Cheers to my 5th country and my second in South East Asia! November 2019, I've finally checked Vietnam on my travel bucketlist. It's been a long overdue but you know, things happen for a reason. I am officially landed at Uncle Ho's land, finally! I am officially on my second IndoChina country. Today, this bustling and vibrant city called Ho Chi Minh (HCM) was formerly known as Saigon. And this country is a visa-free for Filipinos.
Coming from the Philippines, travel time was roughly a 3 hour flight via Cebu Pacific Ho Chi Minh-bound. We landed at Tan Son Nhat International Airport Terminal 2 around midnight already. There's a time difference between Philippines and Ho Chi Minh - the latter being behind of 1 hour. And I am only here for 4 days.
So yes, I am really in Vietnam. The ground temperature is 26 degrees that time. The sights, sounds, and scenes outside the arrival hall were insane! Taxi drivers kept on chasing tourists. And oh! the smell of traffic. Something very South East Asia.
Vietnam was once colonized by the French. Some establishments and buildings were French-inspired - a very European, indeed. It has a tropical weather too. They
don't have an airport train yet and their subway is still under construction as of November 2019. This country is known for its strong coffee, the land of motorcycles (yes, this is their major mode of transportation and it can fill the whole street), banh mi (Vietnamese baguette filled with ingredients like meat, vegetables, and coriander leaf), pho (pronounced as "fuh", a Vietnamese rice noodle soup consists of beef or chicken, and herbs), and non la (Vietnamese conical hat).
Honestly, their language and alphabets and it was written were a bit struggle on my part especially when I am booking for a GrabCar or reading a street name. Their dong currency as well made me feel intimidated at first.
But there's these things I am pretty sure about. The country is rich in nature's wonder and UNESCO World Heritage sites, with a vibrant culture as well as their traditions and rich historical background worth remembering. Most of all, Vietnamese were hospitable. They have a deep faith to their religions. Their food was amazing - it reflects their culture. The local life was so simple and laidback.
So after the Immigration clearance, picking our luggage and some foreign exchange, we took
GrabCar going to our accommodation at District 7 (it's free!) which was my companion's relative who offered us to stay there. They also fetched us at the airport.
Day 1: Exploring District 1
Woke up at 6AM, feeling a little bit tired and groggy while my body clock was adjusting to the IndoChina time. We battled the motorcycle capital of South East Asia on our first full day and grabbed some fried egg banh mi for breakfast. Vietnamese coffee was seriously strong. Hop on to the motorbike, first explored was the iconic and stunning Saigon Notre Dame Cathedral, however that time, it was closed for renovation then off to Saigon Post Office besides the cathedral. Send some postcards going home too for VDN15,000 (roughly Php33.00). Also checked out this quaint coffee shop and bookstores at the back of Saigon Post Office. For shopaholics, Vietnam is ideal for bargain hunters especially at Ben Thanh Market and Saigon Square for some cheap finds. You just need a haggling skills.
For lunch, we settled for some barbeque and rice and splurged VDN242,550 (roughly Php531.00) at this restaurant named Bep Nha Luc Tinh tucked a bit from the highway in District 1.
The restaurant has a nice interior and garden and the staff were attentive.
The famous Ben Thanh Market has everything: clothes, foods, snacks, souvenirs, even utensils, you named it. The prices were a dirt cheap.
Vietnamese often eat and have drinks at this "low and little" plastic tables and chairs at the streetsides.
Day 2: Visiting Temple and Exploring Mekong River Delta
Mekong River that runs on 4 different countries namely Cambodia, China, Vietnam, and Thailand plays an important role in the lives of people near the river. We booked this tour for our Day 2. From our accommodation, we took GrabCar going to District 1. The travel agency has its sign board "Trippy" which is our meeting place in De Tham Street in District 1, the backpacker district. Bought our meals at Starbucks for VDN115,000 (roughly Php252.00) nearby and prepared for this guided tour. This is a sort of like bus/land tour with a beautiful views of a verdant ricefields with river cruising included. The tour started at HCM at 8:30AM.
We first went to Vinh Trang Pagoda at My Tho with a smiling and reclining Buddha then off to a boat ride overviewing stilt houses spotted
and have some lunch at Tortoise islet for a pork meal. After lunch, we went to visit this coconut candy maker and watched how it was made. Few minutes later, we had a short cruise at this little boat paddled manually in a little canal shaded by numerous trees, shrubs, and coconut trees and we went to this place serving some honey drinks and fruits while listening to local songs performed by the locals.
The 8 hour tour was tiring yet interesting and educational. And so, we were back to HCM, grabbed some food and coffee (VDN12,000 or roughly Php27.00) before we go back to District 7.
That night, we went again to Ben Tanh Market for some little shopping, tried this mouth-watering and delicious pho in one of the restaurant recommended to us and also checked out People's Committee of Ho Chi Minh.
Day 3: Free Day
We made it to the Bitexco Financial Center, one of the famous and stunning skyscraper in HCM on our last day in Saigon plus did some last minute shopping and had some coffee.
The observatory deck offers a panoramic views of the city. At 7PM, we went to Tan Son Naht Terminal 2 Airport for our flight at 1:15AM Vietnam Time back to our motherland.
*I did some foreign exchange at the Tan Son Naht Airport and the rate was disappointing though, part of it was my fault. Better yet, withdraw from ATM.
*Traffic in HCM during rush hour was seriously annoying just like in Manila.
*Not all Vietnamese can converse in English.
*Be cautious always. Take good care of your gadgets especially when crossing the street. The cyclo capital is pretty dangerous and I was like having this penguin walk while crossing the street.
*Most backpackers preferred Pham Ngu Lao, District 1 for its cheap accommodation rate and it is accessible to some famous tourist attractions
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