Saturday, July 08, 2017

What to do and see in Ho Chi Minh(Saigon), Vietnam

Honestly, Vietnam is not on my priority must see places this year but my boyfriend went there for a business trip and I decided to tag along. Before that, I'm only interested in Vietnam because when we we’re still dating, Chino mentioned that he wants to go there just to try the ‘Lunch Lady’s’ meal as featured in Anthony Bourdain’s show.

On Monday morning last week, his flight was confirmed and in the afternoon, I booked mine. Fortunately, CebuPac has an on going seatsale so I was still able to get 50% off plane tickets, the hotel is free so I only plan to bring food and transportation allowance. On Friday afternoon, I rushed to the airport for my 7:35PM flight.

The most fitting theme is what to do on a spontaneous trip to ho Chi Minh!

It was a 2hrs and 15mins flight and with the 1hour difference, I arrived by 9PM. Chino fetched me from the airport and we booked a GrabCar to drive us to our hotel, Oscar Saigon, which is located at the heart of Quan/District 1. The first agenda is to eat dinner, most of the restaurants were closed by 10PM and we ended up at Mon Hue to taste my first Vietnamese noodles for this trip. 
Nguyen Hue/walking street
I was also pleased to see the ‘night life’ in Nguyen Hue, a walking street across our hotel. It was filled with people hanging out and sitting on the floors or their stools. 
Motorbike street food stall
There's a lot of street food vendors with their stalls attached to their motorcycles, and of course, there were motorcycles everywhere!!

The next day, we enjoyed the free breakfast buffet at the hotel and prepared for our walking tour. Unlike other South East Asian countries that I've visited, there is no bus, or tuktuk for easy commute within the city. The subway is still under construction so our option is limited to walking or booking Uber/Grab car.
Nguyen Van Binh
Chino's office mates told him that the War Remnants Museum is a must see place. From Nguyen Hue, we passed by Book Street - Nguyen Van Binh and we're pleasantly surprised to see a whole street dedicated to selling books, souvenirs and coffee. It has it's "Insadong" feel and at the end of the street, we saw the Post Office and Notre Dame Cathedral which we plan to visit. We walked to Tao Dan Park and finally saw the sign leading to the museum. 
refreshing coconut juice
Vietnam has wide roads and motorcycles are coming from different angles so it was fortunate that a coocnut juice vendor helped us cross the street. He asked us where are we from and even told Chino that he can take a photo with his goods. He surely knows how to deal with 'tourists' as he handed us the juice with straw and we're forced to buy it. It costs 4x more than the usual but we realized that we're too thirsty from our walking tour.

We paid 15,000VND entrance fee and started checking out the planes left by US in Vietnam War. Truly, History is written by the victor and it's interesting to read about the perspective of a small country who won over world superpowers. We stayed in the museum for almost 2 hours and I swear, I had goosebumps the entire time. There is an eerie feeling in the air and I quietly sobbed on some of the stories and photos that I saw. We we're emotionally and physically tired and ended up having a feast at Lunch Lady and Pho 25. In the evening, we did a craft beer tasting at Pasteur, I’ll have a separate blog post for ‘What we ate in Ho Chi Mihn’.
Saigon map
His office mates also warned us about buying anything from Benh Than Market so we decided to go to the other market that Chino found but turned it out to be the same market! I know, it's confusing but funny because we got lost in translation. Our only goal was to buy a Kipling wallet for our mommys but I had a mistake of checking out a North Face bag. Do not enter a store by yourself, I felt kinda harassed and was forced to buy the bag. The salesday literally trapped me inside the store and wouldn't leave me alone while her male buddy was chatting up with Chino outside huhu. It was a good purchase considering the quality and price of the bag but it was an overwhelming experience for me.
Cho Ban Co Market
Sunday was dedicated to souvenir shopping! We went to Cho Ban Co and I noticed that locals were a lot nicer, meaning they gave us space to look around without the pressure of buying something. I bought 1 floral top, the price and quality is comparable to clothes sold in tianges here so I didn't feel the need to hoard. My only regret is that we missed out of the street food.
Jade Emperor Pagoda
We took a cab to go to Jade Emperor Pagoda, it's a Taoist temple built for the Jade Emperor or King of Heaven, Ngoc Hoang. The smoke of incense fills the air when we entered the temple and we're amazed by the word carvings and statues. I didn't take photos inside to give respect to members who were worshiping when we visited the place. When we're looking for places of interest near us, we got curious about this Taoist temple because even if it was built by the Chinese community, it was said to be influenced by Catholic, Hindu, Islam and other religions.
Saigon river
We walked along the riverside to visit Lunch Lady for the second time. As expected, the food was fantastic! 

Book Street
We booked an Uber car to go to Book Street or Nguyen Van Binh to look for Chino's pasalubong for his daddy, a history book from a local perspective. I ended up buying a used Ho Chi Minh Lonely Planet for PHP120.

We decided to catch the 4PM mass at Notre Dame Cathedral. We already knew that it will be in the local language but before the homily, we decided to leave because yeah, of course we can't understand anything. We figured out that Chua is God, though.

Apartment Cafe at Nguyen Hue
I'm really in awe of the French influence in Vietnam's architecture, even if we stayed in Quan1, the business district, it was rare to see high rise buildings. I appreciate the low rise buildings because it gives of a feeling that you can breath and you can enjoy the skyline more. I also like that buildings have little balconies which can be very useful for owners and generally pleasing to the eyes as well. The Cafe Apartment in Nguyen Hue Walking Street is often compared to a 'chocolate box' of independent coffee shops. Too bad, I only saw it from outside. I didn't know that I can pay 3,000vnd to use the elevator and go coffee shop hopping!
night life
This photo was taken outside our hotel, Oscar Saigon, which is also across Nguyen Hue. I find it very interesting how the young and old Vietnamese casually hangout in the street with their stool, coffee or assorted food then enjoy their picnic style hangout. I envy them that they their city is this safe and they were able to enjoy this simple yet fun routine. Chino and I also joined the fun and sat down in the middle of the walking street while enjoying street food!
City Hall
On Monday, Chino had to go to the office while I get to enjoy my holiday walking around Saigon.
Saigon Opera House
This is Saigon Opera House, aside from being my personal landmark to go to Chino's office, it is the best place to enjoy cultural shows! We're supposed to check out AO show, a dance circus and musical that depicts Vietnamese life, but we can't find a good schedule.  
Art Arcade
I was able to buy a painting of a Vietnamese lady in Spring background here at Art Arcade. What's fun about exploring alley's in Ho Chi Minh is that sometimes we end up on someone else's dining or living room and of course, you have to watch out for motorbikes every time!
manga overload
After buying Trung Nhuyen and Highland coffee pasalubongs (and discounted Pandora charms) at Vizcom Centre, I decided to spend the rest of my free time on a 3 floor bookstore in Nguyen Hue. I'm so amazed that they have a lot of books translated into their local language and half of one floor was dedicated to Japanese culture! There were shelves of anime goods, Japanese self help books and mangas!

I really enjoyed our spontaneous trip to Vietnam, it helped that our hotel was in a good location so it was easy to just Google a place of interest and often walk to go there. Ho Chi Minh was able to retain it's French influence and mix it with their local charm. I would like to go back when their subway is operational so that we an explore more areas with ease. 


Anonymous said...

I wanted to thank you for this fantastic read!!
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to look at new stuff you post…

Mei G. said...

Thank you!!

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