Vietnam Day 1: Walking Tour

Saturday, October 24, 2015

When we booked our flight to Ho Chi Minh City (a.k.a Saigon), I had this thinking that the Vietnamese countryside is just similar to the Philippines and I may not enjoy the trip much. I was expecting the same weather, that Vietnamese people looks like Filipinos too and they eat rice as well. However, after staying and exploring the culture of Southern Vietnam for 4 days, I can tell that my initial thinking was wrong. The weather is the same but the air in Ho Chi Minh City is a lot more fresher than Metro Manila. Some people look like Filipinos but a lot of them have chinky eyes and fairer skin and not all of them can speak English. Yes they eat rice but unlike the Filipinos, they eat veggies a lot.

We landed in Tân Sơn Nhất International Airport on Sunday at 3 AM. We went straight to Hoang Lien Hotel in Bùi Thị Xuân Street via taxi and had to sleep until 9 AM. By the way, we booked the hotel through Agoda. We had our breakfast at the hotel and went out to explore the city at 10 AM.

On the first day, we had the Walking Tour. Literally 'walking' and using the map we got from our hotel's reception area. We didn't book for any assisted tour on the first day. It was hot but there are a lot of parks and trees in Saigon, we really enjoyed sight-seeing by ourselves even if we got lost several times. The air is fresh probably because there are fewer cars. Motorbike/motorcycle is the primary transportation in Vietnam and as per statistics, there are 7 million units registered. Vietnamese people keeps complaining too about bad traffic situation but when we were there it's not as heavy and nothing compared to our daily burden in Manila. One funny thing also is that when crossing their streets, you have to walk confidently and without hesitation as it is difficult to avoid too many motorcycles so just let them avoid you. They don't have foot bridges but there are pedestrian lanes and traffic lights.

Benh Thanh Market - We got lost finding the famous Benh Thanh Market because our map was so confusing (or we just don't know how to read the map! :p) only to find out that it is just near our hotel. They sell goods of different kinds like clothes, dried foods, souvenirs and there are even food stalls inside. The vendors easily recognized that we are Filipinos, they keep calling us "ate" and "kuya". It was already lunch when we got there and we ate our lunch in Pho 2000, a famous restaurant beside the market, we ordered the famous Pho noodles.

Ho Chi Minh City Museum (Bảo tàng Thành phố Hồ Chí Minh) - Built by French colonizers from 1885-1890. It was first used as French Commissioners' residence office. Now, this building serves as a revolutionary museum displaying different exhibition themes such as archaeology, history, culture, industry and revolutionary struggles. Entrance fee to museum is 15,000 VND (30 PHP).

Ho Chi Minh City People's Committee - I took the photo of the Committee Hall from afar because it's prohibited to take pictures up close. There are guards keeping away people from capturing photos. The building was built in 1902, the façade is long and beautifully architectured in French style. There's a lovely park in front with the statue of the late Ho Chi Minh (Nguyễn Sinh Cung), the most popular Vietnamese Communist revolutionary leader, Prime Minister and President. The entire city (previously called Saigon) was named after him.

Saigon Opera House (Municipal Theatre of Ho Chi Minh City) - another magnificent product of French colonialism. Like the Committee Hall, the theatre's façade is amazingly beautiful. We bought tickets for the AO Show (8 PM schedule) at a discounted rate of 945,000 VND (1980 PHP) because we reserved it early, originally a ticket costs 1,050,000 VND (2205 PHP). We just returned at night to watch the show. Before it starts, we were given complimentary refreshments, I had 2 cups of Peach and Lemon Grass Tea, it tastes so good. The show started at exactly 8 PM, it's an acrobatic show by a group of talents showcasing Vietnamese culture using bamboo poles and woven baskets. Taking pictures during their performances was not allowed. We were only allowed to have pictures taken with the performers after the show.

Notre Dame Cathedral (Basilica of Our Lady of The Immaculate Conception) - also known as "Saigon Church", it was built for Roman Catholic French colonizers. It is really beautiful and noticeable because of the bright red-orange colored bricks which were imported from Marseille, France way back 1863. There's an ongoing mass when we went there.

Saigon Central Post Office - this is the city's central post office located near the Notre Dame Cathedral. There are also ATMs, pay phones and money changer inside. If you wish to exchange US dollars to Vietnamese dong, I suggest to do it in Tân Sơn Nhất International Airport instead, based on our experience, they give the best exchange rates. If you'll notice, all the landmarks we've visited were built with French influences. This is the reason why Saigon is also known as the "Little Paris of Asia". The Central Post Office was our last stop for the day. Seriously, our feet hurt after long walks but we're so happy with all the places we've visited. After this, we went back to the hotel, take a rest and a quick shower,dress up and head to the Saigon Opera House for the AO show.

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