Vietnam The Hidden Charm: Vietnam Travel Guide

One mention of Vietnam immediately gives someone an image of war. But the Vietnam War, which lasted for more than a decade, is probably one of the reasons why Vietnam has now emerged as one of the top tourist destinations in Asia. Vietnam is the easternmost country on the Indochina Peninsula in Southeast Asia. The country’s rich culture, history and breath taking landscapes draw tourists from all over the world to Hanoi and Saigon (top two destinations in Vietnam) all year round.

Vietnamese are generally warm and friendly people. Majority of the locals speak Vietnamese, Chinese and English. Vietnam’s currency is Vietnamese Dong. VND10,000 is roughly equivalent to Php22.00.

The 4 days and 3 nights travel guide below is a suggested itinerary for people who wish to enjoy Vietnam, specifically Saigon, at its best. There are lots of interesting places to see in Vietnam that 20 days is probably the advisable number of days to fully experience Vietnam, The Hidden Charm.

Photo by Anne Balasa
Photo by Anne Balasa

GETTING THERE

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By Air: Only Philippine Airlines and Cebu Pacific fly to Ho Chi Mihn. Travel time is less than 2 hours and Vietnam is one hour behind Manila time.

Website: www.philippineairlines.com

Hotline: 855-8888 (open 247/7)

Website: www.cebupacificair.com

Hotline: 7020-888 (open 247/7)

**** If you want to get the best deal for your Vietnam trip, book ahead of time and always be on the look out for promo fares. Cebu Pacific’s Vietnam flights can go as low as 50% off to Php1.00. Of course, this excludes travel taxes and fuel surcharges. Philippine Airlines also has PAL Midnight Special. This promo sale runs from 7:00pm Saturday until 7:00am Sunday (Manila time). ****

SOME FRIENDLY AND IMPORTANT REMINDERS:

This is an international travel so it is only necessary for you to have a valid passport. You can secure one from the vietnamfromtheplaneDepartment of

Foreign Affairs. If you already have a passport, make sure it is still valid for 6 months from the time of travel. Meaning, if your passport will expire on April 21, 2012, then it is still safe to travel and return back before October 21, 2011. Any date beyond October 21, you’ll no longer be allowed to leave the country. If in doubt, you can always call Vietnam Embassy in Manila, or Pilipinas Teleserve (24-hour Passport Assistance) 737-1000.

Note: This 6 months validity period only applies in certain countries, including Vietnam. If you plan to go to other countries, specifically in European countries, check

with their respective embassies here in Manila.

– No need to apply for visa when you’ll only travel as a tourist in Vietnam. Note though that other passport holders like Australian, French, American, etc. need to acquire visa prior or upon arrival in Vietnam.

– From the time of entry to Vietnam, you are only allowed to stay there for not more than 21 days without visa or as a tourist. If you intend to extend your stay, you have the option to visit Vietnam embassy in Philippines or apply for a visa on arrival to Vietnam from Philippines online.

– Always bring with you 2 valid IDs in case the immigration asks for it.

– Always bring your passport wherever you go. That’s always an SOP when traveling to other countries.

– Be wary of your surroundings. There are also pickpockets or snatchers in Vietnam. Better be safe than sorry. Don’t flash your cell phone or money anywhere.

– Before crossing the street, look to your left and right. Motorcycles can appear from anywhere in just a blink of an eye.

– Some Vietnamese find it hard to speak and understand English so it’s useful to learn some Vietnamese words (how much=bao nhiêu; thank you= cảm ơn bạn; discount= giảm giá)

– Vietnamese strictly maintain clean floors so removing of shoes/slippers when entering somebody’s home or even some establishments are necessary.

– Always keep a map handy.

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THINGS YOU NEED TO KNOW

bichduyenroom

Accommodation: There are various hotels and inns to choose from in Saigon but it is highly recommended to stay in the back packer’s area in Pham Ngu Lao if you are on a tight budget and want to be near the best bars and restaurants in the city. Imagine Boracay’s budget hotels, with tourists, sans the beach and you’ll instantly get a feel of what the back packer’s area in Ho Chi Minh looks like. District 1 is a very strategic location that’s why almost all the travel agencies are located here and also the usual jumpstart of most tours.

Hotels

Hoang Hai Long Hotel

Sheraton Hotel

Sofitel Plaza Saigon

New World Hotel

Park Hyatt Hotel

Elios Hotel

Saigon Mini Hotel

Liberty Hotel

Inns/Hostels

bichduyen

Bich Duyen Hotel – Highly recommended. Look for their manager Mr. Chahn.

