Showing posts with label Budget Travel. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Budget Travel. Show all posts

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

How to embrace the idea of Budget Traveling

January 13, 2016 0

This is an excerpt from my upcoming travel memoir book:  TIMELESS CHARM OF SAIGON AND ANGKOR

Budget traveling is not so much on the comfort side of life, but more on the idea of discovery and adventure. From going up on air with a budget airline to the lucid possibility of sleeping on a hard bench at the airport, and to the prospect of getting lost while exploring the city.

But it entails a lot of fun and unforgettable memories, trust me!
A budget/DIY traveler is one that plunges into the unknown, to uncertainties while basking in the thrill of discovery. It is sometimes risky but provides a unique experience, with plenty of anecdotes to share to the world. 

Budget and DIY travelers never usually book for a tour guide, it is more of exploring the place on their own, but an excitement of unearthing the unique frills of the destinations always awaits.

With this attitude of traveling, the experience is more fulfilling. Just take extra precautions to avoid plunging yourself into danger. Learn to adjust with the local culture to avoid disappointment and enjoy the moment while discovering things on your own.

Depends on the timing of the travel, budget travelers usually prepare a travel itinerary five months before the trip. By this time, the budget plan has been drafted and you're almost ready to go.

A budget plan should start on determining where to go to allow enough time to scout for an airfare promo. Most budget airlines offer a cheaper rate three months before the travel date. I've noticed this strategy while checking the rates for Vietnam in 2014. So never book a ticket for your travel one year ahead, it will cost you a lot. Try checking with your favorite budget airline three months before your target trip.

Budget traveling on a DIY plan is always wonderful and liberating, all you have to do is be prudent, smart, flexible and resourceful.

Plan ahead of time, scout for cheaper rates, do research with the places you are going to explore, the most practical way of getting around the city, the top attractions to be visited, activities and best things to do once there. You should also take note how to fit in with the locals, the do’s and don’ts and the most practical items to bring home.

Always take extra precautions the moment you get there but don’t allow fear to dampen your spirit. Do not limit yourself to just going around what other travelers are recommending. Delve better into the wonders and frills of place. Know their history. The culture of the locals. And try the local cuisine.
How to become a DIY traveler on a budget?

Traveling is always liberating and provides a different level of excitement, it pumps vitality and inspiration and offers a temporary sanctuary from the sordid life in the city. When we travel we are able to whisk our minds away from concerns, angst and worries and even if it is only a passing escape, being in a different place, doing exciting activities, wandering around and just being there to relax is enough to give us motivation.

However, as much as we want to travel and experience life unfolds in another territory, the cost of travel is one hell of a concern, therefore, a lengthy planning to get on with the plans and fit everything is needed.

For people who have comfortable sources of income, traveling might not pose any problems but for folks who are struggling to accommodate daily expenses, travel causes a real distress. But if the latter is the hindrance, start practicing frugality to fine tune your monthly spending. It's not that you have to sacrifice your food cravings and other fad, but you just have to cut your spending prudently. The greater the sacrifice, the better the reward.

As long as your burning desire to travel is alive, finding ways to make things happen is always probable. Try to become a budget traveler in a DIY plan instead of contemplating to travel in comfort and luxury.

This means you should not seek a tour guide or scout travel packages but just on your own, planning everything, from creating a concise budget and itinerary to scouting cheaper airfare and room accommodation.  It is more convenient, practical and exciting than wait for the stars to fall to realize your travel plans.

Here are tips how to become a DIY traveler on a budget:

Save for your travel

The most crucial part of traveling is the budget. If your income is just enough to cover your monthly expenses, try planning a year ahead and create a separate account for your trip. 

You can open a bank account for your travel and shred a specific amount from your monthly income for this account. However, if you find opening another bank account slightly uncomfortable and impractical, you can just put the amount in your existing bank account and just monitor your savings. Have a notebook to serve as your monitoring sheet for your travel plan savings. List the amount you will have to set aside every payday and make up your mind never withdraw it the following day. Never cheat!

To make things easier, cut back on monthly expenses (avoid too much dinner out especially on expensive restaurants, too many night outs with your friends, etc, remember that traveling is life, and sacrificing is an integral part of it). Do, the planning ahead of time, around seven months before the scheduled trip. Spend time researching for the best attractions to be visited, the associated cost of getting there, the expenses on food and transportation, the hostels and guesthouses. Then check your net pay how much you need to set aside for your travel.
The most important reminder: DO NOT CHEAT with your budget. If the allotted amount on souvenir shopping is only $50.00 then stick with it. Be serious and honest when creating your budget plan, list down everything and assign a specific amount (by this time, you have already exhausted available information and resources online) to determine your total budget.
Normally, I will make plenty of sacrifices before the scheduled trip just to save. I will limit my grocery shopping and refrain from dining outside or I’ll cut back on unnecessary expenses like weekend outing, movie trip or buying accessories and apparels. 

