I wish I had more time in Saigon. But I didn’t. So, I took a city tour of Saigon. City tours are probably the fastest way to see the notable sights in the city.
The tour guide who came to get me the next day was a war veteran who fought on the side of the Americans. He is a slight, dark man with sunglasses. He is half Filipino, half Vietnamese and about 65 years of age. He hates doing the city tour. His favourite tour to do is the Cu Chi Tunnels because he had war experiences there.
Mr Tour Guide hated this museum because he felt it only told the Vietnamese side of the story.
“Nobody won the Vietnam war. Everybody lost the war. So many Vietnamese suffered because of the war.”
Mr Tour Guide gave us only an hour and a half to get through the three floors of exhibits. Hardly enough. He suggests that we start at the top, then move downwards.
He was right – the third floor was the most interesting. This floor had three exhibits: one honouring the photojournalists who worked to document the war (there was even one from Singapore!!), another one depicting the effects of Agent Orange and the last one about the weapons used during the war.
I practically ran through the exhibits on the ground floor.
So obviously – My ancestors are from South China and I have already seen many of these temples around Asia. So this sight is not as rare to me as the visitors from the west might find this temple.
This temple is dedicated to Ma Zu, who is the goddess who watches over the lives of seafaring people. She is very relevant to the South Chinese as they depend a lot on the sea to make a living. She is also known as 天后, which means the Queen of the Heavens.
Still, the carvings in the temples are worth the visit. Especially if you are going to pop by the nearby Ben Thanh Market.
Ben Thanh Market
If you are not here to buy food, bugger off somewhere else. Food items are priced reasonably here (you will still need to bargain a little). Clothes are not the cheapest here.
This is a good place to wander around and enjoy the market scene. If you are here to buy coffee, it pays to wander a bit away from the market and into some of those shops near the market. I bought 300g of local coffee for 24,000 VND from a middle-aged Vietnamese man who spoke Cantonese. I also bought some flower tea in the market – 12 flowers for about 150,000 VND, after some bargaining.
For clothes and accessories, seek Saigon Square instead.
Here’s an example how reasonable the prices are at Saigon Square:
I bought a pair of pants in Hoi An. (See Exhibit A: Photo of me standing in front of Chinese temple, above) Those pants. They cost me 90,000 VND (about SGD$5.65) in Hoi An. These are size 4, so they cost a bit more – more material! They have pockets.
I saw a pair of similar pants at one stall in Ben Thanh market, but without pockets. The guy quoted me 250,000 VND. I laughed in his face, and told him I bought my pants for 90,000 VND. He immediately lowered his price to 100,000 VND. That, I believe, was the local price. But I was looking for a pair with pockets. So I walked on.
I came upon another stall selling those pants, this time with pockets. I tried to bargain it down to 100,000 VND, but the shopkeeper lady was adamant – she said 100,000 VND was her purchase price. Thus, I bought a pair of pants at 120,000 VND.
Later in the evening, I stumbled on Saigon Square. Something in me told me to go in.
I went to the second floor, and I saw a stall selling these pants by the truckloads. There were some Caucasian kids in there trying to haggle down the price of 90,000 VND for a pair. (Come on, guys!)
Without even bargaining, her price was 100,000 VND for size 4 pants. I knew that was the base price, so I bought another two pairs of pants.
These are officially my favourite pair of pants to travel in when in hot countries. They have pockets, are lightweight and suitable for conservative Asian countries. ♥ Packing just became easier.
These came at the end of the tour, and they are next to each other.
The interior of the Central Post Office was a sight to behold.
There are many tourists in the place, but this building is still actively used by the locals. I keep contrasting this place with our own General Post Office in Singapore. Oh well.
And with this, the city tour ended.
N.B: If you are looking for a place in District 1 to change your money to VND, my hostel recommended a goldsmith shop named Kim Mai – click the link for address (with accent marks!) and phone number.
I obtained a rate of 16,120,000 VND to 100 SGD in this shop. This rate was quite similar to the rate online.
Cost of tour: USD$10
Duration of tour: 8.30am to 4.30pm – I have filtered out the not-so-interesting places from this post.
Places I visited in this tour:
- War Remnant Museum
- Chinatown, Thien Hau Temple
- Ben Thanh Market
- Handicraft Workshop – manned by the disabled. However, things are VERY expensive there.
- Reunification Palace – YAWN
- the Basilica/The Cathedral
- The Central Post Office
- City Hall – I don’t have an impression of it at all.
Next stop: Kerala! In fact, I am on the plane to Kerala right now. This post was written in advance.
(My mum has resigned herself to the fact that I will be backpacking India solo. For 6 days only!)