A holiday within my holiday – the lowdown on our spontaneous family trip to Ho Chi Minh.
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What We Did
Day 1: District 1
We arrived late afternoon so after checking in and freshening up, we went out looking for food. Ben Thanh Market was about 3 blocks down from our hotel but they were closing up when we got there so we searched for food nearby, since we were still unfamiliar with the area. We ended up at the Street Food Market and got some light dishes to share, then found another local shop and had a second round of feasting. There wasn’t much for us to do after that so after walking around the streets, we headed back for an early rest.
Day 2: District 1 & District 3
Ben Thanh Market – They have a wide variety of products, ranging from clothes to food to jewellery to household goods like bed linen and tablecloths. The vendors can be pretty ruthless though, using reverse psychology and yelling at you to step in their shop to do business. One lady even held onto my dad’s arm and was all “If you’re not buying anything then why did you ask for the price?”. It was a little turn off but thank goodness for my mom who doesn’t quiver at a bargaining fight.
Take note that there’s a sign above the stores that says ‘Fixed Price’, which is supposed to mean that you can’t haggle. Though its still up to the discretion of the seller, since the lady that tried to bargain with us had that sign on her store but still went on a bargaining war with us.
Saigon Skydeck – As i’ve mentioned, i have this thing for observatories and they have the best views over Ho Chi Minh city. It was a pretty good day when i visited as there was hardly anyone around. More shots and info available on my previous post.
Central Post Office – I think i read somewhere that this is still a functioning post office, with the architecture set at the French era. There’s a couple of souvenir shops inside, and you can buy tickets to local shows or book tours here.
Notre Dame Cathedral – Located right across the post office. We only managed to get a look from the outside as the cathedral gates were closed. There’s a tip suggesting that if the front gates are ever locked, to try the side door facing the Reunification Palace. But even that didn’t pan out, i’m guessing cause it was Christmas Day.
War Remnants Museum – The outer premises houses planes and tanks from the war, and you can even see patches where the bullet holes used to be. There was a section detailing the gory prison life and how both the men and women were tortured; stuffing snakes in the pants of the women, low cages made of barb wire, sticking pins into fingertips – too, too brutal!
Funny story – there was a replica of a prison cell where it was pitch black inside and the only source of light would be from the little slot through the iron door. I half expected something to jump out at me when i looked through (my paranoia personality), but saw a shrivelled old wax lady sitting there instead which gave me a fright and made me curse out loud hahaha whoops.
The inner building showcased the weapons and pictures taken during the war. There was a section on Agent Orange, where we got to see the horrible effects of the deadly chemical and the mutation it created. There was also a case of dead, deformed babies but my mom insisted i delete the picture because it wasn’t right. Pretty good place to visit especially if you’re a history geek.
Day 3: My Tho
Mekong Delta – We took a half day tour to Mekong Delta where we became one of those people in the little ‘sampan’ taking pictures of the surrounding palm trees. Haha cliche, i know. Check out my previous post for full details of the tour we were with.
Where We Stayed
We stayed at the Asian Ruby Park View Hotel (their sign says Asian Ruby 3 Hotel) in District 1 since it was one of the few hotels that had a family room. My mom insisted that we get adjoining rooms and since we only made concrete plans to travel to Ho Chi Minh just 2 weeks before the actual date, there weren’t much options. The rooms were decent but a little dusty and we had a pretty good view of the park below. Most hotels are 3 star and pretty much structured the same – tall, narrow buildings along the streets and you can pretty much find one on every block.
There’s bound to be scams every now and then and one major scam going around Vietnam revolves around their taxis. The two main taxi companies that are less likely to scam you would be Vinasun and Mai Linh, though there are still complaints with the latter. It was a bit overwhelming at the airport – the moment we got our bags and walked out the gate, taxi drivers would just come flocking to you offering you a ride. There have been numerous gypsy taxis that apparently have the same company name and number but aren’t legit so do be careful. We went to the taxi counter who flagged down a random taxi for us (we didn’t get to choose) but luckily ran on a meter so it wasn’t too bad. Just a rough idea – a taxi ride from the Tan Son Nhat International Airport to District 1 should cost give or take 150,000VND. It cost us about 180,000VND when we arrived cause it was during rush hour so traffic was manic but we left early in the morning so it was a tad cheaper at around 130,000VND (from memory).
Do some research beforehand or read up reviews from sites like TripAdvisor. There are cases where taxi drivers demand too much or drive taxis with tinted windows who won’t let you out unless you pay a ridiculous amount. So be smart when travelling!
There are also motorcycle taxis like in Thailand and two tried to cheat us on our journey. We were walking to Ben Thanh market on a Christmas Day and being Asians, they like asking which country you are from. They kept insisting that the market was closed and wanted to take us somewhere else, but we politely refused and said we could explore the area on our own. Upon arriving at the market, it was open as per usual so we were pretty surprised how convincing those two guys were and their intentions.
Another thing that freaks people out when travelling to Vietnam is the crazy traffic scene. The number of motorcycles on the road far surpasses the number of cars, and initially, we too got scared when trying to cross the road. Traffic lights “don’t apply” to some motorists, with some even going up sidewalks to avoid waiting. So how do you cross a road in Vietnam? Simple – walk like a boss. Their motorists are hardwired to avoid you, so just keep walking and don’t stop abruptly. Of course you’d still have to pay attention on the road especially with timing. Avoiding motorists is one thing, you don’t want to get hit by a bus instead.
I wasn’t really feeling Ho Chi Minh to be honest, but now that i’ve crossed it off my list, i’m looking forward to exploring the outer areas like Sapa. I heard that Hanoi, Hoi An & Hue are pretty good too so adding more destinations to my travel lust list!