On board Cebu Pacific, we arrived in Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam almost midnight. Since we could not find any money changer selling Vietnamese Currency: Dong, back home, we had to exchange at the airport in Ho Chi Minh. 100 US dollars is equivalent to 20800 Dong.
Since we did not arrange for airport transfers and the airport taxi counter was already close, we had to proceed outside and find a taxi. Several taxi drivers were offering their service for $10, $15, $25... knowing that taxi drivers in Vietnam are notorious, we had to walk further and look for reputable taxi operators (as advised by wikipedia) like Vinasun and Mailinh. The taxi at the airport seems territorial since only the brand Saigon Tourist were able to park at the loading bay. We found one Mailinh taxi at the parking lot, and so we approached the driver. At first he was hesitant and pointed out to the taxi waiting at the bay; but we insisted we wanted his brand of taxi, and he agreed to take us from the airport to district 1 for $8 on his Innova. We were expecting $5 based on online reviews, maybe it has already increased; the $10 initial offer was actually reasonable. The city center is just 20 minutes away from the airport.
|view from our room|
At first glance, the city of Ho Chi Minh looks old. The buildings are noticeably run down, with narrow frontage, three to four stories high. The main streets are long, luckily, prepared as we are, we listed down the address, including the building number and printed out the location map of our hotel. Just like the rest, our hotel's frontage was narrow, there's a stairs leading to the lobby, while the first floor looked like a parking area.
WHERE TO STAY
We chose to stay in District 1, it is walking distance to most landmark like the City Hall, Rex Hotel, Behn than market, Notre Dame Cathedral, Caravelle Hotel, Opera House...
|Hai Long 5 lobby|
We were bound for Central and Northern Vietnam; when we returned to Ho Chi Minh 7 days later, we also booked with Hai Long 5. However, we were bumped off and transferred to Hai Long 3. It was very taxing not having a room after a tiring long flight. They made up for it by paying for taxi transfers from Hai Long 5 to Hai Long 3 and upgraded one of the two rooms from standard to deluxe. The standard rooms were indeed very small. Overall, Tan Hai Long 3 turned out to be better than Hai Long 5. The common areas including dining area is more spacious; room flooring is synthetic wood instead of tiles resulting to better acoustics. Location was very near tax mall.
After breakfast, we took the taxi to the War Remnants Museum. The fighter jets, tanks were on display outside. Inside were a number of photo exhibits, portraying the gravity of America's crime during the Vietnam War. In fact, they were found guilty of genocide by the Geneva Convention. Before we could finish looking at the exhibits, the bells starting to rang, the curators started to close the doors... it signaled that there were closing for lunch break and they won't be open til two hours later. And so we decided to leave.
WATCH OUT FOR TOURIST TRAPS
|left: tampered taxi meter. right: tamper proof taxi meter by vinasun|
|trust only reputable taxi operators Mailinh and Vinasun|
WHERE WE ATE
Nha Hang Ngon
160 Pasteur St, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam
|must eat here at Nha Hang Ngon|
First and foremost, you'd notice the ambience. Once you get in, you'll be escorted to a labyrinth of different food counters and nooks inside the three story open air French like building painted in bright yellow. We had to share the long table with another group. The menu had a long list of Vietnamese Cuisine; the problem was, we know little about Vietnamese food, we had to look around our neighbors' tables. Most of the locals are eating its signature Pho (Vietnamese noodles), pancake, spring rolls and a drink prepared similarly to our halo-halo.
behind Opera House
After a walking the whole afternoon around Ho Chi Minh, we sat at Highlands Cafe, a popular chain of coffee shop across Vietnam, surfed the internet with it's free wifi and enjoyed some fresh juice, coffee and a serving of great Vietnamese Coffee Cheesecake.
|vietnamese coffee cheesecake at Highlands Cafe|
74/7 Hai Ba Trung, Dist. 1, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam
(84-8) 3825 1676
Hua Tuc ranked second in tripadvisors' restaurant pick. The pomelo salad was great, the shrimp was generously covered with fried garlic, the seabass wasn't good and the soft-shell crab with cereat batter wasn't my type. It was a million dong meal for four pax, the soft-shell crab was pricey! Beside Hua Tuc was a couple of other interesting restaurants and bar to hang-out in.
TRUNG NGUYEN COFFEE
Also a popular chain of coffee shop across vietnam, although the branch across Tan Hai Long 3, where we hang out was not in tip top shape. The place wasn't well maintained.
Boang Thang Chinese Restaurant (not precise name)
Nam Ky Khoi Street, next to Saigon Square
After a week of eating Vietnamese food, there's nothing like going into a Chinese restaurant for some comfort food. The first thing I noticed was the pigeon hanging by the window, the second thing is the number of people going in and out of this restaurant. If there are too many locals, it must be good.
WHAT TO DO
|Notre Dame Cathedral|
After lunch, we took a taxi to Ben Than Market and spent little time inside since we did not find anything interesting. Those northface bags looks very fake. We went out and walked towards Rex Hotel, the city hall and made stops at different retail stores along the street.
We also went sight seeing in Notre Dame Cathedral but refused entry inside, to the post office next to Notre Dame Cathedral (the nicest post office I've ever seen) and Opera House. In between places, a taxi ride costs about 20,000 dong; flag down rate varies on the size of the taxi from 9.5 to 11 dong.
|at Nam Ky Khoi Street|
- PEOPLE WATCH
|it's a challege to cross the streets with these motorbikessss around|
If there's one thing about Ho Chi Minh (or anywhere in Vietnam) that keeps our spirits up, it is the challenge of crossing the streets of Vietnam. The streets of Vietnam is definitely not pedestrian friendly. Even for someone who grew up in downtown where drivers does not yield to pedestrian, it was tough! One has to look left and right and left and right then left and right again, those motorbikes just comes out of nowhere and does not yield to pedestrian or opposite traffic even if the traffic light is red.
|conical hats, still a common sight.|
Explore Vietnam: Central and Norther Vietnam coming up.