Riding on a ferry in Southeast Asia is quite an experience and unlike any boat ride you’ll go on back home. The ferries are small, a little old, and they have to fight for space on busy waterways. It’s not that I feel particularly in danger during a ride, but I don’t always feel 100% safe; it’s exhilarating! Plus, there are times when they are the only way to go, like if you’re going to Monkey Island. Now that I’ve talked ferry rides up, if you’re worried that your stay in HCMC will be without a ferry ride, you’re in luck because Saigon has its very own boat: the Thu Thiem ferry.
Located in the heart of Saigon, on Ton Duc Thang just a little up the street from the hydrofoil dock, the ferry carries passengers from District 1 across the river to the Thu Thiem area of District 2. You can either ride by bike, which costs 3,000 VND, or walk on, which will set you back a whole 500 VND. The ferry runs from morning until late at night, with a boat leaving about every 15 minutes. It runs often enough that it usually doesn’t get too crowded, making for a more enjoyable ride.
The Thu Thiem ferry is one of my favourite things to show people in Saigon but it is tragically underridden by tourists. It is also frequented by motorbike tour groups, Vespa Adventures and Back of the Bike Tours for day trips. Not only does it offer you the adventure of Vietnamese boat travel, it also gives you a little-seen view of the city skyline. The ride is very relaxing and a few times I’ve just hopped on, rode to the other side, got off, walked back into line, and rode back.
Sadly, your chance to take a ride on the Thu Thiem ferry may soon be coming to an end. With the recent November completion of the Thu Thiem Tunnel, Saigon’s first tunnel just a few blocks away from the ferry terminal, ridership on the ferry is expected to drastically plummet. On the District 2 side what used to be a small, bustling market is now already kind of a rubble-filled ghost town, due to the depleting ridership.
Although the ferry could be saved and operated as a tourist attraction, as of right now it is slated for closure as early as January of 2012. While rumours of the ferry shutting down have been tossed around since the Thu Thiem Bridge opened in 2008, the completion of the tunnel could be the final nail in the proverbial coffin. So, if you’re in the area, do hop on and take a ride; not only will you get a unique perspective of the city but you will also get to enjoy a fading mode of urban transportation.
By Angela Schonberg
Last updated on 18th September, 2014.