Vietnam Diaries: Saigon City Tour (Day 1)

There is something about calling Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC) , Saigon.  Though HCMC is the new name, Saigon sounds more exotic and more interesting. I’m still recovering from all the walking that we did in the city and in Dalat; and now I’m swamped with work rendering my brain useless for a happier kind of writing. 🙂

So I will be posting our life in Vietnam in the five days that we explored its charming city and the amazingly cold province of Dalat.

If you wanna be a millionaire so freakin’ bad, Vietnam is the place to go 😉

With the inflation rate, their money has very little value. Last I check, 1 Php = 503 Vietnamese Dong (VND).  So your P1000 is already half a million VND.

So you won’t have a hard time converting, drop the last 3 zeroes then multiply it by 2; that’s a rough estimation in Peso. Example: VND25000 = PHP50

Photo grabbed from my friend and her husband

When in Vietnam, NEVER EVER ride the cyclos (their version of our trisikad). As we had to book our bus tickets for  Dalat the following day, we decided to separate from my friends and let them have some alone time. That’s when misfortune stroke and they got gypped by two cyclo drivers. It was a sad experience and this is where these tips will come in handy:

  • Communication with the locals is a challenge. So if you need to go anywhere, get a map from your hotel  or ask the hotel to book a tour for you.  There are a lot of tours to choose from that starts  from USD6 for a half day tour. This saves you cab fare and time looking for those places you want to go.
  • Again, NEVER ride the cyclos. They will smile at you and engage you in small talk… stay away. You can politely say no, then walk away. 
  • Should you decide to take the cab, choose only Mai Linh or Vinasun. These are the legit cabs to take. 
  • The best way to avoid transpo cost? Stay at the hotels near Ben Thanh Market, as tourist spots are well within walking distance from this point. 

Behind me is Ben Thanh Market. We always use the monument at the roundabout as reference.

This is Le Lai Street, one of the busiest streets in the area. I’m so glad that two years later, there are now cops / traffic enforcers assisting pedestrians, especially tourists, cross the street that is very much dominated by motorbikes. It is easy to get dazed amidst a sea of approaching motorbikes but this is how you do it. 🙂

Once you step your foot to cross, do not hesitate. Do not mind the mini heart attacks that you will experience as you contemplate on your chances of crossing the street safely. Just go forward at a steady pace, with your eyes on the oncoming vehicles. Do not do the cha-cha. They will avoid  you so just move along. 

Passed by this lovely street graffiti on the way to the cathedral.

My second time in the city, but I still like seeing the beautiful Notre Dame Cathedral.

Gotcha! This is just around the statue of the Blessed Mother outside the cathedral.

Because tourists tend to walk in on your photo when you least expect it 🙂

The interior of the Notre Dame Cathedral of Saigon

The left side interior of the Notre Dame Cathedral

Adjacent to the cathedral is the Saigon Post Office.

The interior of the Saigon Post Office.

Because I have yet to look un-touristy sometimes 😀

The city center can be overwhelming but tourist destinations are within walking distance. You just have to brave the streets and the heat so you can save on the hassle of getting gypped in cyclos and cabs.

If the heat gets too overwhelming, coffee shops litter the city or you can try the strong iced Vietnamese coffee (ca phe sua da) from the streets for just 12500VND (Php25).

Walk some more distance and you will reach the touristy spots below. For better information, visit Ben Chua’s site as this has got to be the most helpful site you can find. His how-to-get-to’s are the best! 😀

The newly opened luxury store Vincom Centre A near the Saigon Opera House and People’s Committee Building.

From across the street, you can see the Vincom Centre A, the People’s Committee Building and the Saigon Opera House.

After exhausting ourselves with all the walking, as though it wasn’t enough, we walked back to the hotel to freshen up for the dinner cruise that we booked for around 7PM.

The friendly crew of the Saigon Dinner Cruise.

We paid USD37 for the set dinner with cruise along the Saigon River. The fee also includes a tour guide and round trip cab service to the hotel.

Should you opt for the buffet dinner cruise, that will be USD60+. We thought it a bit steep already considering it will be the same food anyway. The set dinner for four is not bad considering there are several dishes laid out on our table. There is a band onboard but they didn’t sing any English song and there was a fire dancer too. Now this was the part where the women lost their men. 😉

Saigon city at night as viewed from the ship.

Cargo ships make for the Saigon River night scene.

After an hour of touring the river, the cruise comes back to the pier. Instead of   being taken back to the hotel, we decided to be dropped off near the tourist spots that we went to earlier and found it even more magnificent at night.

The People’s Committee Building is a sight to behold at night.

The Saigon Opera House from a distance.

This ends our first day in Saigon. But we did drop by Ben Thanh to check the night market. My tip? Ask the price then walk away. You’ll be surprised that the initial price of VND100,000 will drop by half the moment you say, Thank you. 😉

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