Why should you choose to explore Saigon on Motorbike without any means of transportation? There are several ways to navigate the maze of Saigon, but in the city where almost all of the streets are not that large and the traffic is definitely considered as the enemy of cars, it is not by chance that there are millions of scooters and motorbike is simply the most popular and efficient mode of transport to zigzag among the crowded city streets and explore the local and non-touristy areas.
Let’s imagine! Walking or sitting on a cyclo, you could not go far out of the city center where tourists stuck in. Sitting in a comfortable car, you can get rid of means of transportation and industrial pollution but not able to explore small alleyways and hidden areas of Saigon. On the back of the motorbike, you can stop anywhere to visit landmarks of the city, to chat with food vendors, to weave around the narrow streets to see the local activities of Saigon people, and to taste many incredibly delicious and strange foods and drinks along the road. In this article, I will briefly introduce you several highly recommended places to get around in Saigon on Motorbike.
Central Post Office is located right in the heart of Saigon, it took about 5 years to complete this building (from 1886 to 1891). This post office has still been the busiest Post Office of Saigon so far. It strongly marked the great work of its designer, the French Architect - Alfred Foulhoux when he succeeded in combining European and Asian Architecture and culture together. Next to the post office is the Notre Dame Cathedral. The church is another historical heritage site from the French Colonial period. It was built from 1877 to 1880, upon an abandoned local pagoda for the Catholic followers in the expedition army. During its construction, every single original piece of glass, cement and tile was shipped over from Marseilles, France. Nowadays, along with the Central Post Office, the church becomes one of the popular touristic spots of Saigon. It is the only church where foreign Catholic followers can go to for praying.
Close to this area, you will incidentally see another historical place, which is Reunification Palace, also known as Independence Palace. It was the home and workplace of the Presidents of South Vietnam during the Vietnam War. Having created by the hands and ideas of the Vietnamese, the Reunification Palace has become one of the symbols of Saigon.
Started on July 1, 1962, and inaugurated on October 31, 1966, the Reunification Palace was built on the ground of the Governor General of Indochina (also known as Norodom Palace). It was designed by Vietnamese well-known architect Ngo Viet Thu - the first and only Vietnamese to win the Roman Prize for architecture category. This palace is an architectural masterpiece with the harmonious combination of modern art and traditional Oriental architecture.
Since the early 1990s, Bui Vien Walking Street has been known as the town of the backpacker. The area since then has seen travelers and expats from around the world, bringing into the small town a rich culinary culture. You could easily spot out an Indian restaurant with an Indian chef, or have pizza as if you were in Rome, Starbucks from the USA, and a plethora of local Vietnamese restaurants and stalls serving all kinds of dishes, from Pho, Banh Xeo (Vietnamese savory pancake), Banh Mi (baguette sandwich), Banh Cuon (steamed rice rolls), and Com Tam (broken rice plate), etc.
Bars and pubs line the streets of this sleepless town, and more coffee shops are open 24 hours a day. Since the middle of 2017, this area prioritizes walkers rather than vehicles. The backside of this area is seedy; people can easily buy drugs (surely illegally), and it is normal to find used needles on the road so be careful here. Life in this town is not economically equal, as deep inside these narrow and dark alleys hidden behind the glorious facade houses, there are people living their daily life in poverty.
On the way of leaving District1 - Saigon on Motorbike, you will pass-by The Venerable Thich Quang Duc Monument. He is the monk who burned himself to death to protest against the persecution of Buddhism during the Vietnamese War (June 1963). The next stop would be a wonderful place for those who love flowers, the biggest wholesales flower market of Saigon, officially named Ho Thi Ky Market. All of chrysanthemum, marigold, gerbera, orchid, rose, sunflower and forget-me-not always appear in the flower stalls with splendiferous, charming, and colorful beauty. Numerous kinds of flowers, transported from different areas of Vietnam like Da Lat and Mekong Delta, will certainly amaze you a lot. Furthermore, wandering around the Flower Market by night, you can choose beautiful flowers for your own or a bouquet of flowers for your loved ones and send romantic and good things to them.
Since 1778, the Chinese Vietnamese have been relocating to the West of Saigon, building up a big community. In 1930, this region was merged into Saigon, forming the region of Saigon – Cho Lon. Today, Cho Lon refers to the Western part of District 05, District 11, and District 06. You can find many wholesale markets selling trinkets and clothing for attractive prices. Many commodities in markets around Saigon are distributed from these wholesale markets. Most people there speak Cantonese, and Vietnamese, however you can still find a few familiar with a few words of English.
