Saigon: A Four Day tour in Vietnam’s Capital

After four days in Bangkok experiencing the touristy version of Songkran, it was time for the next half of my holiday, a trip to Saigon! I don’t know much about Vietnam except when I watched Erwan’s overnight video, eating at Pho Hoa, and that it was a French colony. I’ve also been told it’s a bit of a shopping capital different from Bangkok since a lot of branded goods are manufactured in Vietnam.

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Bangkok’s DMK airport is located near Chatuchak area at the opposite end of Suvarnabhumi. It primarily houses domestic flights and low cost carriers.

I took a Nok Air flight whose base airport is in DMK. I chose Nok Air since I had a pleasant flight experience when I flew there going to Chiang Mai (and it was the rainy season when we flew). The plane I was in was also booked by a tourist group and it was only me and another person who was not part of the group.

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Really sad that I wasn’t able to get a window seat!

I was so sleepy throughout my flight that I didn’t even finish the flight safety demonstrations before I passed out. It was only a two hour flight from Thailand to Vietnam, so I was really excited to fall asleep. I woke up right when they were giving snacks so I got my bottled water and then slept again.

I experienced my first dilemma the moment I have gotten off the plane and got to the airport. My friend and I went on separate flights and were just supposed to meet there. I just followed the horde of people walking and I ended up in immigration. BUT! I had no embarkation card. My first thought was that the flight attendants probably figured I was Vietnamese and thought it was unnecessary. No worries, I looked around the area but I can’t find any of the immigration cards that they normally have everywhere. I tried to look at the people in line for the immigration and they all seem to be holding a small card. There doesn’t seem to be anyone I could ask and I am still a little bit disoriented from having just woke up. I decided to just line up and if my attention gets called then I’ll ask for the card and then queue again. The immigration line I got into seemed to take forever and each and every person was really scrutinized by the officer. I always have trouble in Philippine immigration when I fly out of the country so I was a little nervous. When it was my turn, he just stamped my passport and that was it! No questions asked. I was so relieved. Afterwards, I got my money exchanged and then went to look for my friend.

It was a little bit crazy outside the airport. Once you get off the escalator to get your bags you can already go outside, kind of like the airports in Manila. While waiting for our driver, we saw a trolley crossing the street. Just the trolley rolling down and the cars were just avoiding it and no one bothered to catch it at the other end! I wish I got a video of it because it was pretty funny.

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The one thing I noticed is that Vietnam really makes use of their OOH capabilities. So many bright LED lights all over! It was such a bright sight. At the airport there were still a lot of cars but as we went closer to our AirBnb, it became motorcycle heaven.

I was unable to take pictures of our room, but it was such a steal. It was an apartment/hotel set up which reminded me of uni. They did my laundry, and we even got to borrow a rice cooker and ask for some chili sauce. It’s a little bit outside the city center (about 15 minutes away) and sometimes the taxi we would get can’t find the place exactly (just at the end of the street) but our host was so nice and helpful!

We passed by the Independent Palace on our way to Ben Thanh Market. Most of the things to see in Vietnam is located in the same area. It’s a walkable city, just be careful of the motorcycles!

We didn’t have a fixed plan on what to do, so for our first day I went ahead to do some shopping for some people at work.

The only picture of Ben Thanh Market that I managed to take.

Ben Thanh Market is an experience. If I managed to take more pictures I would probably write a separate post on it. I like to shop (the window kind), and I enjoy looking around and seeing what each store has to offer. This place was overwhelming. There’s a lot of people, tourists and locals, going around. They pretty much sell everything there, even tailored suits. I managed to buy a few souvenirs and some cool earrings. My favorite part is that the vendors know how to say ‘hello’ and ‘buy here’ in whatever your local language is. They greeted my friend in Filipino, but they kept greeting me in Thai when I was there!

There was so many to see and buy that I suggest once you find something, don’t go around trying to find it sold cheaper. I think their prices are standard and just a matter of bargaining.

After that we had our nails done! I was itching to get gel nails in Bangkok but wasn’t able to get a manicure there due to Songkran affecting the schedule.

My first time to get nail extensions! Never have I ever felt so useless with my hands.

It took a while but it is so beautiful! I have been thinking of getting them for a while now but it is always so expensive back home and I haven’t found a place that seems knowledgeable enough on it. I do feel a little bit troubled with some stuff such as picking up flat objects off the ground, opening soda cans, getting money from my wallet. It’s like having freshly painted nails all the time!

After that we decided to grab some food. We were famished so we ate at the first place we saw. It was a pizza place that was really, really good. I had risotto and pizza. Such a headache finishing it but it was so worth it as we hadn’t eaten in so long.

From the Asian streets, we got transported to Europe!

It was time for more exploring! I wanted to see the post office as it is suggested by every travel blog I read. It didn’t seem too far so off we walked. We kept walking and eventually ended up in the city hall.

Even crossing this tiny street was a bit tricky. Such a pretty establishment though.

People kept on walking past it so I wasn’t completely sure if we were allowed to take pictures. Cars pass through that street so it was a bit hard to take the shot that I wanted.

