Vietnam 2017: Ho Chi Minh City / Saigon

July 12 / 13

This year it was time to return to Asia, specifically, Vietnam. First: Ho Chi Minh City.

For first time we flew with the Turkish Airlines company.

First of all, recommend travel insurance. IATI are specialists in travel insurance and, for being our reader, you will have a 5% discount.

At the airport we exchanged some euros for Vietnamese dongs to have some cash for when we landed in Ho Chi Minh City, nothing more and nothing less than 2 MILLION DONGS!… 73€ (80.50$).

Vietnamese dong

At 5:05 p.m. we left Malaga airport for the stopover point: Istanbul.

The flight very well, calm and with quite good food. Upon landing, around 10:15 p.m., we stood on the runway for a while. Suddenly we started to hear screams a little further back. It turned out that there was a drunk bothering and a kid got fed up and started to beat the crap out of him. The crew immobilizes him and after a while we continue towards the terminal.

The terminal, at first, surprised us due to its small size and the crowds of people inside. We were really surprised since I had been told that the airport was huge. We assumed that we were in a satellite terminal like T4 in Barajas. Well, no, there were some half-hidden stairs in a corner that led to the rest of the endless airport terminal.

Ahead 4 hours of scale. Checking the timetable panels, we realized that our flight had Ho Chi Minh City as its destination and, at the same time, Hanoi. WTF!? We went to ask information and it turned out that the plane was going first to Ho Chi Minh City, that’s where we got off and the challenge continued to Hanoi.

At 2.15 in the morning we took off for Vietnam. About 11 hours later, around 5:15 p.m. on July 13, we landed at the Tan Son Nhat airport in Ho Chi Minh City.

We went through immigration where there were very long queues that were very slow. It took us about an hour and a half to pass the passport control but everything was fine.

We took so long that it had become night. We took bus 152 for 5,000VND (€0.18-$0.20) and got off at the Ben Thanh market stop, which was the closest to the hotel. When we got off the bus, we found ourselves with the first big problem: crossing the street.

If we knew that the transfer service with Civitatis was so cheap, we would not have complicated our lives so much.

Transfer in Ho Chi Minh

The traffic in Vietnam is really crazy. Millions of motorcycles that do not stop even by chance. She had already read it but she didn’t think it would be so grotesque. After waiting for a while, we decided to take a risk very, very scared. We did it.

Tips for crossing the street in Vietnam:

  • Always do it with a determined and constant step, if you stop or speed up, they run over you. Motorcycles are like sardines, they avoid you without problems.
  • Never, ever regret it and turn around, you’ll end up run over.
  • If it is a very wide avenue, wait for a local to cross and simply be their shadow. Imitate him in all his movements.

We managed to arrive safely at the hotel. It’s called Sanouva Saigon hotel. A small 4-star hotel that cost us €46 ($50.70) per night. In the room they had left us some mini bananas as a gift, very mini, which were very good.

Dinner time was upon us so we went to a place that the hotel recommended: the Ben Thanh Street Food Market. A kind of market with food stalls that gives the feeling that it was geared towards tourists. But hey, we ate well and cheap. It cost us 165,000VND (€6-$6.60).

Ben Thanh Street Food Market
Ben Thanh Street Food Market

With a full belly we went to bed because we were exhausted from so many hours of travel.

July 14

We got up at around 7 in the morning and squeezed in a good breakfast at the hotel buffet, including a delicious coffee like I had never had before, which turned out to be the coffee that genets shit… Sublime, I drank three coffees.

When we went outside, the intense heat and humidity hit us hard, making it clear that it was going to be with us for the next two weeks. I always had a clean shirt with me in my backpack and we took at least three showers a day.

We took a sweaty walk to the nearby Reunification Palace (Dinh Thống Nhất).

Reunification Palace (Dinh Thống Nhất)

We enter the palace from one side where the offices where we buy the tickets are. The price is 40,000VND (€1.47-$1.62).

