Posted by: hoz49 | April 15, 2008

The Saigon Hotel and our tour guides

We stayed at the Saigon Hotel in Ho Chi Minh City , across the street from the newer Saigon Hilton, on Dong Du just off Dong Koi and south of Le Loi in District One. The 3 star hotel is a classic, very clean and well kept. It exhibits French influence with high, vaulted, trayed, ceilings, crystal chandeliers (even in the rooms!) and natural woodwork. A friendly, competent staff stands ready to help. Communication is no problem as most of the staff spoke enough English to get by.

(Picture from above website)

The free breakfast buffet is an added treat and the food wholesome and delicious. A mixed menu from Asian to American is available. Even egg omelette’s are cooked to order and fresh bread and baguettes are available.

Our day tour was booked through Saigon Travel, which has an office in the hotel. Prices for the various tours seemed reasonable. Our driver and guide met us promptly at 7:30 am in front of the hotel. Though not related, both were named Tong, Tung, or Trung, I never got it completely right.

Tong, our indefatigable guide

Tong, our driver

Though the driver spoke very limited English our guide had taken extra courses at a local language school and could converse with us fluently, albeit with a Vietnamese accent. He admitted he had problems with slang and I introduced him to “the shizzle”, and “whizzle”. He seemed very interested and I hope he tries it out on a few customers in the future, will they be surprised!

Tong was very open about the new Vietnam and was eager to share thoughts on his country and it’s explosive growth the past 10 years. He said many Vietnamese are moving south to Ho Chi Minh City for work or to start businesses. Real estate prices have risen so high most young people rent share small rooms to get by. He considers himself very lucky to live with his mother in the family home.

We asked about all the motor scooters on the streets. Tong said there are 8 million inhabitants of Ho Chi Minh City and 4.5 registered motor scooters. The city literally buzzes with scooters, they even have their own lane on the major thoroughfares. With one bus line and no jeepneys public transportation is limited. “If you don’t have a scooter, you don’t have food” he said.

Crowded traffic circle in front of Ben Thanh Market during a slow period.

Tricycle driver takes a break amid the chaos

To cross the street when there are no traffic lights the pedestrian simply starts walking across without running, hurrying, or stopping. Like Moses and the Red Sea, the traffic will part around you!

Two cyclists with the aftermarket “sun brims” on their helmets.

We asked Tong how he came to speak such good English and he replied there are many schools and academies springing up around Saigon to teach English and he attended one such university. The younger generation knows English is the international language of business and are working hard to get up to speed.

We enjoyed our day with the two Tongs. They seemed to go out of their way to make sure we saw everything on the tour and even more. The van was a “Sprinter” with plenty of room for us and it was also well air conditioned, a big plus in the tropical climate of Saigon.

Tong the Guide said he works “freelance”, and isn’t a regular employee of Saigon Tours. So maybe if you are lucky you’ll have him on your tour of Ho Chi Minh City.



  1. I know about the shizzle but could you please inform me on the whizzle? lol

  2. Thanks for your comments on my blog and for the tips on how to prepare bitter melon. I’ll make sure to incorporate it next time I cook them.

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