Where: Ho Chi Mihn City, Vietnam
Who: Mr & Mrs Wanderlust
When: Dec 2015
What: Cám ơn, SAIGON!
Vietnam according to some of the things I read describes them as the land of challenging myths and stunning beauty. It is the land of unforgettable smiles, hospitality, and generosity.
Saigon, or now known as Ho Chi Minh City, after the "fall of Saigon" in 1975, is located in the heart of South Vietnam. The city has a very long and somewhat colorful history of from the Chinese settlers very long time ago, to the French and other western colonizers. And finally decades of war has ended, which means the city and its people has been trying to develop and flourish over the last few decades. Communism is still the main political party and structure of the country.
The people here are warm and very welcoming and always felt that, and never disappoints. The people here are simple yet fun. You can see them spending time with friends and family at park. Some are playing a popular asian sport called 'sepak takraw', there are also lots of people exercising as there many equipments for free public use.
Note: Because of inflation of country's currency, Vietnamese Dong rate is 22,485 to US Dollars (as of Dec 2015), so with those rates, you can easily be a millionaire.
Getting to Ho Chi Minh City, from Manila is quite easy, as there are available flights everyday to and from these cities. Tan Son Nhat (Tân Sơn Nhất) is the largest international airport in the city, a bit old airport, but straight to the point and gets through easily. Airport shops and food outlets past immigration list prices in US-Dollars, and will take your Vietnamese Dong at discouraging rates. So as not a good plan spending any leftover dong at the airport.
Citizens of Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Finland, Japan, South Korea, the UK, Spain, Italy, Germany, France and Russia are exempt from visa requirements if they stay in the country for 15 days or less (return/onward ticket is officially required). Citizens of Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia, Laos and Brunei holding valid ordinary passports are allowed to stay for not more than 30 days without visa. Citizens of Philippines are allowed up to 21 days. Citizens of Myanmar (Burma) are allowed up to 14 days.
***PROTIP: After going through the airport arrivals, and you don't know where to go, just ignore the people giving you coupons for taxi as they may be reported scams, just keep on going to your left, until you see either a Vinasun or Mai Linh taxi which are the 2 most reputable taxi companies.
Getting around the city is really easy, as one can rent a motorbike and drive around. But be warned about the traffic and other motorists might shock you and give you more stress.
So either you take public transport such as taxi/cab (Vinasun & Mai Linh are the 2 reputable taxi companies in the city), you can also take a bus, which may be cheaper, but a bit more hassle. And for the digital people, Uber is also available.
One can go around small distances in downtown streets by hiring a cyclo (reverse tricycle with the passenger sitting in a front seat). Or if you want to weave through traffic on a rush hour you can hire a motorbike called a xe ôm locally or you usually hear them say "you want moto?" And finally, for the family, or groups, you can consider renting a van or 'bus' of some sort to get you around and even out of the city.
Ho Chi Minh city, being a big and touristy city you can expect many places to stay. From luxury 5-star hotels, to a humble homestay in the middle of rice fields. But being the curious souls that Mr & Mrs Wanderlust are, we chose to stay not on the traditional hotels, but instead tried something new and refreshing to our sight and minds.
Alcove Library Hotel
Mr & Mrs Wanderlust's Review
Alcove Library Hotel
We got a standard room with breakfast through an online booking site.
+ Nice hotel near the airport
+ Room is small but alright, bed and pillows is soft good rest.
+ Nice and simple bathroom toilet with hot and cold shower
+ Has basic items for toiletries available
+ Restaurant has great view of neighborhood and good food too.
+ Free WiFi working in rooms as advertised.
+ Bookworms and book lovers will def love their lobby
+ Complimentary breakfast was great, be sure to try PHO
- The room has window, tried to see, it seems blocked and no view
- Thought the nuts were complimentary as it is beside the water, but apparently not.
- Shower floor and toilet only divided by curtain so expect bathroom floor to be wet.
Price: $$ 2,800 PHP -or- US$60 per night for 2
Service: 4.5 star - Staff, from front desk to restaurant waitress were very helpful and nice.
