Day 1: Beautiful Saigon!

By January 10, 2015 ,


At Saigon you can experience the oriental warmth in a French atmosphere, truly, one lovely Southeast Asian city that should never miss out by travelers!

Saigon is the old name of Ho Chin Minh city in Vietnam. The city celebrates its 40 years of independence since the Fall of Saigon (Vietnam War) in 1975. But locals still prefer to call the city, Saigon. It magnifies colorful historical past and memories of the old world. Something that fascinates travelers around the world.

This name became even more famous when Cameron Macintosh created the West End musical, Miss Saigon, in London, which narrates a doomed love story between a Vietnamese girl and an American soldier during the Vietnam War.

Saigon is the former capital of the French colony of Cochinchina and its French colonial buildings still stood imposing in all corners of the city. 

There’s only one flight schedule of Cebu Pacific taking a direct route to Saigon from Manila -- at night time -- and since Manila time is one hour ahead of Saigon, we arrived at 1:00 in the morning last January 2, 2015.

Our check in time at Lan Lan 2 hotel is 2:00PM so we just waited in the airport until morning before taking our trip to the city. We’re amused to find out that Tan Son Nhat international airport is not crowded at early dawn, we went down and found a vacant area with lined up chairs. We positioned on each side and drowsed to sleep. Fortunately, we had a good sleep, we woke up at 6:30am!

Warning: This might not convenient to other tourists, but for backpackers and practical travelers, sleeping at the lined-chairs is already conducive.


Bus#152 outside the arrival area of the airport 
this would take travelers to the main streets of the city and
to Ben Thanh market

We are the only passengers in the bus :-D

The airport's comfort room has no bath area, so we just changed clothes, washed face and appeared as if everything was comfortable. My friend forgot to print our itinerary and I did not write it in a piece of paper, we did not know where to go first and no idea how to locate each destination, but we carried it on, we’re more excited with the things that await us than be occupied with worries.

We packed meals when we left Manila so we’d something to eat for our breakfast. Outside the airport, we found a café shop where we could eat our food, my friend bought one cup of coffee so that we would not be reprimanded haha!

After taking breakfast, we looked for bus #152 with no traces of anxiety in our faces even though we're unsure if we would really reach our targeted destination. When we hopped in, we found no one except for 3 elderly Vietnamese passengers. It was the first time we learned that the locals could not speak English very well, but we got it on, we communicated with a broken English and lots of actions!

At Ben Thanh market

Bus fare from the airport to the city proper is only VD5,000 (Php12.50). While on the bus, we enjoyed watching the environment. Streets are covered with trees, plants, flowers, and parks are everywhere, houses and shops are structured like those we saw in old magazines. European architectural designs are still present. Very relaxing, subdued environment due to big trees, everywhere is embellish with oriental details reminiscent to scenes in old, traditional Chinese movies. Beautiful, quaint streets! 

Less than an hour later, we arrived at Ben Thanh market, we did not know this place, the driver just signaled us to disembark using his hands telling us to step down. The first trouble came in. We did not know how to locate the street of Lan Lan 2 hotel (We need to leave our bags as our check-in time is at 2PM), streets are all in Vietnamese terms, so we asked some locals, even police, if they know the name of the hotel and the street, they pointed to just go straight ahead.

One amusing experience, we did not know how to cross the street! Haha! With so many motorbikes occupying the road, we find it hard to get a timing of dragging our feet without some danger of bumping on hundreds of motorbikes. So we looked for a group of people to go by. We kept on laughing while crossing the street because it felt like we just came in from a far-away province and just learning the city life.



Three more blocks and lots of inquiries while passing each corner, we found Lan Lan 2 hotel at last! (take note, we did not take a ride, we just walked on foot). After leaving our things at the reception of Lan Lan, we’re off again to the street, and because our itinerary was not printed, I tried hard to remember all the details of our destinations (We’re able to retrieve the itinerary in our yahoo email account but it's totally a waste of time writing down all those details in a paper because we will be staying only one day in Saigon). We decided to go to Lam Son square because other destinations are just within this area.



Leisure walk around the quiet street of Saigon


One of the surviving French colonial buildings in Saigon, Notre Dame Cathedral



We tried asking bystanders where is Lam Son square, but they seemed no idea about this area! They could not understand our English. Little did we know the street we stood in was already Lam Son Square lol! We continued walking to be in the next destinations: Central Post Office and Notre Dame Cathedral. We tried approaching the police (Saigon has a police visibility just like Davao) and asked how we could go to these attractions, he asked us to write it down, my friend Rowie wrote it in a piece of paper. He pointed us to follow another street, and another, and another. Until we’re lost! Argghh! We decided not to ride a taxi because we will just be wasting our time and money if the driver would not understand where we would go.


with my two traveling buddies, Vangie Colastre and Rowie Tagaan


Public park is everywhere in Saigon

So, just like real adventurers, we continued with our journey, enjoyed the blunders, took pictures at every corner and crossed different streets. We saw a public park. We stopped for a while and took pictures again. Our hunger pangs started to lurk, but we could not find any restaurant.

We continued walking and saw tourists pointing their cameras up high, we’re curious what was it, when I looked on the direction, across the street, the buildings looked familiar, similar to the photos I saw around the web about visiting Vietnam. Few steps closer, I immediately recognized the buildings -- Notre Dame Cathedral and Central post office! Oh we’re here!


