Tan Son Nhat International Airport
Took Jetstar 3K551 to Tan Son Nhat International Airport (SGN), Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam, from home in Singapore. This is a placement flight for my long haul flight on ANA and UA. *TRAVEL TIP: Flying out of SGN compared to SIN saves up to SGD$1000 at times!* SGN is also a modern and cosy airport to stop for a while in, and it has a pretty nice lounge with good food for star alliance gold members!
Saigon Post Office
Just across the Notre Dame Cathedral is the Central Post Office. The design was said to be a mixture of Gothic, Renaissance and French Influences. Telephone booths and ATMs are housed in red/orange maple-toned wood enclosures that added elegance to the place. Souvenir items are available here and for me rightly priced. It was here that I bought my fridge magnets which I discovered were cheaper than the market price without the need to haggle.
3:30 pm; From Wikipedia: It was formerly known as Independence Palace and was built on the site of the former Norodom Palace. It was the home and workplace of the President of South Vietnam during the Vietnam War. It was also the site of the end of Vietnam War during the Fall of Saigon on 1975 when a North Vietnamese Army tank crashed through its gates. We were not allowed to enter the palace during our visit because of a rumored bomb or something. We actually saw from afar the guards scanning the whole area to rule out the said rumor. Because of that we just made funny poses with the cyclos parked outside of the palace.
Ben Thanh Market
If you are a Harry Potter fan, you will thoroughly understand me when I compare Ben Thanh Market with the Room of Requirement inside the Hogwarts Castle. Right from spices, desserts, alcohol, medicines, fruits and vegetables to clothing, bags, shoes, watches, perfumes, cheap cosmetics and jewellery, you only have to think of something in order to find it in this central market. The shopkeepers are the most excited bunch I have ever seen and love bargaining while playfully pulling your leg for no reason at all. For those who find shopping boring, visit the confusing and crowded lanes and bylanes of Ben Thanh in order to see how it can be a whole lot of fun. Getting there: Taking a metered taxi from a reputed company is a good idea with 'Mai Linh' being the most popular and you could be charged around 15,000 VND for the first kilometre. Flagging taxis is easy because Ben Thanh is extremely popular but you could also ask your hotel staff to call you one.
Nha hang Ngon
After the puppet show, we had our dinner at Nha Hang Ngon, said to be the number 1 authentic Vietnamese restaurant in Ho Chi Minh. We paid a total of about VND320000 or Php625. Wow! Before we went back to our hotel, we did a quick shopping at the Ben Thanh Market where I bought several bags -- Krumpler camera bag, Kipling bag, Vietnam souvenir bags and kapis-shell shoulder bag. I less cared whether the Krumpler and Kipling is original or otherwise, I was simply happy with my loots for the day. I thought we will call the day off early but of course, we can't afford to miss the nightlife and the Saigon beer. Since establishments are pretty small, the alleys at night serves as an extension of the club. Foreigners and locals alike party all night as a way to end the day.
Ho Chi Minh Museum
The Ho Chi Minh Museum is strange – The displays made for the museum are very elaborate and very modern art inspired, which just confused me. I was hoping to learn more about the man who’s face is everywhere in Vietnam, but unfortunately a vast majority of the displays are in Vietnamese and not translated to English.
Renaissance Riverside Hotel Saigon
A part of the Marriott group of hotels, the Renaissance Saigon is wonderfully located beside the river and is close to all the major attractions of Ho Chi Minh City. I personally felt that the hotel did not live up to its reputation considering the fact that the rooms were run-down and tiny and the reception was slightly dismal. However, upon writing down my grievances, the manager immediately upgraded me and offered me complimentary WiFi and breakfast (all which I did not avail). Deluxe rooms come for about 150 USD for a night. Top Tip: Most five stars in HCMC are located around the riverside and gladly provide you a pick-up from the airport. If in case you do not have one, take a metered cab from a reputed company outside the airport (you will notice a queue for taxis) and the ride to the city which is around eight kilometres should cost you about 10 USD (210000 VND).