Determine where to go

The most crucial part in travel planning next to saving, is where to go and what to do once there. Your appetite in traveling and the choice of destinations depend on your lifestyle and preferences, the purpose why you travel and your expectations.
This will also depend on your preference in traveling. Are you a beach person who want to escape to a beautiful resort and relax? Are you a history fanatic who want to explore the cultural heritage, remnants, museums, historic landmarks and echoes from the past? An adventure junkie looking for some adrenalin rush activities like trekking the mountain, discovering off-the-beaten track destinations and looking for some daredevil activities? A nature lover looking for a laid-back environment and just wander around the parks, lakes, ponds, beautiful trees and scenic countryside? Or a city life person who just want to be in a high-end surrounding with amusement parks, elegant shopping malls, fancy restaurants, luxurious boutiques and high-tech establishments.
Once you finish identifying your preference in traveling and the activities you want to engage, you can start looking for a specific destination to visit. And once you finish making a choice where to go, check the season and the timing of your travel.
Is it dry season, spring, summer, winter, fall? Determining the timing of the season is always necessary so that you can prepare a prudent budget plan and a list of stuff to pack in your bags. Essentials, clothes, accessories, time of visit and moments of wandering vary depending on a particular season, thus, it is wise to check your destination’s climate. Once this element is put into considerations, you can move to the next step.

Scout for airfare
Other travelers will create first the budget plan and just insert the airfare cost. I have a different approach. To avoid too much stress in creating my budget list and to prevent sacrificing my basic needs, I will scout first for airfare promos before finalizing my budget plan to save my energy in editing and recreating and rearranging my budget list.
You can try this budget traveling approach. It works for me so I guess it will work for every budget traveler. Scout for airfare promos five months before your travel. Usually and based on my experience, airlines offer a lower rate three to four months before the scheduled departure. It is a tried-and-tested approach and lots of travelers are doing this technique. 

Set a specific amount for the travel

When I started planning for my Hongkong and Macau trip in 2013, I was determined to just spend Php25,000.00 including accommodation, airfare, shopping, transportation around Hongkong, dining, entrance fees to amusement parks and ferry ticket to Macau.
So I created a budget plan  around this amount and chose an affordable transient inn. In Hongkong, affordable transient inns are everywhere so planning a DIY travel on a tight budget is not so much of a concern. I was able to achieve my goals.

Do research on your destination

Whether you are traveling to Hongkong on a budget or embarking into a luxurious cruise to the Caribbean, it is important to do your homework before making decisions. Read guide books, magazines, travel blogs related to your chosen destination.
Doing research is very crucial. It is where you can get valuable tips from other travelers. Even if you seek a tour guide or avail a package from a travel agency, researching for practical guide related to your travel is always useful.

List down the best attractions on the destination

To avoid missing the point and to have a comprehensive itinerary plan, check the best attractions in your destination and what it offers to travelers. List down these attractions and decide which one you would prefer to visit.

Check the admission fees, guide how to get there and how far each spot from your hotel so that you can make enough room for the transportation budget.
Before the scheduled departure, revisit the information you got if there are changes in route or admission fees and if there are things needed to be brought during the visit. Edit your itinerary plan if necessary.

Read reviews about the place and attractions
Learning from other travelers helps a lot. It will give you an idea what to expect and if there’s a need to reconsider. It will also provide you useful ideas how to make the most of your time exploring the place.

Check and compare room accommodation rates

If you are traveling in a country that has a higher cost of living, it is wise to just choose a transient inn, hostel or a decent guesthouse than a three star hotel. After all, you are traveling there to see the place and not to sleep whole day in the hotel. Transient inns, guesthouses and hostels are ideal for budget travelers and backpackers.
Before finalizing your accommodation bookings, compare prices with other hotels and guesthouses in the area if there’s a need to switch. Always consider the safety of the surroundings.

It is also wise to check the amenities and perks of the guesthouse so that you can prepare your things smartly. If the accommodation includes bath towel then do not bring your own towel so that you can save space in your bag.
Choose the ideal location of your hotel/transient inn

When you choose a hotel, make sure it is closer to the top attractions in the city and accessible by any public transportation. This is to avoid getting lost and minimize expenses on transportation.

