Four years ago, I had the rare opportunity of cruising down the Mekong River and exploring some parts of the Mekong Delta — a weeklong journey from Cambodia to Vietnam. It was memorable and unexpected, and an interesting opportunity to get a closer look at the mighty river that connects these two storied nations.
Fast forward to today, I have once again wandered following a familiar body of water I see almost every day. On January 6, I took the more scenic route and toured to watch Saigon’s city lights and skyscrapers from a different angle. But this time, I wasn’t on board a luxury ship and didn’t spend a couple of nights on the trip. This time, I only had to spend VND30,000 to cross the Saigon River from Bach Dang Wharf in District 1 to Binh An Wharf in Thu Duc City, and vice versa. Each trip costs VND15,000 and starts from 5 pm until 9 pm daily.
I got on the 7 pm trip with more or less 70 passengers, two captains, and two assistants — 69 indoor sitting and five or more outdoor. We left Bach Dang Wharf at exactly 7:01 pm and from there, it was a smooth sailing adventure, passing through iconic structures like the Landmark 81. I spent the trip with families, teens, and adults who were all in awe of Saigon’s skyline at night. And there were kids, too, who were ecstatic the whole journey.
By the time we arrived in Thu Duc City, it was already 7:13 pm. The captain gave us 10 minutes to either stay in the boat to relax or get off and take a more stable look at Saigon’s skyline. Exactly 10 minutes later, we headed back to District 1.
The trip was worth every minute and every dong. And if I am to rate the experience, on a scale of one to 10, I’d give it a nine. The staff members were all friendly, from the ticketing to the actual trip, and the weather was ideal (it rained an hour before our trip). I felt safe seeing they had life vests under each seat and everyone was wearing masks. There were also chips and drinks available for sale.
Operated by Thuong Nhat Co. Ltd., the riverboat tour at night is part of the Vietnamese government’s initiatives to have more tourism options in the city. Nguyen Kim Toan, director of the operating company, told VNExpress that considering the risks of the pandemic, their goal is to diversify outdoor nighttime activities and promote waterway tourism.
Rent a bike with an app
Prior to coming to Vietnam, I had a short stint at an English newspaper in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. And by short, I meant one year and a few months. During my second month in the Cambodian capital, I got myself a bike for daily use to the office and commute. Not a motorbike, a pedal one. Specifically, a Japanese second-hand bike with a basket in front where I put my office bag on weekdays and grocery bags on weekends — named him Artoo.
It saved me a lot of money, considering Cambodia doesn’t have any mass transportation option (at least during that time). I pedaled down the boulevards of Mao Tse Toung and Preah Sihanouk to the inner streets of Tol Tompoung and Boeng Keng Kang every day. Luckily I never had any accidents or road mishaps, the streets in Phnom Penh are relatively safe and the opposite of ‘bustling.’
But everything changed when I first glanced at the streets of Saigon while on a bus from Phnom Penh — I told myself I can never use a bike to commute from home to work here. Couldn’t possibly get myself to cross District 4 from District 7 on a bike. It wasn’t about the traffic, not even the fact that there are hundreds of motorbikes crossing at the same time, in one intersection. It was the extent of ‘freedom’ the drivers have here — every lane’s passable and the sidewalk’s not ideal for casual walking.
This is why when the local media reported in May of 2021 that Ho Chi Minh City was launching a public bike service in September of the same year, I was thrilled. I just knew I had to try it and even downloaded the app days before the bikes were officially available for use.
On December 16, Tri Nam Group JSC officially launched the public bicycle rental service in district one with 500 bikes placed in 43 stations. Do Ba Dan, chairman of Tri Nam Group JSC told local media that the service is being used almost all the time with at a peak time of over 1,400 online customers and 370 out of 390 bikes being used.
My first ride happened a week before Christmas, at the station near the Notre Dame Cathedral. It was a quick one, but surely fun. A few weeks later, I pedaled my way to run an errand (cat food) from Centec Tower to Cach Mang Thang Tam.
How does it work? Just download the TNGO app and if you can read Vietnamese, it’s pretty easy to continue. However, if you can’t, like myself, a little help from Google Translate solves everything. Just make sure you sync it with your ZaloPay or MOMO apps for the payment. When you’re all set, check on the map in the app and find the nearest station where you can start your ride. The app will also tell you how many bikes are available or if you should proceed to the other stations. As soon as you found the station, use the app to scan the QR code to unlock a bicycle. The fees are at VND5,000 for 30 minutes and VND10,000 for an hour. The first 15 minutes of cycling are free of charge.
Can I just mention how efficient and friendly their customer service representatives are? During my first ride, I couldn’t stop my trip on the app and it went on for three hours. By the time I got home, my app was still running as if I was still biking. A TNGO representative called me to confirm. After I explained what happened, they ended the trip and returned my money.
I don’t know if it’s just me or it’s really happening, but since the bike service was launched, I’m seeing more and more bikers (both private owners and app users) around the area. I haven’t seen many foreigners yet though.
Overall, I’d rate it 8 over 10. It’ll be a solid 10 when they update their app with an English option.
If you’re spending the Tet holiday in Ho Chi Minh City, these two activities are perfect for you to explore the city from a different point of view. And yes, the river tour at night is open through the holiday and as long as you have the app, there are plenty of bikes for you.