Showing posts with label Vietnam. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Vietnam. Show all posts

Wednesday, May 20, 2020

12 Reasons Why You Should Visit Saigon, Vietnam After Lockdown

May 20, 2020 0
District 1 in Saigon, Vietnam

Saigon is the old name of Ho Chi Minh City, the largest city in Vietnam and its center of finance and trading. 

It is located in Southern Vietnam and closer to other Southeast Asian destinations like Cambodia, Thailand and Laos. It is one of the most charming cities in Southeast Asia where warmth of an old world can still be felt

Typical day in Saigon, Vietnam

Successful Fight for COVID-19
While the rest of Southeast Asia, including the Philippines, struggled to contain the spread of the virus, Vietnam appeared to have won the war against an unseen enemy.

Despite its closest location to China, the epicenter of the virus that gripped the world at the start of the year, and continue to ravage nations until today, Vietnam has amazingly prevented the worst spread of the disease in the country.

Home to 97 million people, Vietnam's response to COVID-19 impressed the world. As of May 2020, it has only 328 confirmed cases and zero deaths!

How they managed to keep the virus at bay considering the country has a less advanced healthcare system compare to other nations in the region?

According to an article in CNN, Vietnam started preparing for the virus outbreak long before Chinese authorities admitted that there's a human to human transmission of the disease and long before the World Health Organization declared it as a global emergency.

"We were not only waiting for guidelines from WHO. We used the data we gathered from outside and inside (the country to) decide to take action early," said Pham Quang Thai, deputy head of the Infection Control Department at the National Institute of Hygiene and Epidemiology in Hanoi.

Motorbike is their primary mode of transportation

In the middle of January this year, the aviation authorities in Vietnam cancelled all flights coming from Wuhan after two Chinese Nationals living in Vietnam tested positive of the virus after visiting Wuhan.

By February, with only just six cases of the virus in the country, the government declared it as a national epidemic, all flights between Vietnam and China were halted.

Deputy Prime Minister Vu Duc Dam was ordering government agencies to take "drastic measures" to prevent the disease from spreading into Vietnam, strengthening medical quarantine at border gates, airports and seaports.

Now, the country is just one of the fewest nations in the world with zero death case of COVID-19. They only had three weeks nationwide lockdown, social distancing rules were lifted in April, classes and business reopened and life is gradually returning to normal.

Moreover, the country is exercising motorbikes as its primary mode of transportation long before the health crisis began. And Vietnam has no jeepney in mass transport, they only have buses, taxis and motorbikes.

The Resilience of Saigon

Saigon itself is a survival of many atrocities and crisis. They stood with the harshest test of times in the past. 

It endured many struggles, poverty and political tensions and was once the subject of a proxy war between the Soviet Union and the United States.

For more than nine centuries it was under the foreign rule. France took position in Southern Vietnam in 1862, and made Saigon as its capital. It was put under the French Indochina rule with Cambodia and Laos.
Strolling in Saigon in 2015 January

The French rule ended in 1955, and Southern Vietnam became a socialist government, but political tension against Northern Vietnam, which was under a communist regime of the Viet Cong, led by Ho Chi Minh, continued.

It had blown into a war, known as the Vietnam War, with Southern Vietnam supported by the United States, South Korea, Philippines and Australia while the North was supported by the Soviet Union, known today as Russia, and China.

However, on April 30, 1975, the North communist party gained control and defeated the South. 

The defeat was known as The Fall of Saigon. In 1976, Saigon name was changed to Ho Chi Minh City but the central business district today is still known as Saigon.

At the public park during my visit

Memories of the past

Today, Saigon is a bustling city of unique charm, beauty and interest. Westerners frequented the city, intrigued with its storied past. It was even more the subject of so much curiosity when West-End musical, Miss Saigon, was launched.

Though they had fully recovered from war, memories of the past is still very much felt in the city. 

Classicall Western buildings dominated the entire landscape. Structures of shops, boutiques and restaurants are still very much French in style.

Strolling around District 1 in Saigon

It's a place stepped in history but where one can still enjoy the life of the old times. The entire city of Saigon is spruced up with trees, flowers and beautiful public parks. It's a quaint city where loveliness of a relaxed place is truly felt.

It is an ideal place to visit for those who like motorbikes. Vietnam is one of the fewest remaining countries in the world that still utilized motorbikes as a primary mode of transportation.

Locals prefer scooters than cars. It's so amazing to see riders crunching across the city with their motorcycle whole day.

