Savoring Saigon in 48 hours

5:34:00 AM


I survived crossing the streets of Saigon!

Ho Chi Minh City is also referred to as Saigon. As Vietnam's largest city, it has a feel of liveliness and pandemonium at the same time that can be at once thrilling and wearying. I’ve been to Vietnam three times. My first visit was in Saigon. The other two were in Hanoi, Ha Long Bay, Hue and Hoi An. I can’t say Saigon is my favorite of these four destinations. Not because it’s not attractive enough. Just that to me, it resembles my hometown, Manila - only greener. It’s a fast paced, forever moving city.  And like most tourists who visit Vietnam, I didn’t miss wearing the iconic conical hat as I cross the streets of Saigon!

Cebu Pacific seat sale and our Indochina route in a nutshell
For this trip, Vietnam wasn’t our main destination. It was more of a layover for an exit flight back to Manila. We bought our open-jaw tickets from Cebu Pacific for Manila to Bangkok, then Ho Chi Minh City to Manila for Php 5,000 ($107). 
Our Indochina route:
• Day 1 to 3 - Bangkok
• Day 4 to 10 - Siem Reap, Phnom Penh, Sihanoukville, Kep Province
• Day 11 to 12 - Ho Chi Minh City

The Basics
Visa - For ASEAN member countries like the Philippines, a visa is not required. Filipinos can stay in Vietnam for 21 days for holiday purposes.

Get in - Philippine Airlines, Cebu Pacific and Air Asia fly to Ho Chi Minh City from Manila. If you’re coming from Phnom Penh, a 7-hour bus ride costs $13. Buying tickets is painless since you can book them through your hotel.

Accommodation - Cheap hostels are located near Pham Ngu Lao and District 1. Hostel bed costs $5 per night, while private rooms cost $20. We stayed in Phan Anh Backpackers Hostel for $20 with free breakfast. It’s a 10 minute walk from the popular Ben Thanh Market and a 10 minute drive from the War Remnants Museum. If money is not an issue, The Reverie Saigon ($305) looked so luxurious and stylish!

Transportation - Saigon is a walkable city so there’s no need to use public transportation all the time. The traffic in the city can just be a bit intense though. To save time, riding a Xe Om (say om) is a good option. Basically, it’s a motorbike taxi. Short rides within the city would cost 20,000 to 50,000 VND (Php 50 to 100). “Opium, sir?” This must’ve been an introduction of some xe om drivers to innocent tourists. You probably don't want to go with someone offering you drugs or prostitutes. Exercise caution every time you ride the motorbike taxis.

motorbike ride in saigon
Xe om ride around the city

Our itinerary for 48 hours in Saigon

A city tour is on the books when you visit Saigon. If you want to skip the group tours, you can definitely see the city in do-it-yourself style. Just in case you’re staying near Pham Ngu Lao, take a motorbike taxi to the farthest tourist spot to save time. (Check this map for an overview of the city)

Day 1 - DIY City Tour

First Stop: Notre Dame Cathedral Saigon
The Notre Dame Cathedral was established by French colonists and it has two bell towers, reaching a height of 58 meters. The church has a beautiful exterior. We didn’t have the chance to get inside the church because it was close at noon time. Though I just learned that if the front gates are locked, you can try the door on the side facing the Reunification Palace.
Fee: None
Time needed for visit: 15-30 minutes

Outside Notre Dame Cathedral Saigon
Outside Notre Dame Cathedral Saigon
Second Stop: Saigon Central Post Office
Did you know that the Central Post Office was designed by Gustave Eiffel? Yup, the same person who built the Eiffel Tower. You will see the famous post office just within the proximity of the Notre Dame Cathedral. A mosaic of Ho Chi Minh is displayed at the end of its barrel-vaulted hall.
Fee: None
Time needed for visit: 15-30 minutes

Inside Saigon Central Post Office
Inside Saigon Central Post Office
Third Stop: The Reunification Palace
Before you reach the Reunification Palace, you will see real tanks and fighter jets displayed in the area. A USSR-made tank that was used to break through the side gate of Independence Palace and a US fighter jet that bombed the palace were included in the exhibits. The ground floor of the building is arranged with meeting rooms, while the upper floor has a grand set of reception rooms.
Fee: VND 30,000 / PHP 70
Time needed for visit: 45-90 minutes

