cooperation. The Dutch government will help build the three 10,000-cubic-metre reservoirs. In the project announcement, the city stated it had 40 percent of the funding immediately available with some of the cost being covered by international aid.

Indeed, when the World Bank’s chief Vietnam liaison Ousmane Dione visited the country for the first time in September, he affirmed the global aid group’s support. Dione’s previous positions with the World Bank were responsible for water control throughout the Southeast Asia region.

flood-in-saigonImage source: dantri.com.vn

The city’s flooding unit identified 21 flooding hotspots in 2015 and 56 in 2016. Its goal this year is to eliminate 12 of them.

This may prove to be an uphill battle due to an unusually early monsoon season. In April, photos of passengers disembarking from a plane onto a flooded tarmac made rounds on social media. Tran said inundation continues to plague the city because of residential construction, particularly what he feels is a need for greater sensitivity to hydrological concerns.

Going with the Flow

As far as the rain itself goes, Tran said beware the first half hour of a rain storm. Precipitation events tends to produce the most rainfall during that time. Tran added that rain storms tend to cluster themselves around the afternoon, so until around November, be ready for rain any time during 2 p.m. and 4 p.m. Also, “always have a raincoat with you.”

flood-in-saigonImage source: thanhnien.vn

How to Drive in the Rain

Rainy season befalls us now, but duty calls nevertheless. For those driving in the rain, here are a few helpful tips courtesy of DC Motorbike (217 D2, Binh Thanh D.) to keep you and your bike going through the precipitation despite a precipitous travel itinerary.

- If you disregarded the above and went forward anyway, no worries. Shut the bike down, move it to a dry place and use the kickstarter to activate the bike. A running engine will push any water out of the exhaust.

But if you use the electric starter, you may damage it. A manual initiation is best.

- During heavy downpours, wait until more favorable conditions if possible.

- If the water level is above the exhaust, do not proceed. A flooded exhaust can cause problems with the engine and may result in a damaged electric starter. These are costly problems that you can avoid by staying away from shin-high water.

Banner image source: baomoi.com

 


A O Show Take Four: How Good Is Teh Dar?

By: Arik Jahn

For a quite a while now, Lune Production’s internationally acclaimed A O Show is no insider tip, and instead one of Vietnam’s most famous entertainments. This cultural show combines an authentic Vietnamese experience with acrobatics, dance, music and a visit of Saigon’s and Hanoi’s opera houses, making for a constant crowd puller.

Established in 2012, Lune Production has come up with three different versions of the show in Ho Chi Minh City: the original A O Show, The Village and The Mist. Since August 2016, a fourth show has been added to the programme: The Teh Dar Show.

The Dar 5

Distinctly different from the productions that have come before, this show displays the life and customs of the ethnic tribes in Vietnam’s central highlands. Two thousand people tried out for the show, but only 15 circus artists and 5 musicians from various ethnicities were chosen.

Elephant Trousers and White Socks

Teh Dar comes with the usual A O Show amenities designed to provide a great experience for its guests from start to finish: a highly professional service staff as well as free flowing peach and lemongrass ice tea and candied ginger before the performance.

The Teh Dar audience, however, is quite different from the average opera crowd: elephant trousers, white socks and flip flops abound. This is an event catered not only to residents but also – and above all – to Ho Chi Minh City’s many tourists. Besides the show, there’s another draw to this Teh Dar: the Saigon Opera House is open to the public only on the occasion of an event, so in addition to an entertaining performance, a trip to Teh Dar will also complete your city sightseeing tour.

The Opera House Saigon

Enjoy the Show

When the light goes out, the artists enter the room in a procession that immediately immerses the audience into the show’s theme. The ethnic clothes, tribal sounds and minimalist-yet-metaphoric stage design outline the setting of the upcoming 60 minutes. “Teh Dar” itself is roughly translated as “going in a circle”, and the circle is indeed the all-dominant symbol throughout the show.

The opening scene alone is worth the money: an action-packed acrobatic hunting scene paired with thundering drum rhythms. From there, the show alternates between atmospheric scenes, romantic and spiritual interludes, funny vignettes, incredible stunts and daring feats. However, throughout these various elements, there’s no forgetting what this show is all about: displaying the tribal life in the southwestern highlands of Vietnam.