During our visit, I was amazed with this scene because it was my first time to be in a place that has motorbikes as transportation. It felt like an old world! There's a siklo for tourists to try, a two-wheeled bike similar to "padyak" in the Philippines.

On our way to the Notre Dame Cathedral

I have visited Saigon with two female friends in 2015 on New Year's day and it was such a fascinating experience. Beautiful, quiet, relax and cool. I was so impressed with the unique charm of the city.

Blooms in season, public parks and French colonial buildings are everywhere. District 1 is just a small area and tourists can even explore it by foot without any fear of getting lost. Souvenir's shops can be found everywhere.

There are street vendors just like in the Philippines, we even tasted a fresh buko juice while walking on our way to the Diamond Plaza, a shopping mall just across the Notre Dame Cathedral.

Notre dame cathedral

Saigon boasts a beautiful scenery of nature, the canopy of trees covered almost every major thoroughfare, and ancient trees dominated its public parks.

Formerly, the capital of Cochinchina during the French occupation, Saigon has rich history and fascinating culture.

Though often associated with the horror of war, the city has greatly recovered from the atrocities and now considered as a tourism magnate in Southeast Asia. It's a lovely place to visit!

Here's 12 Reasons why you should visit this charming city.

1. Unique Culture of the Old World

Saigon still boasts the atmosphere of an old world, as though you are stepping back in time. Quaint streets, classic architecture, languid atmosphere. 

So relaxing! And when you visit this place, it feels like you're striding back in time, back to the warmth of a forgotten world.

Street in Saigon

Though public bus and taxi are available, the primary mode of transportation among locals is still motorbike. 

And this is what I love most about Saigon, the motorbikes dominated the avenues of the city, making the streets not super congested with bus and cars. Traffic is not terrible and environmental pollution is not worst.

2. The Paris of the Orient

Saigon has been colonized by France in the late part of the 19th century and the French influence is still very much alive in the city. 

French colonial buildings are everywhere and the city retained this type of architecture among its most recent buildings.

Central Post Office building

Most of the city's popular landmarks are designed under the French architecture influence. And the old buildings during the pre-Vietnam war had been preserved.

The opera house, Notre Dame Cathedral, the Central Post Office and the Independence Palace. These are located in district 1. Due to its classic French buildings and boutiques, Saigon is dubbed as the Paris of the Orient.

Notre Dame Cathed

Notre Dame Cathedral is one of the most popular attractions in Saigon. It's thoroughly French. Patterned after the Notre Dame Cathedral in France, the entire materials used in the construction were imported from France.

3. Cheaper Lifestyle

Saigon, despite its burgeoning economy and the most modern among Vietnam's cities, remains very affordable. With a cheaper lifestyle that is very much oriental and relax, a DIY (do-it-yourself) trip here on a budget is so much easier and stress-free.

Benh Thanh market, which is probably Vietnam's largest drygoods market, offers cheaper products, from authentic local handicrafts to imported goods. Shoppers can haggle for lower prices, even on imported items.

At night time, Benh Thanh rises into life and vibrancy. Night market stalls began its operations and more affordable goods are on display. Outdoor dining is also popular at this district.

4. Gateway to French Indochina Tour

Saigon is in Southern Vietnam, and therefore closer to other Southeast Asian countries with blossoming tourism industries. 

If you want to embark into a French Indochina tour (Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar) then to Bangkok, Thailand by land, Saigon is an ideal starting point.

It is just eight hours away from Phnom Pehn city, the capital of Cambodia, and roughly 16 hours away from Angkor Park in Siem Reap, Cambodia. 

Traveling by land around the French Indochina is so much cheaper than by air. Though you have to endure the long travel, the road is safe and not bumpy.

5. Visit The Miss Saigon District

Every soul in Southeast Asia is probably aware by now that the world famous broadway musical, Miss Saigon, is actually inspired by a fictional scene during the Vietnam War at one of the glitzy pubs in Saigon.

The story is about a young Vietnamese girl who worked in a bar and fell in love with an American soldier, just as the city was about to be liberated by the North from the Americans.

Parallel to the story of Miss Saigon, the city indeed has a vibrant night life with its streets and bars being are filled with tourists. During our visit, I've seen street pubs sprung to life at night time.

This Miss Saigon storied life is still on a roll among Saigon's bar and night clubs, but some of it are not as tragic as those stories in bars during the Vietnam war.

