Tuesday, 6 December 2011

Vietnam, Ho Chi Minh City

29 Nov 2011

My Vietnam trip with Cp was free and easy, and planned 6 months ahead. We were at the Changi Airport in the wee hours of the morning because we had to check in at 5am. The flight to Tan Son Nhat International Airport at Ho Chi Minh (HCM) would take us approximately 2 hrs.

Time: 5.00 am
I went through the main attractions in the Socialist Republic of Vietnam again because there was nothing much we could do while waiting for departure. Somehow, I felt like it was also important to get acquainted with the national flag of Vietnam. What i noticed first from the flag is the colours. Red and yellow form a really strange contrast. The colours are very "loud" and "glaring", it is sure to catch anybody's attention.

The other flag, with the hammer and sickle, represents the ruling party in Vietnam. I find out that after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, there are only 5 Communist countries left in the world today; namely China, Cuba, Laos, North Korea & Vietnam.

Historically, I must admit that I do not know much about Vietnam or the war it fought against the Americans. I was surprised that the war went on for 20 long YEARS. Here's the map of Vietnam.

Map of Vietnam (Lonely Planet)

We arrived at 8.40 am (SG time) in HCM City. We took quite awhile to find our way to the 'right' taxi stand. Well, not exactly a taxi stand, it was some sort of a booth located at the domestic terminal. We were looking out for the Vinasun logo and men with green shirts. 

According to travellers' reviews on TripAdvisor, there are only 2 trusted taxi companies in Vietnam - Vinasun and Mai Linh, so I'm taking those reviews in earnest.

I've also created my own personal reviews based on this trip.

To those intending to go to Vietnam,

1. Make sure that the taxi taken bear the exact logo of Vinasun and Mai Linh; there are various forms of scams who claimed to be from the companies. One driver offered to drive us to our hotel for USD25 and we immediately walked away.

2. Never take any motorbike ride to tour around the city. I had taken motorbike 'taxi' in Bangkok without any problems; but the Vietnamese riders were different. They would extort money from foreigners so ignore these riders when they approach.


3. Never sample food offered by "friendly" hawkers along the pedestrian walkways. Chances are, you would be intimidated to buy what they sell. One hawker suddenly turn nice to ugly in a split second when we decided not to buy whatever she was selling. We had to pay for the food which we had sampled, together with the food that she shove upon us.

4. Make sure you ask the price first before touching anything. This elderly hawker sold us a coconut drink 3 times its normal price. Initially my intention was to buy a coconut from her to lighten her load, but being kind sometimes doesn't pay off.

There were many street hawkers along the pavement. Some were honest, some were not. It took experience to bargain. I would say that we became desensitized with the 'fierce' locals after 2 days in Vietnam although language is still the barrier of communication.

Apart from the bad experiences, there were many nice ones too such as the service we received from this hotel.


Situated at Dong Du Street next to Annam Spa, it is very popular with Japanese travelers and workers as there is a small Japanese restaurant on the ground floor.

The hotel was within my budget and in a safe location. Surrounded by all the 4 stars (Sheraton, Caravelle, Intercontinental, Grand and Hyatt), the location is good because there are many international restaurants found along the streets, especially halal eateries for Muslims.

The hotel could also help to arrange a full day trip to the Mekong Delta, Cu Chi Tunnel or Cao Dai Temple. I was relieved from the hassles of finding a reliable travel agency so that was a plus.

These were some of the places near the hotel, which we went to on our first day in HCM.

The photo above is Saigon Central Mosque at Dong Du Street. It was built by South Indian Muslims in 1935. It's a bit hard to find at first, because my attention was directed at all the high rise buildings. The mosque gave an image of a safe haven to me, as compared to the traffic outside its gate. Traffic was chaotic!!

Saigon Opera House

Not sure how many times we passed this place. It is located at the roundabout junction, in front of the Caravelle Hotel. Somehow, we did not enter the building. 

Ho Chi Minh's statue in front of the People's Committee, formerly known as City Hall.

We saw many buildings built by the French during their colonization in Indochina. It was said that the architecture of this building was modeled by a similar building in Paris; the French wanted to feel at home while in Saigon.

Saigon Notre-dame Cathedral

This Roman Catholic church was built between 1863 and 1880. All the building materials were imported including the red bricks, which were from Marseille. There is a statue of Virgin Mary in front of the church and at one point someone reported that the statue had shed tears. As absurd as it sounded, it succeeded in attracting large crowds until security officers had to be deployed for crowd control.

Saigon Central Post Office

The building was designed by the same architect, who designed the Eiffel Tower!!

I noticed that in most French architecture, there is always a clock on the building. Does it has to do with the fact that the French are extremely time conscious or is it just decorative art, popularized in those period?

Other Nearby shopping centres near the hotel.

  • Diamond Plaza: the blue building behind Notre Dame.
  • Vincom Center: It feels like I am back in Singapore because what I can get in Singapore, I can get in here.
  • Parkson Saigon Tourist Plaza

The Tao Dan Park in front of The Reunification Palace

Just like its name indicated, the Reunification Palace was the site, where the Vietnam War ended. After the Northern Vietnamese army crashed its gate. the Communist government united the Southern Vietnam to form the present day Vietnam. Saigon, which was a name given by the French and American, was changed to HCM to mark the takeover of the city by the Communist government.

From the Reunification Palace, we then walked to the Cho Ben Tanh Market to see if there were anything interesting to buy. All these done in a day!

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