283/4 Pham Ngu Lao street, 1st District, Ho Chi Minh city

+8497385748

[email protected]

Hong Han Hotel

238 Bui Vien street, 1st District, Ho Chi Minh city

+84.8.3 8 361 927

[email protected]

http://honghan.netfirms.com

Mai Guest House

241/41 Pham Ngu Lao Street, 1st District, Ho Chi Minh city

Ngoclinh Hotel

283/21 Pham Ngu Lao St Dist.1

Nguyen Khang Hotel

283/25 Pham Ngu Lao. District 1

PHOMeal: Food will never be a problem in Vietnam since there are lots of food in various shapes, sizes and prices. If you want to taste gourmet food, you may opt to visit one of the hotels in Saigon. On the other hand, District 1, Pham Ngu Lao and De Tham streets to be exact, have lots of restaurants and bars to choose from. These restaurants offer authentic Vietnamese down to western cuisine. If you are feeling a little bit adventurous, you might want to try the street food being sold along the sidewalks of Saigon. Almost all the food in Vietnam are very affordable so don’t be afraid to splurge. Surprisingly, even their cocktails are being sold at reasonable prices. So let your hair down, don’t fret about your budget and diet because that should not be in your vocabulary when in Vietnam.

 

Touring: There are lots of travel agencies along Pham Ngu Lao and around District 1 that could take you anywhere in Vietnam and even up to Cambodia but it is highly recommended to book your touring in advance. You may ask the hotel where you are billeted for their official tour operator or you may try the following tour operators below.

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* Delta Adventure Tour Co.– Highly recommended. They have friendly tour guides, especially Mr. Binh (Cuchi Tunnel Tour guide), a war veteran who is half Vietnamese and half Filipino. Needless to say, he’s perfect for the job as a tour guide to the historical tunnel.

Add: 267 De Tham St.,Ward Pham Ngu Lao, Dict 1 HCM City
Phone: (84-8) 9202 112 – (84-8) 903 977 976
Fax: (84-8) 9202 107
Website: www.deltaadventuretours.com
Email: [email protected]

* Sinhcafé Travel

Address: 165 Pham Ngu Lao street, 1 District, Ho Chi Minh city
Tel: (+84.8) 35027555 – 35091555
Fax: (+84.8) 38360858
Email: [email protected]

* Mekong Delta Tour
Address: 41 Dang Thi Nhu St., Dist. 1, HCM City
Tel: 38212100 Fax: 38214668

* Kim Travel Co., Ltd
Address: 270 De Tham St., Dist. 1, HCM City
Tel: 3920 5552 Fax: 3836 9859

motorcyclevietnamTransportation: The main means of transportation in Vietnam is motorcycle but there are also lots of taxis and cycle rickshaws, locally known as cyclo(pronounced see-clo) to take you within the city of Saigon. Although there are public buses in Vietnam, it is still recommended to take the cab or check out Vietnam’s beauty by foot. Always keep a map handy. Saying the name of the establishments or places you want to see to the cab driver would be hard so pointing your destinations through the use of the map is always the best option. You can ask one from your hotel. To be safe, always ride Vina Sun taxis. By the way, flag down rate of taxis in Vietnam is VND10,000

Trivia: Did you know that there are 4 million motorcycles in Saigon? Yes, that’s for Saigon only.

vinasuntaxi

THINGS YOU NEED:

– Sunblock (Vietnam is tropical in south but monsoonal in north with hot, rainy season. Since you’ll be staying in HCMC, then it is still wise to bring one to protect your skin especially during tours)
– Insect repellent lotion (There are few mosquitoes in the Cuchi Tunnels so better be safe from malaria)
– Shades (protect your eyes)
– Money (No brainer. Bring lots for shopping. ^_^)
– Camera (capture memories and don’t forget to take a photo of Saigon traffic, Vietnamese food and you, wearing a Non La, during the Mekong Delta boat ride)

vietnamesedongBudget: There are several ATM machines in Vietnam but it is highly recommended for you to bring US Dollars and
exchange them in Vietnamese Dong. Approximately, VND10,000 is equivalent to Php22.00 only while USD200 already equates to VND4,000,000. Overwhelming? Yes it is! In Vietnam, you’re an instant millionaire. If you are the OC type who wants to compute all your expenses in peso, here’s a rough estimate on how you can easily convert VND to Peso. VND X/ 10,000 x 22 =Php X

* Good for two persons only. (The cost may vary if you travel in big group)

– Air Fare: Php9,000 (with promo fare)

– Accommodation: (Php3,500) Average price for a backpacker’s hotel for 4D and 3N

– Food: (Php5,000)

– Tour: (Php 2,600) – Inclusive of the Mekong Delta and Cuchi Tunnels Tour

– Pasalubong and for yourself: (Php 10,000) – This is an assumed price. Depends on how shopaholic you are. You might even spend more. ^_^

– Miscellaneous: Taxi fares, entrance fees to some tourist spots, etc.

