Living Like a Local in Saigon

I spent more than two weeks in Saigon living, or at least trying to, live like a local. I stayed in a hotel far away from busy city centre and was hanging out with locals a lot to absorb as much Saigon culture as possible. Did it work? Yes and No. Yes, because in this way I felt like being more connected with people and with the environment surrounding me learning a lot in the meantime. No, because I was always, and probably will always, be treated like a tourist. That means locals had no mercy to rip me off, I was treated better that locals because of my hair and skin color and felt like a “cash-point” at many situations. Nevertheless, I enjoyed Saigon a lot and I will never forget the incredible time I had here.

My stay in Saigon was relaxing and peaceful. I always took my time, never rushed myself, just chilling out. There was no more getting up at 6 am or 7 am and no more all day cycling. Just dining out, going to the cinema and gym, cooking and laughing. Lots of laughing!

Saigon’s panorama view

Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) is currently transforming itself into a very posh and luxury city. It is becoming one of the major economic hubs of the region.

Everywhere you go, you can spot road and building contractions being made.

There are more and more skyscrapers being build nowadays.

I enjoyed the view a lot.

How locals live

Most of locals live in blocks of flats, very small and dirty.

Also very dirty sometimes.

That’s the poorest side of the city.

City centre

Saigon city centre is the “Backpacker heaven”. Enormous number of local pizza shops, bars, internet c@fes, coffee shops, bakeries, hotels, gyms and much more in one place. Everything at your fingertips. Nightlife is amazing here.

The city centre was way too busy for me.

Palm trees everywhere.

And circus!

Souvenir time!

Me exploring the city centre.

It looked like a wedding party but I am not sure what it was. We passed by a lovely tent with tables and chairs inside, people were singing and dancing and they were dressed smartly.

Backpack on and ready to go! I love the colors of my t-shirt by the way :).

Terrible traffic (AGAIN!)

I have been to Hanoi and I witnessed the terrific traffic there. I though “Nothing could be worse than Hanoi!” but, as it turned out, there was something worse that that- SAIGON! ! !

Thousands of motorbikes passing by, trying to overtake, rushing, using horns, sometimes pushing you. It’s a real mess.

I cycled anyway, no matter how heavy the traffic jam was and how aggressive locals were on the road.

No traffic rules at all!

Saigon is pretty famous for its terrible traffic. Look at these postcards!

The police are aiming to reduce the danger on the road by hanging the posters on the walls.


Saigon people don’t differ that much from locals we met in Northern parts of Vietnam. They are more familiar with foreigners and foreign culture, that’s for sure, and maybe better behaved. They pay more attention to what they wear and behave well while eating.

They smile a lot, especially kids.

They are friendly and hospitable.

But they hate photos!! They always hide, ask you (politely or not) to put your camera back into your backpack or sometimes run.

They work very hard.

Especially women (but that’s typical for Asian countries).

Whatever they did or said I never stopped taking photos (not of them though).

Local food

Saigon was the place where I put on weight the most. Reason? They food was lovely. Never too salty, never too spicy, lots of grilled meat, veggies and tropical fruits. I was in food heaven <3 ! ! !

My favourite grilled rice and sausage spring rolls wrapped with some leaves. Best served with chilli sauce.

Seafood- always fresh.

Baby chickens being grilled.

And of course donuts!

Daily activities

Why did I do for entire two weeks?


I cycled almost every day when doing shopping, going to the gym, grabbing some food from the local shops, etc.

Shopping at local markets

I visited local market every morning when I came back from jogging. I grabbed some fruits, tofu and veggies to cook some food in our hotel room (it wasn’t allowed though)!! :)

Yeah, people didn’t look nice there :).

This is the market I went to.

Joining the gym

I joined Get-fit gym where I was attending Pilates and box classes. It was lots of fun actually. The staff were amazing, especially personal trainers :).

Dining out

When I didn’t feel like cooking we went out to local restaurants to taste some Saigon specialties.

Going to the cinema, strolling, watching TV

Staying in Saigon was a great opportunity to catch up on watching movies either in the cinema or in a hotel room. I love watching good movies and having the cinema near our hotel was awesome.The “Bourne Legacy” was the best one though.

The selection of activities depends on everyone’s preferences. You can go swimming or get stuck in your room, be lazy or be active, hit the gym or dine out, visit the amusement park or zoo. There is everything here! Saigon is a perfect place to try it all.


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Agness Walewinder
Agness Walewinder
Travel freak, vagabond, photography passionate, blogger, life enthusiast, backpacker, adventure hunter and endless energy couchsurfer living by the rule "Pack lite, travel far and live long!"
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10 thoughts on “Living Like a Local in Saigon”

  1. wow loved this post. makes me want to go there.I see vietnam people are unlike filipinos. We just love our photos taken and always smiling we are.

    1. Vietnamese people also smile a lot, but they don’t like photos being taken of them for some reason, but they are very hospitable :)! Thanks for stopping by.

  2. Great pics and great post. I LOVED Vietnam. Probably heading back there in December — I was going to go at the end of this month, but a cheap flight to Okinawa won out.

    As for living like a local — that is a bit of a myth in Asia. Just can’t happen in developing countries. Even in Japan, Japanese American friends are treated as “gaijin,” and in SE Asia, all bets are off. You are, by nature of your heritage, a walking ATM for anybody running a business. lol Same everywhere, really. I was in Morocco a loooong time ago and we were buying bananas from a woman pushing a cart. 5 people ahead of us all paid pennies. We got to the front of the line and suddenly it was about the equivalent of $2. Still cheap…but ‘dems the breaks when you are a whitey abroad. lol

    Actually, street food in SE Asia is still pretty democratic. The price is usually the same for everybody — so that’s one way to blend in, assuming you know enough of the language to read the menu and order something that isn’t too strange. lol

    1. Thanks Mike,

      That’s right. We use “living like a local” as more of a metaphor. That’s true wherever we go we are mostly treated as ATMs. Nevertheless, with practice it’s possible to get local prices. You need to be stubborn and haggle hard tough.

      I think the only exception is rural China, where people would rather give you something for free than overcharge you, if you are foreigner.

      Have fun in Okinawa and hopefully in Vietnam.

      Safe travels,

  3. Hi I’m from Vietnam and have been reading your blog for some time (I love travelling too!). Just saw this post and guess I need to correct the info haha. The event which you thought was a wedding party was in fact a funeral :)

    1. Hi Dana. Thank you for your comment. Sorry for that, we thought it was kinda party, people were wearing colourful clothes and music was being played everywhere. Thanks for pointing that out.

  4. Please take lots of pictures of the landscape and people of this place! people here are just shy, awkward front of your lens only. but do you believe? they like to be photographed! tell them smile! Vietnam people very hospitable!

  5. Zara @ Backpack ME

    We just got here 24 hours ago! :)
    I have already made a lady look unpleasantly at me when I clicked her photo and she noticed all of a sudden.. she didn’t seem to like it at all.
    But loving the energy of the city – so busy and happening!!

  6. Just to let you know the picture where you said -It looked like a wedding party-…….its not its a funeral……its common in Vietnamese funeral for family members to wear white bandanas/clothing.

    I should know, I am Vietnamese.

    I dont know why you say they say were singing or dancing, they more likely praying and chanting for many hours.

    anyways, glad you enjoyed vietnam!

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