The palace is a must-see because of its history (rather than its beauty). Here, in 1975, the fall of Saigon by the northern troops took place. The photo of a North Vietnamese tank smashing through the palace gates has become a symbol of reunification.

The palace is not particularly beautiful, but it does have spectacular and well-kept gardens.

Inside you can visit the reception room where the president received official visits, several rooms and an area used as presidential residence.

Reunification Palace (Dinh Thống Nhất)

In the basement we can visit an old military bunker and a games room and on the roof, an American military helicopter, I guess as a kind of spoils of war.

Reunification Palace (Dinh Thống Nhất)

From the palace we went for a walk through the Thong Nhat park to the Cathedral of Notre Dame or the Immaculate Conception (Nhà thờ Đức Bà).

Built between 1863 and 1880, it is the largest cathedral built by the French and was the largest building in Saigon for a long time.

In the square where it is located, the Công xã Paris, there is also a statue of the Virgin Mary built in Rome and transferred to Vietnam in 1959.

Cathedral of Notre Dame or the Immaculate Conception (Nhà thờ Đức Bà)

It is possible to access the interior but we could not due to some works that were being carried out.

Next to the cathedral is the Central Post Office (Bưu điện Trung tâm Sài Gòn). It is listed as one of the most beautiful buildings in Saigon. It was built between 1886 and 1891 by Gustave Eiffel, the creator of the Eiffel Tower in Paris.

Central Post Office (Bưu điện Trung tâm Sài Gòn)

The interior is quite spectacular for a post office, with its vaulted ceiling with gilt capitals and the old maps depicted on the floor. And of course… the portrait of Ho Chi Minh in the background.

Central Post Office (Bưu điện Trung tâm Sài Gòn)

Inside there is also a souvenir shop. There we bought some postcards to send to acquaintances and relatives (and to ourselves).

On one of the sides they had installed a kind of market with stalls where they sold books called (originally) Ho Chi Minh City’s Book Street (Đường sách Thành phố Hồ Chí Minh). We walked through there on our way to Nguyễn Huệ, a large boulevard that presides over the city hall building.

On the way we stopped at a supermarket to buy some soft drinks that cost us 11,000VND for both of us (0.40€-0.44$).

Known as a Popular Committee (Ủy ban Nhân dân Thành phố Hồ Chí Minh), it was built between 1898 and 1908. Access to tourists is not allowed, so we have to settle for looking at it from the outside. Of clear French colonial architecture, the building is beautiful and very well maintained.

Directly ahead is a statue of the national idol Ho Chi Minh waving. She is undoubtedly the star of the boulevard and at her feet there is always a bouquet of fresh flowers.

Popular Committee (Ủy ban Nhân dân Thành phố Hồ Chí Minh)

We walk down the boulevard quietly surprised by the luxury shops on both sides of the street. I never thought that I would be able to find these kinds of stores in Vietnam.

If you prefer, you can hire a fabulous City Tour with Civitatis to discover all the secrets of the city.

Walking we arrived at the Opera House (Nhà hát lớn Thành phố Hồ Chí Minh). Built in 1897 by the architect Félix Olivier, it is a beautiful example of the French colonial style.

After 1956 it was used as a lower chamber until 1975, when it regained its original function.

Opera House (Nhà hát lớn Thành phố Hồ Chí Minh)

While there we were approached by a couple of kids who were practicing english to do a little survey. They asked us if it was the first time in Vietnam, in Asia and things like that.

From here we took a good half-hour walk contemplating the city and its “calm” traffic to the Jade Emperor Pagoda (Ngọc Hoàng Điện).

The pagoda is one of the most important in Ho Chi Minh City. Built by the Cantonese community between 1892 and 1909, it is dedicated to the Jade Emperor, the supreme deity of Taoism.

Seeing the entrance it seemed that the temple was going to be quite seedy, but not at all. It is quite spectacular. A haven of peace within bustling Saigon.

Jade Emperor Pagoda (Ngọc Hoàng Điện)

Just before entering is the refuge of the turtles, a pond full of turtles. There must have been hundreds.