You need to have: Php 40,000 for two persons or Php 20,000/person. Again, this is already a very safe budget. You can already splurge yourself in Saigon with this kind of budget. Some people were already able to enjoy HCMC with only Php10,000/person. If you wish to visit Cambodia, Laos, Ha Noi and other provinces in Vietnam, then you need to adjust your budget and length of stay.

DAILY ITINERARY

Day 1

Saigon’s Zoo and Botanical Garden. There aren’t much to see in Saigon Zoo but they do have animals like Giraffes, dancing Elephants (I don’t know if they are trained or what), Zebras, Cheetahs, Leopards, Deers, Antlers,Chimpanzees, birds etc. The park has huge trees, which makes the place an ideal spot for picnics and de-stressing. Entrance fee is VND 8,000.

saigonzoo

Watch the Dancing Elephants

Museum of History. This museum is only within the compound of Saigon Zoo. It showcases Vietnam’s history through its various artifacts covering every period. From porcelains, old coins, ornaments, accessories, clothes, weapons, down to a secret mummy, which is believed to be over a 100 years old already. Entrance fee is VND 15,000

HISTORYMUSEUM

War Remnants Museum. Just a word of caution. This museum is very depressing. War Remnants Museum primarily showcases exhibits relating to the American phase of the Vietnam War. It has eight themed rooms where the most disheartening part is the exhibit that includes graphic photographs during the Vietnam War and photos of Agent Orange victims. Located within the walled yard of the museum are also military equipments like UH-1 “Huey” helicopter, an F-5A fighter, a BLU-82 “Daisy Cutter” bomb, M48 Patton tank, and an A-1 attack bomber. Entrance fee is VND 15,000

warremnantsmuseum

 

Reunification Palace. Also called the Independence Palace, Reunification Palace is a popular landmark in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. During the Vietnam War, it served as the home and workplace of South Vietnam’s President and also the site of the end of Vietnam War during the Fall of Saigon on April 30, 1975.

Photo by Diego Delso
Photo by Diego Delso

 

Notre Dame Cathedral. This cathedral is also called the Basilica of Our Lady of The Immaculate Conception. This Catholic Church, established by French colonists, is located in the downtown of Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam just beside the Saigon Central Post Office. On October 2005, the Virgin Mary statue in front of the cathedral was reported to have shed tears, attracting people and tourists in the said location. However, the top clergy of the Catholic Church in Vietnam denied this claim.

NOTREDAME

 

Saigon Central Post Office. The magnificent gothic architectural façade and interior never fails to amaze tourists who visit Saigon Central Post Office. For a one of a kind souvenir in HCMC, why not send yourself a post card and wait for it to be delivered right in front of your door steps. In our case, we received the post card exactly 2 weeks after we sent it.

POSTOFFICE

Day 2

DELTATOURSpend your second day in Vietnam in Mekong Delta. This tour should be pre-arranged before your arrival in Vietnam or even a day before your preferred touring date. There are various kinds of Mekong Delta Tour but if you want to check out Vietnam’s famous Floating Market, then you should book for the SAI GON – CAI BE – VINH LONG – SAIGON package. Tour price is USD17. Inclusive of A/C bus, English speaking guide, boat trips, bicycle, fruits and lunch. Pick up starts at 7:30am and drop off in Saigon is at 7:00pm.

MEKONGDELTA

1st stop- Floating Market. Floating markets usually starts at 5:00am until 11:00am so better be early to be able to catch the market at its busiest and liveliest time.

2nd stop- Bee Farm. You will visit a bee keeping farm where they will serve you some of the local delicacies with a sample of their honey tea. The most sought after Royal Jelly is also being sold here. This kind of honey is believed to be beneficial for post-operative healing, very good when rubbed on the face and also acts as an aphrodisiac.

3rd stop- Coconut candy workshop. Here, you’ll get the chance to see how rice papers, coconut candies and rice crispies are made. Buy their coconut candies with nuts, they are really yummy and said to last storage even up to 8 months. One pack is worth VND30,000.LUNCHTOUR

4th stop- Lunch at the Orchard Fruit Garden. Free lunch, free bicycle ride and nap at the restaurant’s hammocks. Perfect way to rest and refresh after a long and tiring trip.

