Saying farewell to the Mekong in Ho Chi Minh City

Enjoying one last day in Vietnam, this time in Ho Chi Minh City, perhaps better known as Saigon. Photo © 2013 Aaron Saunders

Enjoying one last day in Vietnam, this time in Ho Chi Minh City, perhaps better known as Saigon. Photo © 2013 Aaron Saunders

After a journey that had taken us from Siem Reap, across Tonle Sap Lake and into the Mekong Delta, guests aboard AmaWaterwaysAmaLotus disembarked the ship for the last time this morning in the Vietnamese port of My Tho, 60 kilometres outside Ho Chi Minh City.

Instead of cramming all of us onto two motorcoaches - which no doubt would have been cheaper - AmaWaterways secured four separate coaches to transport us to the Sheraton Saigon, just as they have every step of the way on this Mekong journey. Photo © 2013 Aaron Saunders

Instead of cramming all of us onto two motorcoaches – which no doubt would have been cheaper – AmaWaterways secured four separate coaches to transport us to the Sheraton Saigon, just as they have every step of the way on this Mekong journey. Photo © 2013 Aaron Saunders

There’s a lot to be said for the way AmaWaterways has seamlessly scheduled everything on this river cruise; I finally figured out today that my Blue Group was entirely comprised of those of us who had elected just to join the river cruise portion of the trip, which is also available as a 16-day overland journey from Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh City.

Entering Ho Chi Minh City after transiting from the port of My Tho. Photo © 2013 Aaron Saunders

Entering Ho Chi Minh City after transiting from the port of My Tho. Photo © 2013 Aaron Saunders

Grouping guests by their itinerary and excursion options makes perfect sense – yet, the way they’ve arranged everything still allows you to connect with newfound friends made onboard the ship. All four busses whisked AmaLotus guests on a 90-minute drive to the Sheraton Saigon hotel in the heart of Ho Chi Minh City’s District 1. From there, guests with other hotel arrangements could independently make their way to their next accomodations.

The attractive lobby of the Sheraton Saigon; the perfect post-cruise place to put my feet up after disembarking AmaWaterways' AmaLotus. Photo © 2013 Aaron Saunders

The attractive lobby of the Sheraton Saigon; the perfect post-cruise place to put my feet up after disembarking AmaWaterways’ AmaLotus. Photo © 2013 Aaron Saunders

Sadly, my journey comes to an end here in Ho Chi Minh City, which I have learned is still called Saigon by nearly everyone. My flight back to Seoul aboard Korean Air leaves tonight at 11:40pm, and from there it’s onward to North America.

To be honest, not staying here in Saigon is the worst travel mistake I’ve made this year. Actually, not taking the full cruise tour offered by AmaWaterways is probably the worst mistake, if I am being completely honest about it. For my first-ever visit to Asia, I thought I’d hedge my bets and take the week-long cruise, and return again if I liked it.

There’s just one problem: I loved it.

My spacious day room at the Sheraton Saigon was mine to use from 9am until 6pm, with a further option to utilize it until 9pm. Photo © 2013 Aaron Saunders

My spacious day room at the Sheraton Saigon was mine to use from 9am until 6pm, with a further option to utilize it until 9pm. Photo © 2013 Aaron Saunders

I heard about some of the amazing experiences the guests who participated in the full overland journey from Hanoi had, like the opportunity to sail Ha Long Bay and overnight aboard a traditionally-themed “junk.” They also got to visit the ODA Free Village English School in Siem Reap that AmaWaterways set up in 2011 in conjunction with the Orphans and Disabled Arts Association of Cambodia.

One of the helicopters utilized by the United States during the Vietnam War, on display at the War Remnants Museum in Ho Chi Minh City. Photo © 2013 Aaron Saunders

One of the helicopters utilized by the United States during the Vietnam War, on display at the War Remnants Museum in Ho Chi Minh City. Photo © 2013 Aaron Saunders

However, I managed to make full use of my time here in Saigon. I got myself a day room at the Sheraton Saigon, which I’d classify as essential if you have a late-night flight. During my stay, the temperature outside was 28 degrees Celsius (82F) with humidity approaching 44 degrees Celsius (111.2F). If you plan on exploring, you’re also going to want to shower afterward. Your future seat-mates will thank you.

The Sheraton also gave guests a helpful little list of tips with their keycard:

  1. Ho Chi Minh City is generally safe, but there are reports of occasional pickpockets and bag snatching around the tourist areas. Please exercise precaution at all times.
  2. Please leave your valuables in the hotel safe deposit box or in your room safe and just take what you need when you go out.
  3. As the streets are busy, please cross the roads carefully and watch out for thieves on motorbikes you may snatch your belongings.
  4. There are illegal taxis parked around the tourist areas. Please contact our Concierge Desk on the ground floor (ext: 104/450) for recommendations of taxi companies.
  5. The taxi drivers generally don’t speak English. Please bring a map or the written address and ask our associates for assistance. Please carry small denominations of Vietnamese Dong as Taxis generally don’t have change.
  6. In case of emergency, please call our Guest Services Manager on 0903 005 133 for assistance.

The advice given in point number three is particularly important. In Saigon, you learn one thing very quickly: don’t ever stop or change direction while crossing the streets! The motorbikes will go around you.

I also managed to take in both the War Remnants Museum in District 3 and the Ben Thanh Market in District 1.

The War Remnants Museum spans multiple floors and contains a graphic look at some of the horrors of the Vietnam War. Photo © 2013 Aaron Saunders

The War Remnants Museum spans multiple floors and contains a graphic look at some of the horrors of the Vietnam War. Photo © 2013 Aaron Saunders

In the case of the museum, one of the most fascinating aspects is the collection of helicopters, aircraft and tanks belonging to the U.S. Military that are on display near the entrance. Visitors – particularly American ones – should be aware that the entire museum focuses very heavily on atrocities committed by the United States during the Vietnam War, while completely ignoring the war crimes that included Vietnamese involvement. It’s a very worthwhile museum to visit, but certain exhibits are definitely designed to provoke (and this coming from a Canadian.)