6. The Siklo and Motorbike Rides

Saigon is still very much attached to the old tradition of its forefathers of riding a motorbike during the colonial days. In fact, despite the modern lifestyle of the world, the city is still relying on siklo and motorbikes as transportation.
Siklo ride around Saigon

Siklo is like a trisikad version in the Philippines only that the passenger is sitting in front. This is one of the most interesting local rides to try in Vietnam. I was able to try it and the feeling was surreal, both exciting and thrilling haha!

Siklo drivers are everywhere in the city, offering tourists with a city tour, but at a slighter expensive rate. You need to have a clear agreement with the driver before hopping in for a tour because most locals can hardly speak and understand English.

Locals prefer to ride in their motorbike when going to work or just going around the city. Motorbikes filled the street more than buses and taxis. Saigon has no jeepney.

On our way to Independence Palace

7. Not Overly Crowded

Unlike Metro Manila in my home country Philippines, Saigon is a very relaxing place where streets and avenues are not overly crowded. Rush hour is not terrible and people in the streets seem not in a hurry. They're just walking normally as if the day stands still.

During our visit, we just walked around by foot, roaming around district 1 and visiting tourist landmarks on our own. We just asked the locals with the direction and just proceeded to each destination without too much worries.

8. See the Independence Palace

Probably Saigon's center of glamour and history, Independence Palace showcases Saigon's interesting past, especially during the colonial days and wartime.

Inside the Independence Palace

Unique in its existence, this elegant palace in district 1 is a former home to the president of the Southern Vietnam. Today, the palace is a state owned museum where artifacts during the French occupation are on display.

This is one of the highlights of a Saigon tour where visitors will have a chance to learn Saigon's rich history through the palace's curated state rooms, banquet rooms, precious treasures and building design. Entrance fee is $2.00 and opens from 8Am to 4PM daily.

9. Cultural Heritage of the Orient

Saigon is a melting pot of the unique culture of the east and the west, an orient cultural heritage combines with the glamorous atmosphere of the French. Though very oriental in nature, the lovely city is still very much French in its architecture and boutique styles.

One of the oriental restaurants in Saigon

10. Eat and Shop

Saigon is Vietnam's premier city where shopping is made cheaper. The city is filled with shopping centers, night markets and boutiques selling high-end goods at very affordable prices.

Hand-woven items, embroideries and tapestries are everywhere and tourists can haggle at even lower prices. One of the best in Southeast Asian region!

Saigon is also home to tasty cuisine of the orient but authentic French food is very much available, even in food stalls. It is integrated in their local cuisine due to the influence of the French during colonial days. Common staples sold in the street food stalls have French twist like baguettes.

11. Home of the best coffee in Southeast Asia

Vietnam is the world's second largest producer of coffee next to Brazil, no wonder the country offers the best variety of coffee compared to other countries in Southeast Asia.

Asian Dolce Latte of Starbucks was inspired by one of the local coffee concoctions in Saigon, ca phe sua da. It's a traditional Vietnamese coffee recipe made form coarse ground dark roast coffee mixed with steamed condensed milk.

It's tastier and yummier when you are in Saigon. No wonder Starbucks was threatened when it opened its first store in Saigon in 2013. 

They made their own versions to lure locals to try Starbucks, the Asian Dolce Latte. Starbucks concocted it by mixing a double shot espresso with dolce sauce (made from steamed milk).

Asian Dolce Latte is my favorite hot coffee variety in Starbucks because it is very much Asian, it best suits to my palate. District 1 in Saigon is filled with many coffee shops serving authentic Vietnamese coffee. A great place for all coffee lovers.

12. A Unique Place To Chill

If you're extremely weary from the hustle and bustle of the city, fed up with smog and traffic in a dense urban place and longed to relax in a park filled with blooms and plants, or just want to take a walk in the street, Saigon is a perfect destination.

It's a quiet place without so much drama in the environment, no rush hour, people are not in a hurry. It's a beautiful place to feel the day just rolls into evening without getting stress on heavy traffic. And where daredevil bus drivers have no place in major thoroughfares.

Relaxing in a public park

How To Get To Saigon

There are daily flights from Manila to Ho Chi Minh city offered by major airlines. Cebu Pacific schedule going to Saigon is usually shortly before midnight. 

Although I haven't checked the new flight schedules of major airlines in the country if they had changed it following COVID-19 safety measures.

Travel time is just two hours and thirty minutes. Vietnam Standard Time is one hour behind the Philippine Standard Time.

