Before dusk, our plane arrived at Tân Sơn Nhất International Airport, the busiest airport in Vietnam. I can already tell that it’s going to be a little humid just by looking at the sky—colors of amber scatter across the vast skies. At last, we are here in Ho Chi Minh City.
The airport was a little chaotic—people running around like crazy—picking up their baggage on the conveyor belts. I waited for my suitcase longer than most of the passengers standing there. I still don’t know up til this very moment the reason why my luggage got held up inside. Guess it will be like one of those world’s greatest mysteries—undiscovered, unanswered.
We dragged our suitcases alongside our worn out bodies outside to get a taxi.
Rush hour traffic is bad here in Ho Chi Minh City. It’s reminiscent of the jams on the major roads in Manila. Somehow, it made me miss my hometown, but in a way, Ho Chi Minh City feels a bit like home.
We reached De Tham Street by 7 o’clock in the evening. The room looked so “modern chic”. It is simple yet so sophisticated-looking.
I dropped my bag on the bed, creasing the once straightened comforter. Immediately, I run the shower and get myself under it. Water has a way of calming me. I was tired from the plane ride and somehow I need to cleanse myself for this “new beginning”.
With no idea on where to go, we decided to meet my Vietnamese friend to show us around. We agreed to meet at the Saigon Opera House, a renowned tourist spot here in Ho Chi Minh City. So, we started a foot journey from our hostel to our meeting place. Good thing there’s google map, we have easily navigated our way through unknown street names and signs.
After finally meeting him, he showed us around, giving us fun facts about each place we go to. We passed by several landmarks like, Ho Chi Minh City Hall and had a glimpse of Bitexco Finance Tower while perusing the whole city.
And on our first evening, we got to experience going to a night market—a cheapskate’s heaven. Every thing here in Bến Thành Night Market is inexpensive and you can haggle if you’re eyeing for a certain item but you are on a tight budget. I ended up buying my 30 souvenirs to bring back home. Imagine that coming from me, a thrifty traveler, spending money on souvenirs. Man, I must love these people so much.
We walked til our feet got sore and our bodies can no longer cope with fatigue. From there, we decided to hail a cab. I bid goodbye to my friend whom I will still see the day after tomorrow for another round of catching up.
“Ho Chi Minh City in a Nutshell.”
A day to get to see Ho Chi Minh City in broad daylight—24 hours to squeeze in everything we can see in this fast-paced, modern city.
Had a long shower because it’s freakishly humid outside. Sang all of my fave tracks on my Spotify playlist. I swear, Ho Chi Minh City made me feel at home already. After that refreshing bath, I put on a comfortable polo shirt to avoid sweating excessively. But unfortunately, it’s black so you already know how this story will end.
Starting our day with a supposed tour inside the Ho Chi Minh City Museum of Fine Arts. After numerous street stores, a guy who sells black leather shoes and a few motors parked by their own rules, we have reached what then was a closed museum. Too bad, we forgot to check the days where it is opened.
Feeling a little disappointed, we continued to our next destination. Independence Palace, also known as the Reunification Palace is one of the most famous landmarks in this bustling city. It is so enormous, I had to walk a little farther from the gate just to get everything inside the frame.
Midday comes into the pictures stealthily. It’s like we are here, just starting out our day and it’s already 12 o’clock.
Picking which food to eat or sandwich to grab is actually hard in a city where every store can be an amazing gastronomic encounter. But after watching Erwan Heusaff’s food guide to Saigon, our mind was made to visit the “lunch lady“.
As soon as we got there, a long line of hungry people welcomed us. The store’s decor is nothing special which is an evident testament to how amazing the food is. A middle-aged lady, with a smile on her face, walked up to us and told us about her book. That’s the moment I knew I was now face-to-face with the lunch lady.
We have possibly ordered everything off the menu but that, I would have to elaborately discuss in a separate blog story. One thing I can clearly say is that it has the best noodle I have ever tasted here in Vietnam and that includes Hanoi, Hoi An and Da Nang.
After that super filling meal, we booked ourselves a grab to our next location. Jade Emperor Pagoda is a Taoist pagoda located also in District 1. It has this pale ruby walls with intricate details on top. We imitated the other locals who were also there at that moment — bowed our heads, placed our hands in front of our chests and just prayed in serenity.
What’s good about Saigon is that, yes, it can be a little rowdy at times from all the motorcycles all over the city, but then, there are places like this where you can just rest and wait for the heat to weaken a little.
With that much needed rest now on lock, we made our way (with a cab, of course) to War Remnants Museum. This museum holds the exhibits concerning the first Indochina war against French colonialists. To be honest, the inside of the museum feels a little eerie, which to me, is a good thing. The visitors must be able to relate to what it exhibits. That’s the measure of its effectivity.
This particular tourist spot… has a lot of tourists. I must say that this one is the most touristy places we went to this afternoon. A little fun fact, I bought my Lonely Planet guide book here for 300 php. So cheap!
Outside lies preserved planes which were then used during the actual war. Most of them are still in their pristine condition, if not all. I gave in to my “tourist” side and had my photos taken in front of the aircrafts.
Last on our list today is the famous Notre Dame Basilica. It was constructed between 1863 to 1880 and is officially called the Cathedral Basilica of Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception. It is located in downtown Ho Chi Minh City.
Another upside to a city with no subway system is that you can really get into the nitty-gritty—the ins and outs of it. For sure you’ll get lost (a lot, and I’m not even kidding), but in the end, you’ll know how to go around its confusing interconnected streets—gaining you a new skill, touring like a pro, like some would say.
The skies started to look grey and the winds blow harder breezes. I was afraid it will rain and would ruin our day’s itinerary. We quickly circled the cathedral, a massive structure with rustic colors. The style is very medieval European, Romanesque to be specific, with pointed roofing and intricate detailing.
Just like our previous trips, we have witnessed yet another prenup shoot. Is this God’s way of telling me to settle down? Of course, not. (I took photos of them as proof in case you might think I’m fabricating.)
Adjacent to the cathedral is Saigon Central Post Office, a bright yellow-painted building with green accents. I was a bit envious that Vietnam has somehow made it into a tourist spot—thinking and wishing our own government have done the same thing. This said infrastructure is flocked by tourists more than the landmark across it. It’s hard to get a decent photo with no random heads getting in the shot. Other than that, I am floored to be seeing it in person. Such a classic beauty stuck in the middle of modernity.
And at night time, we get to roam around with no itinerary to follow. Now it’s just us, our wandering feet and the city in front of us. We walked with no directions, no place to intentionally visit.
The air is colder now. The lights slowly light up the darkening streets battling the shadows overcasting it.
We ended up finding ourselves walking back to our apartment. Somehow we have managed to figure it all out. But before we finally retire to our comfy beds, we went out and walked along Bui Vien Street, Ho Chi Minh’s number 1 street for backpackers. The street is almost drowning in neon lights. Like I could also drown in it. Loud music is everywhere, I can hardly determine which places rocks the loudest songs. But it serves its purpose. I can see why its like this. Its a tactical diversion for every tourist. Here, you can party it out like there’s no tomorrow and maybe meet new acquaintances. We did try to party it hard, but I guess we are not the type of people to enjoy this kind of scene so we head out to Saigon Square and spend some kaching for our own consumptions.
In a way, Ho Chi Minh City is a lot like Manila—noisy, sometimes unruly but there is an undeniable, irresistible charm to it. From the food to the tourist spots (though scattered across different districts) , Ho Chi Minh City has engraved a soft spot in my hardened heart. It is definitely a home far away from home. And I can’t wait to go home and retell this story to everyone I know because Saigon deserves it. It truly does.