I head out mid-morning to catch my plane from Changi Airport to Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. I still call it Saigon, and to my surprise so do a lot of the other people I met, including some of the locals.
The airport is a step back from the modern wonders of engineering in Bangkok and Singapore, but the main international terminal was built back in 2007 and is fairly modern. I was half hoping to see an airport that looked like a relic from the communist 80’s, but it wasn’t the case.
I needed to get a new SIM card in Vietnam as reception on my phone was going to be poor or non-existent. There was a variety of shops selling SIM cards as I left baggage claim and I finally found the Viettel store. I bought a package with a local phone number and data plan and they installed and activated it for me as I waited. My phone has dual SIM card slots so I could have both in my phone and get calls on either number – if my home cell service was cooperating.
After getting some cash, I arrange a taxi at the stand inside the airport as I had read the touts waiting outside will gouge tourists badly. My ride was a nice SUV and the drive to the hotel wasn’t bad at all. I didn’t get stuck in the insane traffic like I’d seen on all the travel shows, but that would come later.
My hotel was OK, it was clean and in a good area, but nothing to brag about. It was quite small compared to the other places I’d been staying but large enough for me and my suitcase.
There were some annoyances like construction behind my hotel that started way too early and the staff kept leaving the door to the fire escape open. I think it was their smoking section.
Ben Thanh Street Food Market
It was late afternoon before I finally got settled and was in need of food. The Ben Thanh Street Food market was around the corner from my hotel and I decided to check it out. There are a few picnic table and benches in the front and back of the building. In between them are dozens of small shops serving local and regional cuisine.
I had a bowl of Pho and a Bia Saigon to wash it down. Both of which went down a treat. After dinner I decided to explore the area on foot. There are several markets near by and tons of places to eat. I think I picked a good area to stay.
Saigon City Walk
The next day I headed out to explore more of the city. Saigon has a nice selection of French colonial architecture and I wanted to stop by and check out a few of the best examples. Everything was in walking distance from my hotel.
The first was the old Saigon City Hall, built in the early 1900s, now called the Ho Chi Minh City People’s Committee. It is not open to the public but it seems to be a favorite spot for tourist photos.
Next up was the Saigon Opera House which was built in 1897. It has had a number of restorations during Vietnam’s turbulent past and got its most recent facelift in 2005. After seeing a few opera houses in Europe, I was expecting something grander.
I walked past the Notre Dame Cathedral of Saigon which was undergoing a bit of restoration.
Across the street is the old Saigon Central Post Office. It was built in the late 1800’s and still functions today, although it is also a tourist attraction. You’ll find counters to mail letters intermingled with tour desks and stands selling souvenirs.
Getting hungry, I walked around the corner to Propaganda Bistro for some good Vietnamese food and eclectic artwork. It gets great reviews on trip advisor and as I expected it was packed with people. I didn’t have to wait long for a table and the food was definitely worth it.
Next up would be a visit to the old Presidential Palace.