Friday, February 1, 2013

Backpacking in Saigon: Day 1 in Ho Chi Minh City

When a challenging yet fulfilling year is about to end, I would make it a point to cap-off things by treating myself to a post-birthday trip abroad. I've successfully done this for the last two years. So last November 2012, I flew myself to Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. 

Statue of General Tran Nguyen Han

Visiting Vietnam, let alone Saigon was a part of my bucket list. Rubel and I have already planned on going to several tourist sites. But we just ended up trimming our list after consulting friends who've already been there. HOW COME? Well, most of them just warned us that most of the places that we wanted to see weren't that much interesting. So, what did we do in Ho Chi Minh? Well, Rubel and I just wandered around in our own steady pace. Here's how our first day went.

NOVEMBER 17

I left Manila via Cebu Pacific around 10:50 PM, and was able to land in Tan Son Nhat International Airport around 12:20 AM (Saigon is an hour behind Manila). The travel time was about 2 1/2 hours.

I had the hotel's personal car pick me up at the airport instead of taking the bus since it was already 1 in the morning. Rubel (who flew via PAL a day early) went with the hotel driver, so I was able to see him easily from the waiting area. Anyway, the whole trip probably took 30 minutes, since there was no traffic anymore.

NOVEMBER 18 - DAY 1 in Saigon

Checked-in at Nguyen Khang Hotel

Being the research junkie that I am, I would make it a point to look for affordable accommodations prior to a trip. So when I heard so many good reviews of Nguyen Khang Hotel, I didn't hesitate to book our whole stay with them. Other than the hotel being located in Pham Ngu Lao (backpackers haven), we were just a street away from Búi Vién, where a variety of bars, restaurants and mini-marts could be easily accessed.

Nguyen Khang Hotel Reception

TIP: The hotel will not require a downpayment. But of course, pay with courtesy should you decide to cancel your reservations. Also, airport pick-up/drop-off cost 14 USD per way.

Shopping at Saigon Square

Saigon Square was my shopping haven for 2 straight days. So if you're looking for quality-made knock-offs (ranging from Kipling Bags, Nike Windbreakers to Baby Gap items), then you'll surely find it here. I was able to get my Kuya a Class A 'Deuter' Rucksack for only VND 600,000 (about PHP1,200). I also got a pair of Original Vans, for only VND800,00 (PHP1,600). Not bad, right?

TIP: If you're looking for better variety and cheaper deals, then shop at Saigon Square more than Ben Thanh. You'll be able to find 3-floors filled of merchandise here. 

Food trippin' at Ben Thanh Market 

Both the famous Ben Thanh Market and Saigon Square are just a 10-minute walk away from our hotel. We could get to both places without renting bikes or motorcycles, or riding the bus. 

Ben Thanh Market actually houses some of the nicest Vietnamese goods, services (i.e. clothes, souvenir items, dried delicacies, tailoring services, eateries, etc.), and most especially FOOD! The dry market became my immediate favorite place because of the food. The whole dining setup, including the surroundings may not be that appetizing at first glance. But you'll be able to forget those hang-ups as soon as you start munching on those, spicy and authentic Vietnamese dishes. 

You've got to try their PHO Bó (beef with rice noodles) with veggie garnishes, grilled meat and their own version of "Halo-Halo"! I so love Viet food! 


TIP: You'll find a lot of affordable establishments in and out of Ben Thanh. So no need to worry about food choices.

Mini-Marts on every corner of the street

One thing that I noticed as soon as I left the hotel was the myriad of mini-marts. There were Circle K and Mini-stops all over the place. We'd usually buy our midnight snacks and bottled waters here. Not until we found some of its cheaper versions being sold on the street. We would usually get a liter of bottled water here for only VND6,000 (PHP12).
Packed hotdogs and Quail eggs at Circle K

Braving the famous Saigon traffic!

Crossing the street is a constant challenge for a tourist. Saigon happens to be famous for its very busy highway, which is usually filled with motorcycles all day long (main mode of transportation). So it was pretty scary traversing the street all throughout my stay in the city.

Taken between 6 - 7 PM. Rush hour.

TIP: When crossing the street, make sure to walk at a steady pace. Don't run but don't be too slow either. The drivers will try to avoid you anyway.

Experiencing the Night life and CHEAP BEER at Búi Vién

Búi Vién is just a street away from Pham Ngu Lao --- not more than a 2-minute walk from Nguyen Khang Hotel. The place is bustling at night, and is easily filled with different nationalities. You can easily recognize the expensive bars from the cheapest ones. But should you choose the latter over having a nicer ambiance, just look for the small-sized monoblock chairs lined up on both sides of the streets. Those are the establishments that are selling cheap beers. 

On top of that, you get to have a great view of the people walking, and the vehicles passing-by the street. I swear, the experience of it all is quite amusing.

The night is young --- and so are we!

Bottled beers that are being sold in this area may range from VND10,000 - VND 25,000 each (PHP20 - P50). The prices may also depend on which store you buy these from. And while you're at it, drink a few bottles of Red or Green SAIGON Beer, and then try matching it with some hot kebabs and salted chips.


I bet you, our first day was packed! But I've got a few more days left to share. So keep tuned in! For now, here's a peek at what we spent on this specific travel. Just click here ---> TRAVEL EXPENSE SHEET.

Explore & Be Free!
Mai
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