An exhibit on the Agent Orange chemical attacks by the United States is often difficult to look at. Photo © 2013 Aaron Saunders

An exhibit on the Agent Orange chemical attacks by the United States is often difficult to look at. Photo © 2013 Aaron Saunders

The Ben Thanh Market is an adventure in its own right. You can buy just about anything here, from clothing to shoes to wallets to food and electronics. The age-old system of bartering seems to be going out of style here, though; most vendors stuck to within a few dollars of the listed prices. Still, it’s quite the experience, particularly in some of the more narrow aisles.

Entering Saigon's famous Central Market, which is one of the oldest in the city. Photo © 2013 Aaron Saunders

Entering Saigon’s famous Central Market, which is one of the oldest in the city. Photo © 2013 Aaron Saunders

Here, you can find...almost anything! Photo © 2013 Aaron Saunders

Here, you can find…almost anything! Photo © 2013 Aaron Saunders

The Level 23 Bar is located - ostensibly - on the 23rd floor of the Sheraton Saigon. Photo © 2013 Aaron Saunders

The Level 23 Bar is located – sensibly – on the 23rd floor of the Sheraton Saigon. Photo © 2013 Aaron Saunders

The view overlooking Ho Chi Minh City, or Saigon. Photo © 2013 Aaron Saunders

The view overlooking Ho Chi Minh City, or Saigon. Photo © 2013 Aaron Saunders

The crowning point of my day was a trip with new friends up to the Level 23 Nightspot & Wine Bar located on the 23rd floor of the Sheraton Saigon. The windows here are open-air, allowing the breeze high above the city to waft into the room. It’s probably the coolest place (literally and figuratively) in the city, and it doesn’t hurt that it overlooks the Rex Hotel and its famous Foreign Correspondents Club, as well as the massive Bitexco Financial Tower that stands 68 floors above the earth and features its own cantilevered helipad on the 52nd floor.

After dinner at a local restaurant – which was a wonderfully fascinating experience to say the least – it was time to leave the Sheraton and Saigon behind.

Three daily flights operate from Ho Chi Minh to Seoul, all within five minutes of each other. Photo © 2013 Aaron Saunders

Three daily flights operate from Ho Chi Minh to Seoul, all within five minutes of each other. Photo © 2013 Aaron Saunders

The International Terminal at Ho Chi Min's Tan Son Nhat International Airport. Photo © 2013 Aaron Saunders

The International Terminal at Ho Chi Min’s Tan Son Nhat International Airport. Photo © 2013 Aaron Saunders

The drive to Tan Son Nhat International Airport only took roughly 20 minutes, and by 9pm, I was checking in for my return journey at the Korean Air desk. From the Sheraton Saigon, it should only cost about $8 – but ensure you hail your taxi through the hotel. Unlicensed cabs congregate at major tourist spots, and they are famous for ripping off tourists.

Clearing security and immigration were relatively painless despite the fact that even at 9pm, the airport is quite busy. There are three flights to Seoul from Saigon tonight alone, all operated on widebody aircraft carrying over 250 people, and all leaving within five minutes of each other.

My Korean Air Airbus A330-300 arrives at Gate 19 at Ho Chi Minh International. Photo © 2013 Aaron Saunders

My Korean Air Airbus A330-300 arrives at Gate 19 at Ho Chi Minh International. Photo © 2013 Aaron Saunders

If you’ve never done a river cruise like this, you really should. It’s difficult for me to think of a better way to experience Cambodia and Vietnam for the first time than onboard the AmaLotus.

Of course, once you do – you’ll want to return again and again.

Sunset over Ho Chi Minh City, as viewed from the 23rd floor of the Sheraton Saigon. Photo © 2013 Aaron Saunders

Sunset over Ho Chi Minh City, as viewed from the 23rd floor of the Sheraton Saigon. Photo © 2013 Aaron Saunders

Our Live Trip Report through Cambodia and Vietnam aboard AmaWaterways AmaLotus has sadly come to a close, but be sure to tune in tomorrow for a full recap of our journey – and our upcoming Live Voyage Reports!

 

 

7 Responses to AmaLotus Live Voyage Report – Day 9

  1. Once again, Aaron, you have managed to thrill, excite and generate new dreams and Bucket List items!

    I’m so delighted you enjoyed this amazing journey so much! That was sure evident in your every report. Your enthusiasm and delight was, as usual, so beautifully conveyed through your prose and photography!

    I so appreciate what you do! And do it so very well! Every time!

  2. Alexander says:

    Greetings Aaron
    As usual you have crafted a great trip report accompanied by some terrific photography that makes us wish to be a part of this Asian adventure.
    Having previously visited some regions of Asia, I was pretty certain, that you would enjoy your voyage and find it very fascinating. Looking forward to reading more of your travel adventures.
    *Historical Side note- During the Vietnam War era, some estimated 40,000 Canadians,enlisted as volunteers /served in the US military and many where sent to Vietnam. Along with sizeable contingents of troops from Korea and Australia.

  3. […] AmaLotus Live Voyage Report – Day 9 […]

  4. Michael Z says:

    Reading this makes me look forward to my AMA Lotus trip next month…even more than I already did!

    Thanks for sharing such great photos and stories!

  5. Candice says:

    Thank You Aaron, I am off on this trip next month. I was looking forward to my holiday, but now I am really excited and feel more prepared for this adventure.

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