If you are up for shopping, choose a hotel within the vicinity of shopping markets. If you want to explore the city by foot, book a hotel closer to top attractions. This way you can create a concise and prudent budget plan.

Create and set a budget plan wisely

The most difficult part of creating a travel itinerary plan is always the budget. It poses so many troubles. And tension. Remember that you still have a life to live, you still need to eat three times a day, still have to pay your monthly bills and make grocery and buy basic stuff, thus, setting an amount for the travel is very challenging.
However, creating a budget plan prudently can save you a lot from stress, just be honest and practical in creating your list. Whatever amount you have to set aside and assign in the list restrain yourself from modifying the budget plan to make room for your frequent night outs and bar hopping with your friends.

Create your DIY Travel Itinerary Plan

I always find joy in creating a travel itinerary plan. My excitement often relies in planning and listing down the details of my expenses and destination. It offers a different level of excitement. It motivates me to work hard.
Creating a concise do-it-yourself budget travel itinerary is very simple. In your notebook or if you are using your personal computer, just open the MS Excel and put the necessary items:

1. Time/Place of Departure
2. Time/Place of Arrival
3. Destination/Address
4. Transportation
5. Attractions to visit
6. Estimated Budget
7. Actual Budget

Print your Itinerary

This is very important for DIY travelers. This serves as a guide while on the road. You are going there without someone to assist you, therefore, a hard copy of your itinerary should be printed.

In case you are lost or no idea where to go next and what to do, you can always refer to the list. Create a separate portion of the attractions you want to visit including each address so that you can show it to the locals.
Create a list what to bring

When creating a list what to bring, consider the season of your destination and the spots you will going to visit. Season says a lot when preparing what type of clothes to wear and the accessories to include in the list.
Make sure you only bring enough outfit that can be worn during the trip to avoid stuffing your bag with unnecessary things. Personally, I always prepare outfit based on the number of days of my travel. And I never wear thick clothes or jeans, this will overcrowd my bag. I only wear light dresses and shorts.

Here are the basic things usually pack by budget travelers:

1. Passport and other travel documents
2. Clothes
3. Face towel
4. Comfortable footwear
5. Sling bag
6. Candies and biscuits
7. Light night outfit
8. Sunscreen lotion, hair conditioner, body lotion
9. Sunglass
10. Shawl or long scarf
11. Swimwear if going to the beach
12. Digital camera
13. Battery charger and extra memory card
14. Toothbrush kit
15. Medicine kit (for fever, headache, stomach upset)
16. Something to cover your head in case of hot weather

Pack Light and Smart

If you are traveling for less than 15 days, avoid stuffing your bag with excessive accessories and unnecessary gadgets to avoid having a check-in bag. Budget travelers don’t actually have check-in bags, so pack light and carry up to two bags only.

Bring light clothes such as cotton-based shirts, sleeveless, leggings, shorts, scarf instead of sweatshirt and jeans. Secure valuables on a separate pouch, toiletries on a transparent-based pouch. This way you could maximize the space in the bags.

How to pack light and smart:

1. Count the number of days of your travel.
2. Each day assign a pair of clothes to wear
3. If you can mix and match your clothes, the better.
4. Avoid bringing thick and heavy clothes such as jeans and denims, boots, unless you are taking a hiking adventure, and heavy jacket, except if you are traveling on winter and fall.
5. Choose a transparent and light pouch for your toiletries that can be put only in the bag’s pocket.
6. Unless you are not on a business trip, avoid bringing laptop, this will consume a large space in your bag. You can choose to bring your tablet instead.
7. If you are bringing toothpaste, lotion, sunscreen, moisturizer, shampoo and conditioner, do not bring the whole bottle, squeeze a few amount on a separate, individual container with a cap, or just bring the sachet version to avoid overcrowding your bag with unnecessary things.
8. If you want to bring a pair of slippers, choose the lighter varieties. 
9. Bring flat shoes instead of wedges and heels.
10. Check the accommodation of your hotel or guesthouse if it has a bath towel for visitors, if there is, then avoid bringing an extra towel to save space in your bag. In case the guesthouse does not offer a bath towel, just bring a small towel.
10. Arrange your things properly in your bag, important documents like passport, tickets, booking details and identification cards should be put separately in a sling bag together with your wallet.

Choose the right luggage

Not unless you are traveling for a business trip or taking into a one month adventure, carrying an over-sized luggage is very impractical.
It will not only drain your energy from walking or moving around with those bags in tow, but also poses an added cost on your expenses for a check-in baggage. To be more practical, choose a light bag that can be hand carried in the plane.

