July 4, 2010

VIETNAM DIARIES: Xin Chao Saigon!

After a good 6 hour sleep where we woke up multi-millionaires, yes you heard that right, MULTI- MILLIONAIRES! Forget those Rich Dad, Poor Dad books promising you every strategy how to amass wealth. Just hop on a plane Vietnam bound, change whatever meager travel dollar you have to Vietnamese Dong where the current exchange rate is at 19,000 VND to 1 USD and et voila, you’re a certified millionaire. Albeit, still a pauper in spending power. A bottle of water costs 3,000 VND at the convenience store.

After a fragrant steaming bowl of pho for breakfast, it’s time to discover Saigon - a place where the culture permeates all the senses, from the beautiful French architecture to the delicious food and the frantic pace pulsating around the city.

Almost all of the sights we wanted to see are located at District 1, where our hotel Saigon Mini 1 is conveniently located too, so we decided to go to the Chinese Temple first at District 5.

For our first stop, we took an inexpensive cab ride (50,000 VND/$2.63/P126.24) from our hotel in District 1 to the temple Chùa Bà Thiên Hậu, dedicated to the Lady of the Sea revered by the seafaring Chinese community, located on the busy street of Nguyen Trai at the Cho Lon (China town) District 5.




After getting enveloped and high with the heady scent of burning incense, we took another Vinasun (the more reputable taxi companies who always turn their meters on) cab ride back to District 1 where the Notre Dame Cathedral and Post office is located.(2 Cong Xa Paris, Dist.1)

The late 19th century Notre Dame Cathedral is one of the oldest and biggest Catholic churches\ in Vietnam, and is a prominent feature of the city’s skyline with its tall twin spires. This neo- Romanesque Church built with bricks is located at the beautiful Paris Square in the center of the city. The Virgin Mary statue is also within the small garden, in front of the cathedral.



The beautiful Central Post Office across the road from the Notre Dame Cathedral doesn’t sound like a “must see place” but it is one of the best looking colonial public buildings in Ho Chi Minh City. It has a Gothic architectural style which was designed and constructed by the famous architect Gustave Eiffel of Eiffel Tower fame and has become a tourist destination in its own right.



After buying some souvenirs at the Post Office’s gift shop and changing some more travel dollars, it’s a 3 block leisurely walk with map in hand to the former Hotel De Ville de Saigon turned into HCMC’s City Hall. The colonial styled building unfortunately is not open to the public so we just snapped a few shots and passed by the little park opposite the impressive building looking for lunch.



Wandering in a narrow alley with rows and rows of parked motorbikes, we discovered the charming Lemongrass Café (4 Nguyen thiep St. Dist.1), where we subsequently gorged on a seafood overdose lunch for a little over 500,000 VND. Not cheap but worth every penny for a bite.

Fortified with that lunch, we then walked to Ben Than Market to squander some of the millions that are burning a hole in our pockets. WARNING: Proceed with caution in Ben Than market, sales ladies can get overly aggresive. Pulling your shirt and slapping your shoulders has been a traditional marketing strategy for them, so keep those tempers in check and pick up those jaws from the floor. Talk about marketing strategy. FAIL!


TIP: Almost all of the must-see sights in HCMC are concentrated in District 1, so its an easy DIY tour that can be done in a day.

written by KIM & MJ

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