Our last night in Saigon, we are taking a dinner cruise on the new riverboat, the Saigon Princess. Since Cambodia has closed its borders and river traffic along the Mekong has been shut down, Uniworld was forced to cancel our cruise. Boris and I had already decided to head home while we were still able to. I tip my hat to Uniworld; those of us that had made it to Ho Chi Minh City were treated to the planned activities in the city even though we had been told that the cruise line will refund our fare with no deductions.
There are only four of the cruise participants left in the city. By the check-in day the count had gone from 61 to 16. This morning we started with 6 and by midday we were down to 4. Boris and I will miss the trip to the Cu Chi tunnels tomorrow because we need to leave for the airport before they will arrive back.
The 140-mile (225 kilometer) Saigon River cuts through Ho Chi Minh City. We had traveled through several districts of the city, primarily one and three and I wondered where two was. During the cruise I learned that District Two is actually on the other side of the river and is the new trendy place to be-that is where the current growth is. Lots of cranes and construction sites dot the landscape.
There is also a underwater tunnel, the Thu Thiem Tunnel, more commonly referred to as the Saigon River Tunnel, which connects the existing urban area in District 1 with Thu Thiem, the new urban area in District 2. It opened in November of 2011.
The city has always been popular for trade with the Saigon River providing the route. The river contributed to the city of Saigon becoming known as the Pearl of the Far East. Our cruise port is just past the Nha Rong Harbor and the beautiful Dragon House (now the Ho Chi Minh Museum). The Dragon House was established by the French in 1862 as a house of trade.
Our guide took us to the boat as the sun set. We were ushered aboard and into a dining room that could have seated all the participants of our cruise. We were the only 4 guests in the room. There were more people than that serving us. We were offered a welcome beverage, a passionfruit juice. Wonderful.
We have a three course set menu, although we did have our choice of main course-duck or black sea bass. My favorite was the first course, a heart of palm cream soup with truffle oil. Two specialty drinks were included with our dinner. Boris tried a local beer.
Our cruise took us from the Saigon Port in District 4 to the Saigon Bridge near the Vinhomes Central Park and back. As we enjoyed our dinner, we could see the lights and the street level sites along the river through the windows. Just before they served the dessert course, our guide came back and let us know we had just turned around at the Saigon Bridge and that it was a good time to come up and see the lighted buildings.
We were near the Vinhomes Central Park. The apartments in this area are all owned by the same family. The company name is Vinhomes which is a Vietnamese corporation and the largest real-estate developer in Vietnam. Apartments in this complex cost over $400,000 (American dollars) for a one-bedroom and over $700,000 for a two-bedroom. Our guide told us the rumor is the family made all its money through money laundering. It is considered a “posh high-rise residential location”.
Vinhomes Central Park is dominated by the Vincom Landmark 81. The skyscraper is “the tallest building in Vietnam, the tallest completed building in Southeast Asia since July 2018 and the 17th tallest building in the world.” It is 81 stories tall. The tower has an observatory, apartments, hotel rooms, conference facilities, retail spaces, restaurants and bars and parking. I was drawn to its size and the mix on lighting styles on the exterior.
I stayed on the sky deck until I realized we were going to hang in this area for a while. I quickly went down and had dessert and then returned to the observation deck before we went under the Thu Thiem Bridge. Everyone came back up with me. Our guide commented that usually they had 50-60 people on the deck for this cruise. We were able to move back and forth easily to take pictures because there were so few of us. There were also dining tables set up on this deck and a band playing live music and encouraging people to dance.
There were other dinner boats on the river. Many had touches to remind people of the junk, a Chinese sailing vessel. This style of sailing ship was developed during the Song dynasty that ruled China from 960 to 1279. The boat are unique for the “junk rig, also known as the Chinese lugsail or sampan rig…[it] is a type of sail rig in which rigid members, called battens, span the full width of the sail and extend the sail forward of the mast.” Wikipedia. These batten replicas were lit on the various dinner cruise ships; some of them even changed color as they traveled down the Saigon River.
Of course, the marvel of this cruise is the opportunity to see the city’s buildings lit up, sometimes in color, sometimes changing color, and sometimes in multiple colors. It really was a dinner show, even without the music and dancing. One of my favorite buildings continually changed color-teal, blue, pink, purple, gold, etc.
We had excellent views of the Bitexco Financial Building with its 52th floor helipad that we had seen on our hop-on/hop-off bus tour yesterday. For a short period of time it was the tallest building in the city. It has a popular observation deck.
We passed by the main street that leads to the city hall and the statute of Ho Chi Minh. The new years decorations on this street are modeled after the lotus flower. The popular lotus flower fountain on the street was recently replaced.
We docked and there was just time to grab a quick picture. Our berth was next to an interesting ship where the end of the boat looked like a fish’s mouth. It was back to the hotel after that. We said goodbye to the guide and the other couple. They are going to the Cu Chi tunnels tomorrow, but there isn’t time for us to go before we leave for the airport. We will meet our cruise director midday tomorrow for our transfer to the airport.