It was not that scary as I had imagined it to be. I only had one fear prior to flying to Vietnam: crossing the streets full of motorcycles going in all directions on my own. This was my third attempt to go to Vietnam, and finally, without any fear and hesitation, I was able to make it.
- Side note: I was supposed to go to Vietnam in August 2016 alone, until I realized that I was scared to be alone. LOL. Similarly, in August 2017, I decided not to push through and depart from Singapore after 1 week of traveling because I had to finish writing my MBA Strama Paper. #nerdpriorities.
My 6-day Indochina Trip started by catching a red-eye flight from Manila to Ho Chi Minh (HCM) City, Vietnam. Ho Chi Minh, which is the largest city in Vietnam, is located in the southern part of Vietnam. It is home to possibly the best buwis-buhay street food I’ve ever eaten in my life and buwis-buhay motorcycles that will just go to every single direction. Having arrived in HCM past midnight (2 AM, PST), made me so hungry that I immediately bought an all-meat ban minh, which is Vietnam’s version of a french bread with lots of meat, veggies, and special sauce on it, in the middle of the vibrant and lively Bui Vien Walking Street.
I booked a 3-Night stay at Havy Hotel, which is a 3-star hostel packed in the middle of Bui Vien Walking Street in District 1. I decided to stay in the district to be close to people because, yes, I am scared to be alone. And since everyone seems to stay in District 1, I might as well do the same. The stay was okay, so-so, and nothing really spectacular. It was just your basic private bedroom and toilet combo, which serves you breakfast every single day. However, having learned that the hotel basically serves the same freaking thing (2 eggs, bread, 1 mini spring roll, and a banana) every single day, I decided to just avail the free breakfast on my first day and just buy ban minh for the rest of stay. I am a breakfast person, and their offer just frustrated me.
DAY 1 – Culture Park, Reunification Palace, The Lunch Lady, M.O.M Cooking Class
- Culture Park in District 1
- Independence Palace / Reunification Palace
- Lunch at The Lunch Lady
- M.O.M Vietnamese Cooking Class
Following the walking tour c/o my trusted Google Maps, I headed to the Independence / Reunification Palace, passing through the Culture Park in District 1. Walking from the middle of Bui Vien Street to the Reunification Palace took me more than 40 minutes, contrary to the 18 minutes suggested by Google Maps. But all is good! It was a good exercise and a free culture exposure at the park as well.
The Entrance to the Reunification Palace costs VND 40,000 (PHP 92). Make sure not to get dropped off at the back entrance of the palace because the guards would not permit you to enter and instruct you to walk around the perimeter for maybe a good 10 to 15 minutes instead. Get dropped off or walk towards the main entrance, across Man Ky Khoi Nghia street with a Highlands Coffee Shop beside the palace.
The Reunification Palace, also known as the Independence Palace used to be the base of the Vietnamese General Ngo Dinh Diem until his death in 1963. In 1975, a tank from the North Vietnamese Army crashed through its main gate, signifying the end of the Vietnam War. It is open from 07:30-12:00 and 13:00-16:00. Free guided tours in English, French, Japanese, and Chinese are also available.
Opening Hours: Daily 08:00 – 11:00 & 13:00 – 16:00 Address: 135 Nam Ky Khoi Nghia, Ben Thanh, District 1, Ho Chi Minh City
Probably my proudest moment in HCM was taking the scooter/motorcycle. Since I was just traveling alone, I figured that it may be costly for me to book taxis alone. For only VND 14,000 (Php 27) per ride, I bravely rode the Grab Scooter and managed the busy roads of the city. From the palace, I headed to The Lunch Lady, a small outside cafeteria, which was made famous by the late Anthony Bourdain.
I arrived a little bit early for lunch, at around 11:45 am, to avoid the crowd. At around 12:15 pm, the place pretty much got jampacked with tourists and locals as well. The Lunch Lady doesn’t have a fixed menu as the menu changes every day. So, if you’re a picky eater like me, I suggest researching the menu first. I’ve heard that the best day to go to would be on Saturdays because of their bánh canh cua, which comprises deep, fishy aroma, thick noodles, and generous amounts of crab meat. For about VND 118,000 (Php 271), your soup will come with 2 pieces of fresh lumpia roll, 2 pieces of pork spring roll, 2 pieces of shrimp pancake (like an okoy for Filipinos), and dipping sauces. The side dishes will be served to you as you take your sit, so there’s no time to request to only be served with the ones you like. Plus, their English is really bad, so just don’t bother asking and just gladly accept. Their servings were good for two people, so even if it was really good, I wasn’t able to finish everything.
I took the scooter once more, but the pollution and the humid weather of the city made me feel sick as I arrived at the hotel at around1 pm. After resting for an hour and taking a shower again, I opted for a taxi to get to the M.O.M Cooking Class, which I availed through Klook. The classroom is located on the ground floor of an old Saigon restaurant. And of course, even in a non-graded cooking class, I was still the first student to arrive – nerd me! Shortly after, I was joined by a South Korean student and four (4) more students from Hong Kong.
We had a total of three (3) dishes to prepare: (1) Bong Bi Nhoi Thit (fried pumpkin flower with pork stuffed) with Nuoc Mam Cham (dipping sauce from lime juice and rice vinegar), (2) Goi Bap Chuoi Voi Ga (banana blossom salad with chicken) and Nuoc Tron Goi Voi Chanh, Dam Va Gung (ginger dressing sauce with lime juice and rice vinegar), and (3) Banh Xeo (Vietnamese crispy pancake with pork and prawns). A local chef guided all students throughout the class and explained the origin and history of each dish that we prepared. Personally, the class was not that challenging as every single ingredient has been already prepared prior to our class. All we needed to do was to slice some onions, mix the ingredients, and cook them. Although I would have appreciated it better had we started by sourcing the ingredients from the market and slicing the portions on our own. Nevertheless, it was a rich and fulfilling cultural experience.
