Here’s what we did in Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam!
Day 9 (10 if you count the day we left Okinawa) of our Vietnam & Cambodia adventure!
Travel Dates: 1-4 August
Inbound: Vietnam Airlines (found on Skyscanner.net, booked on Expedia) from Siem Reap (REP) to Ho Chi Minh (SGN) for $140 per person.
Outbound: Ho Chi Minh (SGN) to Okinawa (OKA) on China Airlines booked on Orbitz. This was booked as a multi-city flight with our initial inbound flight from Okinawa (OKA) – Hanoi (HAN). It was $402.60 per person for both of those flights (OKA-HAN and SGN-OKA).
Visa: Read our Hanoi post about the Vietnam visa process. It’s easy to do online!
Hotel: Harmony Saigon Hotel
$148.83 for 3 nights on Orbitz! (We had a 15% Orbitz coupon for having booked our flights via Orbitz too.) Great hotel & great location! (Favorite hotel of the trip!) Excellent breakfast buffet included at their city view restaurant on the 13th floor. A small fitness area with normal sized cardio equipment (2 treadmills & an elliptical, plus 1 weight machine). A Pool. Free wi-fi. Nice sized rooms. Comfortable beds. Friendly staff!
I considered booking the Pullman Saigon Centre Hotel for $75 per night, rated #11 on TripAdvisor. (We loved our stay at the Pullman in Bangkok.) The hotel had a breakfast buffet, fitness center, and pool. I also considered the Novotel Saigon Centre Hotel (#32 on TripAdvisor), because we had a great stay at the Novotel Beijing Peace Hotel last month! But I couldn’t pass up the great deal on this hotel and I’m glad we gave it a chance even though it wasn’t a brand name I recognized. (Apparently it was their summer sale due to low tourism during summer.)
Transportation: The Danish family we met in Halong Bay recommended that we booked a taxi at the airport prior to leaving the luggage area. We ended up using a “private car” taxi service to get from the airport to hotel. Very nice Toyota mini-van for $10 one-way with a 30% coupon if we used them to return to the airport. So on the way back it was only $7.50. A taxi would have been about $7.50 each way, but depends on traffic since it would be metered. We’re happy with our choice.
Within the city, you can walk everywhere! The furthest (history museum and zoo area) was a little long (30-45 minutes), but do-able! The other sites were much closer. I love cities that are walkable! The sidewalks are wider here too, but mopeds still drive on them and run you off. (At least there’s room on the sidewalk for you though.)
Day 1 (or Day 9 if you’re counting our combined Vietnam/Cambodia trip!):
- We got to the hotel around 1500, so we talked to the front desk about tour options for the Cu Chi Tunnels. We tried to rush to the War Remnants Museum thinking it closed at 1700, but it closes at 1630. It’s about a 12-15 minute walk from the hotel. Then we tried to get tickets to the Water Puppet Show, but it was sold out. (We’re glad though, because we thought it included a buffet but that costs extra. After seeing the puppet show at the history museum for only $2.50, we’re glad we didn’t spend $9 on this show.)
- Worked out at the hotel.
- Walked to the night market, about a 10 minute walk. They’re pushy! Don’t be shy, negotiate! (If you try things on, they pressured you even more to buy it, but you can still just walk away!) Keep your purse/backpack in front of you, preferably with a cross-body strap. We were warned many times about moped snatch and grabbers by the market.
Day 2: These 3 sites are all very close together, within walking distance, so if you start at 0730 when it opens, you can do all 3 before lunch. Almost all places shut down for lunch, so you have to enter before 1100.
- The War Remnants Museum: Lots of photographs and a different perspective on the war. Some artifacts and US planes/tanks outside.
- Independence Palace: The best part is to find the side staircase that leads into the basement bunker. There’s only 1 stairwell that gets you there.
- Reunification Palace: This became the palace after Independence Palace was attacked. There’s also a bunker here that you can walk through. The modern era (Vietnam War) exhibits are upstairs.
- History Museum: This is a bit further, but we still walked. (It’s right next to the zoo, if you’re interested.) It wasn’t that interesting of a museum too us, but they have a small water puppet show for only $2.50 if you want to experience this tradition without going to the other water puppet show location.
Day 3: Cu Chi Tunnel & Mekong Delta Tour booked through out hotel on Luxury Group Tours ($150 for 2 people)
- The Cu Chi Tunnel tour was very interesting. It shows how they were forced to tunnel underground as their means to conduct war in Saigon. It’s about a 1.5 hour drive from downtown. Upon arrival, you’ll watch an introductory video. Then the tour guide showed us a few exhibits, such as an original sized tunnel entrance that you can try to fit in to. They expanded a section of the tunnels so that tourists can actually walk through up to 100 meters. It’s still a very tight fit, so be prepared to crawl and don’t wear white! (I only went about half-way; it was very hot and I had hurt my knee earlier this trip so it was uncomfortable.) They built up some of the exhibits with roofs so that you could see inside, but many tourists were confused. These were actually underground tunnel rooms, not straw roof facilities.
- Mekong Delta: It took about 2 hours to get to the Mekong from Cu Chi. We stopped for lunch (included) at a nice rest stop. At the Mekong Delta, we took a boat to a small island. This was a huge tourist trap. Every step of the way they were asking for trips. I wouldn’t recommend this portion of the tour. (You can book the Cu Chi Tunnel tour for only $24 through Luxury Group, but this was an additional $50.) We sampled some fresh fruit (but you can try that at the hotel’s breakfast), while a few girls sang for us (and then went and played on their smart phones). The most exciting part was getting into row boats and being taken down a small river, but again, they just kept asking for tips. Then we were given tea with bee pollen and honey to try, and they tried to sell it to us. After that, we got into carts pulled by weak ponies to get us back to the starting point. It was so depressing. The poor pony was not healthy enough to pull even 2 Americans, let alone 4. I wanted to get out and run along side. No one in our group seemed pleased with this portion of the day.
Day 4: Flight departs at 1050 so we headed to the airport at 0825. Just enough time to wake up, workout at the hotel, and enjoy breakfast!
Tips for traveling:
-Make sure to negotiate. The sellers in the Ho Chi Minh markets negotiate more than in Hanoi. Similar item for sale (hammocks, North Face bags and jackets, crafts, beach dresses, elephant pants, etc.) Start at 50-60% off, and don’t be afraid to walk away. (You can always find someone else selling it too.)
-Be careful with your belongings. It’s a very busy city, and we were reminded by our tour guide often to keep our purse/bag on our front with a cross body strap. Mopeds are known to drive by and “cut and snatch” your bags.
-Bring bug spray for the Mekong Delta and Cu Chi tunnels!
-Get ready to crawl if you’re going to the tunnels. Your backpack won’t fit in with you, but you can leave it with your guide if there’s nothing too valuable in it.
-Almost all attractions shut down for lunch (1200-1300), so last entrance before lunch is often 1100. Ask your hotel for exact times if you have a tight schedule!