Facilities & Amenities: 4 star - Cozy rooms, but a bit small, but has all the necessities.
Restaurant (foods): 4.9 star - Has a restaurant with nice view of neighborhood and good food too.
Bar: 4.5 - Has a selection of drinks in the same restaurant
Overall: 4.48 /5 star
Another place we stayed was a gem we found in the middle of the city. Away from the touristy city center, but still in the heart of Saigon. The pics below are taken from another place we stayed.
I Am Vietnam Botique Hotel
Mr & Mrs Wanderlust's Review
I Am Vietnam Botique Hotel
We got a Suite King Bed with breakfast through an online booking site.
+ Located in residential area, less tourists, feels off the beaten path
+ Local staff were all very nice and helpful, will go extra mile to help, with a smile.
+ The hotel is fairly new, just soft opened April 2015
+ Good bathroom design with bathtub, after a long day walking around HCMC streets
+ Has basic items for toiletries available.
+ Nice spacious room with the great colorful 'posh' design
+ Free WiFi working in rooms as advertised.
+ Has a small balcony in the room that has a good view of the neighborhood
+ Restaurant in lobby serves good food, and even free pizza or 45 min foot massage.
- The view in balcony seems nice, but the suite room gets the best view.
- Construction on going on the outside window at day, but not really an issue for us.
- Location may be a bit hard to find for taxi drivers at first, best to have address and number written.
Price: $$$ 4,100 PHP -or- US $90 per night for 2 w/ breakfast
Service: 5 star - The staff were all awesome and helpful, and most of all, warm smile always.
Facilities & Amenities: 4.9 star - Very nice charming and clean rooms, spacious, and nice bed.
Restaurant (foods): 5 star - Lobby restaurant foods were always great, either Vietnamese or continental.
Bar: 4.8 - Has a selection of few drinks, also in the lobby restaurant
Overall: 4.92 /5 star
1. Go around the city center - You can do it on your own, by just visiting the famous landmarks around if you have rented a bike or public transportation. Or another easy option is to book a tour with a knowledgeable guide, either by a motorcycle or by a service car. You should not miss these sights:
(a)Reunification Palace, This beautifully preserved palace was the residence of the President of the Republic of Viet Nam.
(b)Notre Dame Church built and designed by French architecture in 1880 s.
(c)Old Post Office, which is another building which is an example of classic French architecture.
(d)Thien Hau Pagoda, a pagoda located in the heart of the city's chinatown (Cholon)
(e) War Remnants Muesum, a museum that is a bit bias over the vietnamese side, but still shows the horrors and abuses that the country has suffered under different wars.
For the Ladies, and all shopping lovers, below are the places where you can shop with their corresponding description.
(f)Ben Thanh Market - A big market in the city center where you can find different variety of goods, many stalls stacked high with interesting items, both traditional and modern as well as its many food options. Prices are marked-up so try to bargain a little if you can. Also at night, just outside the same street, stalls are being set up for its night market.
(g)Saigon Square - is the place where you can see goods being prepared for export and can
purchase many items at reasonable prices.
2. Go for a Night stroll around the different districts - Saigon has some of its famous and ever changing nightlife venues. And the best way to see it is by getting a motorbike and strolling around the different districts of Saigon. The young people in Saigon are known to be always outside and socializing, having dinner with friends and peers and hanging out. From different local food shops, to coffee shops,bars and karaoke, one will never run out of places to hang at night. Our friends at XO tours helped us feel the local night scene in different districts, and have a taste of the local people's favorite foods.
3. Walk around the city at morning - Walking is a form of excercise, healthy for the heart and also for the mind. It is best done while the sun is not that up, and you see the city and its locals wake up and prepare for the day ahead. If starving, one can look for a stall that sells Banh Mi, which is a popular breakfast dish in the country. It is a baguette with meat and fillings inside. It is not that hard to find any, just look around you.
