Vietnam is Calling!
Vietnam is a Southeast Asian nation and a neighboring country of the Philippines. We spent a total of 6D/5N in its capital city, Ho Chi Minh just this August 2018.
This blog is part of the Penfires Vietnam Series.
You may want to considering adding this famous amusement park in Vietnam to your Ho Chi Minh itinerary: Suoi Tien Theme Park!
Last year, there was this special set up that welcomes guests entering the boarding gates area of NAIA Terminal 3. The display was that of the national clothing of the different ASEAN member states.
The dresses on display were beautiful, very different from our own Philippine national costume baro’t saya and barong tagalog. I can’t let the opportunity for good photos slip, so yes, I posed beside the national costumes of Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, Thailand, and Myanmar.
But it was only my picture beside the Vietnamese national dress, ao dai, that I posted on social media tagging my husband, and with the caption “Vietnam is calling, @fieldtripboy”.
Indeed, this country calls. Wanderlust engaged.
PROMO AIRFARE TO HO CHI MINH
Several months after, there was this awesome Cebu Pacific promo fare which includes sale flight to and from Vietnam. Without second thought, we booked 2 persons round-trip tickets Manila to Ho Chi Minh to Manila.
Without any add-ons, the ticket price RT for two persons was only PHP 4,955.16.
A week before our flight, we added prepaid baggage allowance and paid an extra PHP 3,540.00, representing 32 kilos of check-in bag allowance for the flight going to Vietnam and 40 kilos of bag allowance for the return flight to Manila.
Total airfare for our vacation in Ho Chi Minh is PHP 8,495.16, divided by 2, it’s PHP 4,247.58 each. Did we score a good deal from Cebu Pacific? I think so.
*It is better to buy prepaid baggage than be surprised by the exorbitant baggage fees at the airport check-in counter.
My bro in law and his gf just booked tickets to Ho Chi Minh after listening to our stories and learning food trips there are cheap plus there is an opportunity to score bargain products for their online shop.
They booked Philippine Airlines promo tickets and will be flying next month September for PHP 7,000+ each round trip via PAL, with 30 kilos per person, each way.
Wait for seat sale if gustong makatipid via Cebu Pacific, Philippine Airlines, Air Asia. 🙂
If gustong di masayang ang isang araw na hotel accommodation, book Philippine Airline ticket going to Ho Chi Minh. PAL flight departs Manila at 6 AM. *Cebu Pacific departs MNL to HCM evening time.
If gustong late na ang flight pabalik ng Pilipinas, go for Cebu Pacific flight at 10 PM. PAL Manila to Ho Chi Minh flight departs at 9 AM.
Hello There, Saigon! We have arrived!
GET A SIM WITH INTERNET ACCESS
I’d like to emphasize that having internet access in Vietnam is very handy, recommended even. You can use it to follow directions dictated by Google Maps. You can use it to avail of online transport services like Grab. You can do research for tours, etc. And most importantly, with the Google Translate App downloaded and an internet access, you can have a successful question – answer interaction with the Vietnamese people, who generally doesn’t understand nor speak English.
We got our internet-ready sim from the airport, for 300,000 VND good for 7 days of Unlimited High-Speed Internet Access. The sim can accept calls but can’t make outside calls and txt. There are sims available with internet and txt/call plan.
*We changed USD to VND in the forex counter located to the right of the immigration area. The sim-selling kiosk is right beside the money changer.
*There are money exchange establishments in Ben Thanh market area which accepts Philippine peso for changing to Vietnamese Dong.
Vietnam doesn’t have coins, only paper bills with 1,000 VND as the smallest denomination. Highest denomination we observed was 500,000 VND. Yep, mabilis maging milyonaryo pag nasa Vietnam hehe.
1,000 Vietnamese Dong is equal to 2.23 Philippine Pesos at today’s exchange rate.
