Walking out of Saigon's airport, I instantly felt like this stop on my trip wasn't going to be very relaxing..
After leaving the convenient, polite and clean world that is Japan, I really had gone into the deep end in Saigon. Traffic was chaotic, English was scarce on the limited signage there was, and I was feeling slightly overwhelmed.
Saigon or Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC) if you're using the official term, is a two-wheeled, dizzying atmosphere of relentless sound, touts and scooters all just veering to not hit you. You can't have a leisurely stroll down the street, as a rider might be reversing their bike and about to hit you. I had heard that the traffic in Vietnam was awful, but after China I was convinced it couldn't get worse.
Of course, as I've come to realise, I'm often being proved wrong.
After almost a week here, I've discovered a few ways you can try to escape sticky Saigon and try find some tranquility and peace away from the sounds and the heat of Saigon.
1. Visit the Mekong Delta
There's motorcycles, but they're being ferried across on boats just like you. As you're enjoying the wind blowing through your hair and the view of the floating markets, you can leave the thousands of motorcycles behind. The Mekong is easily accessible via public transport, or via tours from your accommodation. There's also literally so many tourism booking centres on the main backpacker strip in Saigon that you could literally go into everyone to find the best tour for you. I only did the one day tour, but I should of done longer as I was already missing the tropical foods and the (slightly) cooler weather from the Mekong once I drove back into Saigon.
2. Escape the hottest part of the day as the locals do
The Vietnamese in Saigon are all up very early, so they can nap and rest during the hottest part of the day in the peak the early afternoon. With the sun and humidity beating down on you at 36 degrees, taking a break then back in your accommodation might not be such a bad idea. The night in Saigon is electrifying fun with the lights and the atmosphere, and also cooler. Or if you feel like staying out, there's plenty of museums in Saigon, including the Reunification Palace, the Vietnam War museum (be prepared for some graphic things in there), an art museum and the HCMC Museum. Getting in shelter will help if you start to feeling the heat as I have.
The greenery looks so lush in Saigon due to the humidity. Walking through and spending some time in the parks can be a great mini-escape. Also near the backpackers area in district 1, there's often groups of local kids trying to practice their English. Just sitting with them and hearing them just get excited to have the chance to practice was really wonderful, they all had smiles on their faces. Even one of the girls who was too shy to really talk. I realised that was such a simple way to help these locals out, avoid the touts and heat, as well as have different conversations away from all the backpackers, which are plentiful in district 1 of Saigon.
How have you coped with Saigon and other frantic cities in the world? Being able to sit in a park and just listen to something other than the cacophony of car horns was something I wish I had done on my first day.
Let me know in the comments below.
~ Olivia (WM)