Vietnam, a Socialist Republic, located in Southeast Asia with neighboring countries like China, Laos, and Cambodia has a long history of war and rebellion. This is deeply imbibed in the city’s main landmarks and the local’s culture. Aside from being invaded by China, Dutch, French, and Americans, they also had a civil war that still resonates through stories of locals from the north and south of Vietnam. The most popular and brutal is the Vietnam War between the north and south, more known as the American War.
*disclaimer: long post ahead, but I promise it’s very helpful especially for first timers in Saigon!
Aside from its dark history, this destination will capture your heart with its scrumptious food and local delicacies as well as its breathtaking sites.
This article focuses on Ho Chi Minh City or also known as Saigon, a metropolitan area in the southeast region of Vietnam with around 20 million population and most number of motorcycles I’ve seen in my life and a side trip to Phan Thiet, one of the fishing villages and port areas of Vietnam.
Places to visit:
War Remnants Museum and Agent Orange
This probably is the saddest museum I’ve visited thus far. It shows the photos and testimonials of the victims of the US military action during the American war. You can find photos, vehicles, and weapons used during the war displayed inside and outside the museum.
I was particularly interested in the Agent Orange project, the chemical herbicide used by the U.S. Military as part of their warfare program during the Vietnam War. The US used Agent Orange to damage plant production, to hamper the support system of the Vietnamese; however, it damaged more than what was expected. It did not only do environmental destruction, but also killed animals, and infected the humans resulting to deformities and serious health problems.
Nguyen Van Binh Street or Bookstreet
Nguyen Van Binh Street is located beside the Post Office. It’s a small pedestrian alley filled with different bookshops and local cafes. You can enjoy chilling with friends or reading a book. In some days, you will also find different book activities and events in the area. Most of the books are in Vietnamese but it’s worth exploring especially for bookworms!
Ben Thanh Market
This is one of the most popular markets in District 1. It houses different food, clothing, and local souvenirs! There’s also an area to get local food and refreshments.
Personally, and based from the recommendations of some locals, this is not actually the best place to get souvenirs cause they usually sell items at a higher price. In short, there’s a lot of tourists traps here! Should you decide to buy here, do scout the best price first and bargain! Most of the time, you can get more than 50% discount from the original price they tell you.
If you are looking for coffee? Don’t buy in the market.Buy Phuc Long, it’s quite famous in the area and you can’t find it in Ben Thanh! This is tried and tested.
Notre Dame Cathedral
Notre Dame Cathedral is a neo-Romanesque Catholic church named after the Virgin Mary and is one of the most popular landmarks in the city. It is next to the Bookstreet and the Post Office. Too bad it’s under construction most part this year.
Aside from the history it contains (and because I’m not a history buff), there’s not much to see here or maybe because we opted for the free version- which means we only stayed outside and took photos!
This is also known as the Independence Palace, used as the home and office of the President of South Vietnam during the Vietnam or American War. It is a special landmark because it was also the place where the war ended, when the North Vietnamese Army tank crashed through the gates.
Saigon Central Post Office
Saigon Central Post Office is located downtown, beside the bookstreet and the Notre Dame Cathedral. This was constructed when the country was part of the French Indochina. You can see the Gothic and Renaissance architectural influence. You can still go inside and mail your postcards as souvenirs.
Jade Emperor Pagoda
You can also find a temple in District 1 and it’s called the Jade Emperor Pagoda. It was built around 1909 in honor of the Taoist god known as the King of heaven Ngoc Hoang. It’s not easy to find but just ask around and people will know what you are looking for.
Bui Vien Walking Street
Like Cambodia and Bangkok, Ho Chi Minh or Saigon has a street full of bars, pubs and restaurants. It is located in District 1, known as the backpackers area. You can pick where to drink and you can even order street food!
Phan Thiet: Mui Ne
Phan Thiet is located in the Binh Thuan province, southeast of Vietnam. It’s known as the fishing village and port area! It has a good stretch of beaches full of resorts to accommodate different types of tourists.
White Sand Dunes
Mui Ne is famous for its beach resorts and red and white sand dunes. If you really want to experience the sand dunes, I recommend doing the sunset tour and use the ATV or the Jeep so you can explore the area.
Red Sand Dunes
You can explore the area by foot and discover the Red Canyon and Fairy Stream, another option is to do sand boarding!
Side note though, since English is not the main language in the area it might be a bit challenging to communicate with the guides. If you are using the Jeep, they have a specific drop off point wherein you can take your time to get photos and videos. Then you wait for them to come back, so you can return to the entrance. The guides are also not as friendly as you want them to be, for example we wanted to take photos with the Jeep, we had a hard time asking them to go down so we can take photos without them in the picture. They said they didn’t want to go down because the sun is up and it’s hot.
Sand Sculpture Park
This is perfect for a family stopover before going back to the city, also located in Mui Ne. Kids can look at different sand sculpture made by local and foreign artists. We had a chance to take a photo with the owners, while they were doing their masterpiece!
Where to stay in Mui Ne?
The Cliffs Hotel
My recommended hotel is the Cliffs! It’s perfect for friends and family especially the villa rooms overlooking the sea! They also have the front beach with restaurant where you can chill. They also have an awesome breakfast buffet. The restaurant offers good food which is good, cause it’s hard to find a good / trusted restaurant around the Mui Ne area unless you are with a local guide!
Sealinks Hotel is not a bad choice. They offer a wide range of hotel activities and got a good view as well.
What to eat: Vietnam Food
It’s true Vietnamese Food can be really delicious! If you’re also in the mood, join one of the Saigon food tour and experience the local food from different districts! You also get to see Saigon complete with the motorcycle ride (do you know how crazy the motorcycles in Saigon are?)!
Vietnamese Pancake or Banh Xeo
Bahn Mi and Saigon Special Beer
Broken Pork Rice and Spring Rolls
Favorite Restaurant: Ngoc Chai Garden, District 1
Food Market: You can find food markets around District 1
Phuc Long – Recommended Vietnamese Coffee, You can also buy take home coffee here!
Saigon Food Tour Experience : First time to try Froglegs! It tasted like chicken.
Overall, my Vietnam experience was really a good one! I wish to still visit the Mekong Delta area as well as Hanoi! Till then!
Follow me in instagram @travelanyway for some random trips and daily musings! Ciao!
P.S AirAsia flies to Ho Chi Minh from Manila, 3x weekly! 🙂