The first thing that comes to my mind when thinking about Ho-Chi-Minh city (HMC) is the ridiculous traffic. Vietnams’ biggest city is complete chaos, just what you expect from any Asian city. But this city is the epitome of traffic chaos - even within Vietnam you'll not find any place that's close to this madness.
And almost everyone who wants to get around Ho Chi Minh (or Saigon if you prefer the city’s old name) is doing that on two wheels. And while this is the best option for visitors to explore the city quickly, it's up to you if you want to be part of this masses of vehicles.
If you're not made for this, there's an excellent alternative. Tour operators are offering scooter tours where you can simply hop on a guided tour. I did exactly this as I wanted to be part of this mess but didn't want to be driving myself - I'm a horrible scooter driver.
The best way to get through the chaos
Because there are such a lot of accidents on Ho Chi Minh’s roads you have to choose your tour operator wisely. With a little help from Google we decided for XO-Tours. The drivers are only women, what really is important when you take in account that in 90% of all accidents are only men involved. In addition you are insured during the tour and XO-Tours operate legal – many tour operators are illegal. Naturally XO-Tours isn’t the cheapest option, I paid 40$ for a 3 hour tour around the city.
XO Tours offer different tours, but we only had time for “The Sights”. My driver waited for me on time, 9:00 AM at the entrance of my hotel. The girl was fluent in English (that isn’t so common in Vietnam) and explained to me the most important rules for the tour. For example I had to keep our legs close to us and the scooter, otherwise we might tangle up with others. Or that I can only hold to the hand rails not the driver - but girls are allowed to do that.
Lots of fun in the streets of Ho Chi Minh
We instantly headed off to Saigon Central Post office where we met the other participants of the tour. From here we drove around the city to many sights like the Secret CIA Building, Notre Dame Cathedral, Tan Dinh Market in Cholon (Chinatown) where wholesalers have their stalls, to the Reunification Palace and to the Thich Quang Duc Memorial. A monument for a Buddhist monk who burned himself to death to protest against the persecution of Buddhists by the South Vietnamese government.
We stopped at every sight to take pictures and got an interesting explanation to everything. We even learned that in Vietnam a planned wedding is never cancelled. Even if both partners are sure that they want to break up. The shame for them and the family is just too much and it is better to marry and then get divorced again shortly afterwards.
Sometime during the first half of our tour we got a huge refreshment drink just while passing by a vendor - still sitting on the scooter. You could choose between lychee and cumquat, but don’t bother… it all tasted like suga basically. Bu the best thing about the drink was that it was so big we had to hold it with two hands, so from then on we were sitting there with no option to hold onto something. It was okay to me, others in the group were almost shitting their pants.
When we entered Chinatown we could also see headless frogs jumping around before they finally got onto the barbecue grill. That wasn’t just crazy but creepy as well.
At the Thich Quang Duc Memorial we had the chance to see what happens sooo often on Vietnams’ streets. One of the helmets was stolen and a good helmet is an expensive thing in Vietnam. Because the girls from XO always have a sharp eye on everything they reacted very quickly and chased the thieves afoot. That was quit a spectacular sight because it was a one way street and the thieves drove the wrong way and the girls ran after them with all the traffic around them. But in the end they came back with the helmet. -No one outside of our group was irritated in the slightest. Obviously on the streets of Ho Chi Minh recklessness is daily business.
Riding on scooters through Ho Chi Minh is an awesome experience and I would book that tour again at any time. You get around by scooter so much faster than with a taxi or by bus we could see very much of the city in quite a short amount of time.
We were told many interesting things about former Saigon. All the drivers were fun and so easy to talk to which really made the whole experience even better.
The next time I'm in Ho Chi Minh we will definitely book a tour with XO again. Probably the night tour or the foodie tour - I'm just not sure if the latter one is the best choice for picky eaters. The Vietnamese seem to be a little random with what they eat and don’t eat. There are quite some yucky things on their menus.
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