Cost Breakdown: 5 days, 5 nights in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam(?)
One way ticket SIN to SGN – $70.50/person
Visa (approval letter + visa stamp) – $31/person
Accommodation – $147 total for 5 nights
Transportation – $35 total (various taxiing around city)
Food/Drinks for five days – $63/person
Attractions/Activities – 66 cents/person (War Remnants Museum)
First thing’s first: if you’re an American booking a trip to Vietnam: you need to get a visa first! If you’re smart, you probably already know. If you’re dopey like me, well, you might’ve booked a one-way ticket to Vietnam and are panicking about what to do. Fear not! You can learn from my mistakes~
I was immediately overwhelmed when we stepped out of the airport in Vietnam. We took an Uber to our Airbnb, located between District 1 and 2 (D1 being the heart of the city). The ride took almost an hour because of the crazy traffic! After getting settled in, we decided to try and explore the surrounding area and find an evening meal. I thought I knew what it was like to navigate the crazy roads of an Asian country, but the roads in Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC, formerly Saigon) are really something else. When you watch others cross the roads it’s almost like watching Jesus walk on water. We braved the roads to find the first banh mi of our trip from a little street vendor. Softly toasted bread with melt-in-your mouth meat and pickled vegetables? That’s what dreams are made of.
I had no idea what to expect here. Vietnam hadn’t been on my lists of places to travel before. We sort of added it to our itinerary last minute. There are a lot of places to visit here, many of them dedicated to the Vietnam War. Other travel blogs I looked at would talk about their favorite museums or memorial sites. None of them talked about the implications of such places. Maybe that’s not a fun thing to talk about if you’re travel blogging, but learning about the history of the war was really intense.
The only museum Will and I ended up going to was the War Remnant’s Museum, and that was sort of enough for me. It’s always cool to learn about history from another perspective, and this museum was a humbling eye-opener, to say the least. They don’t call it the Vietnam War. It’s the Resistance War Against America. And they made a museum that displays all the pain and suffering they feel the United States should be held accountable for. Again, humbling stuff.
After some stressful arguments in Singapore, Will and I decided to really take things slow in Vietnam. When we first started this trip, we really jumped right into all the sightseeing. We realized, even though some of the things we saw were cool, we really just went because we saw them on a list. We aren’t huge museum people, and when you visit so many temples in a row, they all start to look the same. So in Vietnam, we decided to concentrate on slowing down on the touristy lists of things to do, and take a breather. The first step: booking an apartment with a pool, haha.
One thing that really bonds Will and I is food. At home, we cook together or for each other often, so we decided to go grocery shopping! We’ve been traveling around with our Vitamix and have made it a point to buy green smoothie ingredients throughout our destinations. What we discovered about Vietnam, though, is that the grocery store is cheap! And I don’t mean just produce or snacks…I’m talking about a big block of freaking patê for $1. Helllzzz yeaahh. Oh yeah – “banh mi” literally can mean a loaf of bread. Don’t be alarmed when you see someone selling banh mi’s but don’t see any sandwiches! To find a sandwich in Vietnam, here’s a list of different sandwich names.
So we made our own banh mi sandwiches at home. It was fun, cheap, and tasty. We still went out to eat plenty, though. Vietnamese coffee is not only amazing, but also $1-2 a cup, so we definitely explored many coffee shops . We visited a few small flea markets, walked around some parks, and wandered through town to see Notre Dame and the Central Post Office.
All in all, this part of our trip was low-key, but it was just as fun. We were able to take a little break from the city craziness, in arguably the craziest city I’ve ever visited. It seems like HCMC is the type of city that grows on you the longer you stay, but I’m not sure if I’d want to come back. Maybe it’s just Ho Chi Minh City. We still have two more areas to hit: Hoi An, and Hanoi, and maybe I’ll like them better.
The Manor Apartments ($) – We booked this through airbnb and it turned out to be an ok place. It had what we wanted: air-conditioning and a washing machine. We also booked it because it had a nice picture of a pool, which we did visit once. If you’re trying to stay closer to the city center, then this isn’t the best place to stay. It’s located between D1 and D2, and isn’t very walkable. We ended up taking Uber everywhere, which isn’t a big deal since it’s cheap. There’s a little convenient store downstairs, which was nice for buying bottled water and midnight snacks. Neutral.
