Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Ho Chi Minh City - City Tour in a Motorcycle

On my first day (technically, second, but screw technicality) in the city, I had already visited many famous landmarks of the city that by the time I came out of the War Remnants Museum, it was just late afternoon, around 4 pm. With no plan in my mind other than to go to a rooftop bar for a sunset drink, I was back to the Independence Palace where the next two hours were spent touring around Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC), thanks to Vins, my motorcyclist tour guide. 

Vins, like many Vietnamese, travels in his trusty motorcycle and uses his transport as a source of income by working as a local guide. Our chance encounter happened earlier in the day when I visited the Independence Palace. He asked if I'm interested to tour around the city with him but since the day was still young and I wanted to explore around by feet, I declined the offer. However, when I was back later that day, he was still there and remembered me. So, I took his offer and off we went cruising around downtown Saigon.

So, here are some of the highlights I was brought to:

1) Saigon River

Saigon River is not in my top priority of places to see in HCMC but thanks to Vins, I managed to catch a glimpse of the majestic river. After seeing it, I made plan to catch the sunrise from the river the following day but sadly, I failed to wake up in time for it. More to come...

Saigon River

It is quite scenic along the river

2) Jade Emperor Pagoda

Sad to say this but I did not about this Taoist temple even though it is a very popular attraction in the city.  Luckily, I managed to visit this beautiful red temple which was constructed by the Chinese community in the country to pay respect to the King of Heaven, the Jade Emperor.

The Jade Emperor Pagoda

The Jade Emperor being the primary deity of the temple

A detailed roof 

3) Tan Dinh Church

Another missed opportunity if not for Vins. This French architecture-influenced church stands out among the ordinary looking buildings at its surroundings due to its bright pink facade. One of the famous churches in HCMC, Tan Dinh Church is always open to the public unlike the grand Notre Dame Cathedral which only open for Sunday mass. There is even one big statue of Jesus Christ a la the Christ the Redeemer statue in Rio De Janeiro.

The pinkness that is Tan Dinh Church

Tan Dinh Church is open for public

You don't have to go to Brazil to see the majestic statue of Christ

4) Vinh Nghiem Pagoda

Here is another temple that I was brought to by Vins. This temple is the first of its kind in where it was constructed following traditional Vietnamese architecture but with concrete. It gives off a modern and contemporary feeling to it.

Vinh Nghiem Pagoda

I must say, it is one wise decision on my part for if not for Vins, I would have missed out many sights and sounds of the city. Besides passing by other famous landmarks such as the Opera House, People's Committee Hall, and so on, I was taken to places I never consider going in the first place which were located in different districts.

Typical scene during my tour

The best part of this city tour is that I get to experience HCMC through the eyes of locals. While I definitely do not pass as a local, at least I got to travel like one. You get to feel the adrenaline rush of riding a motorcycle in a bustling city like Saigon. And the friendly nature of Vins is a plus point, making this short tour truly memorable.

The friendly Vins


Sharing is caring. A word of advice and a piece of information.

Like my motorcyclist guide, Vins, many local guides gather around popular tourist spots to scout for potential customers. These tour guides will approach you with a smile on their faces, with a hope of becoming a friend with you while making an extra cash. It is understandable to be wary and cautious when approached by strangers in a foreign land but fret not. More often that not they have a guest book with them to show you comments made by their past clients to ease your concerns. Before riding with them, let them know what type of tour you want to take and how long the duration. Negotiate the price first hand (though it is quite standard) to avoid any unwanted misunderstanding. My city tour with Vins was at VND 100,000 (RM 15.70) per hour.

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