A different side of Vietnam

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! 

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The locals waiting for the catch of the day!

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.

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Eggshell Art done by one of the locals

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.

War Museum Agent Orange Vietnam Travelanyway
War Museum – Agent Orange victims

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.

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Testimonials of American War Victims

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!

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Nguyen Van Binh Bookstreet for bookworms!
Bookstreet Nguyen Van Binh Vietnam Ho Chi Minh Saigon Travelanyway
Book Heaven

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.

Benh Than Market Vietnam Ho Chi Minh Saigon Travelanyway

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.

Notre Dame Cathedral Saigon Ho Chi Minh Vietnam Travelanyway
Notre Dame Cathedral Vietnam

Reunification Palace

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!

Reunification Palace Saigon Ho Chi Minh Vietnam Travelanyway

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.

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Saigon Post Office
Inside the Post Office Saigon Ho Chi Minh Vietnam Travelanyway
Inside the Post Office
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Where do you want to go? Photo by Jolo Luarca

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.

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Jade Emperor Temple

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!

Bui Vien Walking Street Saigon Ho Chi Minh Vietnam Travelanyway
Experience Saigon’s Nightlife!

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.

 

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Mui Ne, the fishing village
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Mui Ne Beach

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.

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Explore the white sand dunes by foot!
White Sand Dunes Mu Ne Vietnam Travelanyway
Photo by Jolo Luarca
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The Awesome Vietnam Crew for AirAsia: Ave, Len, Baninay, Richard Juan, Jolo, Cha, and Janina
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The Jeep adventure! Photo by Jolo Luarca

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!

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Photo by Jolo Luarca
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Lotus Lake

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!

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Helping the artists of the Sand Sculpture Park

 

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One of the sand sculptures in the park

 

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God of the Sea

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!

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Main Bedroom of the Villa
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Toilet
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2-bedroom villa
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Our Balcony
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Of course, I had to use the jacuzzi!
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The Cliffs Pool Area

Sealinks Hotel

Sealinks Hotel is not a bad choice. They offer a wide range of hotel activities and got a good view as well.

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Double room in Sealinks Hotel
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The view from outside – Photo by Jolo Luarca
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The Balcony

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

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Vietnamese Pancake
  • Bahn Mi and Saigon Special Beer

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Local Banh Mi and Saigon Special Beer
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Everyday is Banh Mi day!
  • Broken Pork Rice and Spring Rolls

Broken Pork Rice Vietnam Food Travelanyway

  • Favorite Restaurant: Ngoc Chai Garden, District 1

Ngoc Chai Garden Saigon Restaurant Vietnam Travelanyway

  • Food Market: You can find food markets around District 1

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  • Phuc Long – Recommended Vietnamese Coffee, You can also buy take home coffee here!

Phuc Long Coffee Vietnam Travelanyway

  • Pho!

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You should ride the motorcycle at least once when you’re in Saigon!
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Quail eggs with scallops

 

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Barbecue night!
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Thank you Saigon Food Tour!

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! 🙂

 

 

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