My first impression with Vietnam was "there's nothing much to see and do there" and also, that the country is not that much known for famous tourist attractions or sites comparing it to other Asian countries like Singapore, Thailand, Hong Kong (Disneyland),  Indonesia (Bali), Malaysia (Petronas Towers) or the Philippines (Boracay, Palawan, Cebu, etc.). But now, Vietnam prides itself in its tourism industry. Its culture very well preserved and there were actually so many tourists just around the corner! It has one of the fastest growing economies knowing the country itself is still recovering from its post civil war.

We went to Ho Chi Minh City, also known as Saigon. Ho Chi Minh was Vietnam's former capital city, now the capital is in Hanoi. Our trip was only for two days but it was totally worth it because we had almost everything checked, in our checklist of tourist attractions to see in just two days - except for the Water Puppets Show that we chose not to watch since it just tells the history of Vietnam which is not really in our priority list (lol).

You can read our itinerary here and as you continue reading this post, I'll be sharing our experiences where you can gain insights, lessons and tips.

The things I loved about Ho Chi Minh were: First, there's no traffic! There are stoplights but you'd only have to wait for just a few minutes then vehicles will move again (comparing it to the traffic in Metro Manila, Philippines). Ho Chi Minh is known to be the motorbike capital of the world with over 7 million motorcycles in it (1:1 ratio as one motorbike for one person). There were only a few cars compared to the number of motorcycles. Second, as a tourist, roaming around the city was safe. The Vietnamese were really kind to tourists when we had to ask them questions or directions. However, this leads to one of the few things I hated about the place:

First, they can't speak in English (plus their language is really alien to me because of the way they pronounce things and the "pin yin" or those symbols above their words for diction are really confusing) I swear it's frustrating even asking a simple question to one of their taxi drivers, they just look at you and do hand gestures saying something and you still would not understand a thing. Second, some of the taxi drivers will trick you! Beware and prepare. Third, crossing the streets is scary because of the motorbikes.

We arrived at Vietnam around 2 in the morning and headed to our hotel to sleep and rest. On our first day after having our free breakfast buffet included in our hotel package, and after regaining our energy from the 2 hour flight, we roamed around the streets of Vietnam.








We stayed in Blue Diamond Hotel at Thủ Khoa Huân. The hotel was suggested by my mom's friend who is staying in Ho Chi Minh. They were very accomodating and friendly everytime we kept asking questions. Don't trust their map though, and when they give directions, because most of it were wrong (HAHA we had to figure out the hard way. When they said left, it was actually on the right) The hotel is ideal for tourists who didn't have tourguides because it's just a 10-15 minute walk going to Ho Chi Minh's tourist sites and attractions. The hotel is also near Saigon Square, Benh Than Market and Night Market which is known to be the famous sites in Ho Chi Minh for shopping. Prepare to haggle because sellers can really be tricky when it comes to prizes.

Tip: Ask for the price, make it seem like you're interested, then tell them it's expensive and walk away. They will chase you after that if they can give it for a lower price. If they don't continue to walk away. Hahaha!

Another Tip: Have your currency exchange already before buying. 1 US Dollar = 22,430 Dong (Vietnamese Dong) ; 1 Philippine Peso = 473 Dong. In Benh Than Market, they sell cheap dollars there however, the way is confusing as the market is so big. Make sure you don't get lost (because we did! haha!)


Let's begin Day 1 with.. Saigon Square! We shopped as soon as we arrived. Haha!





Just across Saigon Square, we didn't actually know what to eat. Going Japanese was our safest choice haha! We had our lunch at a Japanese Restaurant - Yen Sake and Sushi Pub. Again, their waiters couldn't speak in english they had to ask help from another one of them who knows. But they were really kind! They gave us a free gelatin dessert.






We then went to the Reunification Palace (this is their presidential's palace), Notre Dame Cathedral and the Post Office. All these three were just located near each other, you can just walk from one to the other for a only couple of minutes. You can opt to ride their buses and pay for the Hop In Hop Off where they will take you to tourist attractions.

Tip: Visit the palace in the morning or afternoon not later than 4pm because they had to close it and people can only take photos from the outside






Notre Dame Cathedral.









Right after, we headed back to our hotel, again just a few minutes walk, to rest and prepare for dinner.