3.1 Try a local coffee shop - Forget starbucks and other chain coffee franchises. Coffee shops is big in this city. I have never found a place where there are a couple of coffee shops in the same street. And a popular one, Trung Nguyen, is also a must try even for non coffee lovers, you can appreciate by ordering something decaffeinated.
3.2 Try a local massage parlor or hair salon - You can also observe that for every coffee shop in a street there is either a massage parlor, or hair / nail salon in the street. And after a day of walking around the streets, you can try one of those local massage parlors. Some even have women dressed in sexy uniforms, they may look sketchy but they are legitimate spa. It is like a club where men can also get shave, sauna, massage and even served with coffee / snacks, while the ladies gets pampered hair, nails, etc.
4. Explore the Cu Chi Tunnels - Just 70 km northwest of Saigon, the Cu Chi area lies at the end of the Ho Chi Minh Trail and was the base from which Vietnamese guerillas used to attack Saigon. The residents of Cu Chi took their war underground, literally developing a network of tunnels that, at its height, stretched as far as Cambodia and included meeting rooms, kitchens, and triage areas - an effective network for waging guerilla warfare on U.S. troops. Another highlight of this tour is you shall be able to hear the guns from the nearby firing range making the effect more realistic like in a war, and you should be able to try the guns too by purchasing minimum of 10 bullets of your choice from AK47 to the M30.
*(note: we never support war, but we do believe that, guns do NOT kill people, PEOPLE kill PEOPLE)
5. See Mekong Delta - My Tho - Ben Tre (Four Islands) - is a region south of Saigon about 1.5 hour drive which is dotted with serene Buddhist pagodas and surrounded by vast paddy fields and dense fruit gardens. One of the trips highlights is a day trip to Bentre and board on a traditional boat for a fantastic view along the vast network of canals and channels. You definitely will have your nature fix after your experience of the Mekong river.
6. Swim Vung Tau Beach - A three-hour drive will take you to Vung Tau, one of the most
popular seaside resorts in Viet Nam. With its golden sandy beaches and transparent, warm blue water all year round, Vung Tau is one of the most pristine beach destinations in the region. Vung Tau has some of the best seafood in the country to offer, so any seafood meal will prove to be delicious. After lunch, we will visit the 32-meter-high Statue of Jesus that is perched atop a small mountain.
Also in the same town, you can visit a Pagoda. We visited a pagoda dedicated to a whale. A huge whale who stories say, helped the boatmen from China arrive safely in the beach with abundant catch even on a bad weather. They even managed to salvage the bones of the said legendary whale, and have it displayed inside the pagoda along with offerings, incense, prayer box etc.
*Note: Prices that we have listed is not always official as we tried to find best rates and get discounted rates for some, while for some tours, we didn't skimp too much as we paid some more for convenience.
Accommodations - Hostel Bed - US $20+
Accommodations - Hotel Room - US $45 - 120
Accommodations - Luxury Room US $150++ above
Accommodations - Resort Room US $35 - 100 +
Dining - Meal for 2 at a mid range restaurant US $10 ++
Transportation - Taxi US $5 - $10
Activities - Tours - Cu Chi Tunnels US $40
Activities - Tours - City Tour US $40
Shopping - Souvenir TShirt US $2 - $5
Shopping - Souvenir Items - $10 + above
Activities - 1 Full Day Mekong River Tours US $90 - $100++ (depending on tour and participants)
Activities - Night and Foodie Tours $40 - $80++
Activities - Massage US $10 - above++ (depending on salon, or luxury spa, or beach).
XO Tours (http://xotours.vn/) - Offers awesome City tour, Shopping tour, Night tour and Foodie tour. Cute ladies in their traditional Ao Dai dress will drive you at the back of their motorbike, around inner streets and different districts of Ho Chi Minh, sampling different awesome foods from places where local people really go and hang out.
Hoi An Express (http://www.hoianexpress.com.vn/ha/Home.aspx) - Offers all the tours you can think about in Vietnam from Ho Chi Minh, to Hanoi, and even cross country to Cambodia.
Cam On, Saigon! Sights, sounds and experience adventures in Ho Chi Minh City
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