Ho Chi Minh City (commonly known as Saigon) is a city in southern Vietnam famous for the pivotal role it played in the Vietnam War. It’s also known for its French colonial landmarks.
Flying to Vietnam was an abrupt decision. Ate Lucy, a long time friend (since I was in Dubai, way back 2010), we have not seen each other since I left Dubai last 2012. We were just communicating via facebook and skype.
I booked our air ticket last Dec. 1, 2017. The airfare is costly for as we’re booked on Dec. 4, 2017 via Cebu Pacific. So for those who are planning their trip, make sure to book your flight earlier ahead of time to save and to opt for more cheaper prices and convenient flight departure and arrival. As for our travel itinerary, I opted for an LCC (low cost carrier) flight.
For our accommodation, I made another mistake on booking nearby the airport. I learned that, it is best to booked your hotel nearby the main tourist attraction. For Ho Chi Minh City, I would suggest a hotel nearby Ben Than Market, Pham Ngu Lao area. It would be the best place to base yourself. There are many hotels along Ben Than Market and the location is the extremely central and there are lots of attraction and plenty things to do.
Our hotel accommodation cost around Php 3,728 with buffet breakfast free for 2 pax. I have to pay VND 100,000.00/breakfast for my daughter. Not bad at all.
FLIGHT TO HO CHI MINH
Yactlie, my daughter, she has been traveling since she was a baby. She had been into a lot of places, I can say that she is well-traveled at her age. But, Vietnam is her first international flight. In every appointment, in every schedule and plans that I made, I always make it a point that I will arrive earlier ahead of time. Our flight was 10:30 pm. We left the house at 11:00 am since we live in Tayabas Quezon to avoid getting late on our flight. At least, if anything comes along our way, traffic or any human error, we still have enough time to make it to the airport. Heavy traffic along Guadalupe – Buendia and to the airport. We arrived at NAIA terminal 3 at almost 6:00 pm. If travel tax is not purchased when you booked your ticket, I would suggest you go directly to travel tax cashier/counter before you queue in a line at the check in counter. You can save time and energy by doing it. Travel Tax is amounting to Php 1,620/passenger. For children, they will issue a reduced travel tax certificate amounting to Php 810. Good thing I made a quick snap of Yactlie’s travel tax certificate before we preceded to the check in counter to get our boarding pass, the certificate was taken by Cebu Pacific staff and they just gave us the receipt.
Everything went smoothly, it was such a blessing! We passed through the immigration very quick. No hassle, no interrogation. She just stamped our passport and let us in, easy peasy!
ARRIVAL AT SAIGON
We arrived in Tan Son Nhat International Airport at 12:20 am, Vietnam time (Philippines 1:20 am). We goes directly to the money changer outside the airport. For those who are traveling to Vietnam, better change your money into US Dollar first, then change it to Vietnamese Dong. Php 1 is equivalent to VND 330 ($1=Vnd 22,800) in the airport. I change my money at Bu Dien (Post Office) during our visit at Php1=VND 300, during our 2nd visit Php1=VND 400.00. Much better if you will change your money in a bank to get a higher convertion of Php1=Vnd 430.
We decided to take a private car from the airport to send us to our hotel. It was expensive, it costs us Vnd 180,000 compare to Vinasun taxi (Airport-Golden Crown Hotel, Vnd 45,000)
SAIGON OPERA HOUSE
We took Vinasun taxi from Golden Crown Hotel to the Opera House for Vnd 80,000.
Considered to be one of the best representations of French colonial architecture in Saigon, the Opera House theater was built in 1897, and has been beautifully preserved. We did not get inside but surely it’ll be a great experience for those who are interested in live shows.
Address: 7 Công trường Lam Sơn, Bến Nghé, Hồ Chí Minh, Vietnam
Open hours: Make sure you check the official site for show times and schedules and you can also buy tickets online as well.
Entrance price: Prices range from 504,000 VND – 1,176,000 VND for show tickets.
After spending few minutes in Saigon Opera House, we walked directly to find Notre Dame Church, we came across to Vincom Center(shopping mall) to check for a white shoes for Yactlie for her first communion. There are lots of good store inside (Pull and Bear, H&M, Zara and a lot more)
SAIGON CATHEDRAL OF NOTRE DAME
The cathedral is beautiful, with two 40 meter high towers, and a statue of the Virgin Mary in the front lawn area. Make sure you go to the very front on the road-side, so you can get a great photo of Virgin Mary with the cathedral in the background. Unluckily, the church was closed and under renovation.
Address: Bến Nghé, tp. Hồ Chí Minh, Hồ Chí Minh, Vietnam
Open hours: 8 am – 11 am in the morning and 3 pm – 6 pm in the evening on weekdays only (on Sunday, there’s an official mass that begins at 9:30 am that you are free to attend)
CENTRAL POST OFFICE (BU DIEN)
Right across the street from the Saigon’s Cathedral of Notre Dame, within the same city square, is yet another renowned landmark, the Central Post Office, that began construction back in 1886.
The engineer of this building was the same guy behind the Eiffel Tower of Paris, Mr. Gustave Eiffel. When we went there, there are lots of tourist from different countries, mostly westerns. This place was not only a top tourist attraction, it is fully in use and functional up to this moment. We saw some who bought a postcard, stamped it and sends it to their love ones somewhere.
Address: 2 Công xã Paris, Bến Nghé, tp. Hồ Chí Minh
Open hours: 7 am – 7 pm on weekdays, 7 am – 6 pm on Saturday, 8 am – 6 pm on Sunday
Entrance price: Free
There are lots of store at the right side of the Post office where you can buy a lot of things/product of Vietnam.
