If you exit the Caravelle Hotel and walk down Dong Khoi St., within less than five minutes you’ll come to the edge of the Saigon River.
Long ago, the most desirable way to visit Saigon was to sail into one of its ports. Indeed, the protection afforded by the location’s watery environs is why Saigon was settled in the first place. French colonists, braving a long voyage to seek fortune and a new way of life, came over by the boatloads. Today, the travelers who arrive by water are on luxury cruises, or on a hydrofoil up from the Mekong Delta.
But of course, most visitors arrive by air, carrying similar guidebooks or near-identical lists of attractions to see. That’s alright if it’s your first time here, but once you’ve covered what’s on land, why not try another way to see Saigon? Why not get out on the water?
For a short geography lesson, the Saigon River (it’s name unchanged by the provisional government that renamed the city) begins in southeast Cambodia and flows for about 225 kilometres. The Saigon river is joined by the Dong Nai River before meeting the Nha Be River that in turn empties into the East Sea. I’m happy to report that the banks of the river and its canals have recently been spruced up by city authorities, creating numerous green spaces ideal for walking, talking, sipping coffee and apparently, fishing.
Those who enjoy the water have several options to get up close with the Saigon River. The most obvious is to take a dinner cruise, easily organized by the Caravelle’s concierge, on one of the traditional heritage junks, taking in the city at night along with a buffet menu and some light entertainment. That’s all nice and good, but I think the real pleasure of a cruise is just finding your feet on the boat’s deck, a Tom Collins in hand, casting away from the shore at sunset. If you want an even more unique experience, ask our concierge about Les Rives river tours, which reveal a whole different side of life in Saigon, tucked away in the canals and waterways around the city.
Many people are unaware that there’s an island in Ho Chi Minh City. That’s right, Thanh Da Island is one of the quieter, less developed hamlets residents often escape to on weekends. Binh An Village in particular is set in a lovely garden right on the water, and is a hidden oasis, perfect for a lazy afternoon with a book or lingering over a Vietnamese lunch. Thanh Da has numerous restaurants and tourism ‘centres’ on the water, but for a romantic dinner, superb sundowners or a leisurely breakfast, head to The Deck in Thao Dien where you can enjoy fabulous fusion cuisine while the river life floats by a few feet away.
These are just a few ideas, but there are many more. I’ve often thought Saigon’s ever-changing waterway the most scenic aspect of the city. Aside from a great view, the water offers a continual breeze that cools this fast-paced city, its banks are shared by lovers, loners, the youth and the elderly, and its currents connect us with others up the river and across the seas.