Late last year, I went to Vietnam, Ho Chi Minh City for 5 days. It was a really last minute decision so not much planning was done. But I guess that is what makes traveling fun. My ultimate goal was to refrain from taxi rides and act as local as possible. So that brings us to the first thing you have to do in Vietnam:
1) Rent a motorbike
I paid about SGD7 per day for a 150cc Yamaha from Duc Tai Gallery along Bui Vien Street, a popular backpackers street. The funny thing is, not all the motorbikes have full tanks. If you are lucky, you get one that is full. Otherwise, like me, the one I got was almost empty and I had to drop by the nearest petrol station quickly (about 3 minutes away, opposite Ben Thanh Market). Riding in HCMC takes abit of getting use to because of its crazy traffic. People cross the road without looking left and right, motorists weave their way in and out at the very last minute. I hyperventilated a lot the whole time I was a pillion. But it's really fun. Other motorists actually thought I was a local and even stopped next to my bike to ask for directions.
Note: It's really super dusty there thanks to the ridiculous amount of motorbikes so remember to buy some face masks, covering from the nose to under the chin. I wasn't use to the dusty condition and was coughing badly from the dust and motorbike emission.
2) Ride on a local cruise
We were just riding to nowhere one night and ended up at Thi Sach Street (about 10 minutes from Ben Thanh Market) overlooking the Mekong River. Then we saw a couple of little cruise ships docked by the bay. Apparently people have their dinner aboard the cruise while it just sail along the river. We paid about 20,000 Dong (SGD1.50) for the entry fee if I remembered correctly, which was incredibly cheap. Because we already had our dinner then, we decided to just have some drinks and enjoy the atmosphere. The boat left about 8.30pm and returned roughly in 2 hours time. It was worth it, considering that there were live performances, even fire-eating!
Note: There are different types of cruise along the river. Some allow you to just drink while on board and pay the same entry fee as those who are having a whole complete meal. Others may require you to pay a much, much higher entry fee if you don't order any meal. So remember to check with them - there are some local ladies, dressed up in the nines along the pier.
3) Go to Suoi Tien Cultural Theme Park
There are buses that will take you all the way out here in District 9 (about 2.5 hours) which is pretty much time consuming. So unless you have a bike, I don't recommend you coming here. It's gonna be a tedious journey by bus. But I personally thought that this theme park was interesting because of its structure as it revolves around the country's religious and cultural nature. Rides inside are not free - you pay per ride. I guess I was there mainly to take photos and just experience a very localized theme park.
One thing for sure - it's huge. Like major huge, about 110 ha. Plenty of space to move around as there was no crowd when I was there on a weekday. A must-visit here is the Crocodile Park (60,000 Dong or SGD4). It's basically a huge crocodile-filled pond with bridges for you to walk over and across. You can feed them with baits you can purchase off the counter there. I think there was over 500 crocodiles, which is just crazy! They are just lying around, looking smug and doing nothing so I thought that was amusing in some ways.
Note: Entrance fee was 70,000 Dong (as of Sept 2012).
4) Go to night market
There is one just opposite Ben Thanh Market which only opens at 9pm everyday. They sell all kinds of stuffs, from food to souvenirs. There is this stall located right at the corner of the night market selling Adidas apparels at a flat price of only 60,000 Dong. Good for us because it's so cheap already and you don't have to waste time bargaining. The best part? They all look so real I can't even tell the authentic and imitation ones apart. And the quality is seriously awesome. I bought about 5 and regretted because I should have bought more.
5) Have fun
But of course! Forget about your itinerary and just go with the flow. I have to admit that this trip was the best trip I have ever been to in my life. Mostly because of the company and the people I met there. I also feel that having that motorbike really made a huge difference in my entire trip. We got to ride out to places that tour buses wouldn't bring you to. We got to ride to untrodden villages. We got lost and discover awesome places. It was all so much fun. I would definitely go back for more rides.