The cord of my charger I bought from cable monster back in the Philippines got broken, so we asked help from the receptionist of our hotel if where's the nearest Apple store in the city. She then gave us directions (which my mom already knew was the exact opposite of what she will say ex: head on three corners to your right = that would mean left lol) to the nearest Apple store. It was a 15 minute walk away from our hotel.

What I found amazing that was worth sharing is that when you purchase from The Giogidong, that's the name of the store, was that they don't actually include the packaging when they sell to you their products. They only give you the product, then they keep the packaging of the product. The guy could not explain it well to me but what I understood was that there was a one year warranty, all I had to do was dial the phone number, it's like their service number, that he gave me. No receipt at all. Haha. Then he scanned the QR code of the packaging and it's all set.

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We had our dinner at the Saigon River Cruise (a two hour cruise that will roam you around Saigon River by night overlooking Saigon's tall buildings and city lights) which was arranged by the hotel we were staying in. We paid 26 US Dollars each which includes our meal (it was a 7 course meal) in the cruise and our transpo back and forth. We were given options if to ride a car or the Cyclo (I reallllyyy wanted to ride one of those if you're traveling to Vietnam you have to try one!) but we chose the car since I was with my lola because the cyclo can only accomodate one person. It's like a single bike with a driver and you can sit there while you roam around the city. It has weird wheels. Lol.






After our dinner, we went back to our hotel to rest to get ready for the night market. It was also near our hotel, about a 5 minute walk. They sell stuff which are almost the same as in Saigon Square, although some are more expensive in the night market. You have to be really wise in doing the haggling. But the Nike/Adidas dri-fits were relatively cheaper in the night market.


Tip: Always check the zippers of the bags when you buy from them. Although, they're kind enough to have it replaced, most stores only open late in the afternoon.



Day 2.

On our second day, we had our free breakfast buffet again courtesy of the hotel. After eating, we then went to their grocery store to see how it looks like and buy some Banh Hoi's (rice noodles, the struggle was real with this part because their sales ladies could not understand me. We had to google translate everything we were saying and it came to a point where they were asking me what food do i want to process haha stress level 100 i swear lol) and Vietnam chocolates for pasalubong.


After buying the things we needed, we head back to the hotel to pack our luggage with the things we bought from the supermarket. Then we headed to finish the tourist spots on our checklist: War Remnants Museum, Saigon Opera House and the Bitexco Tower.

The War Remnants Museum tells the story of the post Vietnam war against the USA, where the Vietnamese won against the Americans. During our visit, there were Vietnamese guards taking down notes and studying about the history of the war.







Souvenir Shop. They sell really pretty stuff and delicious chocolates! (yes they have free samples!)



After the War Remnants Museum, we decided to ride the cab that is metered that will take us to Saigon Opera House and the Bitexco Tower

( TIP!!!) Do not ride the Silver Taxi outside the museum because they will trick you with their meter (it ticks so fast!) and that we paid triple the amount because their trick is that at first, when you give them the payment that needs change, they will say something like they have not received your payment and that even if you check their pockets etc you didn't pay for it and will talk you out of confusion which leaves you no choice but to pay again.





And the best part of our trip.....

On our last night in Ho Chi Minh, we met up with my mom's friends - Julie and Stefan. They live in Vietnam and they took us to the famous restaurant where Angelina Jolie (yes, my ultimate idol since Tomb Raider to Mr. and Mrs. Smith) ate -  Cuc Gach Restaurant.

So right after we checked out of the hotel, we brought our luggage to the restaurant. They were very accommodating and they also helped us with our luggage and bags. The restaurant is actually located in a neighborhood and it doesn't seem like a restaurant at all on the outside. It's a house with a restaurant setting inside. I loved their food. It's one of the best meals I had.




One of the tastiest meals I ever had!



We also had the chance to tour around the neighborhood and see how Vietnamese houses looked like.






That ends our two day trip! So long, Vietnam! I will definitely visit you again soon!


Tip: if you're staying longer than two days, let's say about 4-6 days, visit the Mekong River, the Salt Farming Flatlands in Hon Khoi (take a domestic flight, train, or bus from Ho Chi Minh to Nha Trang), the Sand Dunes and Hanoi. I have several brochures here that I got from several travel agencies and tourist information desks in Ho Chi Minh. If you like, I'd be glad to share it with you!

Published by Danna Javellana