Traveling around Saigon is very convenient. Taxi, bus, motorbikes are the common public transportation in the city but the cheaper means is bus. At the airport, bus #158 is the most common route going to district 1 and Benh Thanh market. Fare is VD5,000 (2015 rate).

Our Saigon Itinerary and Budget

Vietnam has no visa for Southeast Asian passport holders. Upon entering the country, Southeast Asian residents are given 30 days free of visa stay.

Day one of our visit

  • Departure, NAIA in Manila 11:45PM
  • Arrival, Ho Chi Minh city 1:45 AM
  • We slept at the airport until 7AM
  • Departed airport by 7:30AM through a bus ride (#158) going to Ben Thanh market in district 1.
  • Disembarked at Ben Thanh market.
  • We just walked to Lanlan hotel, just across Behn Thanh market.
  • Left our bags at the concierge of the hotel to start our day tour.
  • We just walked by foot visiting popular landmarks: Central post office, Notre dame cathedral, Diamond Plaza, Reunification palace.
  • The only entrance fee we paid was at the Reunification palace.
  • We haven't visited War Museum, but this is a good place to discover the history of Vietnam during the war.
  • Cu Chin channel and opera house are other interesting landmarks in Saigon.
  • Temples and pagodas are some of the most beautiful landmarks you could visit in Saigon.
  • Budget: Round trip airfare from Manila via Cebu Pacific - Php5,000
  • Bus ride from airport to Behn Thanh market - Php10.00 (VD5,000)
  • Breakfast and lunch - Php250.00
  • Reunification palace entrance - Php75
  • Hotel for one night - Php800.00 with complimentary breakfast
  • Dinner - Php120.00
  • Souvenir shopping - Php3,000
  • Travel tax from Manila - Php1,500
  • Siklo ride - Php250.00

Total budget: Php11,500 approximate

Important Reminder

Like most third world countries, pickpocketing is prevalent in Saigon. So secure your bag and wallet while walking around the city. However, assistance is within reach as the place has police visibility.

Before hopping in for siklo and motorbike rides, make a clear arrangement with the driver to come up with a precise rate on rides. Most of them are not good in English so propose for a clear agreement before taking a ride.

Saigon is ideal for DIY travelers, look for backpacker hostels and rooms around Pham Lau Street or in district 1. However, a two-star hotel in Saigon is already a nice accommodation with complimentary breakfast and very much affordable.

Saigon is cheaper and the city has plenty of markets for shopping. Haggle for a better price when you shop at night or day market. It is also a good place to shop for handicrafts and imported goods. A lot of option to choose from.

When you cross the border to Cambodia by land, don't book your ticket elsewhere, try to make an arrangement with the hotel concierge to reserve you a bus ticket. It is very convenient and less stress than booking online.

Bus companies will dispatch a shuttle to pick you up an hour before the trip to Cambodia so it's very convenient and hassle-free. You just wait in your room at the hotel and the staff will just call you up.

A Php15,000.00 or US$300.00 is enough for a 3-day tour in Saigon including airfare and hotel. During our visit in 2015, I only spent Php12,000 for our Saigon trip for 2 days. Currency of Vietnam is Vietnamese Dong.

Best Time To Visit Saigon

Unlike Hanoi, the capital of Vietnam located in the northern part of the country, Saigon is typically tropical where weather can be at its warmest. And coldest during wet season.

The best time to visit this city is between December to April where the weather is balmy, not warm nor wet. We visited Saigon on New Year's day and it was a very mild weather.

May to November is their wet season while December to April is the dry season in Southeastern Vietnam.

Vietnam is a predominantly Buddhist country but they do celebrate New Year, even Christmas as there are Christians living everywhere in the country, so expect some festive mood at the beginning of the year in Saigon. In fact, during our visit we still saw Christmas and New Year ornaments displayed in establishments.
Check our Budget Travel Guide for Saigon
This travel to Saigon commenced in 2015 January there might be changes in rate and packages and bus schedules in the present time. More travel story also about Saigon during our trip, click below links:

Saigon is so charming and lovely, it's my favorite city in Southeast Asia. An ideal place for budget travelers and people who just want to go on a day in a quiet place and just relax.
Travel Advisory in Vietnam due to COVID-19
Vietnam has lifted its social distancing rules since April 23 as no further community transmission of the virus has been recorded. Business and schools were reopened since then, they only had three-week lockdown, but safety measures are still in place.

The country remains close to foreigners, only local travel is allowed. For further travel advisory for tourists in Vietnam, CHECK THIS LINK
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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

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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