Inside, the light is very dim and some corridors are gloomy, but the rooms are beautiful.

Jade Emperor Pagoda (Ngọc Hoàng Điện)

We pass through several rooms until we reach some narrow and steep stairs that lead to the roof. From above we can see the beautiful and colorful roofs of the pagoda. The truth is that they are a true work of art with red wooden structures linked with green ceramic tiles.

Jade Emperor Pagoda (Ngọc Hoàng Điện)

On the way down we passed through a narrow corridor where we bought some offerings.

Entrance to the pagoda is free but donations can be left.

Leaving the pagoda, we went into a nearby 7eleven to buy some soft drinks and fresh water. When I left, I suppose the heat and humidity gave me such a drop in tension that we got into a taxi and ran to the hotel to rest a bit in the cool. The race cost us 54,000VND (€2-$2.20) and we were more than 3 kilometers away.

After a good shower and a little rest, we headed to a nearby restaurant that had been recommended to me. Getting there was quite complicated since we had to cross several avenues with really infernal traffic.

The restaurant in question is called Nhà hàng Dìn Ký and it serves typical Vietnamese food. We got to the top of eating and it cost us a whopping 236,000VND (€8.65-$9.50) for both of us. The food was also very good.

Nhà hàng Dìn Ký
Nhà hàng Dìn Ký

After eating, we took a walk and sat down at a Highlands coffee to drink some frappes. The Highlands coffee is a chain type starbucks but Vietnamese. They are everywhere. It is very good and they are cheaper than these. It cost us 59,000VND each (€2.16-$2.40).

Highlands coffee

Going to the bathroom I saw something a little disturbing. Long tweezers hung next to the toilet. what will they be for? I think I’d rather not know.

Highlands coffee

We were there quite a while with the air conditioning and wifi.

Cool and relaxed, we continued our walk as night fell. We walk through the financial center with the impressive new skyscrapers that are being built in the city.

We approach the spectacular Bitexco Finalcial Tower, the second tallest tower in Saigon with 262 meters and 68 floors. Opened in 2010, the lower floors are a shopping center for arguably the country’s upper classes. With multinational chain stores, prices are somewhat higher than in stores of the same stores in Spain.

Bitexco Finalcial Tower

We left there amazed at the prices and walked up Nguyễn Huệ Boulevard, where a stage had been set up and there was some kind of techno music concert. We sat there for a bit.

The boulevard at night is quite lively. We got to the town hall, passed the opera, the cathedral and the post office again. Wow, the morning tour again. The nightlife in the whole area is very good and the heat (the humidity does not) subsides a bit and you are more comfortable on the street.

On the way to dinner, we popped in to take advantage of the air conditioning at the Diamond Plaza shopping center. Another shopping center for the social elites because a pair of sneakers for €130 ($143.30) I highly doubt is within the reach of most Vietnamese.

Since we didn’t feel like racking our brains, we went back to dinner at the Ben Thanh Street Food Market like the night before. We had some baos for dinner that were very good for 165,000VND (6.05€-6.70$) for both of us.

Ben Thanh Street Food Market

If you have more time than us, we recommend a nice excursion to the Mekong Delta. We have it written down for our next trip.

Mekong Delta Tour

July 15

Last day in Saigon. We get up early and after a good breakfast with various vietnamese coffees, we head to the banks of the Sài Gòn River. On the way we passed the building of the National Bank of Vietnam. The building is quite impressive. When I went to take pictures of him, a policeman who was in a booth came out screaming to kick us out. Well, if you throw me out, I’ll take them out with the wide angle from afar… but it was difficult to take out, here I put the best ones I could take out:

National Bank of Vietnam
National Bank of Vietnam

We walked a little along the river bank and turned towards the center risking our lives to cross Đường Tôn Đức Thắng avenue. We were pretty scared.

I managed to record a video of how we crossed the avenue, being very scared:

Through the center we got into a taxi to get to the Vĩnh Nghiêm temple (Chùa Vĩnh Nghiêm).

