The Heat is On in Saigon!

Saigon Motorcycles
There are over four million motorcycles in Saigon alone!

Saigon – or, more appropriately, Ho Chi Minh City or HCMC – was a pleasant surprise. Sure, the motorcycle traffic was madness, not unlike Jakarta, making pedestrian crossings an adventure altogether. But the beautifully preserved French-era buildings and verdant parks and boulevards, in contrast to some futuristic skyscrapers, personally made the largest city in Vietnam quite appealing. Some areas with well-lit French-era buildings at night even reminded me of the colonial quarters of Singapore.

Ben Thanh Market
Fresh seafood at Ben Thanh Market

With walkable sidewalks and green surroundings (Just watch out for those motorcycles!), it’s easy to see the highlights of the city center in one day. Starting from the Pham Ngu Lao backpacker street, one can first head to Ben Thanh Market, fronting a busy rotunda with a commanding statue of Vietnamese general Tran Nguyen Han on horseback. Ben Thanh is a wonderland for the bargain hunter. Here, I bought some nifty gifts at bargain prices: magnets (USD 1 each), t-shirts (USD 2 each), lacquer jewelry box (USD 3) and tribal fabric purse (USD 4).

In contrast to the decorative architecture of French-era buildings, the Reunification Palace (entrance: VND 30,000 or USD 1.50) is an austere but symbolic edifice. The facade, for example, represents several Chinese characters. It was the home and workplace of the President of South Vietnam, and the site of the end of the Vietnam War, during the Fall of Saigon on April 30, 1975, when a North Vietnamese tank crashed through its gates. 

Sadder episodes of the war can be previewed at the nearby War Remnants Museum (entrance: VND 15,000 or USD 0.75) at 28 Vo Van Tan, where galleries of photographs, memorabilia and replicas commemorate the atrocities and triumphs of the Vietnam War. Before the normalization of Vietnam-US affairs, it was known as the Museum of American War Crimes. Not for the faint of heart.

War Remnants Museum
Preview the atrocities and triumphs of the Vietnam War at the War Remnants Museum

On a happier note, my favorite area would be the vicinity of the Saigon Notre-Dame Basilica and the Saigon Central Post Office. The former a most beautiful cathedral built by French colonists from 1863 to 1880, and the latter designed and constructed by no other than Gustave Eiffel himself. A walk around Saigon may culminate here, sipping Vietnamese iced milk coffee while watching the languid park-goers of tree-lined Le Van Tam Park.

Saigon Central Post Office
The Saigon Central Post Office was designed by Gustave Eiffel!


HOW TO GET THERE: The city center is 7 km from Tan Son Nhat airport. Look for a cabbie that agrees to put his meter on. Cab fare to the tourist area of District 1 costs VND 130,000 to 150,000 (USD 6 to 7). Reliable taxi companies are Mai Linh and Vinasun.

Quan An Ngon
Vietnamese feast at Quan An Ngon

WHERE TO STAY: Mrs. Anh Nguyen, the eponymous hostel owner of Tam Anh Guesthouse was the dearest. She was our “mother” during our quick visits to Saigon. If only for her sweet hospitality, I highly recommend her place: Tam Anh Guesthouse, 241/21 Pham Ngu Lao, District 1, Ho Chi Minh City. Email: tamanhhotel@gmail.com. Our triple A/C room was $20/night. Free wifi. (Tip: Facebook is blocked in Vietnam; use Opera browser to access the site.) On our last day in Saigon from Cambodia, she agreed to take care of our luggage and allowed us to use the toilet and shower for USD 1 per head. She’s very proud and enthusiastic to host Filipinos!

WHERE TO EAT: There’s the ubiquitous noodle shop selling pho for VND 25,000 to 40,000 per bowl (USD 1 to 2). Noodle shops in alleys are generally cheaper than those found along Pham Ngu Lao.

For a fancier restaurant setting, we had a feast in Quan An Ngon at 138 Nam Ky Khoi Nghia (near the Reunification Palace). Mains start at VND 42,000 (USD 2). We had goi cuon (spring rolls), banh khot (rice pancakes), bo nuong ngon (grilled beef) and nem nuong cuon banh trang (grilled meat roll with vermicelli rice paper).

For coffee and snacks, a posh option, but worth the ambience, is Creperie & Cafe along Han Thuyen St, fronting the leafy environs of Le Van Tam Park. Enjoy a glass of Vietnamese iced milk coffee at 45,000 (USD 2) on the sidewalk…

P.S. If you miss home, there’s a Jollibee at 194 D Pasteur St, District (near the Reunification Palace).

Reunification Palace
Reunification Palace, former residence of South Vietnam’s President, was the site of the Fall of Saigon in 1975.

6 comments

  1. Yay! Ang saya magmotor dito pero lonely ang facebook world. lol.

    Anhirap naman i-pronounce ‘yung mga name ng restaurant at places – epistaxis hehe.

  2. This comment has been removed by the author.

  3. Yeah, its motorcycle country! I bet you’ll love it here. Pwede naman ma-access yung Facebook, using other browsers like Opera. True, Vietnamese names are so hard pronounce and remember… =)

  4. iniisip ko kung puntahan ko na rin agad to sa pagpunta ko sa cambodia since malapit lang din. would you know how many days kelangan for Cambodia-Vietnam

  5. @killerfillers: We spent a week in Saigon and Cambodia… Our route: Saigon-Phnom Penh-Battambang-Siem Reap-Saigon =)

  6. Hello Edgar,
    This is Sammie at Creperie & Cafe – which mentioned in “The Heat is on in Saigon”. Thank you for taking the time to review our cafe. Hope to see you the next time you visit.
    Please email us: creperiecafe05@gmail.com or sammiekbn@yahoo.com
    Best Regards.

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