Ho Chi Minh City: Highlights
As many of you knows my partner and I commit ourselves to a 3-4 weeks trip every year to refresh our mind and body from all the year round work. This year I decided to share our trip to Vietnam with you, hoping that you find our adventures inspiring and that you will gain new insight of a fabulous country that is often remembered for the atrocity of the wars with little focus on its beautiful hard working population. Starting our trip from Ho Chi Min CIty (ex Saigon)…
We arrived early in the morning from Bangkok and booked a taxi to our hotel Ava Saigon 3, located in the City Centre, very close to District 1 and the back packer hotel area.
We were looking for a midrange hotel and found a very good deal on bookings.com the day before, we are very satisfied with both the location and the staff. The rooms are clean, they come with a safe, air conditioning, tv and free wi-fi. Some of them come with a bath tub opposite to the standard shower. Included in the price is breakfast and a small set of daily laundry.
On our first day we decided to take a stroll in the centre while making our way to visit the very interesting Ho Chi Minh museum, dedicated to the life of their so much respected president after which Saigon was renamed as Ho Chi Minh.
From the Museum, you can enjoy a good view of District 1 across the Saigon river, probably the most developed part in HCMC
After the visit we walked back to the streets of the city centre and stopped for a snack in a local vegetarian restaurant, it seemed a pretty cosy local place where to stop by and we were not disappointed at all! The Than Tinh, is run by husband and wife of 14 years, Danh and Lan. She is a bubbly lady that gave up working for corporate and banks after many years and put her heart into her own new business, inspired by her father being a vegetarian. Lan makes also marvellous embroidery in her spare time as gifts for family and friends, she proudly showed a framed one on their restaurant walls and another one on progress! We felt so much welcomed by such a lovely couple, we strongly suggest you to stop by if you go to HCMC! Everything they cook is taken great care and we got treated like kings! Prices were also very reasonable, with one full meal + beverage for only 105.000 dong.
The afternoon of our day 2 was spent first visiting the Reunification Palace, the former Independence Palace where in 1975 the Liberation Army’s tanks crashed through the main gates forcing the south vietnamese government to surrender. This year the Vietnamese will celebrate their 40th Anniversary from the Reunification.
A much longer visit (that I strongly suggest) was at the War Remnant Museum, that collects all the brutalities of the Vietnam War through a wide documentation of images and facts mainly provided by the US but that are not all known in the Western World. It was very upsetting to gain knowledge about the atrocities that the Vietnamese were put through, from the massacre of the civilians to the poisonous chemical agents released on their soil, to the demonstrations of solidarity that came from all over the world on those years to stop the war, after and during the visit we could see many sad faces around, but I believe it is an eye opener that you shouldn’t miss on your trip to Vietnam.
Luckily the Vietnamese’s tenacity is driving their country forward and when you are outside the museum life goes on for the people who have been experiencing a few very prosperous decades thanks to strategic commercial union with other Asian Countries as well as the World Trade Organisation.
As the sun set we were a few streets away to book our tickets for the Water Puppet Show, this is another must see to understand the Agricultural life of Vietnam. Water Puppets shows are a very ancient form of entertainment used by the villagers during the flooding of the rice fields, in which time they couldn’t work. The show lasts 50 mins and there’s an option to have a buffet dinner afterwards, which we don’t suggest..there are plenty more fresher food options out there!
On our day 3 we did a deeper exploration into Ho Chi Minh services and found some very good value for money places that I would like to suggest to you as well:
-We had our typhoid vaccination (simply because we couldn’t find a suitable day back in London) for only 160.000 d (about GBP 5.00) at the local Vien Pasteur Vaccination Clinic which was suggested to us by our hotel staff. To reach the clinique you have to walk to the very end of Pasteur and turn left, then left again, it is the first building. This was especially an impressive experience, the injection was quick and easy and the doctors where friendly, I believe if you get your injections at the international clinics you may have to pay much more…while this clinic is completely run by the vietnamese and serve the vietnamese…have we been too adventurous..?