This is a very recent temple. Built in 1964, it is the largest Mahāyāna Buddhist pagoda in Ho Chi Minh City. The relic tower is even younger and dates back to the year 1982.

Although not essential, it is a nice visit in Saigon. It’s a really quiet place compared to the bustling avenue it’s on.

Vĩnh Nghiêm temple (Chùa Vĩnh Nghiêm)
Vĩnh Nghiêm temple (Chùa Vĩnh Nghiêm)
Vĩnh Nghiêm temple (Chùa Vĩnh Nghiêm)

From here we walked to a bus stop to take one to the distant tomb of Lê Văn Duyệt (Lăng Tả quân Lê Văn Duyệt).

The bus was to see it. We sat down and soon a guy came by to collect our ticket. It cost us 3,000VND each ticket (€0.11-$0.12) and it was falling apart. There was a hole in the ground next to the gear stick that led to the road. Between that and the infernal circulatory chaos… quite an experience.

Ho Chi Minh City

The tomb was built to venerate the great Vietnamese military man Le Van Duyet (1763-1832). It is said that this place is invested with occult powers and there are often fortunetellers hanging around it, but we did not see any. That day we were practically alone.

tomb of Lê Văn Duyệt (Lăng Tả quân Lê Văn Duyệt)
tomb of Lê Văn Duyệt (Lăng Tả quân Lê Văn Duyệt)

You can visit the temple of the enclosure but you can not take photos. We take off our shoes and walk past the monk who I suppose was in charge of guarding the entrance to the temple, but the man was taking a good nap without knowing anything. By the way, the Vietnamese sleep a lot and anywhere.

It is very worth traveling the distance to the temple because it is very, very beautiful.

Since it was getting late, he had to find a place to eat. We decided on a Vietnamese chain specializing in Phở, the typical Vietnamese soup. His name is Món huế and they are all over Vietnam.

For 15,000VND (0.55€-0.61$) they gave me a liter of soup with several small containers with things to put in it. Next to us there were two ladies eating that by gestures told me to throw everything in the Phở. I very obediently pay attention and throw it away. I try it… MY GOD…!!! Everything I put on it stung like hell. I put on all the colors while the two old women peed with laughter. Anyway, I really like spicy. What I don’t like is cilantro and that soup had about 3 kilos of coriander. It didn’t taste like anything else, so I couldn’t eat it.

I ate another huge plate of noodles with meat and vegetables. Vietnamese food is very balanced, in all the dishes they put carbohydrates, some meat or fish and, above all, a lot of vegetables and vegetables. It eats wonderfully.

Món huế
Món huế

After eating we return to the hotel, but before we go to browse the Bến Thành market. There at a stall we bought a North Pole brand bag (of dubious origin and authenticity). In Vietnam you always haggle. At first she asked us for 300,000VND (€11-$12.15) and she haggled down to 200,000VND (€7.35-$8.10) on her own. I didn’t think it was a bad price so we agreed, although I’m sure I could have gotten a better price.

Bến Thành market Ho Chi Minh

Needless to say, the branded bag was already broken before leaving Vietnam but it was still usable.

Ben Thanh Market (Chợ Bến Thành) is the largest market in the city center and was established in the 17th century by local vendors near the Saigon River. In 1859 it is officially established by the French. It was destroyed by fire in the 1870s and later rebuilt to become the largest market in Saigon. In 1912 it was moved to its current location and renovated in 1985.

From here we went to pick up our bags and got into a taxi to the airport that cost us nothing and less.

We were flying to the city of Huế in the center of the country, with Vietnam Airlines. The flight cost us €51 ($60) each. Twice as long as the train but we saved 17 hours on the way.

We arrive in plenty of time and queue to check-in. Luckily they gave us the emergency exits at no extra cost so we will travel comfortably.

Next Entry

If you are interested in different excursions and tours, in the following link you have a multitude of activities at your disposal at a very good price:

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