AIRPORT TRAVEL TIP
If it will be your first time abroad, check out these useful tips to avoid getting offloaded by Philippine immigration officer.
When you get to Vietnam and if you are a Philippine passport holder or a passport holder of ASEAN nations, line-up in the “ASEAN” immigration counter.
There was a Korean flight which arrives almost the same time as ours, nagkita-kita kami sa immigration.
We were originally lining up in the “All Passport” counters, we noticed that the queue moves slowly on our lane as well as other ‘all passport’ lane. After standing for several minutes and observing the happenings, it began to dawn on us that the Koreans show documents to the immigration officer before getting approved and their passport stamped, yet at the ASEAN counter, saglit na saglit lang ang mga naka line-up dun!
Kaya ayun, we switched lanes and true enough, we got our entry-stamp fast.
*Vietnam immigration officer just took our passport, keyed-in some things in his monitor, stamped the passport and we were off to go. As in no question was asked, it’s the same with Titus.
Of the 9 ASEAN passport holders in front of us, only one had a conversation with the officer, and mabilis na convo pa yun ha.
If you don’t have hotels booked yet, you may want to check out the discounted Vietnam accommodations in Ho Chi Minh via Agoda.
Vietnam is a motorcycle country, can’t deny that. There are just so many of them in the roads especially during rush hours. But despite this, crossing streets with tons of motorcycles coming at you from different directions was not an an issue for us. Maybe it’s because we are Filipinos and are used to chaos on the road? Mayhap. Plus, it helps that the motorcycles stop or veers away from you as you cross the road.
My lamentation is only that some motorcycle riders will not hesitate to climb onto the pedestrian lane near intersections, to beat others waiting for the traffic light to turn green.
*There are lots of establishments offering motorbikes for rent to tour the city and the countryside. Or you can also contact a travel agency for their motorcycle tour if you want a driver / guide.
By the way, I just have to say this ang mura ng transport fare dun. Imagine a bus ride covering 17 kilometers at only 6,000 VND or about PHP 14 lang! Mura din mag Grab app.
HISTORICAL SITES IN HO CHI MINH
What are these top tourist spots in Saigon? It includes the following:
- Independence Palace or the Reunification Palace
- Saigon Notre Dame Cathedral
- Saigon Central Post Office
- War Remnants Museum
- Ben Thanh Market
- Opera House
PLUS, Bitexco Financial Tower / Saigon Skydeck
We scoured online blogs and Vietnamese websites to get idea of tour prices prior to the trip, one site offers group tour to visit the sites no. 1 to 6 on the list above for USD 30 each person or about PHP 1,600 per pax.
Did we avail the group tour? No, we prefer DIY, and walking to get to places.
Saigon is a walk-friendly city. There were lots of huge, towering trees lining up major roads. Park packets are also scattered around the city.
If you are going for a historical tour in HCMC, consider going for the do it yourself route. You own your time plus can set your own pace.
Some friends who have been to Ho Chi Minh ahead of us mentioned it can get scorching hot there, but when we were there, temperature was moderate, usually 25 to 29 degree Celsius with occasional rains. Might be because its no longer summer in the tropics?
DIY WALKING TOUR in HO CHI MINH CITY
Ho Chi Minh can be explored on foot, at least for its major historical sites in the city center in a single day. But if you get easily tired, taking a taxi or Grab car to go to the next spot is recommended.
The do-it-yourself historical walking tour in Saigon is very doable, just armed yourself with Google Maps and follow its direction prompts.
We stayed in Paradise Saigon Boutique Hotel, this is located in the Ben Thanh area. Walking from our hotel to the Independence Palace, our first stop, was less than 20 minutes-walk, it’s just 1.3 kilometers away.
The Independence Palace, also known as the Reunification Palace, is an important historical building in Vietnam. This is the location where the signing of the documents for the formal surrender of South Vietnam to the northern forces happened, signifying the end of the Vietnam War.
The divided country became one, once again; reunified in this important place.