Budget travelers usually carry backpacks, duffel bags or anything light. Backpacks and duffel bags are easier to carry and move around than the rolling bags. Maximize the space in your bag. Roll up pants, shirts, shorts cargo and square pants and place it at the bottom.
Fill small spaces with light things like undies, shawl, towelette, pack of candies. Put toiletries in the pocket of backpack and biscuits in another pocket. Secure your valuables like wallet, passport, cellphone, camera in the sling bag.
Edit and Check your list

Four days before your departure, start packing things to allow adjustment on your list what to bring and whether everything can just be put in one medium-sized backpack or you will need another bag. This is the best time also to buy necessities such as toiletries and other needs.  A day before your departure, check the list to ensure nothing would be missed out. You may edit the list to fit other necessary stuff based on your itinerary. Make last minute shopping.
Do not Cheat with your budget plan
To avoid cheating with your budget plan, bring a copy of your budget list and check the amount allotted for each item and activity from time to time.
As a budget traveler on a DIY trip, you are exploring the place on your own, therefore, you will be checking every attraction in the area alone or with your friends.
You will find fabulous things, tempting souvenir items, nice clothes, attractive accessories and want to eat and drink and visit as many spots as you can and the danger of overshooting your budget plan is on the way. But don’t cheat.
Don’t get overwhelmed with your adventure. Despite being there to relax and experience the thrill of a liberating escape, be conscious with your budget plan and check the amount you have set for each activity.
During the actual trip, if in case you have overshoot the target of your expenses due to unforeseen events: you cannot resist the scrummy taste of the local cuisine or the admission fee has some changes, make adjustment with your expenses on other items to stick with the budget. But if you have extra money for some extra events and fad, it's fine.
You can cut back on your spending the next day, choose attractions that have cheaper admission fees. If you are visiting attractions on short distances, choose to walk around instead of taking a taxi.
Or you may cut back on your shopping activities. Check high quality local items to be bought and refrain from buying souvenirs or accessories that can be found in your home country. It is very impractical.
During my Vietnam trip, I suppressed my desire to buy a nice Kipling backpack even if the price was really tempting. I had a budget list prepared ahead of time and Kipling bag was not included. The key to everything: Do not Cheat.
You can avoid cheating on your budget plan by putting a limit on each item. During your travel, always check your list and see if you are still within the parameter of your budget or already overspending. Make necessary adjustment in  case of overspending. 
But if you have extra resources of your finances, or if your budget still allows, well, good, you don't need to sacrifice on your cravings.

Friday, January 23, 2015

Budget Travel to Saigon, Vietnam

January 23, 2015 0
For budget travelers who may want to explore Vietnam's largest city on a DIY trip, here’s a comprehensive guide to make the most of your adventure.

Why travel to Saigon?

Saigon, now Ho Chi Minh City, is the center of commerce and trade in Vietnam. It's one of the most relaxing cities in Southeast Asia due to its breezy atmosphere, beautiful surrounding and affordable lifestyle. Public parks are everywhere and almost every street is covered with lush plants and blooms in season. Even if you just walk around, you would never feel uncomfortable because the place is just so cool with lush trees everywhere. Locals are very welcoming too. Saigon has almost no rush hour because locals used motorbike as their means of transportation. Traffic is not terrible and people are not into hurry.

Public park in Saigon

On our way to Notre Dame Cathedral 

French colonial buildings are everywhere so you would feel like being transported into a different time, just like the old days. Everything is affordable (except our experience in riding siklo), from food, souvenir shopping to bus transportation.

Notre Dame Cathedral, one of the French colonial buildings in Saigon

Another French colonial building, Central Post Office

Getting There:

If you are embarking into a budget travel from the Philippines, Cebu Pacific and Airasia are serving routes in Saigon daily. Tan Son Nhat international airport (Saigon) is not really crowded. Upon arrival, you will pass at the immigration area, don't bother looking for an immigration card to fill in, it is not required, just proceed to the immigration booth and present your passport.

Helpful tips: Do not buy Vietnamese Dong currency while you are still in your country because it is a bit expensive, at Saigon airport, foreign exchange is a lot cheaper. 

Choose the foreign exchange outlet just beside the immigration area. Usually, if you choose Cebu Pacific, arrival time is at early dawn. Most likely, your hotel check-in time is in the afternoon, you may take a rest/nap at the airport lounge (like what we did), it's not comfortable but it will do for backpackers and practical travelers.

