Special Six: A Day in Ho Chi Minh City

Following our visit to Hanoi, my friends and I traveled to Ho Chi Minh city where we spent 24 hours in the city. We fitted this day in between our travel to Hanoi and Siem Reap because one of my friends had Saigon on her travel wish list. While we did not have sufficient time there to explore much nor go on the Mekong delta cruise, which I was keen on, we did have a lovely day in the city where the traffic, especially that of scooters, at junctions is crazy. I mean that literally.

These are my special six highlights that I would recommend for anyone traveling to Ho Chi Minh city for a day.

Walk through the Old French quarter starting from Notre Dame Cathedral and ending at the Opera House. The stretch of road we liked best was Dong Khoi street, which is filled with fashionable boutiques, coffee shops and restaurants. We spent a lot of time at several of the shops on this street as I was travelling with two shopaholics. My shopping recommendation is to buy some beautiful silk scarves and shawls at Khai silk at 81 Dong Khoi. I did most of my gift shopping here.

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Side view of Notre Dame Cathedral

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Central post office

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Municipal Theatre/ Saigon Opera House

Eat at Nha Hang Ngon at 160 Pasteur, which is close to Dong Khoi Street. We met up with a former colleague and friend living in Ho Chi Minh city at this restaurant, which she recommended for local Vietnamese cuisine. We especially enjoyed the rice paper wrapped spring rolls here.

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Photo credit: Justin Condon @ So dishy

Visit War Remnants Museum. Any first visit to Ho Chi Minh city needs to include a visit to this museum. I am not keen on war memorials or museums but we decided to visit this museum to learn a little about the Vietnam war from the Vietnamese government perspective. The museum will make you emotional and some photo exhibits are too gruesome to watch. We left the museum pretty much drained of energy.

Read The Sorrow of War (original title – The Destiny of Love) by Bao Ninh and translated into English by Frank Palmos, over some coffee at a local café or at an international chain like Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf. Or, just relax and enjoy the coffee there and read the book after your visit like I did. Bao Ninh, was part of a 500 member youth brigade during the Vietnam war and one of the ten in his brigade who survived the war. The book’s protagonist is a 17 year old youth, Kien, who goes to war with ideals and a dream of a happy future with the love of his life and fellow-classmate, when he returns from the war. The novel takes you through the abrupt memories of Kien and is basically his lament of his twice lost love and the human cost of war and what he terms the lost generation. The book won The Independent’s Best Foreign book prize in 1994.

Sorrow of War

Source: Amazon

Explore Bui Vien Street’s night life and cheap eats and get a custom made ao dai stitched overnight for you at one of the tiny tailor’s shops on the street. I am not sure we would have visited this famous backpacker street, if we were not staying at Beautiful Saigon in this neighbourhood. We soon realized that this place was one busy place in the night with crowds of travelers frequenting the eateries lining the street and shops open late into the night.

Browse through Ben Thanh market for cheap souvenirs and street food. While the current Ben Thanh market structure is an early 20th century construction, the site has been known for its street market commercial activity since the 17th century. It is an interesting place to visit.

Which of the highlighted activities would you enjoy most? If you have visited Ho Chi Minh city, what was your favourite city highlight?

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I am linking this post to City Tripping #35, hosted by Wander Mum and Mummy Travels.

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Overnight at Ha Long Bay

Continued from… Visiting Hanoi

The next day, my friends and I hired a car to take us to Ha Long Bay, a world heritage site with its 1600 islands and islets of limestone formed over millions of years. We went directly to the harbour to board our boat. It was a traditional junk boat, which fortunately for us, was all ours for the overnight trip. There were no other passengers so we had the entire upper deck, restaurant and lounge as well as the four cabins to ourselves.

rope on deck

cabin

I have always loved boat rides and as we made our way across the Gulf of Tonkin, I spent a lot of time on the outer deck enjoying the feel of the sea spray and the chilly wind. The beautiful rock formations loomed ahead and it was fun trying to figure out shapes in some unique rock formations.

stone dog

witch in the rock

karst

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We eventually docked at one point and the guide took us on a tour of  Thien Cung grotto (the Heavenly palace cave). The impressive stalactites and stalagmites were highlighted by surreal lighting.

underground cavelimestone karsts

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pathway

After re-boarding our boat, we resumed our sea journey. We passed a lovely floating fishing village.