*There is an entrance fee of 40,000 VND.
This nation went through a very painful period in their history, the two tanks and the F5E fighter plane on the ground of the Independence Palace is a constant reminder of this painful past yet at the same time these same war machines also symbolizes the triumph of the Vietnamese people.
We didn’t stay too long in the reunification Palace, we proceeded to the Saigon Notre Dame Cathedral.
Saigon Notre-Dame Basilica
*From the Reunification Palace to Cathedral – exit on the palace main gate, just walk straight for about 7 minutes to cover 500 meters, and you are there.
This is the back of the Basilica:
Alas, a barricaded basilica greeted us when we got there due to an on-going renovation. We can’t enter its premises so tourists like us just took souvenir shots of the chuch facade.
Just beside the Cathedral is another famous landmark of the city, the Saigon Central Post Office.
Don’t worry, you’ll spot it immediately.
Saigon Central Post Office
There is a souvenir shop inside the Post Office building, we bought some stamps for a friend who is into stamp collecting.
A huge picture of Ho Chi Minh, perhaps the most famous and respected Vietnamese communist revolutionary leader, welcomes you to the post office.
*The money in Vietnam also bear the face of the Vietnam war hero, former prime minister and president.
After the post office, we walked to the right and stumbled upon this car-free street lined by book stores upon book stores selling books of course, plus stationery, postcards, canvas bags etc.
If you love reading, this place is a bit of heaven. Although, a huge majority of the books are written in Vietnamese, only very few were in English.
Curious thing, there are lots of Harry Potter books here as well as in the mall bookstores we’ve been to. Plus, I remember the Suoi Tien Theme Park surprise of the Hogwarts Castle, lol.
The next on the agenda if you are doing DIY walking tour in Ho Chi Minh would be visiting the War Remnants Museum. From the Saigon Central Post Office to the museum is about 1.1 kilometers away or about 15 minutes-walk.
*You are actually backtracking here. The best DIY walking route in my opinion would have been:
War Remnants Museum > Independence Palace > Saigon Notre Dame Cathedral > Saigon Post Office > Optional: Book Street > Ben Thanh Market > Opera House > Bitexco Saigon View Deck
*Install Google Maps if you haven’t yet, it is really useful for the walking tour!
The next tourist spot for the tour will be the Ben Thanh market. This is a sprawling complex and home to hundreds of sellers of Vietnamese local products as well as fake / surplus branded bags, wallets, and shirts.
Ben Thanh Market
This is a “tourist market”, so prices here are a bit higher compared to the markets frequented by the locals.
The major advantage of this place is that it’s a convenient one stop shop for your pasalubong plus the sellers can speak a bit of English. Prices in Ben Thanh is wayyy cheaper versus airport prices. Just remember to haggle.
Example: We hoarded Vinamit mix fruit chips 250 grams packs. In Ben Thanh, this famous product sells for 60,000 VND, in the airport it sells for 110,000 VND. In the ViVo City supermarket Co-op Extra, this same product sells for 66,500 VND.
Another sample: We bought a pack of 4 Vietnamese embroidered pouch which sells in Ben Thanh night market for 50,000 VND. We bought a similar pack earlier in the day in a store inside Ben Thanh market for 80,000 VND. In the airport, the pouches were sold separately for 70,000 VND a piece. It looks and feels the same. Lol.
Coffee, tea, dried fruits, Vietnam souvenirs are available from many sellers in this market.
BALI BAGS in BEN THANH MARKET
The Bali bags is a trend in the Philippines, it’s so hype-up and coveted that my sister had ordered from an online seller because it’s ‘pretty’ and ‘cool’.
When we got to Ben Thanh market, we spotted a seller on a store facing the road, technically still outside. We asked the prices and bought 3 right away for pasalubong to bring home.