DAY 2 – Mekong Delta Excursion, Turtle Island, Ben Tanh Night Street Market, Bui Vien Walking Street
- Mekong Delta Excursion
- Vinh Trang Pagoda
- Honey Bee Farm
- Mekong Delta Excursion (An Khanh in Ben Tre)
- Coconut Candy Factory
- Tortoise Islet (Lunch)
- Turtle Island
- Ben Tanh Night Street Market
- Bui Vien Walking Street
My second day in HCM started with a good ban minh for breakfast. I headed to our meeting point, which was only a block away from my hostel, at 7 in the morning. I opted for a full day Mekong Delta Excursion Tour from Klook for only Php 748 ($14). It includes all transportation, entrance fees, boat rides (tips/gratitude excluded), and lunch. For its price and convenience, I think I was able to score a pretty good deal.
Our first stop was the Vinh Trang Pagoda, home to the three (3) famous buddhas: the reclining Buddha, the fat Buddha, and the standing Buddha. We were also lucky to have visited when the monks were having a group prayer at the temple. Shortly after, we headed to the Honey Bee farm, where we had a free honey-based juice and a plate full of seasonal fruits while being serenaded with a traditional Vietnamese song.
Finally, the highlight of the trip: the 30-min boat ride along the Mekong Delta River. In groups of four, we rode a small boat and traversed a portion of the Mekong Delta River. From our destination point, we headed for a short factory tour and sampled coconut candies.
From the factory, we headed for a 2 km walk to the docking station, wherein a boat took us to the Tortoise Islet for lunch. Since a basic lunch plate was included in the package, I just opted for a Vietnamese coffee as an add-on. A boat took us back to the docking station, where we boarded a bus that would take us back to Ho Chi Minh.
My evening went by with a series of unfortunate events. After a short rest at the hotel, I opted for a scooter ride to the Turtle Island, hoping to score good and cheap street food… until it rained so hard and I got soaked in rainwater. When I arrived, there were no street food vendors since it was raining. I walked around in the vicinity twice to check if I could settle for a place to eat dinner and rest, but sadly, I wasn’t able to find any. I booked a Grab Car instead and headed to the Ben Tanh Night Market. The night market mimics the usual food parks we have here locally, but then again, the place was packed with tourists and locals in groups, so eating solo wasn’t really an option. Dismayed, I walked for about 40 minutes to Bui Vien Walking Street and settled for a Shawarma Wrap and a cold bottle of Tiger Beer, while watching the World Cup.
DAY 3 – War Remnants Museum, Notre Dame Cathedral Basilica of Saigon, Saigon Post Office, City Hall, Nguyen Walking Street, The Coffee Apartments, Ben Tanh Market
- War Remnants Museum
- Notre Dame Cathedral Basilica of Saigon
- Saigon Post Office
- City Hall
- Nguyen Walking Street
- The Coffee Apartments
- Ben Tanh Market
As usual, I had ban minh for breakfast. I swear this piece of heaven brought my taste buds to a whole new level! It’s so good that I don’t mind eating it every day. I planned on doing a DIY tour of the main tourist attractions in HCM in a scooter. My first stop was the War Remnants Museum, which houses exhibits related to the Vietnam War and the first Indochina War. The entrance to the museum is VND 15,000 (Php 34) and is open from 7:30 AM – 6 PM. I came in early at 8 AM to avoid the crowds and tour the place on my own.
28 Võ Văn Tần, Phường 6, Quận 3, Hồ Chí Minh 700000, Vietnam
Just beside each other, the Notre Dame Cathedral Basilica of Saigon and Saigon Post Office were my next stops. I was hoping to be able to enter the Cathedral, however, it was closed that day. Moreover, there was an on-going construction, which made finding the perfect angle for a picture quite difficult. Several meters away from the cathedral is the Saigon Post Office, which services parcels and shipment within the country and internationally as well. If you ever find yourself running out of cash, you may also exchange your money at the post office.
From the Saigon Post Office, walk for around 10-15 minutes to the City Hall, where you will be surrounded by luscious plants that will make you feel you’re in Los Angeles. I am not so sure if you can enter the City Hall because I just opted to stay outside the entrance across the Nguyen Walking Street.
Standing proudly in front of the City Hall is the monument of Ho Chi Minh. The landmark also serves as the starting point of the long Nguyen Walking Street stretch. The street is closed to vehicles and scooters, which actually makes it a good place to jog, walk, or wander around.
You may also spot the Bitexco Financial Tower from the same street. The entrance to the tower is VND 200,000 (Php 460); however, I opted not to go up to the tower since it was too cloudy and rainy that day.
Instead, the 7-story coffee apartment caught my attention.
I headed to the 4th floor, where I had a full bowl of seafood pho and a tiramisu milkshake. I spent the rest of the afternoon at the Ben Tanh Market, where I bought veggie and fruit chips, and coffee, lots of coffee.
Vietnam is such a humble country. Generous in serving a lot of crab meat 🦀 and shrimp on 🦐my pho, Grab drivers who would still pick you up despite inputting the wrong pin, and lots of ‘buwis stomach’ moments because I can’t resist not eating the delicious ban minh at the🥖 streets.