From the airport to the city and Benh Thanh market:

Benh Thanh market is quite famous for travelers in Saigon and the top choice area when looking for hotels because this is nearer to night market, shopping stalls and top attractions like Independence Palace, Notre Dame Cathedral and Central Post Office.

Bus#152 outside the airport

In the morning, you can find bus#152 outside the airport, this would take you to the city and Benh Thanh market. Fare is VD5,000 (Php12.50). 

Where to Stay:

Lots of affordable hotels within the city and Benh Thanh market. During our travel, we chose Lan Lan 2 Hotel due to its ideal location near the bus stop. It's a three star hotel with complimentary breakfast, free wifi and freebies. Rooms are nice and all beds are queen size. 

Beautiful Attractions:

Saigon has many public parks with beautiful blooms, oriental plants and verdant trees, these alone are beautiful attractions to see around the city, others are the following:

Place Address District
Independence Palace 135 Nam Kỳ Khởi Nghĩa, Bến Thành, Quận 1,  District 1
History Museum 02 Nguyen Binh Khiem St., District 1 District 1
War Remnants Museum 28 Võ Văn Tần, phường 6, Quận 3,  District 3
Saigon Opera House 7 Lam Son Square, Ben Nghe Ward District 1
Central Post Office 2 Công xã Paris, Bến Nghé, tp District 1
Jade Emperor Pagoda 73 Mai Thi Luu Street, District 1 District 1
Notre Dame Cathedal Bến Nghé, tp. Hồ Chí Minh District 1
Suo Tien Theme Park 120 AH 1, Tân Phú, Quận 9, Saigon District 9

Reunification Palace, former home of the President of Southern Vietnam
before the Fall of Saigon in 1975. This stately home is now one of the top tourist
attractions in the city 

How much to Prepare:

Cost of living in Saigon is very affordable. You don't need to put extra cost on your transportation expenses because every attraction is accessible, you may stroll around and enjoy the scenery. Expenses for one day will be just around Php600.00 or US$13.00 including meals and entrance fees to attractions like Independence Palace and War Remnants Museum.

Entrance Fees (Conversion: 1 Philippine peso is .0025 VD)

For the above attractions, only four collect entrance fees:
1. Independence Palace   - VD30,000.00
2. War of Remnants of Museum - VD15,000.00
3. History Museum - VD15,000.00
4. Suo Tien Theme Park - VD50,000.00

You can check our budget and expenses 
during our trip, CLICK HERE

You can also read my actual experience visiting SAIGON HERE for your reference. If you have more questions, post your comments here or send us a message.

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Sunday, January 11, 2015

Be a Traveler Not a Tourist

January 11, 2015 0

When you're embarking on a foreign trip what's the main goal of your travel? To relax, to discover, to learn? What type of visitor are you? A tourist or a traveler? A nature person? A beach person? Or someone who adores the modern lifestyle and the glittery spark of a city life?

There’s a world difference between a tourist and a traveler. 

A tourist is someone who embarks into a trip with an idea of luxury and to enjoy the modern environment. Someone who abhors inconvenience in traveling. Someone who has high expectations on state-of-the-art facilities and amusement parks to visit, And someone who always looks for comfort in the surroundings. 

At the Angkor Wat ground 

In front of Ben Thanh market in Saigon

But a traveler is someone who goes into an exciting adventure, to explore the other side of life, to experience the wonders of the world in another place, to discover something different from the environment worthy of a story to tell and experience.

A tourist cannot afford to experience a discomfort of getting lost, of being drag in a risky situation, of seeing a surrounding that seems stuck in the 19th century with no signs of development. But a traveler enjoys the adventure of discovering the unknown because experience teaches a different lesson of learning. It opens a whole new world of discovery and self-confidence, enhancing wisdom and unveiling courage. 

Life is a beautiful journey with many stop overs to marvel on the beauty of the universe. Chances are, these natural wonders might never come tomorrow and might be totally wiped out before we could appreciate its worth.

Enjoying the cool atmosphere in Saigon, Vietnam

I categorized myself as a traveler because I am eager to learn something new, I am not afraid to explore unknown places and I want to come home with a wealth of experience. I am not a city life person, I don’t like the morbid scene in the city and I am not fascinated with modern structures. 

Amusement park is also not my thing. I am more of a nature person, I am enthralled with the natural wonders of the world.  In a more clear explanation – I prefer a countryside, suburban living, than a life in the city. I like a subdued, tranquil environment with a natural landscape. Wilderness, lakes, trees, flowers and greenery enthrall me to no end.

