For those seeking long lasting memories when traveling, living like the locals during your holiday is the best option. The most captivating adventures do not come from sightseeing, but from real travel experiences. When visiting Saigon, do not try to make the city to accommodate your terms, find a way of blending into the local’s way of life. Getting out of your comfort zone helps you get to live a local’s lifestyle. The following are ways of integrating into the local way of life in Saigon:
1. Mind your etiquette
Residents of Ho Chi Minh city are very warm, polite and welcoming. They are also very conservative and even superstitious when it comes to dressing and social interactions. In as much as they are relatively tolerant towards foreign culture, it is appropriate to dress conservatively and be modest with showing some skin. Always remember to take off your shoes when visiting a private residence or any place of worship. You should also remember to never leave your chopsticks pointing outwards on your plate when you finish eating; it is believed to bring bad luck and is also considered very rude. It is considered polite to leave the chopsticks across the top of your plate. However chopsticks are mostly used in countryside (you will have no spoons, forks or knives available, unlike the city) so it will be not a big problem if you do something wrongly because people in countryside are very friendly and tolerant with foreigners.
2. Rent a local apartment
Even if you enjoy living in good hotels and getting room service when you visit Ho Chi Minh city, returning to your own house at the end of the day can be quite thrilling. Living in your own apartment lets you cook your own food; you can even invite some of your local friends over for meals and parties. If you want to save more money for your trip, you can ask for living with locals. This means you will live and work with locals. You will have chance to experience the real life of locals such as harvesting crop (cut and gather rice), watering vegetable, etc. Furthermore, when you live with locals you can enjoy many local dishes such as “Canh chua ca loc” (sour soup with snakehead fish) or “Ca bong kho tieu” (Small fish cooked with pepper). Having your own place basically allows you to enjoy the tempo of local life.
There are quite a few online real estate agencies where you can view up to date listings of housing opportunities in Ho Chi Minh city. This is quite convenient since you can begin your search for accommodation before you leave your home country.
3. Eat local
Saigon is one of the biggest commercial centers in Vietnam. That is the reason why many people rush to this city with the hope for better lives. As a result, many kinds of food coming from other regions in Vietnam “gather” in Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City) so visitors can enjoy many wonderful local dishes such as “Pho Hanoi”, “Banh da cua Hai Phong”, “Bun bo Hue” or “Banh Xeo mien Trung”. Here are some places that can serve you wonderful “Bun bo Hue”: Bun Bo Ganh (110 Ly Chinh Thang, Ward 8, district 3) serves from 06:00 AM- 09:00PM and the price for a bowl of Bun bo is from 36.000VND – 66.000 VND. The best restaurants to visit are those named after family members. Visit ethnic eateries which cannot be found in travel guides. These restaurants can be found by chatting up locals in public transportation or in parks. Look for family-run joints which give you the real deal.
4. Take a scooter tour of Ho Chi Minh city and use local transportation
Leave high end chartered tour vans to the less adventurous travelers. It does not matter if you can afford your own driver, using public transport in Ho Chi Minh city gives a you a sense of belonging. It also gives you a chance to interact with the locals and learn a thing or two about the city. Explore the city on a Vespa motorbike to get an exhilarating trip. Taking a bus is also a relatively affordable way to get around the city.
5. Take strolls around
This is the best way to get to know the city personally. Taking regular walks and interacting with locals along the way enables you to get the true feeling of the local lifestyle.
6. Visit a barber shop or beauty salon
When the need to get groomed arises, avoid the high end barber shops to catch up on the local politics and gossip. This enables you to get a real feel of the word on the streets. You can pass by some barber shops of locals such as the barber shop of Mr Dat in Nguyen Van Nam Street, Ben Nghe ward, district 1 or the shop of Mr Diep in Nguyen Binh Khiem Street. You will have a beautiful hair style with reasonable price.
7. Visit a local house of worship
This is the most authentic and realist way to blend into local culture. If you have different religious beliefs, getting to know your hosts religious inclinations enables you to have a proper understanding of the local way of life.
David is an expat who is living and working in Saigon. He is a business owner and a contributor of Saigon City Guide. Hopefully with his tips to go local when visiting Saigon, all visitors will have an unforgettable trip.