Motorbikes, zero road rules, traffic, beautiful French colonial architecture a midst all this hustle and bustle and you are certainly in Saigon. I prefer the name “Saigon” to Ho Chi Minh City. Does it not remind you of markets and alleyways, spice stores and even ancient pagodas?
We booked the Silverland Hotel and Spa and we were greeted at the airport by our friendly hotel pick-up staff. (Who eventually punched a police offer outside the airport, which was the first thing we experienced!)
The aerial view and the first impression of Saigon was not the best considering severe thunderstorms during our journey to the hotel. But, our tour of Saigon only got better! A quick check in, welcome drink and a shower later, we were on our way to experience the Cu Chi tunnels. A definite must visit and certainly an eye opener. These tunnels were used as escape spots by the Viet Cong soldiers during battle. The tunnel system is amazing! It served as supply routes, weapon caches and even hospitals.
It has been mentioned that at least 40,000 Vietnamese citizens have died defending the tunnels during the Vietnam war. Following the fall of Saigon in 1975, the Cu Chi tunnels were preserved by the government. Visitors (like us) can crawl through these tunnels and even fire an AK-47. Our guide even shared a lengthy explanation with us about the various types of booby traps set aside for their enemies. Yes, it’s dark, quite claustrophobic but worth the experience!
Completely exhausted but not calling it a night, we decided to try “Cafe If”. Located in District 1, this restaurant and lounge is housed in one of the few remaining villas from the French colonial period. The seating outside is lovely and if you do happen to visit, you must try their freshly hand rolled spring rolls along with the Kho To (Clay pot) a traditional Vietnamese dish.
The next day, we visited some of the main touristy sights of Saigon on a vespa tour! Besides spending an entire afternoon in fear of someone knocking you down, it’s the best-thing-ever and the coolest way to experience Saigon! Like I said – no road rules, the best driver wins.
The Saigon Central Post office is located right near the Notre Dame Cathedral (our second stop) and is known to be the largest in Vietnam. It was built between 1886 – 1891 by Gustave Eiffel. The interior is photographic, and you will find a massive picture of Ho Chi Minh himself – staring down at you. An interesting fact: It’s a working post office. The oldest employee still work here, now in his early 90’s, a translator back then.
The Saigon Notre Dame Cathedral, (officially Basilica of Our Lady of The Immaculate Conception). peaceful and somber, is another beautiful landmark. Built in 1863 by French colonists, portrays the influence of French civilization and Christianity over Saigon. The entrance is free and you are allowed to take as many pictures as you like.
Back on our vespas and a drive through the markets, we were given a chilled street drink made of sugar cane. (I was fine, but my travel partner was ill that night – so chances are, the water is not the cleanest!).
Thích Quảng Đức, our next stop. If you have no idea who he is, then do read up before you visit Vietnam. In June 1963, this Vietnamese Mahayana Buddhist monk immolated himself at a busy intersection in Saigon, first sitting down in the lotus position and dousing himself in petrol. This act of self-immolation was in protest against the South Vietnamese government’s persecution of Buddhists.
The War Remnants Museum located in District 3 takes you through exhibits relating to the American phase of the Vietnam War. As educational as it is, the images leave a tiny scar and shuddering experience. Difficult yet thought invoking.
Did I forget to mention the Ben Thanh night market? Probably because the place is filthy and swarmed with scamming geniuses! I did end up buying a few souvenirs only to realize it’s much cheaper elsewhere. It was basically a hop, skip and a jump from our hotel so we decided to give it a go, but beware of the street vendors who actually hold on to your arm (at least not your wallet) UNTIL you purchase something. Overall, an amazing experience of Saigon!
- Where to eat:
- Cafe If
- Tiny’s cafe – Street food around Bui Vien Street. They also whip up a mean coffee!
- PhoBar – Lovely Vietnamese flavours, clean, a tad expensive, but worth the money!
- OMG: Rooftop restaurant and bar : Silverland Central Hotel and Spa. The view at night is breathtaking and on a warm day, the ideal place for a Brunty’s Strawberry cider.
- What to see:
- Cu Chi Tunnels Tour
- Saigon at night + City tour of Saigon which can be arranged by XO Tours. Reliable, punctual and affordable. Pick up and drop off at hotel is also included which is great.
- Ben Thanh Market
- War Remnants museum
- Saigon Opera house (We did visit, but we did not have time to catch a show)
- Central post office
- Bui Vien street
- Chua Ba Thien Hau
- Notre Dame Cathedral
- The Independence Palace
- The Venerable Thich Quang Duc Monument
- China town District Five
By Nadia Issadeen