Magnificent trimmed ground of Angkor Wat

As a travel blogger, one of the strangest things I longed to try is to take a daring adventure to a far-away land, to unknown places where my strength, courage and strong faith in God can be put into a challenging test. I always wanted to visit a place that most people never actually dreamed to be in, to a road less traveled where I could pluck an amazing experience worthy to be shared to the world.  

It’s not madness but simply trying to see the other side of life and discover how far my courage and independence would go and where it would take me, an experience worthy of a book. Because life is an adventure with so many stories to tell.

In 2015 I was able to fulfill part of this wish. 

On  Year's day of 2015, my two former colleagues in the University and I were able embark into a whole new traveling pursuit --- discovering two lesser known side of Southeast Asia, two countries not usually included in the travel bucket list of most Filipinos. And I am so proud with this travel adventure. I learned so many things while on the road, unveiled my courage I never knew existed and saw the other side of life.

Vietnam and Cambodia. They are sorely misjudged, dismissing them as unworthy to consider for leisure. Even just hearing their names, other people (even some of my friends) would cringe in surprise and disbelief why on earth someone would consider them as ideal holiday destinations. Because people don’t want to suffer in traveling, because they look for something else, something modern and luxurious which these two countries haven't.

Vietnam and Cambodia never leave an amazing mark to everyone’s imagination maybe due to its war-torn history, conflict and poverty, reasons that most Filipino travelers would never want to hear. But beyond these not-so-glamorous descriptions is a beautiful story of tranquility. I saw a totally different culture, lifestyle and environment, cool atmosphere and a surrounding that has slowly recovering from the tension of war. 

These two Southeast Asian countries offer a unique experience of traveling. In Vietnam and Cambodia, I almost felt, I'd stepped up back in time, to a totally different world. Saigon in particular (the old name of Ho Chi Minh City) is so lovely with beautiful parks everywhere. It's so amazing how fast they have recovered from war.

Visiting Vietnam and Cambodia is like time traveling, to a different century, to a unique world where cool, century’s old trees still exist. Relax, tranquil, strange and yet amusing.

In this recent trip, I experienced almost all kinds of discomfort that a tourist would never surely endure – lost in the street where danger seems present, endured hunger pangs and met strange people who could not speak nor understand English. But I carried it on and considered it as one of my most memorable travel exploits.

I was traveling with my two friends and despite some inconveniences, we had enjoyed the adventure.

Tge first inconvenience I encountered was when we entered Cambodia with no Cambodian currency. With no connections, no people to help us, plus the hard time of communicating with the locals, I could almost grasp in disbelief what kind of misfortune befell on us. But we survived, enjoyed the trip, laughed with our blunders and retired that night with a contented spirit.

How we did it? There’s only one answer --- be a traveler not a tourist….

This is my story of what it takes to be a traveler.

Day 1: Beautiful Saigon!

January 11, 2015 0

At Saigon you can experience the oriental warmth in a French atmosphere, truly, one lovely Southeast Asian city that should never miss out by travelers!

Saigon is the old name of Ho Chin Minh city in Vietnam. The city celebrates its 40 years of independence since the Fall of Saigon (Vietnam War) in 1975. But locals still prefer to call the city, Saigon. It magnifies colorful historical past and memories of the old world. Something that fascinates travelers around the world.

This name became even more famous when Cameron Macintosh created the West End musical, Miss Saigon, in London, which narrates a doomed love story between a Vietnamese girl and an American soldier during the Vietnam War.

Saigon is the former capital of the French colony of Cochinchina and its French colonial buildings still stood imposing in all corners of the city. 

There’s only one flight schedule of Cebu Pacific taking a direct route to Saigon from Manila -- at night time -- and since Manila time is one hour ahead of Saigon, we arrived at 1:00 in the morning last January 2, 2015.

Our check in time at Lan Lan 2 hotel is 2:00PM so we just waited in the airport until morning before taking our trip to the city. We’re amused to find out that Tan Son Nhat international airport is not crowded at early dawn, we went down and found a vacant area with lined up chairs. We positioned on each side and drowsed to sleep. Fortunately, we had a good sleep, we woke up at 6:30am!

Warning: This might not convenient to other tourists, but for backpackers and practical travelers, sleeping at the lined-chairs is already conducive.

