Hồ Chí Minh, Vietnam is usually the last stop for most of the Indochina travelers. But for us, we decided it to be our first destination since it would just be a short trip.
We arrived in Hồ Chí Minh (also known as Saigon) at around 12:20AM (Vietnam Time). Upon arrival at the airport, Vier and I agreed to already exchange our budgeted money to Vietnam Dong (VND), which was $25 each for the whole Hồ Chí Minh trip.
Tip #1: Always take note that the local time in Manila is 1 hour ahead of Hồ Chí Minh.
Incidentally, exchanging money at the airport that was more than the amount needed for a taxi fare was out of the ordinary for us. We knew that airport exchange booths had the worst exchange rates. 🙁 However, I’ve read from one of the TripAdvisor tips that Tan Son Nhat International Airport offers pretty good exchange rate. And we must agree to it. At an instant, we became millionaires; another item that had been checked off from Vier’s bucket list – To become a millionaire at the age of 30! Haha!
Tip #2: If you do not have plan to stay longer in Hồ Chí Minh and you have a tight schedule like us, go and just exchange your budgeted money at the airport. Trust me; it won’t cause you any heartbreak. ;)
We stayed in Hong Han Hotel, located at the heart of Saigon’s backpacker’s area, also known as District 1. I’ve learned this hotel from agoda.com. Since it did have lots of pretty good and satisfactory reviews, I had it prebooked and I got it for a discounted price. By the way, we needed to prebook a room for two nights as our time of arrival was 12:20AM and it was still counted as one night of stay.
Hong Han Hotel offers airport pickup, free breakfast, tour packages and even bus ticket going to Siem Reap, Cambodia at reasonable prices. Thus, most of our tours and tickets were coordinated with this hotel. I found it very conducive considering that I just needed to talk to one main contact person, Ms. Hue, whom I didn’t find any hard time communicating with. On that account, we would personally recommend this budget-friendly hotel.
Inasmuch as we wanted to maximize our stay and visit the must-sees of Saigon despite of our tight schedule, we availed Hong Han’s “City + Cu Chi Tunnel” join-in tour. So after a short sleep, we were picked-up from the hotel at around 7:15AM.
Tip #3: If you want to maximize your stay in Saigon despite your tight schedule, go for a tour package. But do not forget to check what is included in the package and if it is worth availing.
First stop: War Remnants Museum
Visiting War Remnants Museum gave us mixed emotions and goose bumps. The museum had really showcased the misery and heroism of their people during Vietnam War. By the way, we paid 15,000 VND for the entrance fee.
Tip #4: If your tour guide offers himself to pay for the entrance fee and just pay him at the end of the tour, take it! Don’t worry you’ll be paying the same amount. So instead of lining up for the ticket, you’ll be having additional time to explore the museum.
Second stop: Saigon Notre-Dame Basilica
Vier and I both loved the architecture of Saigon Notre-Dame Basilica. It was indeed very photogenic. No entrance fee needed. 😉
Third stop: Saigon Central Post Office
Saigon Central Post office was definitely in a class by itself. We were fascinated by its architecture and interiors. Even their ATM booths inside were pretty cool. Again, no entrance fee needed. Yey! 😉
Fourth stop: Reunification Palace
We ended our city tour in Reunification Palace, formerly known as Independence Palace. We paid 20,000 VND for the entrance fee. It was like their version of our own Malacañang Palace.
Then we had our lunch, which was also included in the tour package. We were given a menu to choose from and those that were not listed were paid at our own cost. After our lunch, we spent 2-3 hours via bus going to Cu Chi Tunnels. Oh! did I forget to mention that the traffic in Saigon was quite horrible too because of motorbikes. In fact, we had noticed more motorbikes than cars and buses on their main roads. So the traveling time going to Cu Chi Tunnels from Saigon actually depends on the traffic. We arrived at around 4:00PM.
Tip #5: Hồ Chí Minh is also known as the city of motorbikes. Hence, brace yourself for the Saigon traffic.
Last stop: Cu Chi Tunnels
We paid 90,000 VND for the entrance fee. There were lots of demos and back stories about the Cu Chi tunnel given by our tour guide. I must say our guide was pretty good on giving us interesting stories. As a matter of fact, one of the reasons why we opted to join a tour was to have someone knowledgeable that would explain us about the histories behind the must-sees of Saigon. We wanted to make sure that besides visiting new places, we would learn something new about their country and culture.
Tip #6: Pay attention to the demos and to what your tour guide is telling you.
Tip #7: Try going inside and passing though the tunnels. However, while it is very safe, it is probably not advisable for claustrophobic people.
We arrived back in Saigon at around 7:30PM. Then, we just spent the rest of the night exploring the city and eating authentic Vietnamese dishes.
Tip #8: Beware of pickpockets. Check your bag from time to time.
Tip #9: If the receptionist from your hotel asks you to leave your passport with them, go and give your passport. Why? Because of tip #8. Better safe than sorry. But make sure you have a photocopy of it in case of emergency.
Tip #10: Beware of rip off taxis. Take note of the names of reputable taxi companies in Saigon: MaiLinh, Vina, and Vinasun. See our detailed itinerary below for more info.
Tip #11: Wear a cap/hat and comfortable pair of shoes during the day tour. Brace yourself for a hot weather and long walk.
Tip #12: Don’t leave Hồ Chí Minh without trying their coffee.
Tip #13: The construction of Hồ Chí Minh City Metro (subway) is currently ongoing and is scheduled for completion in 2020. You may want to consider this on deciding when is the best time to visit Hồ Chí Minh.
Looking back at what we did in Hồ Chí Minh, twominutesafter… we thought, we just explored only a tiny fraction of the timeless charm of Vietnam.
Vietnam has lots more to offer. Few years from now, we will not be surprised if Vietnam will be one of those most developed countries in Asia. Take note that their subway is already on its way. (Something that I wish will happen in the Philippines someday.)
Below is our detailed itinerary with EXCLUSIVE notes, tips, recommendations and contact persons.
Want to get a FREE downloadable copy of our detailed itinerary? Just subscribe to our newsletter and we’ll send the PDF copy directly to your email.