When in Saigon

Vietnam, 2016

My excitement level jumped from 0 to 100 upon hearing that Vietnam would be my next stop. First, you hear about this neighbor a lot but have no idea what’s in it now. The classroom has taught me about its history up until the war but after that, all I know is it’s currency and its capital. I don’t know what to see here and that’s a good thing, unfamiliarity always is. And second, I wanted to wear one of those conical hats so bad (and I eventually did).

I arrived after midnight so there’s not much to see. Plus at that time, none of the money exchange hubs in Manila are selling Dong. So I’m dong-less…that doesn’t sound right… in a city which I’m a total stranger in. But luck would have it that our COO, Jesus, is on the same flight and that there’s a money exchange booth right after clearing immigration. So I found myself inside a cab, with Jesus talking to the driver in Vietnamese instructing him where to drop me off, and the next thing I remember is waking up having the same clothes. I always get sick inside airplanes (my body couldn’t handle the cabin pressure) so i dropped as soon as I arrived at the hotel.

As soon as I got out in the streets, I could remember the traffic jam, not like the ones that we have in Manila. It’s nice to get stuck in traffic in Ho Chi Minh. You’re in a two-lane street surrounded by all these old buildings and drivers barely honk.

Right after the meeting, we went back to the office and had a short tour of the tech hub.Man it was awesome. There’s an amphitheater with pillows, hanging rattan chairs, and facing couches which make you feel like you just boarded from Platform 9¾ at King’s Cross.

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from L-R: Christine, me, Shanice, Jamie & Danny

It was during this rush hour stroll to the office that I saw my life flashing before me a couple of times. I’ve never seen so many motorcycles in my life, not even close to what I saw in Taiwan. Still it was a fun experience. Most of the time I’m walking along the sidewalk anyway, with my mouth open, adoring all these well-preserved edifices.

We headed to SH Garden after the quick office tour and again, my jaw dropped as we go around this amazing city. SH Garden is located in a rooftop of a building close to the city hall. This is without a doubt one of my most memorable dinner experiences. The place has a very relaxed atmosphere, food is awesome and the company is super cheerful. We owe it all to the team in Vietnam.

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We walked around HCM after dinner and heaven knows how far we’ve walked. The city hall square is very much alive, full of students, families, you name it. Back then I haven’t lived in the 21st century Vietnam and kept calling it Saigon. So when Trang asked me to guess who the statue is, I hesitantly answered… Mao Zedong. Of course it wasn’t but I surely couldn’t come up with a name at that time. She gave clues such as A. he’s a very popular person and B. he has 3 names. My genius self answered LEE MIN HO. I’ll stop there before I could do more damage to my reputation. Oh right there’s none.

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Ho Chi Minh Statue
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Ho Chi Minh City Hall
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According to Trang, those are sails of the boat used by Ho Chi Minh
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The Hotel Continental Saigon is quite a standout.

I decided to extend my stay throughout the weekend and for my first night, I stayed in Oscar Hotel which has a nice view of the city hall square. For its price and location, I’d recommend staying at Oscar’s. Breakfast is really good; there’s bacon. Rooms are also very neat and yes there’s a tub!

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View of the square from the Oscar Hotel balcony

Right after breakfast, I went to the Opera house and decided to but tickets for the show that night. However it was too early so I just sat in the garden while looking at the map. Ben Thanh market it is!

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While all souvenirs from HCM might be available in Ben Thanh, I found out that prices are bit inflated there (probably because it’s where tourists really flock). Basically I paid 250K Dong for something which only costs 90K. But the place is such a feast for the eyes so I’d still recommend going there.

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On my way back to the hotel, I stumbled upon this cafe which sells memorabilia from all famous movies. The ground floor is full of collectibles while the second floor is a cafe which gives you a nice view of the streets.

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Walking back to the hotel, I decided to make another stop to the Notre-Dame Basilica. It’s a beautiful basilica made with orange bricks. Looking at it, you get to really differentiate between French and Spanish churches.

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Whenever I travel alone, one of my ways to get people to take  a picture of me would be to buy something and ask the vendor to take a photo right after. For the photo below, all I had to do is buy coke.

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Streets leading to the city hall are more like for sight seeing, unless you’re the type to buy from those Dolce or IWC boutiques.

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Cafes and souvenir shops in Saigon seem to sprout from all corners. Go inside any public building and you’ll find something cool in one of the rooms.

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After checking out from Oscar Hotel, I moved to Catina Saigon Hotel. It’s a smaller hotel but I had more fun staying there. Service is more personal and I was able to talk to the receptionist who was really friendly and gave me more guides to Saigon.

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After resting for a couple of hours, I decided it’s time for a late lunch. Jesus recommended that I try Pizza 4P’s and Carlos said I shouldn’t miss Quan An Ngon. I went for Carlos’ suggestion first and headed to Quan An Ngon. What I loved about HCM is that food is cheap but it doesn’t taste cheap.

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Another observation is that they serve a lot of leaves which for me is a bit too much to be fully consumed. But it’s all delicious so I’m not complaining.

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Right across Quan An Ngon is the Independence Palace. I didn’t go inside but I walked around the block because I felt I ate too much. The city is sprawling with trees and you can definitely tell that those have been there for decades. Went back to the hotel, changed my clothes and prepared to go to the Opera to watch La Vie Parisienne.

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Again I marveled at the beauty of this building and the fact that they were able to preserve it. I hope the same can be said for the Manila Met.

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The Saigon Opera House

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I planned to have Pho for dinner and google told me that one of the best is found in Rex Hotel. So I headed to the rooftop which has the best view of the square. Also, there is a band which keeps the crowd lively.

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And the pho didn’t disappoint.

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The next morning, I decided to go back to the basilica and on the way, I had to pass by the opera which at that time has a live band playing in front.

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And before packing up and heading to the airport… PZZA TIME! Took Jesus’ suggestion and headed to Pizza 4P’s.  Again, Saigon is a very pedestrian friendly city so I really don’t mind walking all the way to the restaurant. This burrata prosciutto and margherita is one  for the books. And I ate all of it… ALL OF IT!

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I will definitely be back and will have more of Vietnam soon. I love every inch of it! Hopefully I get to go to Hanoi next time as well.

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