Another French colonial building in Saigon, Central Post Office
just beside Notre Dame Cathedral. Designed by French in the 1920s, 
the building also houses souvenir's shops

We moved closer and took several shots then entered the post office, we saw shops selling souvenir items inside, after few minutes we left the area and looked for a restaurant. It was already 1:00PM. We saw this elegant building adorned with Christmas decors, it was a shopping store with a food court on the fourth level. We spent lunch here. It's the Diamond Plaza mall just across Notre Dame cathedral.


Trying authentic Vietnamese cuisine. The taste is interesting, very oriental
and yet the flavor has a twist which never give a revolting effect to foreigners' appetite



After lunch, we continued walking, looking for our next destination, Reunification Palace. Rowie already wrote the address in a piece of paper and showed it to the people we saw in the street. They kept on pointing us to different directions, we also kept on walking, stopping at every corner to take pictures. We enjoyed the moment even if we’re heading to nowhere.


Reunification Palace, known in Saigon as Independence Palace, is the former home of the
President of Southern Vietnam during the war. Now, this stately home is one of Saigon's
beautiful tourist attraction housing elegant furniture, furnishing and chandeliers 


Stately dining area


Living room

While walking, we saw this amazing park with super big trees, plants and lots of flowers! We rested for a while and breathed deeply, the atmosphere is so cool and the environment is so captivating. I looked up above and stretched my stares as far as I could. I saw nothing but beauty and wonders, all those trees I never saw in the modern city and flowers that spread loveliness and energy, breathtaking! It was the very first time I truly appreciated and admired Ho Chi Minh city, very beautiful environment, tranquil, quiet, simple and yet terrific!

We continued walking and just few steps ahead of us, we saw a wrought iron gate and with it, inside, is a large building with a circle manicured lawn, we saw several groups of tourists, with a tour guide each, we moved closer to the gate and found out---it’s Reunification Palace! It’s official name in Vietnam is Independence Palace. The guard directed us to another area where we could buy a ticket. After securing our ticket we got inside.



Oriental garden within the palace ground, so relaxing! 
This is where we took our refreshment after a very tiring tour inside the palace. Breathtaking environment where nature collides with oriental details 

It’s so wide! We spent about two hours exploring the palace, it is a four-storey building with several state dining rooms and banquet halls, very elegant rooms! After two hours we decided to go down and looked for some refreshment, we found this beautiful nook, just within the palace ground, it looked like an open restaurant. The environment is so beautiful, loveliness is an understatement actually, it’s more than incredible! Lots of oriental plants and big trees in the surroundings, fantastically relaxing!

We did not take a ride from Ben Thanh market to the hotel, we just walked on foot, we also did not take a ride while touring the city. The only ride we took was siklo (just like trisikad in the Philippines), because we wanted to try this city ride but it was so expensive! We’d been deceived! But we learned from that experience not to ride a siklo again. Fare was VD150,000 (Php375.00) from Independence palace to Lan Lan hotel. So be wary with siklo rides around Saigon, if possible avoid it if the driver won't agree with the arrangement of the rate.


Siklo ride around Saigon

We went back to our hotel at 7:00PM. We made an arrangement to the staff for a bus ticket reservation for Phnom Penh. This reservation includes a free pick up from the hotel to the bus station. We tried exploring the city at night but most stores were already closed.

Important tips when visiting Saigon:
  • Do research online first before making your trip.
  • From the airport, you can take bus instead of taxi, if your hotel is just around Ben Thanh market, take bus # 152, this is just located outside the exit door/arrival area of the airport. Fare is VD5,000 or Php12.50
  • Make haggle with vendors when buying souvenir items in the market (Ben Thanh in particular).
  • Locals could not actually speak English well, if you have something to ask, for example street and destination, write it in a piece of paper and show it to them.
  • Police forces are really nice, we had a good experience approaching them.
  • Notre Dame Cathedral and Central Post office are just few walk distance from Ben Thanh market. You can explore these attractions without any tour guide.
  • Independence palace is just across Notre Dame, you can cross the street to Diamond Plaza and walk straight ahead, the palace is located at the end of the intersection. Entrance fee is VD35,000.00
  • People are also nice and accommodating.
  • Ben Thanh has a night market that usually starts at 8:00PM
How to Get to Saigon:

Cebu Pacific air is serving a direct flight from Manila, Philippines to Ho Chi Minh city, departure is night time at 11:30PM.

Is Visa Needed?

For Southeast Asian residents, visa is not needed but for others it is required. For ASEAN residents, number of days allowed to stay in Saigon is more or less 20 days.

Getting around Saigon

Traveling around the city is very convenient. Means of transportation is bus, taxi , motorbikes and siklo. With motorbikes and siklo be careful with the drivers, try to make a clear arrangement with the rates so that you will not be deceived.

Top Attractions
  • Reunifaction Palace or Independence Palace
  • Lam Son Square
  • Saigon Opera House
  • Notre Dame Cathedral
  • Central Post Office
  • Ben Thanh market
  • Jade Emperor Pagoda
  • War Remnant Museum
  • History Museum
Where to Stay?

The most ideal area to stay in Saigon is around Ben Thanh market because this is nearer to night market and souvenir's shops. Bus station is just around the area too and top attractions can be explored by just walking.


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