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2 Days in Saigon, Vietnam

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Article author: michael
michael
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Cover Image for 2 Days in Saigon, Vietnam

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This is the 6th part in my Vietnam & Thailand 2019 series.

You can view my Vietnam overview page, as well as my Thailand overview page with links for all the cities I stopped at.


Day 19

Theft Warning/
Just a word of caution before I get into the post: Saigon is well known for its cell phone theft.

Both locals and tourists are often victims, so you need to be extra careful with your phone here. I was lucky enough to not have any issues, but I was also very careful with my phone, and I recommend you do the same.

Throughout my time in Vietnam and the cities I visited, I met a number of tourists who had their cell phones stolen. The most common theft I had heard about was with the motorcycle thieves that fly by and snatch cell phones out of the hands of people with their cells phone out near the road. However, everyone I spoke to had had theirs stolen while out at bars or clubs, pick-pocket style I assume.

So just be very aware of your surroundings, and don’t have your phone out in your hand when you’re near the road, and your hands on your phone when at bars and clubs, and you should be fine.
/Warning End


Day 19 was really just a transit day for me. During the planning of my trip, I tried to integrate my transit so as to not waste days as much as possible, but due to the snafu that occured in Hoi An, I ended up with a different flight to Saigon than I had originally booked, and with that a different transit day. It also meant getting a bit screwed with the price of the flight, but oh well.

Fly from Hanoi to Saigon

My flight to Saigon was at 19:30, so my girlfriend and I just chilled and took it easy before I had to head off to the airport later that afternoon.

I took the city bus to the airport again, which is honestly a really cheap option. It brings you right to the airport (granted it’s not a direct ride there), and it only costs about $0.40 CAD. If you need a quicker way there, then Grab Bike (or car) would probably be your best bet. For me though on that day, there was no rush, so this cheap option was perfect.

Bus Ticket: 8,000 VND

Check into 9 Hostel and Rooftop

After arriving in Saigon, I made my way to my hostel, using Grab Bike to get me there.

Cost: 40,000 VND

I liked the reviews I saw online of 9 Hostel and Rooftop, and it was in a good location, so I decided to stay there for my 2 nights in Saigon.

However, when I got to my room, things weren’t so peachy. I posted a review of the hostel on Google Maps, which I’ve copy/pasted here:

First impressions make a huge impact, and initially I wasn’t blown away by my room (a bit too dark for my liking), but it seemed relatively nice and clean. On second look though I noticed the mugs in my room were very dirty, as was the sink and floor in the bathroom.

9 Hostel and Rooftop

That’s a pretty big faux pas in my book. I mentioned this to reception and asked that they ensure the following day that my room was cleaned properly, and it was better when I returned later that day. Still, the damage was done.

I also found it very noisy, sounding like the window in my room was open as I could hear all the noise from the street as if I was outside. I later realized it’s because there’s a pretty big gap between the two window panes, which also explains how the mosquitoes were getting in (being woken up with the unmistakable buzzing in my ear was what made me think there must be an open gap somewhere). I stuffed some pillow cases into the gap hoping it would help, only to notice the window sill full of little ants. So much for cleanliness.

A third issue I had was how hard the water temperature for the shower was to control. Slightly to the left of center and it’s 3rd degree burn hot, slightly to the right of center and it’s cold water only. Pretty frustrating.

On the plus side, the bed seemed clean and was quite comfortable, and the AC was a life saver in the Saigon heat. They also provide two small bottles of water a day, which is nice.

Presently my feelings about this hostel are mixed though due to the obvious issues noted above, so I’ll just leave it at that.

9 Hostel and Rooftop

9 Hostel and Rooftop

9 Hostel and Rooftop

9 Hostel and Rooftop

So as I said in my review, I was pretty disappointed with this hostel. I also posted a similar, albeit condensed review on Booking.com. There was no response from the hostel to my review on Google, and while I did receive a response on Booking.com, it was worded as if they didn’t really read what I wrote, and “hope to see me again soon”! Oh well.

