A quick walk through Saigon’s backpacker area of Pham Ngu Lao will lead you past several locations selling tours. While most feature longer tours to popular areas around the city, like tours of the Mekong Delta and the Cu Chi Tunnels, most also sell a generic five-hour day-tour of Ho Chi Minh City. If you find yourself considering one of these tours here’s what you can expect.
Picking you up from Pham Ngu Lao on a large bus, the tours generally lead you straight through traffic into District 5 for a visit to the Thien Hau Pagoda. One of the most popular pagodas in Saigon, you will get a chance to check out the famous large hanging incense coils while getting some quick history about the temple and the area.
No bus tour would be complete without dropping off the group at a place where they can buy souvenirs and the tour group can get a kickback. On tours of HCMC, this will usually be accomplished at a lacquer factory. The group will be dropped off and given a look at the process of making hand-made lacquer products. You will see artists painstakingly working on lacquer in various stages production before you are lead to a showroom where the group will be given plenty of time to browse, and hopefully buy, some lacquer art. Although it may seem like an annoying practice, a tour of a lacquer factory can be quite interesting and informative; it can even be the highlight of some tours.
Next the tours usually head back into District 1, where you will be taken to Ben Thanh Market. Here you’ll be shown the ins and outs of the market while being led through to particular booths that the tour is friendly with. You will be given a chance buy several items, including coffee and fruit, while getting to experience the most popular market in Saigon. You won’t be given food on this tour so this might be a good chance for you to grab some street food from the market’s vendors.
After everyone is rounded up at the market, it’s time to finish up the tour with more sightseeing. The first stop is likely to be in front of the People’s Committee building for a quick photo, then you’ll be ushered across the street to the Saigon Opera House. Time here is generally limited, but you will get some quick history about both places and a chance to take a good picture.
Once back on the bus, the group will be taken up the street to Notre Dame Cathedral and the Saigon Post Office. Here you will be given more time than on the previous stop, so you can explore both buildings and check out what’s being sold on the street, such as pop-up postcards and banh trang nuong. Finally, you will be put back on the bus and returned to Pham Ngu Lao.
Although it may not be the best way to see the city, one of these cheap day tours is probably the easiest, particularly if you aren’t in town for long and are on a tight budget. Costing 150,000 VND to 300,000 VND, depending on where you buy a ticket, the tour isn’t particularly expensive; what you’re paying for is the transport — be warned you’ll be spending most of your time on it.
By Max Murta
Last updated on 18th September, 2014.