Reception rooms inside the Reunification Palace
Fourth Stop: The War Remnants Museum
Just like the Reunification Palace, there are tanks and jets displayed outside the museum. The War Remnants Museum has very good and educational exhibits. The artifacts convey the brutality of war to the soldiers and civilian victims. The exhibits include infantry weapons, bombs, vintage telephones, the guillotine, tiger cages that used to house the VietCong prisoners. I was horrified by the photos of the victims of war especially the children.
Fee: VND 15,000 / PHP 35
Time needed for visit: 60-120 minutes

saigon war remnants museum
Photo exhibit of different tortures during the war
Fifth Stop: Ben Thanh Market
Cheap souvenir items can be found in Ben Thanh Market. Beware of vendors who literally use force for you to buy what they’re selling. My boyfriend was gripped by a lady vendor in this market and forced him to buy the red Vietnam tshirt that he merely touched! Because he didn’t want to “fight back” and cause commotion, he just bought that crappy shirt. I think it’s safe to say, do not touch anything that you don’t intend to buy. It’s okay to bargain vigorously.
Fee: None
Time needed for visit: Depends on your shopping appetite

Day 2 - Mekong Delta Tour

A popular option is a day trip to the iconic Mekong Delta. A second option is to make your way to the famous Cu Chi tunnels. I heard Cu Chi is a nice place but we chose to tour Mekong Delta because of the picturesque bonsai palm trees in the photos of Saigon. We were walking along Pham Ngu Lao and saw a $9 whole day tour to Mekong. I was sold.

The Mekong Delta Tour is composed of 90% tour of live manufacturing of honey, coconut candies and some native products. While you’ll experience some forced shopping, it’s still better than spending a hot day in HCM. What disappointed me though was that the Mekong river boat ride didn’t even last for 15 minutes. And you can’t ride it again because the path is not a circuit. The tour guide and the rest of the group will be waiting for you at the end of the boat tour. Also, it was not that beautiful like in the photos. The rower would also ask for money if they take a photo of you and when you’re about to leave the boat. The lunch was mediocre. I can’t say I did not enjoy the tour 100% because we met some cheerful locals during the tour. Well, what can I expect for a full day tour that only cost $9?
Fee: $9 all-in with plated lunch
Time needed for visit: 6-7 hours

mekong delta tour
Short boat ride in the Mekong River
What I liked about Saigon…
• Vietnamese Coffee - in Vietnam, coffee is brewed directly through a small, metal filter. Then, you'll add ice to the coffee with condensed milk. Vietnamese coffee is creamy and strong. It’s like no other I’ve ever tasted.
• The food - always fresh; has many veggies
• Tourist spots being centrally located and are accessible by foot
• War museum and artifacts - will make you realize how terrifying it is to live in a war era
• There are lots of trees despite being a densely populated city
What I didn’t like…
• The honking while you’re crossing the streets. It can burn you out.
• Motorbike drivers who would ask if we were looking for drugs or prostitutes
• Nothing much to do aside from a full day of sightseeing
• Rude vendors in Ben Thanh Market

Summary of Expenses for a 48-hour tour of Saigon

Particulars
Price in PHP
Motorbike from bus station to hotel
₱50.00
Private Accommodation with breakfast
₱450.00
Food (if Php200/meal)
₱1,000.00
Motorbike from hotel to Notre Dame
₱75.00
Entrance fee to attractions
₱105.00
Mekong Delta Tour
₱405.00
Total in PHP
₱2,085.00
Total in USD
$46.33
Not included:
* Bus from Phnom Penh to Saigon: $13
* Taxi from Saigon to Tan Son Nhat Airport $10

saigon motorcycles
Normal street scene in Saigon
Delish steak!
My favorite in Vietnamese cuisine: Vietnamese coffee, Pho, Banh Mi, Bun Cha (not in photo)
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XO,


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Suggested Reading:
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