That first store we asked and bought bali bags from is selling it cheap versus prices in the Philippines. But alas, turns out the bags are cheaper in the stores inside the market itself, lol. Naengganyong bumili agad, ayun tuloy haha.
I sent the pic of the bali bags to my sisters to have her choose which one she likes. She asked how much it was, told her we bought it for 330,000 VND or about PHP 750. She said that the one she bought online was PHP 1,800! Whoa, more than double the price!
After choosing, she requested me to buy more, saying she’ll reimburse me, so I did but this time we bought from a store inside the market. We’ve learned our lesson.
To cut the story short, the prices in the outside store is 350K VND, after haggling we got the bags at 330K VND a piece. On the other hand, the prices inside Ben Thanh market was 350K VND haggled down to 250K VND.
*It’s also good practice to ask other buyers the prices given to them for the same item you are planning to buy, then take it from there.
Yes, haggle, haggle, it’s a sport. But make sure before you haggle, you have every intention to buy. Walk away if the seller will not bring down the price to what you think is fair; chances are they will stop you, pretend to call their boss, and agree to your price.
Of course, haggling a 350K VND bag down to 100K VND is next to impossible. The sellers must profit too for their wares.
By the way, the seller there said the product is called a ‘bamboo bag’ and not a ‘bali bag’, now you and I know, hehe.
Saigon Opera House
The Opera House is another historical building in Saigon.
You will only need to walk about 1 kilometer from the Ben Thanh market to the Opera House, or about 12 minutes’ walk.
We didn’t visit this place during our walking tour since we planned to watch the play A O SHOW in the Opera House on Titus’ birthday. Sadly, when we check for the show tickets online, turns out the A O Show production will start running again in Saigon Opera House come August 25th. We left Saigon August 8. :/
Bitexco Financial Tower – Saigon Skydeck
You can visit the Saigon Skydeck on the same day you will be doing your DIY walking tour in Ho Chi Minh. Best to go just before sunset so you will see the whole city light up.
Distance between the Opera House and Bitexco Financial Tower is only about 650 meters, or about 8 minutes’ walk. Again, follow the Google Map prompts as guide for your walking tour.
We opted to go to Bitexco on our last day in Vietnam.
This 50-floors high building claims to be one of the iconic buildings in the world. I haven’t actually heard of this building until we started researching about tourist spots in Ho Chi Minh. I may just be ignorant. Anyhow, some refers to this building as the Avengers Tower. If you have seen that film and a pic of the Bitexco building, you’ll get why.
There is an entrance fee of 200,000 VND to visit the Saigon Skydeck at the 49th floor (about PHP 455 / USD 9).
Other travel bloggers suggest that those who are on a tight budget but still wants to see the Ho Chi Minh skyline, to go up and visit the coffee shop one floor above the Skydeck, order an overpriced coffee, linger, stay, and enjoy the view. This is in lieu of paying the Skydeck entrance fee. But I don’t recommend this.
While it is true that the coffee shop is surrounded by the same clear glass like the Skydeck and offers diners a good, albeit limited, view of the city, still, the experience is very different between being in the coffee shop versus being in the Skydeck itself where you are free to roam, pose for pics, and marvel at the stunning cityscape of Sai Gon.
For one, in the coffee shop there are tables and other customers there which may obstruct the view. Another is that the wait staff is strict, you can’t move freely everywhere. *We attempted to check out the section near the helipad but the waiter stopped us, lol.
More importantly, if you are planning a ‘salisi’ or you plan to sneak into the view deck from the coffee shop, nope, it’s difficult to do that. Why?
Access to the coffee shop and the view deck is man by security personnel. When you exit the elevator and enter the 49th floor, if you have a Skydeck ticket, you will be welcome to the view deck and allowed to roam freely.
If you don’t have a ticket, you will be guided to the stairs leading to the coffee shop. Now, if you want to go down from the coffee shop, the wait staff will alert the Skydeck personnel, then the Skydeck personnel will open the mini gate for you and usher you to the elevator.