Floating fish market

Floating fishing village

Our boat eventually entered a lovely cove, where there were only a few other barges, and dropped anchor for the night.

Halong Bay early morning

That evening, we took our time over the delicious dinner that the crew had cooked for us. While I did enjoy our conversations and it was lovely to share the experience with friends, I enjoyed my moments of solitude the most on this visit to Ha Long bay. Especially the moments when I watched the sea, as rays of sunlight broke through the clouds or as the sun set…

Light breaking through cloudsSunset at Halong Bay

and especially the next morning, as I watched dawn break over the gulf and the sun gradually rose above the horizon. It was a spiritual moment and I felt happy and content.

Sunrise at Halong Bay

Halong Bay sunrise

As the boat lifted its anchor, I made my way back to the restaurant to enjoy my morning cup of coffee and wait for my friends to join me for breakfast.

Back to port

[I am sharing this post at the Weekend Wanderlust link up and The Weekly Postcard]

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Travel Notes & Beyond

Visiting Hanoi

Following our Malaysian road trip, my colleague and I decided we should travel again soon to another Asian destination using the same budget airlines. I was interested in visiting Siem Reap. As we discussed plans, another friend from work decided she was also interested in joining us. She had friends she wished to visit in Hanoi so we decided to combine both during our travel. We started our trip in Hanoi.

It was a bit strange when we arrived at the airport in Hanoi to see that all the airport officials were military personnel. After a lengthy process, we were issued our tourist visas and left the airport. Our hosts had sent us a car to pick us up so we didn’t have to be concerned about navigating the city on the day we arrived.

Our host had planned a full day of exploration of Hanoi city, showing us her favourite spots in the city. We started out at the temple of literature, which was built in 1070, to house Vietnam’s first university. The university functioned till 1779 as the imperial academy educating the Vietnamese elite.

temple of literature

This is a photo of the gate leading to the second courtyard, which was the constellation of the literature pavilion. In the third courtyard, the well in the middle was referred to as the well of heavenly clarity.

temple of literature

woman at temple of literature

I enjoyed the visit to the temple of literature the most during my day in Hanoi. The peaceful aura of the beautiful place of learning was enchanting.

After exploring the temple, we went to the nearby Koto café, a social enterprise aimed at providing disadvantaged youth training and work opportunities in the hospitality industry. The lunch was delicious and the café had a lovely ambience.

Koto

As my colleagues loved shopping, our host then took us to a market where she said great bargains could be found on stuff made for international brands but which had been rejected due to minor defects and thus available at budget prices. As someone averse to shopping, I didn’t like this part of the day but it was fun to watch my friends’ excitement over their various finds.

After stopping for a refreshing and delicious fresh fruit juice, we visited Hoan Kiem lake (lake of the returned sword). According to legend, this is the lake where a 15th century emperor was asked by a turtle god to return his magic sword and hence the name of the lake. A cute, red wooden bridge took us to the Ngoc Son temple in the middle of the lake.

Huc bridge

We ended the day with a lovely dinner at a restaurant overlooking another lake. As I had expressed an interest in visiting the Bing Minh jazz club, a popular jazz club in the french quarter, our hosts had decided to take us there after dinner. Enjoying the live jazz music was a lovely way to end our day in Hanoi.

To be continued… overnight at Ha Long bay.

[I am sharing this travelogue at Angie’s Fiesta Friday #120, co-hosted this week by Loretta and Linda.

I am also sharing this at
* City Tripping #28 Link up, hosted by Cathy@Mummy Travels and Elizabeth@Wander Mum

** The Weekly Postcard, hosted by Travel Notes & BeyondA Hole in My Shoe, As We Saw It, Eff it, I’m On HolidaySelim Family Raasta]

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