Monday, July 25, 2016

Missin' Saigon

Ho Chi Minh

Banh Mis after Banh Mis; Countless coffee shops; and a Gazillion motorbikes over, it's been a pleasure getting lost and been gone to Saigon.

In a meek city, you'll find yourself immensely rich not just in Vietnam Dong, but also in culture experience.

Touring around, you'll get to see various French architectural designs in their buildings due to the French colonialism that occurred years back. It's a unique trait for an Asian country to be incorporated with a European mix.

 Sure, there are a lot of things to do in Saigon alone, but I've tried to compress them down to 8 major pointers.

1. VIETNAMESE COFFEE. Life begins after coffee anyway, right?

I've tried a couple of 'Authentic Viet Coffees' before I got to Ho Chi Minh and I was already in love with its unique taste. Unlike any other coffees, basically the ones we always have, what sets Vietnamese Coffee apart is their distinct tangy twist which until now is a mystery to my tastebuds. I guess this is one of the times I wish you could taste what I'm talking about in my blog. (lol)

As I mentioned, street after street, you'll really see one or two coffee shops in Saigon. If you're a coffee lover, this might be your paradise. But on the other way around, if you're the very laxative person (let's pretend laxative is an adjective used to describe a person), then you might want to rethink about this coffee city-or maybe you can try their 'teas' instead. 

2. NOTRE DAME BASILICA. Inject some historical spot in your itinerary.

Dated back early 1880's, this French-designed Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception stood and paved its way to a historical sight of the present.

I never got inside but even the view outside would already suffice and feed your eyes. It looks really classy, timeless even, and it'll remind you of ancient times even though you haven't been there. Such a picturesque sight you don't want to miss.

3. SAIGON CENTRAL POST OFFICE. Not all offices are for work.

Inside the Post Office, you will see two unique painted maps: On the left is a map of Saigon and Cambodia; and on the right is a map of Saigon and its surroundings. 

Although, it's not operating as it's supposed to be, it stands as a major tourist spot as its fine architectural design doesn't disappoint.  You won't have a shortage of fancy floor designs too! 
In this spot, you can ask for maps(physical ones if you're not into apps) for free. 

There are also shops in and out of the building in which you can score traditional cone-shaped hats and souvenirs aplenty.

4. BANH MI (and other Viet Dishes). Go ahead, indulge. Your tastebuds will thank you.
If someone tells you that you've been eating too much banh mis, stop talking to them. You don't need that kind of negativity in your life. 

In Saigon, you can't count the number of kiosks/stalls that sells banhmis and other quick viet snacks. They'd come in glass boxes, stacked neatly.

I told myself that I'd have my 60th piece of Banh Mi in Vietnam-and I did. (and yes, I've been counting! lol) 

I saw the vendor prepare it and it was too tempting to grab it while it was still unfinished. It was topped with fresh cilantro pieces and their meat that was kind of different from what I've always tasted in Vietnamese cafes elsewhere. It was also very spicy that we had to stop the cab and look for coffee, water or something. (my bad!)

You can't also miss out on quaint cafes and restaus serving really good food. Most cafes though, especially in the main city square are a bit confusing. You'll think some for just a boutique when in fact the cafe lies on the second floor. Really unique, right?

5. WAR REMNANTS MUSEUM. That one museum you'll still fight a battle when you enter.

Visiting the War Remnants Museum, you might want to prepare your heart for battle as well. 
You'll learn loads of happenings during the war-complete with the tools, weapons, uniforms and everything they've used during the war. A lot of photos will bring you to the times Vietnam struggled for their freedom. 

And as I mentioned, you'll have to prepare your heart for battle since you will also get to see photos of the mishaps that they've been through including children who suffered the explosions, literally and metaphorically. 

6. TRANSPORTATION: The hustle and bustle of the city

You can walk, ride a bike, take the bus, pay a cab, rent a motorbike, try the train, or fly by the plane.
Whatever mode you're comfortable, as long it'll take you to where you want to go, then go for it. Just make sure you're armed with the necessary tips to be streetwise. 

Wherever you are in Saigon, there WILL ALWAYS be a motorbike somewhere. And when I say 'somewhere', it could mean beside you, while walking- even in the sidewalks. As long as there's a path, there could be one driving around. It's normal there like it's a unique form of walking. lol

But kidding aside, be very careful though. Some motorists won't really mind hitting you(very slightly but very traumatic for first timers). Also with the street lights, make sure you're always crossing when the green light for pedestrians is on. Otherwise, you might get hit by a gazillion motorbikes when the green light for humans turn red. 

And for the cabs, always do your research (I believe reading this blog-post you've already started yours). I recommend VinaSun taxis because they are known to be very honest and reliable when it comes to service. We've had our bad experience of a dishonest taxi, a rip-off even- Vina Taxi, who charged us way too high and took the routes never meant to be passed. 

7. NIGHT MARKET. Where else can you haggle like crazy?

From unique coffee beans to bags, to shoes, carpets, and figurines. Whatever you can think of, they'd already thought of selling. Ben Thanh Market will be your go-to place if you have Vietnam Dongs to spare. Tip if you're a shopping maniac: Reserve this for last so you won't spend all your money here. Also, haggle well. ;)

8. WEATHER. Your ootds should never tell you're weather-confused.

Use all your apps to check on the weather and make sure they're at least 90% correct. The weather in Vietnam has always been hot (in our case, month of March) even in the evening. So I suggest you pack light, complete with light clothing. Otherwise, take it from my experience, you will either look sick or again, weather-confused. (lol)

Pack your sandals, hats, sunscreens, shades and water bottles. Leave your boots (unless you're born to wear 'em), knits(trust me on this. haha), heavy jeans and jackets- your luggage will save more space. Remember: more luggage space means more shopping! JK

VIETNAMESE DONG CONVERSION: It's time to be a millionaire. :)
1 Vietnamese Dong = 0.0021 Peso
1 Vietnamese Dong = 0.000045 US Dollar
1 USD= 22,305 Vietnamese Dong
1PHP=1,200.86 Vietnamese Dong

There you go. Few basic pointers you should at least know by heart and you've save yourself some troubles. ;)

And despite all the unnecessary 'h's in the Vietnamese language that I'm still figuring out until now, I had a really great time in Saigon. I'll go back maybe for Hanoi, and I'll let you know!

I really hope you'll find this post useful if you happen to be in HCMC too.
'til then, always trust and enjoy your journey.


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