Monday, September 23, 2013

Day 1: Ho Chi Minh (Saigon) City Tour

After finding our hostel, checking in, and being ushered to our 6-bed dorm-type room, I finally hit the sack at about 4 AM. I was tired as hell but relieved that several months of dreaming, waiting, and planning did not go to waste. I woke up a few hours later at mid-morning on a Sunday.

The first order of business for the day was to eat. I was starving! There are a couple of places to eat along our street but The Coffee Lounge caught my attention (It must be the purple umbrellas.) I had bacon, eggs, bread, and iced coffee. It was a bit pricey for my standards but when you’re hungry, you cannot be so picky. I didn’t want to try Vietnamese food just yet. *wink*

Second order of business for the day: exchange our USD to Vietnamese dong (VND). This was a bit of a challenge at the start. Although Vietnam is known to be one of the low-cost tourist destinations in Asia, a lot of Vietnamese people know very little to no English. There are no English translations for shops or services so we had to rely on context clues and guts to ask shop owners. We probably walked an entire street just looking around before reaching an intersection and deciding we didn’t want to walk around aimlessly anymore. We decided to ask. We later found out that a lot of shops in Vietnam can exchange your dollars to VND. You just have to ask. And yes, if you need to, a little sign language or charades can help you put your question across. Also, a lot of shops accept USD so we saved our VND for expenses like fare and food.

Ga Saigon ticketing counters

We needed to purchase train tickets for our trip to Hanoi the next day so we took a cab to Ga Saigon (the train station). We had the same dilemma – no English translations. So we simply mimicked what the residents did despite the fact that we did not understand a single word on the slip of paper we had on our hands. Thankfully, it was the right thing to do. Now, time for some sightseeing!

Trung Nguyen's coffee-flavored ice cream

It started to drizzle after walking from the train station so we ducked into the nearest Trung Nguyen café to let the rain pass. Trung Nguyen is one of Vietnam’s homegrown coffee brands and there are cafes in almost every corner.

From Trung Nguyen, we decided to stop and look around Ben Thanh Market. They sell about almost everything in Ben Thanh from coffee beans, bags, and souvenir items. We bought a few items and when we remembered that we still have several days of traveling (and spending) to do, we swore to go back before flying back so we know how much money we can still burn.

An old Canon camera in the museum

Ho Chi Minh City Museum. This wasn’t part of our original itinerary but after a lot of wrong turns and stops, we somehow ended up here so we explored it anyway. For a small fee of 15,000 VND (around Php 30), you can see interesting pieces of artifacts from their history.

From the balcony of the Palace
Reunification Palace. The quest to find the Reunification Palace inspired a lot of travel tips for navigating the streets of Saigon. More on that in another post. Entrance fee was 30,000 VND.  From outside, it looks like Malacañang. I loved the water fountain in the middle of a very green circular field. Other than that, I found it too plain. What we found there are different meeting rooms with well-preserved furniture. Quite frankly, I enjoyed my museum visits more than this but then again, history was made here so it still feels great to visit a place that was instrumental to the country you’re visiting.

Amen!  A sight for the tired eyes.

Notre Dame Cathedral. A fellow Filipina we met at the Reunification Palace suggested we should check this out because of its architectural beauty and it was indeed a sight to see.

The clock on the building does the trick.

Central Post Office. The only reason we even trooped to this place was because we badly needed a map and a few people we asked told us this is where we could get it. The post office was also conveniently located beside the Cathedral so all we needed was to walk and get in. It’s a busy, busy, busy building with lots of people coming in and out. For some weird reason -- although I highly suspect it was the big clock on the façade of the building and the beautiful Old French interiors – I imagined I was in Europe. This place is a haven for tourists, too. 

My travel buddy & blogger Maan inside the Post.

There are several ATM machines, money exchange booths, items to sell, and a mailing center. It wouldn’t be called a post office for nothing. We lounged around a bit because we were tired from all the walking, even exchanged some USD, and just watched people doing their own transactions.  

Diamond Plaza. By the time we left the post office, my stomach was grumbling. We saw that there was a mall within the vicinity so we went in and guess what we found – KFC! Ahh, the little joys. Although their gravy is nowhere as lip-smacking as the one we have here, I was just glad I had my first rice of the day.  

Saigon Opera House at night.
 Saigon Opera House and City Hall. Dusk was starting to settle when we left the mall. We just had to see Saigon Opera House and the Ho Chi Minh City Hall, which are both astounding at night with the  lights illuminating the French-ness (if there is such a word) of the buildings.

Our tummies and our hearts full, we decided to call it a day.

Ho Chi Minh City Hall. There's actually a wedding pre-nup shoot happening right there!

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