The skyline of Ho Chi Minh City is impressive from up high in the Saigon Skydeck in Bitexco Tower.
I wish we have something similar in the Philippine, a tower so high that you almost touch the clouds, but alas, might be a long wait still, but that’s okay.
MALL HOPPING – TOY HUNTING
This was a birthday trip of Titus; toy hunting was one of the main goals for this vacation, in fact, we had the big malls listed as part of the itinerary complete with addresses and contact numbers, lol.
This is the only point where Vietnam disappointed us. My husband collects Hot Wheels and Tomica cars; in every travel we always, always drop by malls to hunt for toys.
We traveled all the way to District 7 to check-out the toy stores inside SC Vivo City mall and Crescent Mall, we explored the malls in District 1, Parksons, Vincomm, Takashimaya, Diamond Plaza, Bitexco, but sadly his toy haul was only 4 Tomica cars. The stores do not even carry Hot Wheels, except for the Takashimaya department store.
This reality puts a damper to his spirit especially that he had such high hopes for a big Vietnam toy haul. To cheer him up, told him once we get to Japan, which is hopefully soon, he will surely find not only Tomica but also Gundam. I’m pretty sure of it.
Titus toy blog is at titustoyz.com in case you want to check. Nevermind his travel blog, fieldtripboy.com, it hasn’t been updated for ages, lol.
Food Trip in Ho Chi Minh
I dedicated a whole new post for our Vietnam food trips in Ho Chi Minh. 🙂
Southeast Asia Banana Pancake Trail
Among backpackers and travelers especially Westerners, there is what is called as the “Southeast Asia Banana Pancake Trail“, and Vietnam is part of it.
I think the fact that this country is easily accessible by land to other Asian countries like Thailand, Cambodia, Myanmar, etc, is a big factor. Added to that is the relative cheapness of hotels and food in Vietnam which entices more and more tourists to come visit.
When we told friends that we are flying to Vietnam, a few asked right away if we are crossing to Cambodia or Thailand or Laos? We said no, we will just focus on Ho Chi Minh.
It was astounding to see so many non-Asian foreign tourists in one place! We’ve been to Hong Kong, Macau, Singapore, Malaysia, Taiwan, and the majority of foreign tourists that we came across on those getaways are still Asians. But in Vietnam, a lot of them are westerners – family, couple, solo travelers, group of friends, all girls, all boys, mix, senior citizens, there are just so many visitors there from non-Asian countries.
As a sample, we had milk tea in this famous food park Street Food Market near Ben Thanh. Aside from us, we only spotted one table with locals and one table of Koreans, the rest are Westerners.
Tourism is definitely big in Vietnam!
Is 3D/2N enough in Ho Chi Minh? It depends on what you want to explore.
One full day is I think enough to do the historical sight seeing tour in Ho Chi Minh City. If you have more days for exploration, you may want to go for a side trip to Chu Chi Tunnel, or explore the Vietnamese sand dunes and desert, visit the floating market in Cai Rang or Cai Be, or even go as far as Da Nang to experience Bana Hills, or to Da Lat or to Hanoi or yes, Halong Bay!
Vietnam is a big, beautiful country. Ho Chi Minh is just a small part of it. There is a lot more to explore!
The way we travel have changed. We are no longer the old travel bloggers we were before. We no longer chase to fit as many popular spots in a single day. We no longer crave to experience all those ‘must eat, must see, must do’ recommendations of travel magazines and sites in a single trip.
We follow what the moment and mood enjoin us to do, see, eat, and experience. That’s why although we stayed there for 6D/5N, we only covered little of the ‘must’ but that is the way we want it.
Do we regret it? Nope. For first timers in Ho Chi Minh, we had a great time. Plus, a next time is always a possibility.
See you again, Vietnam! Thank you for the experience and memories!
Cảm ơn bạn, Việt Nam! Thank you!!!