Hoa Tuc Restaurant
Get ready for a romantic night out at Hoa Tuc. This contemporary Vietnamese cuisine restaurant is located at Hai Ba Trung which houses several other restaurants. The good thing about this restaurant is they offer some great vegetarian choices also. They have a cooking class as well. Best in show: Hoa Tuc Starter Platter (fresh spring rolls, fried spring rolls, fish cakes, and Hoa Tuc Salad). The fish cakes are out of this world! Make your main dish the Seafood fried rice with grilled eggplant on the side. For desert order the sticky rice fritters stuffed with black sesame seeds, red bean paste and coconut cream.
Argentinian Steakhouse El Gaucho Restaurant
This is a steak lover’s haven, you can choose the type of steak you want, the serving size and the type of sauce you want. They have three types of breeds to choose from: USDA Prime, Back Angus and Certified Angus Beef. You can also choose your portion size – the Filet Steak and Rib Eye Steak are available in 250/350/500/1000 grams serving sizes; while the New York Striploin is available in 300/500 grams serving sizes. Steak is not the only thing on the menu – try a noteworthy salad like the Warm Goat Cheese on Toast served with grilled vegetables on top of mixed greens or a Nicoise salad. Or start your meal off with the El Gaucho Sampler Platter (Salchicha, Chorizo, Chicken, Mushroom) and Beef Empanadas. Best in show: USDA Prime Filet Steak with grilled Asparagus and Red Wine sauce with a glass of Merlot wine. If you think you still have room after the feast try out the Dulce de leche for dessert.
The Long at Times Square – 57-69F Dong Khoi Street, District 1 This restaurant gets its name from its very long design. Their inspiration comes from the sidewalk cafes fond in France and Italy. Best in Show: The Bubble Promotion – Buy a bottle of sparkling wine and get four bar snacks for free. Bar snacks to try include: Classic Tomato Bruschetta and Pandan Chicken. Then order yourself a freshly made Margarita Pizza and finish off the feast with one of their gelato. You might have a problem to choose which gelato, as their collection is huge.
Ho Chi Minh Post Office
A few steps from the Cathedral is their post office, designed by Gustave Eiffel of Eiffel Tower. We then decided to have the Vietnam fried pancakes, locally known as Banh Xeo. We didn’t know that it would be in such huge servings that most of us failed to finish what we ordered. But, all the same, it was delicious!
Enjoy a sunset drink at the Chill Sky Bar, a rooftop bar offering phenomenal views of the city (chillsaigon.com). A little away is Lemongrass, in a narrow shophouse in District 1. Listen to live music and enjoy a candle light dinner through your Vietnamese dinner that has a French touch (lemongrasssaigon.com).
Saigon Sports 1 Hotel
We stayed at Saigon’s Sports 1 Hotel at USD30 per night with free buffet breakfast for two. The room can actually accommodate three persons but you need to pay extra USD3 for the buffet. The narrow lot/floor area was something noticeable of Saigon as most of establishments around occupies an average of 75-100sqms. Another uniquely famous about Vietnam is their coffee. According to some, it’s far beyond the Starbucks taste... Hmmm.... as a coffee addict, I was longing for the morning already to savor Vietnam’s coffee....
Enjoy Mediterranean food at its finest at Saffron where they greet you with a glass of sparkling wine and they won’t charge you for it! Saffron takes its cooking inspiration from Middle Eastern, Northern Africa, Greek, Italian, French and Spanish cuisine. What you will notice first off is the amazing decor – make sure to look up at the ceiling as soon as you enter inside. This Mediterranean Bistro offers signature dishes whose portions are huge size for a single person. If you like the classics try their cheese plate or crostinis to start, Escargot with mushrooms for your main meal and Chocolate bread pudding for dessert. Best in Show: Twice Cooked Lamb – the lamb is braised and pressed with mashed potato puree. For dessert enjoy the walnut and honey baklava served with pistachio ice cream.