5th stop- Boat rowing along Mekong Delta Canal. Unfortunately and well, fortunately, you won’t be the one rowing. The small boat is scary enough that one major movement can cause it to tilt so better behave and just enjoy the view with your Non La (free use) on. Maximum number of passengers for one boat is only four.

6th stop- Bonsai Garden- After the boat ride, your tour bus will take you back to Saigon but with a 15-20 minute stop at Bonsai Garden or also called Beautiful Garden. Not much to see here. There are lots of souvenirs and greeneries for picture taking but not really worth to spend more than 20 minutes of your time.

mekongdeltacanal
Along Mekong Delta Canal

Day 3

You have two options to choose from for the Cuchi Tunnels Tour. The first one is a half day trip which only includes the tour to the Cuchi Tunnels while the full day trip includes Cuchi Tunnels and Cao-Dai Temple. If you are not very fond temples and want to take a longer rest back in your hotel, then a half day Cuchi Tunnels tour is already enough. Price for the Cuchi Tunnels Tour is USD4 exclusive of the USD8 that will be collected inside the bus. This USD8 is for the tunnels admission fee. The USD4 only covers the A/C bus and tour guide. Pick up starts at 8:30am and drop off in Saigon is at 2:30pm.

Before heading to Cuchi, you will have a stop over at the Handicapped Handicrafts. They have very nice handicrafts and paintings though they are a bit pricey. But the prices are actually worth the tremendous work and effort to be able to produce a very good art. Also, just consider it as a donation to the handicapped workers there.

Cuchi used to be a bitter battleground for the three decades long Vietnam War. Various tunnels, booby traps and weaponries used during the war are SNIPERHOLEpreserved here. To maximize your visit to the tunnels, it is recommended for you to try going down the sniper hole and entering the Cuchi tunnel system. The tunnels have been enlarged already especially for tourists so no need to fret. It is okay to bring your own flash light inside the tunnel though this is not really mandatory. Once you get inside the tunnel, there’s no more turning back, lest, all the people behind you need to move backwards since the tunnel is very narrow. There is an exit every 30 meters so no need to be nervous. Entering the tunnel system is TUNNELnot advisable for claustrophobics.

Post script: If you are not yet tired and still in the mood for some shopping, then seize the remaining afternoon to shop at Ben Than Market and Saigon Square. Buy local goodies, souvenirs at Ben Than while scout for good quality clothes, jackets and bags at Saigon Square. You can find Class A but good quality North Face jackets, Crumpler and Kipling bags here. If you are patient and have a good eye, then most likely, you will be able to score few originals.

BENTHANCANDIES
SAIGONSQUARE

View our video inside the Cuchi Tunnel System HERE. But I have to forewarn that you can’t really see anything except for few hints of light. That’s how dark it is inside. Thanks for the few glimmers inside the tunnel my friend can still see and follow me. Hehehe. ^_^

Day 4

vietnamstudentsGranting your return flight to Manila is still in the evening, Day 4 in Vietnam is meant for few relaxing, last minute shopping, food tripping and street photography for shutter bugs.

The backpackers area in District 1 are swarming with souvenir shops, boutiques and art galleries. The best places for a night out with friends are also here so be sure to check out the area, especially De Tham street and get some drinks during one of your nights in Saigon.

 

MUST TRY AND BUY IN VIETNAM

Try their iced black coffee. You will see lots of locals and even tourists drinking this type of coffee even in the streets of Saigon. If you are a little sensitive about food, you may try it at Highlands Coffee along Pham Ngu Lao Street.

vietnamesecoffee

Eat their famous Pho noodles. You can buy this anywhere in Saigon. You may try eating in one of the carinderias for a change or at Pho 2000, which is right beside Ben Than Market. This is the noodle house where former US President Bill Clinton had his noodle soup during his state visit in Vietnam in 2000. Reason why the noodle house is also named as such.

PHO

Buy Vietnamese key chains and magnets in Ben Than market (VND 100,000 for 10 key chains) and their yummy candies with various flavors. (taro, pandan, coconut, tamarind, durian, etc.)

VIETNAMESEMAGNET

Don’t forget to buy Vietnamese caps, Non La (salakot), shirts and silk blouses.

nonla

Their scarves, colorful native bags and purses are really nice and affordable that you’ll never mind taking home lots of them.

vietnambags

Try Allez Boo Bar and Restaurant. Affordable and yummy food with friendly staff. Located along Pham Ngu Lao corner De Tham street. Nice place for a simple drinking session with friends.

allezboo

Take home some Robusta coffee. Grounded coffee beans can be bought at Ben Than Market

robustacoffee

Try riding a cycle rickshaw or even rent a motorcycle at your own risk. One day rental for a motorcycle is USD6.

CYCLO

 

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