Saigon: The Paris of the Orient
When I think of Vietnam, the first thing that comes to mind is the Vietnam War, the best guerilla campaign the world has ever seen. Don’t judge, I actually didn’t sleep through Asian history. I also remember Lea Salonga personifying the role of Miss Saigon, a love story between a Vietnamese girl and an American soldier which gained international acclaim.
One thing’s for certain now that my flight has landed at Ho Chi Minh City; nothing can stop me from experiencing anything this place has to offer. Well, actually, that’s not entirely true unless I’m a billionaire. However, you’re still welcome to tag along my modest trip to the capital of French Indochina.
Arriving past midnight, we went straight to Blue Diamond Hotel (hotel info). About 20 minutes from the airport, this European-themed hotel is strategically located just a mere walking distance to the busy business district. After a hassle-free check-in, we were surprised at how spacious, clean and well-equipped our room was, at a very reasonable price. But before hitting the sheets, we decided to grab a bite. Thankfully, a 24-hour convenience store was nearby and with 50,000 dong, we were able to satisfy our midnight cravings.
Since we only had a day to go around the city, we had to wake up early. The stay at the hotel came with buffet breakfast consisting mostly of Vietnamese and some American and Italian cuisine. A popular breakfast item among the locals is Ban Mi which looks like a spirally-molded cream bread available daily.
With a full stomach, we then visited the oldest French-inspired structures in Saigon that survived the test of time, the iconic Notre Dame Cathedral and the still-operational Buu Dien post office designed by Gustav Eiffel himself. We also got to meet a retired French-literate postman who is a living witness to the city’s colorful past.
Meanwhile, the visit at the War Remnants Museum left us in quite a mixed state of delight and sorrow. You’ll instantly turn into a kid once you see the tanks, helicopters and fighter planes but once you step inside you’ll witness the horrible experiences of the Vietnamese victims brought about by torture, biological weapons and mass murders.
The last stop before lunch was at the Museum of History to watch the Water Puppet Show. Using submerged wooden sticks connected to the puppets, it was for me a creative and comedic portrayal of local folklore.
Sadly, the lunch experience at Buffet Ganh at Bong Sen Hotel (hotel info) was rather chaotic. Apparently, all tour groups eat there. Brace yourselves or better yet arrive early. Quite extensive the buffet may seem, the space was not enough to handle the influx of hungry customers.
Before going back to the hotel to rest our tired legs, we decided to check out Ben Thanh market. Inside were stalls full of souvenirs, dried goods, apparel and eateries. Ironic as it may seem, most food stalls were occupied by foreigners.
If you plan to buy anything here, buy from the inaccessible stalls as they are way cheaper and don’t forget to haggle. While you’re at it, buy a glass of iced coffee. You won’t regret it. And before you empty your pockets, wait for sun down as these stalls tend to fill the streets. Maybe you can get a better deal or two like these paintings or pop-up cards perhaps?
If I would choose a highlight of our trip, it would be the floating dinner at Tau Saigon. Good food, better entertainment and without doubt the best view along Saigon River, a happy memory I would cherish until the rest of my days.