We rested and ate our lunch at Mc Donalds on the left side of the Post Office. Alongside, there are lots of store that sells multi language books for a reasonable price. I was so happy wandering in this place that I decided to come back again the next day.
DONG KHOI STREET
Dong Khoi Street is an upscale area of Saigon, and along Dong Khoi street you’ll find high end boutiques and designer stores.
This street is always busy with a lot of people from different walks of life wandering around. A lot of vehicles going there and then. Motorcycles everywhere.
You can spot a lot of high end 5 star hotels in this area, local and international stores. It is a good place to walk around plus there’s a huge contrast of the old and new, modern and traditional.
BEN THANH MARKET
From Notre Dame Church, we walk for almost 15 minutes to Ben Thanh Market.
It is a large market place in Ho Chi Minh City. Ben Thanh Market in Ho Chi Minh City’s District 1 is a great place to buy local handicrafts, branded goods, Vietnamese art and other souvenirs. Here, you’ll find eating stalls inside the market where you can get a taste of hawker-style Vietnamese cuisine or simply cool off with a cold drink when the bargaining becomes too much. The market is big, difficult to navigate at times and certainly best avoided during the hottest part of the day but all the same its well worth a look. One of Saigon’s oldest landmarks, Ben Thanh offers a great atmosphere that is absolutely authentically Vietnamese.
I bought some chocolates and souvenir items from here for a reasonable price. I was also lucky to find my favorite coffee and bought it for a very low price. At first, vendors will give you a very high price, the thing is, you should know how to bargain, you should ask for 80% discount in their original price. The price of the key chain that I bought at first was Vnd 180,000 for 6pcs. After talking and bargaining, I ask for Vnd 100,000 for 2 sets (1 set of 6pcs steel key chain and 1 set of 12pcs key chain).
Address: Lê Lợi, Bến Thành, Hồ Chí Minh, Vietnam
Open hours: 6 am – 6 pm daily for the indoor market, and about 6 pm – Midnight daily for the night market
Entrance price: Free
REMNANTS OF WAR MUSEUM
When we are about to go back to our hotel from shopping and bargaining, we came across to the 2 guys that offers traditional bicycle ride (cycle ricksaw). I was amused and felt excited on trying it for an experience. They told us that it will cost only of Vnd 150,000 for as long as we want. Those 2 guys are very clear on that fact, my excitement and eagerness on trying it for the first time made me agreed on them so fast. Ate Lucy was bit reluctant but I told her that I will pay for her. So, we headed directly to the Remnants of the War Museum.
Surrounding the museum, within the compound grounds are displays of previously used military weapons, tanks, and aircraft.
We were in a hurry that we did not go upstairs. I was expecting that my daughter will not be liking the whole concept of the museum, but to my surprise, she had fun taking pictures and reading the facts that was stated in every item. She took a lot of photos. She even demanded me to take a picture of her on tanks, aircraft, cannon and a lot more.
The War Remnants Museum is a worthwhile place to see in Saigon to learn, but again, be prepared for quite a heavy and saddening experience.
Address: 28 Võ Văn Tần, Phường 6, Quận 3, Hồ Chí Minh, Vietnam
Open hours: 7:30 am – 12 noon in the morning and 1:30 pm – 5 pm in the afternoon, daily
Entrance price: 15,000 VND per person
Thien Hau Temple (Pagoda)
Then they brought us to this place. Located in the Chinatown area (District 5) of Ho Chi Minh City and built back in the 19th century, Thien Hau Temple is dedicated to Thien Hau, the Lady of the Sea.
From the outside, the pagoda honestly didn’t look amazing.
The entrance wall face was well weathered, rather unmaintained (but this did also give it an ancient feel), and it had almost a haunted feeling to look at.
However, as soon as you step inside, the beauty of the temple, mostly through the intricate details and carvings, is revealed
We just check what’s inside then took a few pictures and then we left.
Address: Thiên Hậu Temple, 710 Nguyễn Trãi, phường 11, Quận 5, Hồ Chí Minh, Vietnam
Open hours: 8 am – 4:30 pm daily
Entrance price: Free
Jade Emperor Pagoda
It was our last tour for that day.
The front courtyard is shaded by draping banyan trees, with a spattering of pigeons, and a cloud of incense smoke that burns both inside and outside the temple and sets the mood by making the entire area hazy.
Inside the temple, there are two main sections, the back section is where the statue of the Jade Emperor sits, surrounded by various other deities and statues.
The Jade Emperor Pagoda is full of symbolism and details, which I don’t even begin to understand or even probably notice, but nevertheless, it was an intriguing temple to visit.
My daughter enjoyed booing the pigeons. There was a pond with lots of enormous catfish that swam freely and joyfully. In that same place of the outside patio, but this time located on the right bank of the entrance to the Temple of Jade, we have shelter for turtles. Turtles in Asian culture represent longevity and are also considered in Vietnam as a symbol of fortune and good luck. At this small retreat at the gates of the pagoda, we have hundreds of these animals, which made value to this place the nickname of the Pagoda of the turtles.
Address: 73 Mai Thị Lựu, Đa Kao
Open hours: 7 am – 6 pm daily
Entrance price: Free
How do I find Saigon?
Our visit was just short and abrupt, our tour wasn’t planned well but we enjoyed every bit. Everything went smoothly. Saigon was an enticing experience for me and to share it with my daughter. She had saved a lot of memories to her travel bank. It would be best to stay for at-least 5days (6d 5n) tour. We missed a lot of touristic spots and adventure coz we only had 2 days to roam around. Over all, Saigon is a good place to unwind and loosen up a bit , it’s architecture and lifestyle is the reconciliation between French and Chinese influence, with many dots of modernity yet without losing Vietnamese traits and as much historical as it is modern.