April 26 was the night. Me and Francis will be visiting Vietnam for a week-long relaxing vacation. I changed to my backup phone just before heading to the airport as the streets of Saigon isn’t forgiving when it suddenly disappears. Some say Ho Chi Minh (or Saigon) is a place of scams because of rigged taxi fare, jacked up tourist prices, fake alcohol and valuable snatching; I would say knowledge is power and with the right information plus common sense, you can have a safe trip:
- Bags close to your body and at sight
- Phones are hidden until you are in a lively establishment
- Passport in the safe while you carry a copy with you
- Get the names of the places you want to go in Vietnamese and the trusted taxi companies to take
I hope I didn’t scare you away just reading this. I would say it’s better to be prepared in every trip unless you are the type to go with the flow, please do carry on. Vietnam can be good to you, especially when you know someone who can take you to places with good food, that is where Dan comes into the picture.
We touchdown at Saigon’s airport around 9pm. The flight was 2 hours but since Vietnam is one hour earlier than Singapore, it seems that we had 1 hour trip. Jetstar was our airline with roundtrip that cost $143. Not bad. Singapore to Saigon has the cheapest flights if I am not wrong, aside from Singapore to Kuala Lumpur.
With the exchange rate, expect to be a millionaire in Vietnam. 1 sgd = 16,500 dong. The city also accept US dollars but most local establishment prefer dong (and it is cheaper too)
The weather is cooler than Singapore but the pollution is bad. Expect to see hordes of motorbikes coming at you but there is a trick to crossing the street: walk slow and the bikes will anticipate your moves and will weave around you. Of course, that doesn’t apply to cars, bus and trucks so watch out. There isn’t much pedestrian traffic lights to guide you.
We stayed at the quaint Beautiful Saigon Hotel just within the District 1, where all the attractions are located. The place is not located on the main road so you will need to walk into an alley with other hostels. It is not scary at night as there are backpackers who freely come and go in this area. The hotel is small but the room is clean and presentable. At 35USD per night, it is a good deal! I will definitely recommend you to stay there if you are on a budget.
Prices in most places are cheap and can be bargained unless the price is fixed. Tipping is appreciated/required for all kinds of service, even taxi drivers. With that in place, I would expect those serving you to show more, how to say it, happiness. I wouldn’t say that the Vietnamese people aren’t happy but they do show lack of joy doing their work. We had waitresses taking our orders with no emotions or whatsoever. Thailand and Philippines have better social skills.
Regardless of my so-called complaints, I did enjoy my time in Vietnam. I am thankful I know someone who lives there. Dan took us to places with good food and chill bars. If you miss seeing foreigners on your stay here, head to Xu Lounge. They serve real alcohol so that is taken care of. If you want to see the city view, head to Chill Skybar. The drink price might be a bit higher but it comes with a view.
Food taste fresh, especially the bread and soup noodles, also called Pho. Banh mi is baguette sandwich that you have to try. We also tried sitting down near the pedestrian walk and had street seafood. It was nice to be part of the local hangout. I am not a fan of coffee but Vietnam coffee does taste good, especially iced with condensed milk. Do check out these establishments:
- Bun Bo Hue
- Bernie Irish Pub
- Trung Nguyen
- Pho 99 at 139 Nguyen Trai Street, Ben Thanh Ward, District 1
For transportation, taxi fare is cheap but you have to know which one to trust. The 2 recommended companies were Mai Linh (white with green lettering) and Vinasun (white with green and red lettering). Happy Taxi is another option but not as well-known as the 2. When aboard the taxi, check if the meter is on. Motorbike is another transportation option. You can rent them per day.
We visited the War Remnants Museum. Entrance is at 15,000 dong. It showcase military planes, tanks and weapons. It was a heartbreaking seeing pictures of the past Vietnam war. Many people have suffered and homes destroyed. Some even carry the scar of the Agent Orange, a chemical that was sprayed around the places, causing genetic mutations. It was definitely an eye opener. I wont be posting some of the pictures that were exhibited there. It is too painful to look.
Benh Tanh Market is a tourist street shopping area. Always bargain more than half the price and scout other similar stores to get the best price. Some stalls will have fixed price and might be a better option if you get tired haggling.
We planned to go to 2 places in this trip: Saigon then Mui Ne. To get to Mui Ne, we had to purchase train tickets at the ticket office located in 275C Pham Ngu Lao. Unfortunately, we didn’t realize that it was also a holiday in Vietnam so the tickets are all sold. Our next option is bus. After scourging on countless ticket counters, my friend managed to contact Hanh Cafe that sells limited seats. We bought round trip to be sure we get back in time for our flight back to Singapore.
To check out how our Mui Ne experience was, visit: Majestic Sand Dunes of Mui Ne
Overall, the trip was great. I would say Saigon was nice because of the good food experience we had. Hopefully I will get the chance to visit the Northern part of Vietnam next time.