Teh Dar 2

The show ends as it started: with a procession, although this time it’s more joyful. The whole crew, singing and playing music, gathers in the lobby and invites people to take pictures with them. It’s the perfect ending to an hour of spectacle, suspense, wit, beauty, authenticity, romance, spirituality and, above all, genuine Vietnamese character.

The Fine Art of Entertainment

The show’s creators Tuan Le, Nguyen Nhat Ly, Nguyen Lan Maurice and Ngo Thanh Phuong are veterans in producing top-notch entertainment. The mere attendance figures prove this each and every night. And how often does it happen that a show not once bores you?

Traditional depictions never become stereotypical, modern elements are implemented without spoiling the show’s authenticity, and most of all: they know how to keep the balance between fast-paced and slow-paced scenes, individual and group performances, spectacle and artistic value.

Teh Dar 6

Teh Dar might be the most mature among the four A O Shows. The quality of the musical performance is beyond reasonable doubt. Traditional instruments like steel-drumish gongs, a sitar-like instrument called Goong, buffalo horns and massive elephant drums meet a modern arrangement that at times reminds one of a street jazz combo.

Anything to Moan About?

If there’s one thing to criticise, it’s the fact that the show doesn’t provide the audience with a booklet that gives credit to the artists and creators. It would have been nice to get concise information on the cultural foundations of what I had seen. But really, stop moaning, you!

What Do People Say?

Saigon’s A O Show is ranked first in the category Concerts & Shows on TripAdvisor with an average rating of 4.5 out of 5 points. A 27 out of 30 reviews of the Teh Dar Show give it full marks; and I honestly haven’t met a person who was disappointed by any of Lune Production’s events. Depending on the schedule, you might not be able to go to see the Teh Dar Show. Pick any of the others then – you won’t regret it. These shows are simply the best in town.

 


Cost of Living in Saigon

By: City Pass Guide

Everybody keeps filling my ears with how marvelously cheap life in Vietnam is, but I have my doubts on that. I mean, compared to Switzerland, Austria, Japan or Singapore… yes. Vietnam is definitely cheaper. But you have to do your homework, note places where they don’t overcharge you because of your long nose and generally add the costs of visa, occasional visits to your country of origin and all those extra fees that apply if you don’t know your way around very well.

The point is, most Vietnamese believe that Westerners are marvelously rich, educated and noble beings, like some fair princeling out of some cock-and-bull-story. Many see no harm in charging double the normal price for a bag of cucumbers, so you need to be on edge all the time.

From all Asian countries I can only compare it to China and if you take your average expat salary and compare it to the cost of living… China is cheaper, because prices are fixed and that’s it.

But let’s start and break down the costs of living in HCMC:


Renting

Renting a decent room in District 1 will cost you at least VND 6,500,000. Yes, there are cheaper options available, but I am referring to a spacious room in a nice area where water, electricity, Wi-Fi and drinking water are included. If you are lucky, you find a good place in further away districts at a lower price, but usually there is something fishy about it, so the VND 6,500,000 room is what I take as the minimum for a proper accommodation with Western standards.

renting in district 1 


Phone

The phone itself is at about the same price level as everywhere else in the world and it’s up to you whether you want to buy it. Probably even a bit more expensive due to additional taxes. SIM cards are available for VND 50,000 and one SMS costs around VND 300.


Mobility

Taxi or motorbike taxi comes at around VND 11,000 per kilometer. Taxi is air conditioned and comparatively safe, while motorbike taxis are faster and more flexible. Your own motorbike usually costs anywhere from VND 6,000,000 (functional) to VND 20,000,000 (pretty good) and beyond. One liter of gasoline is from VND 19,000 in September 2017.

Cars are extremely pricy, mainly because of the high import taxes. But in a car you can’t go anywhere anyway during rush hour.

Cost of Living in HCMC


Food

Local food is cheap and readily available on the street. For around VND 30,000 you can get a decent, Asian-sized meal like chicken rice. A bowl of pho comes at minimum VND 25,000. However - buy cheap get cheap. Local street vendors and restaurants often use cheap ingredients like recycled oil or fish sauce infused with chemicals that cause my stomach to turn when just reading their names. While having a dish like this once in awhile won’t kill you, ingesting Aspartame and MSG on a daily basis is something you may want to reconsider.

