Easily one of the most underrated way to see the city, the Saigon Waterbus could provide waves of excitement for the city’s stagnant tourism sector.
Spending a day exploring a city by waterbus has been popular in Western countries for quite some time, but it was not until the end of 2017 that Saigon finally introduced its own boat tours through its maze of waterways.
|Travelers sit in the cabin of the Saigon Waterbus on March 31, 2021. Photo: Linh To / Tuoi Tre|
Though many think of water taxis as a simple way to commute from point A to point B, the Saigon waterbus also provides local residents with an excellent opportunity to become tourists in their own city by gliding through its network of canals.
I’ve wanted to try out the waterbus ever since it came into operation about three years ago, and as a sunset lover I thought it’d be the perfect chance to catch the sun sink below the skyline from the middle of the Saigon River.
Then on a weekend afternoon, I decided to finally stop putting it off and take a few hours off work to finally see what the waterbus is all about.
|A passenger captures the sunset moment from the waterbus in Ho Chi Minh City on March 31, 2021. Photo: Linh To / Tuoi Tre|
Tickets for the waterbus can be purchased either on the website or from kiosks at each of the stations.
To avoid any risk of seats selling out, I chose to purchase my tickets online and was able to use the posted schedule to figure out exactly which time would be perfect to embark on my sunset journey.
Ho Chi Minh City's 10.8-kilometer-long waterbus route connects Bach Dang Port in District 1 with Linh Dong Ward in the outlying district of Thu Duc, by way of the Saigon River and the Thanh Da Canal.
Currently, Bach Dang, Binh An, Thanh Da, Hiep Binh Chanh, and Linh Dong make up the route’s five stops with more expected to be added in the near future.
|A paranomic photo of sunset on Saigon River from the waterbus in Ho Chi Minh City on March 31, 2021. Photo: Linh To / Tuoi Tre|
The Waterbus operates from 7:00 am to 7:00 pm, seven days a week, with the first boat departing from the Linh Dong Station at 7:00 am, and the last boat arriving at Binh An Station at 7:50 pm everyday.
Normal fares cost about VND15,000 ($0.66) per person per trip. There are 6 to 15 departures from each station per day, with more added on weekends and public holidays.
It's been said that morning ride on the waterbus offers a pleasant time to enjoy the waterways, thanks to the cool air that wafts through the cabin.
However, as my mission was to catch the sunset, I started my one-day tour of Saigon by Waterbus at around 5:10 pm.
|A waterbus is about to leave the Binh An station in District 2, Thu Duc City on March 31, 2021. Photo: Linh To / Tuoi Tre|
Bach Dang Station, where I chose to begin my journey, is located in the heart of downtown Ho Chi Minh City and by far the largest and most glamorous of all the stations thanks to the views it offers of skyscrapers on one side and the gorgeous Saigon River on the other.
The station also boasts a coffee shop where visitors can relax while they wait to board.
Each waterbus is painted yellow and white, with large windows and open cabin doors at the bow and stern that allow a nice breeze to flow through the boat.
Inside, the cabin fits 66 seats – 11 rows of three on either side of the center aisle – with a life jacket stowed beneath each.
|In the photo, the sun goes down behind the Landmark 81 skyscraper in Ho Chi Minh City on March 31, 2021. Photo: Linh To / Tuoi Tre|
All waterbuses depart on time and visitors can freely choose their seat on the bus although the website allows for seat reservation.
While waiting for other passengers, I noticed a long wooden bench which would have been perfect for catching a panoramic view of the sunset without a window in the way, but it was already occupied by a few early bird passengers.
When the waterbus departs it first route from Bach Dang wharf to Binh An station, the magnificent beauty of the city becomes even more evident as the high rises of Vinhomes Central Park and Saigon Pearl peak over horizon against the backdrop of the setting sun.
|The complete scenery of the Landmark 81 skyscraper and its surrounding from waterbus. Photo: Linh To / Tuoi Tre|
Passengers are free to move about the cabin and take pictures as the waterbus cruises down its route. Not only with the spacious cabin, the waterbus staffs are very helpful and friendly towards tourists.
Shortly after leaving Bach Dang, the waterbus passes under the Saigon Bridge en route to Binh An station.
This station is a great stopover for travelers to witness the sun setting around Landmark 81, Vietnam's highest building, and the high-rises nearby.
Coffee shops on the river bank abound, making it a great area to grab a drink and take in the sunset.
|The construction of Thu Thiem 2 Bridge, linking Ho Chi Minh City’s District 1 and District 2, is seen from the waterbus. Photo: Linh To / Tuoi Tre|
The next stop on the waterbus journey is Thanh Da Station, just 1km away from the Thanh Da Apartment Block – one of oldest apartment budlings in Ho Chi Minh City. Thanh Da has long been a popular respite from the chaos of the city.
Not too far from the station is Cong Vien Dieu Thanh Da (Thanh Da kite field) which runs along the bank of Thanh Da channel. This open air playground is flooded with hundreds of kites each afternoon thanks to the ever-present breeze flowing through the area.
|A group of passengers contemplate the sun go down against the blue background of the sky and the iconic Landmark 81 skyscraper in from the Saigon Waterbus. Photo: Linh To / Tuoi Tre|
The final two stops on the waterbus journey are Hiep Binh Chanh and Linh Dong. These two stations tend to be a bit quitter due to a lack of entertainment and food offerings.
Tran Thi Thu Trang, 25, a passenger who has traveled all 5 waterbus routes said that she had read several articles about waterbus and wanted to see if it lived up to the hype.
“This is the first time I’ve traveled by waterbus and for me it is wonderful. I think in the near future I’ll come back with a group of friends,” Trang told me.
“For me, the views from the waterbus are fascinating, but next time I will choose an earlier trip to avoid crowds,” Ngoc said.
|A waterbus stops at the Thanh Da Station in Binh Thanh District, Ho Chi Minh City on March 31, 2021. Photo: Linh To / Tuoi Tre|
A first time traveller as well, Tran Thi Bich Ngoc, 22, said that the views from the waterbus are magnificent but she recommends booking tickets ahead of time too avoid a lack of seats during rush hour.
|A lots of famous skyscrapers in Ho Chi Minh City can be seen from waterbus windows. Photo: Linh To / Tuoi Tre|
|A kid wears life jacket to ensure safety during the trip on the waterbus. Photo: Linh To / Tuoi Tre|
|The iconic Landmark 81skyscraper at night from the waterbus view is seen in the photo on March 31, 2021. Photo: Linh To / Tuoi Tre|