Tag Archives: Saigon

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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Preview: Vietnam Redeux

Two years after our first visit to Vietnam, we’re going back and this time we won’t be crossing the border to Cambodia like we did last time. With Cebu Pacific’s direct flight to Siem Reap, travelers now are luckier as they don’t have to endure the 12-hour bus ride from Ho Chi Minh City.

Here’s the itinerary I prepared for this trip. And just like the earlier post on Ilocos, I will post photos  and as much tips and info as I can for each day of this trip  as reference for those who stumbled upon this personal-often-times-avenue-for-my-crazy-thoughts blog. 🙂

Day 0     Oct 22   Departure from Manila: 10:50PM

Day 1     Oct 23   ETA in Saigon: 12:20AM ::  Chinatown tour  ::  Saigon City Center tour or Vung Tau

Day 2     Oct 24   Saigon City Center tour ::  Departure for Dalat

Day 3     Oct 25   Dalat City Tour :: Night stroll

Day 4     Oct 26   Head back to Ho Chi Minh City :: Check-in. Shop. Stroll. Sightseeing

Day 5     Oct 27   Breakfast.  Checkout. Last minute shopping :: 10PM Head to the airport

Day 6     Oct 28   Red-eye flight back to Manila: 1AM :: ETA Manila: 4AM

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Travel Diaries: Cao Dai’s Holy See, Vietnam

 The main temple of Caodaism (also known as Cao Dai’s Holy See) is located at the south of Vietnam in Tay Ninh. It is not the first time that I have set foot in a temple but this is definitely the first time that I witnessed such a grand ceremony. It was high noon that time and the ceremony was about to commence.

photo by jumbledcoffeethoughts

Everyone was instructed to leave their shoes outside the temple (just imagine how hot the pavement was since it was 12 noon!). Women enter the temple from the left while men enter from the right. But both genders will eventually meet in the balcony.

It was indeed a feast for the eyes as there are three principal colors of Cao Dai. Yellow for Buddhism, Blue for Taoism and Red for Christianity and these are represented in the robes of their priests; the followers on the other hand, wear white robes. It is safe to say that Caodaism is a fusion of the aforesaid religions including Confucianism, Hinduism, Islam, and Judaism.

photo by jumbledcoffeethougts

Tips:

  • It is more convenient to book a tour at your hotel if you wish to visit the Holy See as this is very far from the center. The tour package we got consists of a visit to Cu Chi Tunnels and the Holy See (with a side trip to the Handicapped Handicraft) and costs around US$12. With the scorching heat in Vietnam, you’ll be thankful for the convenience of the ready transport.
  • If you are fussy with your food, it’s best to bring your sandwich or anything you can snack on outside the bus (and enjoy people-watching) because the lunch stopover is usually at those hole-in-the-wall restos that serve so-so food (based on experience Ü).

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Travel Diaries: Vietnam

I recently visited Vietnam and Cambodia with two of my constant travel gal pals and I took it upon myself to make us an itinerary because we’re all simply clueless on what touristy things to explore in these places.

Armed with info gathered from TripAdvisor,Girltalk and other forums, we headed to Ho Chi Minh City (also Sai Gon or Saigon to the locals).

Tip: If you have more money to spend on airfare, don’t bother with Cebu Pacific because their current flight schedule to HCMC from Manila is around 11PM; you’ll arrive there around 1AM. You’ll find that you’re somehow lugi with your hotel because it’s like you paid for the whole day even if you arrive at 1AM.

But the hotel we stayed in is worth all the money. We stayed at Tan Hai Long 1, which by the way is in such a superb location that the only time we hailed a cab was when we’re leaving for the airport five days later. You can really explore the city on foot from this hotel. There’s a mixed review about Tan Hai Long 1 but we definitely loved our stay here because of the reasonable price, friendly staff, hearty breakfast buffet and the strong Vietnamese coffee that never fails to give that oomph to my day.

After some few hours of sleep and tummies loaded with delicious breakfast, we crossed the SUPER BUSY Le Lai Street. Crossing the streets of HCMC is one big challenge to surmount. It will seriously revive your spiritual relationship with God because you’ll be praying each time: Lord, tulungan Niyo po akong makatawid sa kabilang kalsada at hindi sa kabilang buhay. Amen. Then like an answered prayer, you’re all strong-willed and focused to get to other side of the road without getting run down by a speeding motorbike or cab. The rules when crossing the street: Look left. Look right. Look up (to pray). Cross the street with these in mind: Get to the other side. Alive. It sounds exaggerated but till you experience it for yourself will you know what I mean. *wink*

I was so lucky to stumble upon this very informative site: http://vietnam720.info/. It’s loaded with tips and information on getting around Vietnam (plus the author is always kind in answering your queries). The museum skeds alone is a huge help so you can plan that one precious day in the city.

  • The Notre Dame Cathedral and Saigon Post Office are right next to each other.

  • Walk a few more blocks and you’ll find the Reunification Palace.

  • Right behind it is the War Remnants Museum (we didn’t get to see it because it was close that time).
  • The Saigon Opera House and the People’s Committee Building is just within each other’s vicinity. It’s a sight to behold at night.

On our second day, we opted to go on tour to see the Cu Chi Tunnels and the Cao Dai Temple (with side trip to the Handicapped Handicraft) as these are a few hours away from the city. We paid US$12 for the tour; excluding entrance fee to the Cu Chi Tunnels. This is worth it as it can be very scorching in HCMC; the airconditioned bus is really a welcome shelter. But one thing that brought smiles during the trip? We saw Jollibee’s engaging grin in Vietnam! It was located in somewhere in District 5. I later on discovered that there are 11 Jollibee stores in HCMC alone and several other stores across Vietnam.

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Travel Diaries: Cu Chi Tunnels, Vietnam

Back in my school days, I cannot be bothered with my history class. I listened during lectures, do assignments and pass quizzes because failing simply is not an option. Now that I’m way past my student days, history is more interesting especially when it can be experienced on a personal level.

Going to the Cu Chi Tunnels was just one of the many brushes with history during our Vietnam-Cambodia trip that made everything more than just a vacation; it cleared the mind of work-related issues and traded it with more substantial information (which I really need, you know!). 

The Cu Chi Tunnels were the location of several military campaigns during the Vietnam War and were the Viet Cong’s base of operations for the Tet Offensive in 1968. The 121-km-long complex was preserved by the government as a memorial park and a famous tourist destination. The tunnels were even enlarged and broadened to accommodate the tourists who want to go down and dirty. 

The tunnel leads to this tiny opening

 Tip: If you plan on going down the tunnels, two things. Make sure you’re not claustrophobic and you have a change of clothes because you’ll really sweat like anything.     

 As you go along, you will see the how the Viet Congs look during those times; how they manage to live that time; and how they can make ingenious and menacing booby traps. 

There’s a film showing towards the end of the tour where you can watch how the Viet Congs defended their turf then against the Americans. But well, this is pretty much one-sided considering it is their account on history. So deal with it ok? We are outside this part of their history so let’s just steer clear of it. *wink*  Makes me wonder how the Americans, who we were with us on the tour, felt during the film showing (???).

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