June 15, 2011

ITINERARY: Vietnam in 5 Days

How we spent our 5 days and millions of Dongs in the land of beef noodle soups, drip brewed
coffees and motorcycles.

DAY 1: Arrival at Ho Chi Minh City
Tan Son Nhat International Airport lies 6 km of the city’s center. The airport code is SGN. If you’re a Philippines Passport holder, there’s no need for a visa but you have to fill in an arrival departure card. Most of the time it’s distributed by flight attendants on board, if not, you can find one at the arrivals lounge before you queue for the immigration.

Foreign exchange rate counters can be found after you clear immigration and claimed your luggage. At the time of our travel, PHP 1 is equivalent to VND 400 or USD 1 to VND 20,000, same rate on our hotel. So if you do the math, even with your meager travel dollars, you’re an instant millionaire in the Vietnamese soil.

There’s an official taxi desk (SASCO) and the fee is less than 10 USD to get you to the city. The cheaper alternative is the bus which leaves every 15 minutes from outside the departure lounge. Try to have the exact change when you take the bus.

Checked in at a cozy and clean standard room in Saigon Mini 1, the hotel is conveniently located in District 1 where most of the sights in the city can be found. Name and address of the hotel in the Vietnamese language: KHACH SAN SAIGON MINI 1 - 102/1A CONG QUYNH, QUAN 1.

DAY 2: Ho Chi Min City Tour
Had a steaming bowl of delicious pho (Vietnamese beef noodle soup dish) and a really good cup of ca phe sua nong (Vietnamese hot coffee with milk) for breakfast, courtesy of our hotel to start our first full day in the city of Ho Chi Minh, formerly known as Saigon.

The MAIN ATTRACTIONS can be visited all within a day as most sights are concentrated in District 1, or the city center, and are within walking distance from each other except for the Chinese Temple at District 5 and the War Remnants Museum at District 3.

In District 1, The Notre Dame Cathedral and Central Post Office are situated right across each other. Not too far from there is the former Hotel De Ville de Saigon turned into HCMC’s City Hall. In front of it is a beautifully manicured park with the statue of Uncle Ho.

Cab rides are inexpensive and metered provided you take the more reputable Vinasun or Mai Linh taxis. These two have the largest fleet and turns their meter on automatically. Be careful of other taxi companies who closely copy the name and logos and charges more than the usual rates.

Staying in the area of district 1 at 160 Pasteur Street, an old mansion turned into a well patronized restaurant QUAN AN NGON is lunch. The menu offer a huge range of international and traditional dishes on prices just a bit north of street side food prices. The food was fresh and absolutely delicious that we had to eat there again before flying out.


To get a better grasp of another neighbor’s countries’ life and pace, we try to allocate a time to explore out of the city. For this trip, our fancy was caught by a coastal province 200 km northeast of HCMC with its landscape of sandy crescent shores and lively fishing villages, shallow streams and red rock formations and of course, its massive Saharan dunes and sand sledding.

We reached our destination via an open bus tour arranged through our hotel for USD 6. If your hotel does not offer that service, tickets are sold all over the tourist strips of District 1. Read here on how to get to Mui Ne : http://www.lakwatserangbayong.com/2010/07/road-to-muine-every-blogger-has-written.html

We left the city at 8 am and got to MUI NE 5 hours after. After hurriedly washing off the grimes off our faces and a quick bite at our front beach Thai Hoa resort , we hopped on an air- conditioned vehicle for 14 USD/person and proceeded to a scenic drive to explore this charming place.

We capped the night with a bottle of a local beer and a glass of mango daiquiri at the resort pool by the sea.


The day before, upon arriving in Mui Ne, we have arranged a pick up at the tourist center for 8 am. Exactly on time, a bus rolled off in front of our resort to bring us back to the city.

After checking back in at Saigon Mini 1, we walked around the area of a shopping square looking for lunch. Tucked in a narrow alley, we discovered the quaint Utopia café with its walls crammed with books. Sat on an al fresco table with our sandwiches and tall glasses of ca phe sa dua watching the Saigon world go by.

Done with lunch, squandering our millions of Dongs away for souvenirs and pasalubong shopping is what’s next on the agenda. But I got to tell you, we may be certified millionaires in the land of pho’s, but still a pauper in spending power. The must buy souvenir red shirt with a single yellow star printed on it costs 100,000 Dong (5 USD). American brands over run shirts costs around 200-500,000 Dong.

SAIGON SQUARE 1 - small, too crowded, better haggling chances, almost feels like Greenhills’ tiangge on a Christmas season. Here you will find a traditional Vietnamese clothing and souvenirs, few designer knock-offs, over run shirts, bags and luggage’s (Roxy, Crumpler, Kipling) and a lot of The North Face merchandise. Address is Nguyen Thi Minh Kai St, District 1.

SAIGON SQUARE 2 – bigger and better air-conditioning. A lot of American brand over runs, dvds, accessories and watches. Address in Ton Duc Thang St, District 1.

BEN THAN MARKET – un air-conditioned maze of stalls filled with every souvenir item you could think off but display more of their locally made produce. Don’t inquire about prices if you’re not too keen on buying as their marketing strategy is overly aggressive and a bit on the physical side to the point of tugging forcefully on your shirt and slapping your shoulders if you walk away not buying anything after asking.

Laden with shopping bags, we made our way back to the hotel to drop off our newly acquired stuff and dinner before proceeding to Rong Vang Theater at #55 Nguyen Thi Minh Kai, District 1 to catch the 8 PM WATER PUPPET SHOW. It is a historical and cultural showcase of an old Vietnamese tradition that started in the 11th century and one you shouldn’t miss when in the land of phos.


Although HCMC is the most populous metropolitan area in Vietnam, the pace of life seems unhurried and on our last day we tried to emulate the locals and just take it easy and soak it all in. Sipped and savored glasses after glasses of ca phe sa dua and warmed and filled our tummies with phos anywhere we can get them because its criminal not to and just wandered around aimlessly.

Mid day with the oppressive heat and to pass away the time before our flight, we ducked into a curiously unique WAR REMNANTS MUSEUM at 28 Vo Van Tan in District 3. A walled yard with a series of buildings with war memorabilia on display.

FANNY'S ICE CREAM is a good place to cool down to and get my bearing after the encounter with that unique museum with their ingeniously presented sorbets and ice cream.

Last minute packing and we’re off to Tan Son Nhat International Airport. If you’re on an international flight,  proceed to Terminal 2 as Terminal 1 is for the use of Domestic flights. Duty Free shopping and dining places are quite limited.


  1. I love the urban setting. Hope to visit Vietnam next year. :)

  2. So much to see and do there, we're excited for you:-D

  3. We almost have the same itinerary at Ho Chi Minh, but I missed the water puppet show though. (Maganda ba?)

  4. The puppet show is amazing, they are so graceful and even if the entire show is Vietnamese, maiintindihan mo pa rin. It is highly entertaining and worth your while, plus its cheap:-)

  5. thanks for sharing your IT here kim and mj! at least may idea na talaga ako anong gawin sa HCM. gusto ko yung sands and I should drop by the war museum para matauhan rin. :D

  6. Hi Ed, medyo petiks pa yang itinerary na yan, we had too much free time on our last 2 days from Mui Ne:-) Don't forget to gorge on banh mi, pho, ca phe sa dua. Danggit, we're inggit!:-)


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