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Crossing Borders: Vietnam Itinerary (Day 1)

This Southeast Asian budget trip took almost a year to conceive. Thanks to Piso fare promo, I have ample time to save up for the right budget. From Manila - Ho Chi Minh, the flight took almost 2 hours. We arrived in Vietnam close to midnight (Vietnam is an hour behind).

Ho Chi Minh city as seen from plane

For airport pick up, I arranged two taxis prior to our arrival which was taken care of by our hotel. Our accommodation was an easy 30 minute drive from the airport. A few minutes down the road, the sleepy street was slowly turning into a vibrant night life as we arrived in the colorful street of Pham Ngu Lao, Vietnam's backpacker's district.


Vietnam's colorful night life

Our driver lead us into an alley, where, in between modest hotels stands Bich Duyen, our home for the next 3 days.

alley leading to Bich Duyen Hotel

We were greeted by the friendly receptionist, processed our booking and asked to take off our shoes (it was customary to remove your slippers in the entry).  I reserved two standard rooms good for 3 persons each. 

our standard room

The air-conditioned room cost $30/night which includes one double and one single bed, a private bath, TV, closet and ref. That's just Php440 per pax and you get a free breakfast. It's super cheap right?!

Aside from its affordable rate, what I also love about this place is it's strategic location which is close to most of tourist spots of the city. We would also like to commend Bich Duyen for its good customer service (shout out to Mr. Chanh and his friendly staff) who were always willing to assist us and in patiently answering our inquiries. This quaint hotel is also situated in a quiet street corner, has clean rooms, offers tour arrangements and has a great homey vibe. 


The City Tour

Ready for the day's tour, our group, which comprises of travelers in their 20s, 30s, 50s and 60s, agreed to ditch the taxis and simply walk the long walk. Yup, never mind that we have a senior in tow, who by the way was the first to say "Let's walk". We are ready to check out the Ho Chi Minh and we are ready to take on the city stroll adventure.

ready for the day's walk

The first important place we need to find is a money exchanger, which was aplenty in Pham Ngu Lao. The rate at that time was $1 = 21,000VND. Viola, we were instant millionaires!


Vietnam Bank Notes

Now that we have our dongs in our pockets, we checked out the local market, someplace they call Benh Thanh Market.

There, you can find all sorts of just everything, from clothes to dried fruits. Our first buy? A good Vietnam hat to protect us from the heat. Vietnam is one hot country to explore. Buying a hat's a smart choice,  doubling as a travel souvenir. 

 Local spices and dried fruits inside Benh Thank Market

Outside Benh Thanh, we started asking for the way to Notre Dame Cathedral. We have a map, but asking locals seems much faster plus it adds up to the travel experience right? And Vietnam officers were more than helpful. They help us track our way and they help us cross the intimidating Vietnam streets. (check out our Travel Video)

(L) Vietnam Officer; (R) Sidewalk 

As we walk, my cousin saw a familiar tea shop she loves, Chatime.

Parks are visible almost everywhere. With our tea drink at hand, we giddily crossed from one park to the next, in awe at the many towering trees that stands in between street lanes. Despite the overwhelming number of motorcycles, the city is very conducive and safe for tourists and people who love to walk.

Vietnam Parks

Notre Dame Cathedral | Saigon Central Post Office

First tourist spot we visited was the Basilica of Our Lady of The Immaculate Conception, more popularly known as Notre Dame Cathedral. As faithful Catholics, we all agreed to visit the Cathedral first to offer some prayers and gratitude for arriving safe in Vietnam. Just a stone throw away is the Saigon Central Post Office, famous for its world renowned French artist, Gustave Eiffel. 

Inside the Post Office are more souvenir shops where sellers can be seen wearing their local Vietnam dress called áo dài. On the sides are European themed telephone booths and atm machines and of course, it's a working post office so you can buy stamps and post cards or send letters to your loved ones. Entrance if free and it's open from 8am to 5:30pm.

Notre Dame Cathedral and  the newly painted Saigon Central Post Office

Vietnam Scam Alert: Avoid Vendors selling coconut drinks.

Beware of the guy in gray who tried to scam my uncle. I took this photo because I had a bad feeling about the vendor,  and I was right.

Before the trip, I read online about coconut vendors in Vietnam who scam tourists by inviting them to pose for a photograph with their ganh – the bamboo yokes hung with baskets at each end used to carry the fruits around – and charge them a great deal. That is why I immediately warned my uncle to just leave the vendor as it could be a scam. Unfortunately, being a good natured man, my uncle agreed to buy a drink from him since he offered to help us track our way to War Remnants Museum. Lo and behold, he gave us an outrageous price. We argued with the vendor. He just left when we told him we're going to report him to the police. That was the only negative experience we had in Vietnam. Oh well every country has these sort of scams.

We had our lunch in an open restaurant along the street near the museum. It was the first time we'll be using our dongs and for someone who sucks at Math, I realized paying is a painful process. (Imagine all the conversion happening from VND to USD to PHP and the amount of zeros involve).

War Remnants Museum
War Remnants Museum

My uncles greatly appreciated the Museum. They were so intent and would read every information available on photos or item exhibits as if they have a quiz to take afterwards. They were interested because they've seen films before that sparked their curiosity to know more about the Vietnam war. I also found out a lot of interesting things like the fact that United States spent about $676 billion during the Vietnam war, that's almost twice much than what they spent during the World War II. The museum basically let's you see the scars of the decades of war the country has endured.

Shopping!

We wanted to feel happier after getting out of the museum so we consulted our map to get to our next destination, Saigon Square 1.


"You buy, Madame? I got your size!.. Madame??... Madame!." 

I must confess, I really allotted a good chunk of my travel budget intended for shopping. Who can resist the branded bags, clothes at incredibly cheap prices. I bought 4 TNF backpacks, TNF jacket and 2 Kipling handbags which totals to about Php3500 (extremely cheap!). I could have bought more if not for the fact that we still need to cross borders going to Cambodia and Thailand. 

I now declare, Vietnam is my shopping haven!


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