Yes, we were gone for four days and three nights, and we went to Vietnam. It was our first time there and we totally did not know where to go and what to do. We eventually discovered things that are fun to do, so here is our recommended itinerary:
You can take the red-eye Cebu Pacific flights. We got them at a promo rate of Php 3778.40 per person. Our flight was at 11:00pm (Manila Time) and we got to Saigon at 12:30pm. The time at Vietnam is an hour delayed. I’d advise against getting a “Go Light” fare, however, as coming back home, I’m pretty sure you’ll come home with at least 1 suitcase full of pasalubong. My advise: going there bring just the essentials in 1 check-in and then, going home, pack as much as you can in your brand new North Face bag (of course, you’re getting a North Face bag).
When you arrive at the airport, take a Vinasun or a MaiLinh cab going to your hotel. Do not pay more than $10 for the ride. We were five people and we shared the cab, cutting it down to $2.00 per person. By the way, the exchange rate is $1.00 (USD) = approx. 20,800 Vietnamese Dong (VND). We were millionaires there!
For your accommodations, you can book a really good hotel for around $30-$50 per night! We booked in Hoang Hai Long Hotel. It was about a 5 minute walk from Ben Thanh Market and we got it at a promo price of $33 per night. We booked this hotel online through Agoda.com. The rates include breakfast already.
My friends booked in one of the inns in Bui Vien Street. It was called Hong Han Hostel. The receptionist was very friendly. It wasn’t a five star hotel, but the service was impeccable. Mr. Anh went out of his way to help buy my friend’s SIM card. He also changed our money at a better rate. He even gave me and my husband breakfast when we were just waiting for our friends to come down.
9:00 – 11:00 am Ben Thanh Market
When you wake up, you can have a day tour or just go around town by yourselves. From the hotel that we booked, you can actually walk to the Ben Thanh Market. It is easy to go anywhere by taking one of the plentiful cabs. Just be sure that you ride either of the two taxi services that I have mentioned (Vinasun or MaiLinh). The Ben Thanh market is a place where you can shop for gifts for your family. They have all sorts of specialties from Vietnam like dried jack fruit (P500/1kilo), coffee, intricate woodwork, cloths, luggages, etc.
11:00 – 12:00 nn Saigon Square
This is the where you can buy those original North Face Bags. According to one saleslady we talked to, North Face has a factory in Vietnam so you can really find some original overruns (or some with a little defect but orig). However, she said that Kipling and Crumpler don’t have factories in VN so you’re not so sure if they’re original. The original bags that you’re more sure are orig (some are Class A) are the models Hot Shot, Surge, and Melinda. Most of the available colors are black but you can find red or blue variants if you’re up for some hunting. These orig bags are priced at VND 400,000 or PHP 800. We saw some orig bags being sold here and they go for P4000, so definitely not a bad deal.
12:00 – 13:00 pm Quan An Ngon
Time for some lunch! Our favorite Vietnamese resto is Quan An Ngon, located near the Reunification Palace, located on Nam Kỳ Khởi Nghĩa. I recommend that you write the name of places (or better, the map location) and then just show them to the taxi drivers. The pronunciation is wildly different from what you think.
We will share with you our review of this restaurant in another article. Suffice it for now to say that you will enjoy the ambiance and food of this delightful restaurant. :)
13:00 – 15:30 pm Notre Dame Church and NYDC
After lunch, head on to the Notre Dame Church. We actually walked from Quan An Ngon. You will need to walk towards Tao Dan Park, where you will see the top of the Notre Dame Church to the far right. Just tread towards that area and you will reach the church.
With Notre Dame on your left, and you facing East, you’ll see The Coffee Bean & NYDC — try out NYDC. Take some pictures and have delicious dessert at NYDC after. You will not believe how delicious the Cheesecake is in this place. We will share with you our review in a succeeding article.
15:30 – 16:45 Ho Chi Minh City Museum
If you are there to learn about the culture and the history of Vietnam, you can visit the Ho Chi Minh Museum. Entrance is $1.00 per person. You can actually cover all of the museum’s displays in one hour. I recommend you skip this one – nothing much to see aside from the old war machines out back (which you’ll also see in the War Museum).
16:45 – 18:00 Zen Plaza
Have your cab take you to Nguyen Trai Street, where you will find the Zen Plaza. The Zen plaza is a five story department store with a few stores. I recommend you check out the local designs — they’re a bit pricey (comparable to Manila’s designer clothes) but still beautiful works of art. At the fifth floor, you can have dinner with friends at the Sushi Bar. Outside the plaza, the whole street is lined with different clothes stores (e.g. Mango, etc).
18:00 – 21:00 Le Loi and Trung Nguyen
You can traverse the main road of Le Loi, where the Opera house will be seen at the end of the road. The Opera house is a great place to go to for picture taking. The whole building shines at night. On your way back, you will see a lot of coffee shops where you can take coffee or a light snack. Our favorite was definitely Trung Nguyen — be sure to try their Legendee or the mysteriously named #5.
21:00 – 23:00 Shopping at the Ben Thanh Night Market
When the Ben Thanh Market closes, a night market opens at the streets on the side of the market. The same wares that were sold at the day market are available here, although the night air makes things look more interesting & exciting. We bought an egg shell painting at this place for around 180,000 Vietnamese Dong.
Whew. That’s one busy day but sure to be one that give’s you a good sampling of what to expect from Ho Chi Minh City.
Watch out for Day 2 of Manila Reviews Trip to Vietnam!