Friday, April 14, 2017

SEA Backpacking Series: Vietnam City Tour and Cu Chi Tunnel

Vietnam was the second country we've went to for our SEA backpacking series but it was in fact the most surprising of all given we had very low expectation before coming here. After spending a day, we started to love the city because of its laid back atmosphere and more so because of their food (Pho and Spring Rolls are to die for)!!! I fell in love with Vietnamese food and it has become my comfort food next to Korean dishes.

We only went to Ho Chi Minh city (Saigon) since it was close to Cambodia and going to Hanoi meant additional day and flight which we did not want to do since we only had 11 days to complete our backpacking trip. 

Transportation:
Make sure to stay in district 1 when you're in Ho Chi Minh as most of the tourist spots will be within walking distance. We stayed in Pham Ngu Lao and we walked to most of the tourist places. Another alternative is to ride the taxi (take Vina Sun or Mailinh taxi companies) which cost only about PHP 100 for 10-15 minutes ride. The taxi from our place to the airport cost only VND 125,000 or PHP 260.

Things to do in Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam:
1. Food Trip at Street Food Market!
This was the highlight of our trip. There are a lot of restaurants and hole in the wall places you can find around the city. If you're up for drinks, you can visit Pham Ngu Lao (located at District 1) where you see a lot of expats having a drink in the area. But if you just want to try a variety of Vietnamese food, then go to Ben Thanh Street Food Market! The food market is essentially a food court with multiple vendors selling different kinds of Vietnamese food.

We met our friend Patty (who lives in Vietnam) in the street food market where we had spring rolls and Pho (along with other stuff we can't recall.haha).
How to get there: Ben Thanh Street Food Market is located at Thu Khoa Huan Street (you can walk from Ben Thanh Market). The place is open from 10 AM to 11 PM daily.

2. Drink Vietnamese Coffee
There is a lot of coffee shops found in Saigon and you'll notice a tin can or a coffee drip placed above a cup of coffee everywhere. In most cases, people use condensed milk together with the coffee since the coffee is very strong but it blends into a delicious cup of coffee together with the condensed milk. We had our coffee fix in the famous Trung Nguyen Coffee Shop (which you'll see everywhere in the city) and we liked it so much that we bought coffee beans and coffee drip in Ben Thanh market to take it home to Manila!
                               
3. Shop in Ben Thanh Market
Ben Thanh Market is a very busy place where a lot of people come to try local cuisine or buy crafts and souvenirs. For travelers, it's a one stop shop for all the souvenir items you want to bring home. We bought a traditional Vietnamese hat and Coffee there. The prices are not that expensive but make sure you haggle as they are willing to drop prices. It's essentially similar to Greenhills shopping center in the Philippines. 
How to get there: Ben Thanh Market is located at Le Loi, Ben Thanh, Quan 1, Ho Chi Minh. You can ride the taxi going there since it's well known by everyone in the city. But if you're staying near Pham Ngu Lao, you can walk for around 10-15 minutes going to the market. The place is open from 6 AM to 10 PM daily.

4. Visit the famous Post Office and Cathedral Notre Dame
There are two huge landmarks you can find in Saigon. One is the Central Post Office which literally just functions as a Post Office. There is not much to do there but it's worth a visit to take a picture inside.
Just right across the Post Office, you will see a huge Cathedral called Notre Dame. This is also visited by a lot of tourists and you can attend a Catholic mass because this is the basilica of Our Lady of Immaculate Conception. We were not able to go inside since there was a mass during the time of our visit.
How to get there: The post office is Paris Commune Street, District 1. You can ride a taxi with travel time of about 5-10 minutes from Ben Thanh Market. The Notre Dame Cathedral is just across the post office.

5. Take a tour in Cu Chi Tunnel
Vietnam is very proud of their history especially during the Vietnam war against the Americans. Cu Chi Tunnel is an interconnecting underground tunnel in the Cu Chi region in Saigon during the 1960s. It was used as a strategic hiding spots and living quarters during the war. 

The only way you can go to Cu Chi Tunnel is by booking a tour from an agency. There are a lot of companies that offer tour going there which you can find online. We did not book any tour prior to our trip and we just booked it a day prior through our Airbnb host since they offered a cheaper rate. The usual rates for half day tour online costs around USD 18-20 but we paid only USD 10 for the same tour per person which includes: admission fees, hotel pick-up, van transportation, professional guide, and 1 bottle of mineral water. You can also book a whole day tour for Cu Chi Tunnel which includes visit to Mekong Delta but it would cost around USD 60 and will end the day around 6-7 PM.

We were picked up by a van in front of our Airbnb place (in Pham Ngu Lao) by 8:00 AM and drove to Cu Chi Tunnel for 90 minutes. There was a stop-over in a factory which sells egg-shell art souvenirs. Upon arriving in Cu Chi, there will be a guide who will give you the admission tickets. 
 
The orientation will provide you a 15-minute overview of historical background of Cu Chi Tunnel and you'll be asked to watch an old film about the Vietnam war. The guide will then direct you towards the tunnels and you'll be with your tour batch the entire time.
There are several tunnels that you can enter. It's not required for you to enter especially if you have any physical condition that limits you to enter tight spaces or those who are claustrophobic. You'll be able to get out after 5-10 minutes walk in the tunnel.

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