We walked a bit more and I saw the Notre Dame from afar. It was under construction and there was mass at the time.

The best shot I could take of the Notre Dame.

We went to the post office first. There were so many people, but it was such a sight to behold! You can really see the French influence in its architecture from the outside. Even if you don’t deep dive into the specifics, the colors, the façade, and the structure is so different from your typical Asian architecture.

Just look at the details! Such an interesting and picturesque building.

I have never been to Europe but the Philippines was under Spain’s colony for 300 years and I can see similarities in some of the buildings. I’m sure the finer details would show the differences but the Spanish buildings we had slightly resembles the French buildings that they have there.

I am fascinated with the façade. I think I spent a good ten minutes just basking it in. There is something about it that just makes you stop and stare. This was also the best we could do for photos because tourists are all coming and going.

We went inside and it was just magnificent. It’s different from the post offices here, definitely. I felt like I went inside Gringott’s or some major train station.

This is the first thing you see when you step in. There is also an area that showed the time zones of major cities. The ATM booths were probably some kind of counters before or telephone booths that they have converted. Really interesting.

After a few more minutes, we crossed the road to the Notre Dame.

The scaffoldings surrounding it made it hard to take a nice picture of the church.

We didn’t stay here for long because it was a small place and it was super busy! We walked around and found a park. I just realized it is the same park the twins in ROS went to while they were waiting for their aunt. After sitting in for a few minutes, we went to the nearest mall (Diamond Plaza, I think?) because it was so hot! After that, I went to Saigon Square and was able to find a few things to buy as well as the signature Vietnamese cap (yes, I know what it stands for).

My friend stayed in a coffee shop because she didn’t want to shop for anything. Outside the coffee shop was a lady selling souvenirs. It was cheaper than in Ben Thanh and I was able to buy the traditional Vietnamese hat and a few other things. Another random seller chased me and I kept saying no since I have already bought a lot of stuff. Persist she must, and ended up chasing us until we were able to find a Ministop to hide in. I really thought she was going to follow me even inside! We bought a few things and then saw that she was waiting for us! It was a little crazy but after about ten minutes we were able to get a Grab and went as fast as we could to go in just in case she was hiding and waiting for us. We never went back to that area again.

We made our second day a bit more productive by visiting their museums. I love going to museums so I was very excited. Saigon has a lot of museums dedicated to different things but we went to three: War Remnants Museum, Fine Arts Museum, and the Ho Chi Minh city museum. The Fine Arts was closed when we went so we visited it the next day instead. I’ll talk about more in detail about the museums we went to on a separate post. What I really appreciate is that they don’t charge such hefty fees for entrances yet the museums are well kept. All were a little bit confusing to navigate without a guide (or maybe because we just don’t read). It’s well worth a visit because it makes you appreciate and understand how Vietnam is today. It’s an ASEAN country that I feel is close or similar to the PH, but when you go there, it is so different. It wasn’t like when I went to Singapore wherein I just felt that I was in a huge Makati or BGC. I feel that it’s because I have no notion of what Vietnam is like at all which made visiting here such a surprise.

Keeping true to my love of heights, we went to the Bitexco Tower for the Saigon sky deck and got offered a Heineken experience tour which was really cool. Bitexco tower has ended up being my favorite place in all of Saigon. A separate post will follow about our experience there.

The City Hall at night and Ho Chi Minh. This is a common picture that shows up when you check #HoChiMinh on Instagram but we didn’t see it until our last night when we walked upon this area. I didn’t realize that this was what’s behind us when we first walked there going to the post office.

We also watched two movies there in separate malls. Their movies are priced so cheaply! Even when converted into peso, it’s still lower compared to how much cinemas here cost. I love it. Their popcorn tasted a bit different. It’s a bit like kettle corn! Their cinemas are also smaller and will always have Vietnamese subtitles. The other movie we watched was Korean so that had English subtitles though.

A building filled with random shops. So glad we got to see it at night. The lights are so pretty and made each store stand out! I have never seen anything like this before.

Visiting Saigon is like entering random portals all throughout. Some areas look and feel a bit provincial, then after a few minutes of walking, you’d be transported to the business district. Some areas look so much like Asia (the sois of Bangkok, the busy streets of Manila) and then the next second it’s all European looking. The change is so vast that it just surprises you. It can feel a little bit confusing also because you’re never really sure where you are. I like how they managed to preserve certain areas coming from the French occupation and then build their own identity around it. You can never be too sure of what’s around the corner.

Some experiences in Saigon:

  • There doesn’t seem to be much public transportation? We relied on taxis and Grab all the time. They aren’t expensive though, apart from the airbnb to airport route, we were mostly charged at 25k VND per ride.
  • It is walkable just be alert. Some motorcycles pass through even on the sidewalk and traffic lights are merely just a suggestion. Prior crossing we just go for it or try to walk along with a crowd. I read about pickpocketing being common, but I never really had that feeling or vibe. It was crossing the road that was scarier.
  • Haggle. They are nice people! I don’t and am not good at haggling but it seems to be the game here to get the price that you want.
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