If you happen to go there you MUST stop at the very traditional and excellent value for money vietnamese local restaurant called Pho Hoa Pasteur, where you can taste one of the best soups in the whole city! For what you see in the photo totals about 140.000d…£4.50.We found it by pure luck as looking for a shelter from a 15 mins shower while walking to the clinic and now I am finding out it is listed in most travel blogs from lonely planet to trip advisor, how lucky!! And oh…this is where I have learnt to eat pho with sticks and spoon he hey!!
Pasteur is a very developed street with good shops and places to eat. If you feel like pampering yourself to a premium haircut experience you can try the Nano Nature Hairdressing and spa place. We were very impressed with the service here. They cut your hair first and then they take you upstairs for a sublime shampoo with facial and head massage while you lay down into a dim light room with ambient music..all this for 350.000d for ladies and 280.000d for men. Feeling very stylish afterwards!
Want more pampering at a very good value for money? Try also the Vietnamese Traditional Massage Institute, located in Cong Quynh it is a no frills place run by trained blind masseurs, it is a great way to help the community. A full body massage of 1 hr for only 60.000d..GBP 2.00..of course we did tip the masseurs as we felt terribly guilty for paying so little for such hard work!
Walking up in Cong Quynh just a few meters away is another typical real vietnamese restaurant, the busy Dinh Y, where you can have a great selection of traditional dishes and even soups cooked at your table! Very good value for money also.
We spent our last day in Ho Chi Minh City visiting the main Market and the Dong Khoi Area, the richest spot in the city…
We noticed that in some of the parks there was a selection of basic gym equipment and so we stopped off for a few minutes to tone up!
The Ben Thanh Market is a big shopping centre dedicated to everyday items such as clothes and food as well the tourists goods, from colorful lampshades to premium quality coffee. The traders can be very insisting, if you are up for buying anything you should bargain as otherwise they will charge you a lot more!
We’ve sampled some lovely pho’s and fresh fruit juices here before heading to the Dong Khoi to visit the Notre Dame Cathedral, that was built by the French during their colony in the 1800s.
It’s 3.30 pm and our belly says…Lunch time!
Today, as in other occasions, we followed one of the lonely planet advices on places to eat and we headed to the Nua Hang Ngon Restaurant in Pasteur, very near the Notre Dame Cathedral. The restaurant features impressive interiors with a fountain in the middle and it’s excellent value for money Hey, for those of you that are in a relationship..you should take your partner here for a romantic evening meal
The restaurant is also sharing some space to street stalls, situated by the sides, if you prefer you can sample some of their food as a take away option
It’s now 4.30 pm and we don’t want to miss the sunset on the Saigonskydeck, on top of the Bitexco Financial Tower, listed as one of the top 20 building icons in the whole world!
It was built in 2010 and is 262m high, you can go all the way up to the 48th floor to enjoy a full 360 degree panorama, absolutely stunning! I strongly suggest to go around 5 pm so you can see the sun setting over the city skyline and stay for a bit longer to admire the million lights that switch on the city at night. It cost s 200.000d to get up there but it is well worthwhile. For an ultimate lunch or drink you can pop at the 50st floor (the view doesn’t get any better but you can have a dinner in style dominating the city from here)
We ended up our last night strolling in the busy Bui Vien, at the heart of the so called backpacker’s area. If you feel a bit homesick you can hang around here and meet fellow foreigners, there are restaurant serving European food although we found this area a bit expensive.
A restaurant that you don’t want to miss here is the Five Oysters, a small but busy place on two floors, the athmosphere is warm and the stuff very friendly, and yes an excellent food is serve at a good rate. We tried oysters for starter and a steamed shark for main, tasty and delicate!
Ok, our stay in HCMC has come to an end, but please keep following us on our next journey to the fascinating Mekong Delta…..See you soon!