When you are in the town, you must visit On Lang Pagoda, which is the most well-known temple in town and surely will reveal to you more about the religious life of the Chinese Vietnamese community. On Lang Pagoda was built in the 17th century by Chinese immigrants from Quanzhou in Fujian, China and is now located on Lao Tu Street, Ward 11, District 5. With its unique architecture and long history, On Lang Pagoda is considered one of the oldest Chinese temples in Ho Chi Minh City. The nearly 300-year old pagoda is a sacred place of worship for the Chinese community in Cho Lon area. This pagoda has attracted a large number of domestic and foreign visitors annually. On the way of going around Chinatown of Saigon on Motorbike, you can stop anytime at a Chinese beverage shops to enjoy herbal drinks and 24-flavored tea which are really good for health, digestion, purification, and detoxification. Owing to its benefits, you can get the sight of that many locals stop to buy and drink a cup of this, then go away.
Binh Tay Market, also known as Cho Lon, was built by a Chinese businessman, Mr. Quach Dam, in 1928. The market was designed by a French architect, still bearing Oriental architectural style. It is the biggest wholesale market in Saigon, not Ben Thanh Market likely to what many others think. A vast majority of the wholesale goods available here are from the southwest provinces of the country. If you intend to save some money on shopping during your stay, Binh Tay Market definitely warrants a visit. Nowadays, more and more visitors flock to the site, excited to discover what treasures lay hidden in every corner of the bazaar.
Along the market, there are food stalls selling a variety of South Vietnamese dishes at very reasonable prices to serve the local residents and visitors. At night, the market is also vibrant and romantic under the red lanterns swinging in front of the wind. The culinary delights of this market are another major highlight that will satisfy even the pickiest of diners. That is why most of foreigners agree Cho Lon is the most remarkable market experience during their time of exploring Saigon on Motorbike.
For decades, District 4 has been referred to as the town of gangsters, for reasons that can be traced back to its many harbors along the sides. Streets like Ton That Thuyet, Ton Dan, and even the beautiful riverside today was so famous for people getting ready to fight. Don’t worry! It’s no longer the same. Today, life in District 4 is transforming to be one of the most attractive places to accommodate yourselves in Saigon.
A symbol of District 4 is the Nha Rong Harbor (known currently as Ho Chi Minh Museum). President Ho Chi Minh started his journey abroad from here in 1911, embracing a huge ambition to release the Vietnamese from colonialism. Renamed to Ho Chi Minh Museum in 1995, Nha Rong Harbor keeps lots of antiquities that could tell the story of Uncle Ho and his legendary life.
When asked “What is the most interesting food you have tasted in Saigon?” Nine out of ten respondents would choose sea snails! Indeed, it is impossible to find any place with better sea snail platters than here, right in the most bustling city of Vietnam. From small alleys to main roads, you can easily find dozens of restaurants as well as vendors serving different plates of snails cooked in hundreds of ways. However, when it comes to the most popular spot of sea snail in Saigon, the first name usually recommended is Hoi Ngo Quan in District 8, a well-known paradise for seafood lovers. Eating sea snails with family, friends, or co-workers, and drinking a couple beers, is a favorite local way to socialize and enjoy Saigon night.
Whenever you go to a sea snails restaurant, there are typically a lot of different snails to choose from, as well as other shells like blood cockles, clams, and often shrimp and crab as well. The seafood selection of the day is normally proudly displayed at the front of the food stall or restaurant, and you proceed to choose whatever looks good to you. After you choose the type of raw snails you’d like to eat, and then choose a method for it to be cooked like grilled, sautéed, coated in salt and chili, steamed, curried, etc. There are approximately 10 different cooking methods.
Along this alleyway, you can find many other servers of seafood and sea snails, from big and fancy restaurants to small and unnamed street vendors in District 8, or even in District 4. All share one thing in common – being full of diners at all times. You do not need to wait until weekends or holidays to witness guests queuing for seats while sellers continuously serve hundreds of sea snail dishes. Only here, guests can fully capture how important cuisine is to the Saigon locals.
What to do when you’re there: Eating some greatest dishes such as mud creeper sea snails fried in a mild green curry-style coconut sauce (Oc len xao dua), scallops grilled with spring onions and peanuts (So diep nuong mo hanh), areola Babylon sea snails fried in chilli and salt (Oc huong rang muoi ot) and clams steamed in lemongrass and chilli (ngheu hap xa).
There are many professional travel companies in Saigon supplying you interesting tours to experience the local life. They have a great team of friendly, hospitable, well-trained and knowledgeable guides who are mostly college students and English-speaking & practicing young people in the city.
The friendly tour guides will take you through several major districts of Saigon on the back of their motorbikes and weave around alleyways to experience all life aspects here from the beautiful landmarks to slum areas, stop at a local market or stall to choose tropical fruits by yourself and enjoy a lot of incredible street foods which you would not have eaten to get a closer eye of the local life. Your experience will be further enriched by the guides’ sense of humor and knowledge. The trip would be also a great trip that you have an opportunity to gain more knowledge about architectural, cultural and historical values when visiting many famous attractions in Saigon. You can also book food tours to get full insight of the culinary culture of Saigon. Some tour services highly recommended on TripAdvisor include: VN Bike Tour, 102 Travel, etc.