War Remnant’s Museum ($) – The admission to this museum is 66 cents, so it’s basically free. This is a good place for a history lesson and to learn more about the war and its aftereffects. There’s some graphic imagery, if you’re sensitive to that type of stuff. The first floor is mostly propaganda, and the top floor has a great photography exhibit. If you’re short on time, start from the upstairs and work your way down. Highly Recommend.
Trung Nguyen Coffee ($$) – Trung Nguyen is a chain throughout Vietnam, so you’ll see a few of these around. We went to the location that had a sand room, but there weren’t any tables available so we ended up sitting outside. It was still a really nice atmosphere, though! We ordered breakfast here, too – banh mi op la, which is literally bread with a side of eggs. It was good, but not what we expected. The coffee is good, although more expensive than local shops. Recommend.
L’uisine ($$) – I saw a photo someone posted from here on Instagram, and we happened to pass by it on a way to a flea market. There are a few locations, and it’s like visiting a cafe in a store. They sell a little bit of this and a little bit of that: some clothing, jewelry, housewares, and Monopoly sets. The food was good, although not the cheapest, and not very Vietnamese. They did offer vegetarian options and some fresh juices, which was nice, but not my favorite juice place we’ve been to on our travels. Neutral.
Cyclo Resto ($$) – We came here on a lazy day after a walk in the park. Cyclo Resto is a set menu, so you know how much you’re paying, and you’re full by the time you leave. It was good and tasty, but to me, it felt like a home cooked without much pizazz. Also, it was advertised to have 5 courses, but I’m pretty sure we were only served 4. Not a big deal, our bellies were full. The last course is egg coffee, which I guess isn’t very common to see in HCMC. It was aight, but not as dazzling as places I tried later. Neutral.
Ben Thanh Market – I really hated Ben Thanh Market, even though it’s on a lot of people’s “must do” lists. It’s big with hundreds of vendor stalls, and you can definitely find a lot of things here. However, the vendors are super high pressure and always price things two or three times higher, especially if they know you’re a foreigner. It takes a lot of effort to bargain down to the right price, and when I tried to walk away from some vendors, they grabbed my arm to prevent me from leaving. Tip for if you do visit: even stalls that have “fixed prices” can be haggled with. We ended up buying coffee here that was way too expensive – you can find cheaper coffee at a grocery store. Do not recommend.
Saigon Sqaure 2 – This is a few blocks away from the famous Ben Thanh Market. There are a few Saigon Squares that come up in searches, but some of them have permanently closed. I liked this place because it wasn’t as crazy as Ben Thanh. Some people say you can’t barter as much here, but I also felt a lot less pressure from vendors. We didn’t end up staying here long and I only bought a couple of shirts, but I would rather shop here than Ben Thanh. Recommend.
Saigon Central Post Office – Visiting the post office is free, because, well, it’s a working post office. We got stamps here, and the lady was kind of rude but whatever. You can buy post cards and souvenirs here. The architecture of this building, both inside and out, is pretty nice. It’s also close by to Notre Dame, so you can kill two birds with one stone! Recommend.
Saigon Notre Dame Basilica – Also a free landmark to pass by. I’m actually not sure if they do tours here, but you can come here for Sunday mass if you’d like. There was some construction going on when we visited, so it was closed. But a nice place to take a picture to document your trip! Recommend.
Con Vien Van Hoa/Cultural Park (Free) – If you like walking around Central Park type places, this is a pretty nice park. It’s spacious and green, and you can find coffee shops and restaurants to eat nearby. Great place to take a walk, read a book, or hold hands with your lover. Recommend.
Sadec District 2 ($$$) – Ok, first of all, Sadec District 1 was bulldozed down, so don’t go to that one. Make sure to go to #2. I recommend this place, but only if you’re the type who likes going to IKEA/Kitchen Stores. They sell ceramic homewares that are just so damn pleasing to look at. I bought a tea set and some spoons here, hehe. The surrounding area is supposed to be pretty hip. After we went to Sadec District, we walked over to the Big C a few blocks away to get some groceries. Recommend.