Bus#152 outside the arrival area of the airport 
this would take travelers to the main streets of the city and
to Ben Thanh market

We are the only passengers in the bus :-D

The airport's comfort room has no bath area, so we just changed clothes, washed face and appeared as if everything was comfortable. My friend forgot to print our itinerary and I did not write it in a piece of paper, we did not know where to go first and no idea how to locate each destination, but we carried it on, we’re more excited with the things that await us than be occupied with worries.

We packed meals when we left Manila so we’d something to eat for our breakfast. Outside the airport, we found a café shop where we could eat our food, my friend bought one cup of coffee so that we would not be reprimanded haha!

After taking breakfast, we looked for bus #152 with no traces of anxiety in our faces even though we're unsure if we would really reach our targeted destination. When we hopped in, we found no one except for 3 elderly Vietnamese passengers. It was the first time we learned that the locals could not speak English very well, but we got it on, we communicated with a broken English and lots of actions!

At Ben Thanh market

Bus fare from the airport to the city proper is only VD5,000 (Php12.50). While on the bus, we enjoyed watching the environment. Streets are covered with trees, plants, flowers, and parks are everywhere, houses and shops are structured like those we saw in old magazines. European architectural designs are still present. Very relaxing, subdued environment due to big trees, everywhere is embellish with oriental details reminiscent to scenes in old, traditional Chinese movies. Beautiful, quaint streets! 

Less than an hour later, we arrived at Ben Thanh market, we did not know this place, the driver just signaled us to disembark using his hands telling us to step down. The first trouble came in. We did not know how to locate the street of Lan Lan 2 hotel (We need to leave our bags as our check-in time is at 2PM), streets are all in Vietnamese terms, so we asked some locals, even police, if they know the name of the hotel and the street, they pointed to just go straight ahead.

One amusing experience, we did not know how to cross the street! Haha! With so many motorbikes occupying the road, we find it hard to get a timing of dragging our feet without some danger of bumping on hundreds of motorbikes. So we looked for a group of people to go by. We kept on laughing while crossing the street because it felt like we just came in from a far-away province and just learning the city life.

Three more blocks and lots of inquiries while passing each corner, we found Lan Lan 2 hotel at last! (take note, we did not take a ride, we just walked on foot). After leaving our things at the reception of Lan Lan, we’re off again to the street, and because our itinerary was not printed, I tried hard to remember all the details of our destinations (We’re able to retrieve the itinerary in our yahoo email account but it's totally a waste of time writing down all those details in a paper because we will be staying only one day in Saigon). We decided to go to Lam Son square because other destinations are just within this area.

Leisure walk around the quiet street of Saigon

One of the surviving French colonial buildings in Saigon, Notre Dame Cathedral

We tried asking bystanders where is Lam Son square, but they seemed no idea about this area! They could not understand our English. Little did we know the street we stood in was already Lam Son Square lol! We continued walking to be in the next destinations: Central Post Office and Notre Dame Cathedral. We tried approaching the police (Saigon has a police visibility just like Davao) and asked how we could go to these attractions, he asked us to write it down, my friend Rowie wrote it in a piece of paper. He pointed us to follow another street, and another, and another. Until we’re lost! Argghh! We decided not to ride a taxi because we will just be wasting our time and money if the driver would not understand where we would go.

with my two traveling buddies, Vangie Colastre and Rowie Tagaan

Public park is everywhere in Saigon

So, just like real adventurers, we continued with our journey, enjoyed the blunders, took pictures at every corner and crossed different streets. We saw a public park. We stopped for a while and took pictures again. Our hunger pangs started to lurk, but we could not find any restaurant.

We continued walking and saw tourists pointing their cameras up high, we’re curious what was it, when I looked on the direction, across the street, the buildings looked familiar, similar to the photos I saw around the web about visiting Vietnam. Few steps closer, I immediately recognized the buildings -- Notre Dame Cathedral and Central post office! Oh we’re here!

Another French colonial building in Saigon, Central Post Office
just beside Notre Dame Cathedral. Designed by French in the 1920s, 
the building also houses souvenir's shops

We moved closer and took several shots then entered the post office, we saw shops selling souvenir items inside, after few minutes we left the area and looked for a restaurant. It was already 1:00PM. We saw this elegant building adorned with Christmas decors, it was a shopping store with a food court on the fourth level. We spent lunch here. It's the Diamond Plaza mall just across Notre Dame cathedral.

Trying authentic Vietnamese cuisine. The taste is interesting, very oriental
and yet the flavor has a twist which never give a revolting effect to foreigners' appetite

After lunch, we continued walking, looking for our next destination, Reunification Palace. Rowie already wrote the address in a piece of paper and showed it to the people we saw in the street. They kept on pointing us to different directions, we also kept on walking, stopping at every corner to take pictures. We enjoyed the moment even if we’re heading to nowhere.