For a decent meal in a nice, local place you pay from VND 40,000.

Your craving for Western food can be satisfied easily from VND 70,000 upwards. For a proper pizza, prepare to pay at least VND 150,000, rather VND 190,000.

A good steak, and I am talking about a real steak here, is available from around VND 600,000 but rather VND 1,000,000. A really nice hamburger may be as much as VND 190,000. A tasty cut of salmon, char grilled with veggies and mashed potatoes is served for around VND 250,000. For VND 200,000 you get a plate of enough enchiladas to fill even a large bandido to the top.

If you are on a budget, but don’t want to miss grandma’s bread dumplings, home cooking is the way to go.

Some ingredients for cooking (average prices):

- Butter, 250g - VND 80,000

- Baguette, small - VND 2,000

- Camembert, 200g - VND 60,000

- Wheat flour (whole grain, US/Aus) 1kg - VND 70,000

- Eggs, 10pcs - VND 26,000

- Chocolate, Ritter Sport - VND 50,000

- Apple juice, 1l - VND 50,000

- Spaghetti, 500g - VND 30,000

- Coconut - VND 10,000

- Olive oil e.v, 1l - VND 200,000

- Water, 5l - VND 22,000

- Beer (Saigon Special), 0,33l - VND 13,000

- Wine (drinking quality), 0,7l - VND 140,000

- Wine (European import), 0,7l - VND300,000

- Milk (crappy quality), 1l - VND 20,000

- Milk (real, pasteurized), 1l - VND 40,000

- Herbs (dried, various), 20g-50g - VND 25,000

Like all things, you have various qualities available. You can buy a liter of fish sauce for VND 30,000, but I guess it is more MSG than anchovies in there. Good fish sauce you get for around VND 110,000, just containing fish and salt.

For a daily average of VND 80,000 per person and some cooking skill you can ensure good meals, fruit and water, including a coffee in the morning, but no fancy desserts and imported delicacies.

Home cooking is also the way to go if you have special needs. Lactose free food is available, because traditional Vietnamese food does not include milk. Lactose free milk is unheard of in Vietnam though. Rice does not contain gluten, but you never know what else is in the food at restaurants. Organic food is hard to find and pricy. Halal food is available at most Indian and Indonesian restaurants, for a relatively high price though. If you need halal restaurants on a budget, I guess the best practice is to look and ask around a mosque.


Health Care

Health insurance starts from a monthly VND 2,500,000, not including dental. Dental treatment is usually not cheap, but fillings start at VND 200,000, depending on which clinic you go to. Without insurance, you can save money on your everyday medical needs if you only consult a doctor when necessary. The diagnosis is quite cheap at public hospitals if you are prepared to wait for your turn. Of course, should something graver happen and you need to stay at the hospital, then be advised that even a blanket on the corridor floor can drain your financial reserves pretty fast. It also may drain your patience, because sleeping on the floor where a hundred Vietnamese walk to the toilet every night is decidedly un-Western.

healthcare in HCMC/ Saigon

Okay, let’s calculate our monthly expenses for an adult person now:

- VND 6,500,000 living

- VND 3,000,000 food & drink

- VND 2,500,000 insurance

- VND 200,000 phone bills

- VND 200,000 mobility

- VND 700,000 visa

- VND 300,000 other necessities

Therefore the total monthly expenses for an acceptable lifestyle are around VND 13,000,000 for a single person without further responsibilities, excluding one-time expenses like purchasing a motorbike, laptop, clothing, shoes and the like. Of course, you can lower the costs by renting cheaper, eating cheaper, taking the risk of not being insured and generally lower your expectations. Also, like in all metropolises throughout the world, you can spend significant amounts of money on luxuries.

It’s up to you.

When it’s not up to you alone, because you have a family, you may take into consideration more than just living from hand to mouth. One of the special topics that appears all the time is:


Education

While education in public schools is relatively cheap, the quality of these institutions leaves something to be desired. Excellent education is available in Vietnam too, but the costs of these international schools are quite expensive, unless your job position in Ho Chi Minh City covers your kids' education.

 


Tags

IS THERE A STORY OR TIP

YOU WOULD LIKE TO SHARE WITH US?

GET IN TOUCH