Reunification Palace, known in Saigon as Independence Palace, is the former home of the
President of Southern Vietnam during the war. Now, this stately home is one of Saigon's
beautiful tourist attraction housing elegant furniture, furnishing and chandeliers 

Stately dining area

Living room

While walking, we saw this amazing park with super big trees, plants and lots of flowers! We rested for a while and breathed deeply, the atmosphere is so cool and the environment is so captivating. I looked up above and stretched my stares as far as I could. I saw nothing but beauty and wonders, all those trees I never saw in the modern city and flowers that spread loveliness and energy, breathtaking! It was the very first time I truly appreciated and admired Ho Chi Minh city, very beautiful environment, tranquil, quiet, simple and yet terrific!

We continued walking and just few steps ahead of us, we saw a wrought iron gate and with it, inside, is a large building with a circle manicured lawn, we saw several groups of tourists, with a tour guide each, we moved closer to the gate and found out---it’s Reunification Palace! It’s official name in Vietnam is Independence Palace. The guard directed us to another area where we could buy a ticket. After securing our ticket we got inside.

Oriental garden within the palace ground, so relaxing! 
This is where we took our refreshment after a very tiring tour inside the palace. Breathtaking environment where nature collides with oriental details 

It’s so wide! We spent about two hours exploring the palace, it is a four-storey building with several state dining rooms and banquet halls, very elegant rooms! After two hours we decided to go down and looked for some refreshment, we found this beautiful nook, just within the palace ground, it looked like an open restaurant. The environment is so beautiful, loveliness is an understatement actually, it’s more than incredible! Lots of oriental plants and big trees in the surroundings, fantastically relaxing!

We did not take a ride from Ben Thanh market to the hotel, we just walked on foot, we also did not take a ride while touring the city. The only ride we took was siklo (just like trisikad in the Philippines), because we wanted to try this city ride but it was so expensive! We’d been deceived! But we learned from that experience not to ride a siklo again. Fare was VD150,000 (Php375.00) from Independence palace to Lan Lan hotel. So be wary with siklo rides around Saigon, if possible avoid it if the driver won't agree with the arrangement of the rate.

Siklo ride around Saigon

We went back to our hotel at 7:00PM. We made an arrangement to the staff for a bus ticket reservation for Phnom Penh. This reservation includes a free pick up from the hotel to the bus station. We tried exploring the city at night but most stores were already closed.

Important tips when visiting Saigon:
  • Do research online first before making your trip.
  • From the airport, you can take bus instead of taxi, if your hotel is just around Ben Thanh market, take bus # 152, this is just located outside the exit door/arrival area of the airport. Fare is VD5,000 or Php12.50
  • Make haggle with vendors when buying souvenir items in the market (Ben Thanh in particular).
  • Locals could not actually speak English well, if you have something to ask, for example street and destination, write it in a piece of paper and show it to them.
  • Police forces are really nice, we had a good experience approaching them.
  • Notre Dame Cathedral and Central Post office are just few walk distance from Ben Thanh market. You can explore these attractions without any tour guide.
  • Independence palace is just across Notre Dame, you can cross the street to Diamond Plaza and walk straight ahead, the palace is located at the end of the intersection. Entrance fee is VD35,000.00
  • People are also nice and accommodating.
  • Ben Thanh has a night market that usually starts at 8:00PM
How to Get to Saigon:

Cebu Pacific air is serving a direct flight from Manila, Philippines to Ho Chi Minh city, departure is night time at 11:30PM.

Is Visa Needed?

For Southeast Asian residents, visa is not needed but for others it is required. For ASEAN residents, number of days allowed to stay in Saigon is more or less 20 days.

Getting around Saigon

Traveling around the city is very convenient. Means of transportation is bus, taxi , motorbikes and siklo. With motorbikes and siklo be careful with the drivers, try to make a clear arrangement with the rates so that you will not be deceived.

Top Attractions
  • Reunifaction Palace or Independence Palace
  • Lam Son Square
  • Saigon Opera House
  • Notre Dame Cathedral
  • Central Post Office
  • Ben Thanh market
  • Jade Emperor Pagoda
  • War Remnant Museum
  • History Museum
Where to Stay?

The most ideal area to stay in Saigon is around Ben Thanh market because this is nearer to night market and souvenir's shops. Bus station is just around the area too and top attractions can be explored by just walking.



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