My Advice: Considering the lack of cleanliness, which is a huge red flag, I wouldn’t recommend 9 Hostel and Rooftop for anyone looking for a place to stay in Ho Chi Minh City.


Day 20

On day 20, I think I was just planning on visiting the Jade Emperor Pagoda, and the history museum. Now I’m not sure if I searched for walking directions to “Jade Emperor Pagoda”, or if I searched for “Phuoc Hai Pagoda”, as there appears to be two by the latter name.

Whatever it was I searched for, after walking for I think about 20 minutes, I ended up at what I believe is currently Phuoc Hai Pagoda, but it wasn’t what I was initially searching for.

Phuoc Hai Pagoda

If you’re familiar with Vietnam, or South East Asia, or even other parts of the world like older Europe that don’t have the same level of road planning as North America (mainly because North America is newer), then you’ve likely walked down narrow and winding streets before, with back alleys mixed in for good measure!

Now as I said, I really can’t recall what I had originally searched for, but I ended up finding Phuoc Hai Pagoda nestled in one of these typical Vietnamese back alley streets, with the Pagoda around a corner and somewhat hidden if you weren’t looking for it.

When you see the front gate, you’d think it was just a tiny place, but once you enter it’s actually quite large!

Phuoc Hai Pagoda

Phuoc Hai Pagoda

It’s nestled in amongst houses, and seems like a very quiet place. There were a few locals praying while I was there, but otherwise there wasn’t much activity.

The pagoda has several levels, some of which are accessible via mid-levels. It’s a really gorgeous pagoda, and I’m glad I stumbled upon it.

Phuoc Hai Pagoda

Phuoc Hai Pagoda

Phuoc Hai Pagoda

Phuoc Hai Pagoda

Phuoc Hai Pagoda

Now as beautiful as this pagoda is, I was pretty sure it wasn’t the one I was originally looking for. So I did another search and found another one, which was a bit further away, but I was sure it was the one.

So off I continued by foot …

Le Van Tam Park

As I was trying to find the Jade Emperor Pagoda, in Saigon’s brutal and unforgiving heat, I stumbled upon Le Van Tam Park. It looked interesting, and I noticed it had a spot to sit in the shade, so I figured I’d take a break and have a drink of water before continuing on my way.

Le Van Tam Park (Vietnamese: Công viên Lê Văn Tám), previously known as Mạc Đĩnh Chi Cemetery, is a park in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. It formerly was a large and prestigious French colonial cemetery in South Vietnam, located near the US Embassy, Saigon.
[…]
In the early 1980s, Vietnam’s communist government declared the cemetery a corrupt reminder of the past. In 1983 the Ho Chi Minh City People’s Committee passed a resolution to abolish the cemetery, and ordered all remains to be exhumed and removed. Family members were given two months to claim their loved ones. Then the mausoleums and tombstones were bulldozed to the ground to create a children’s park and playground.
Wikipedia

I’m not sure about the “children’s playground” part, as I didn’t notice anything here for children, but it’s definitely a park, and it’s a nice place to sit and relax for a bit.

Le Van Tam Park

Le Van Tam Park

I walked around the central statue, snapping a few pics, and then walked over to the sitting area to rest.

Le Van Tam Park

After hydrating, trying to cool off, and resting for a bit, I continued on my way to the Jade Emperor Pagoda.

Jade Emperor Pagoda

Because the “Googs” had sent me off course, and also because of my stop at the park, it took me another 45 to 50 minutes by foot to get to the Jade Emperor Pagoda (Chùa Ngọc Hoàng in Vietnamese, but also known as Phước Hải Tự!).

Jade Emperor Pagoda

Notice the name of the temple in the above pic … I guess that explains the confusion with my original walking directions.

Jade Emperor Pagoda

The temple was originally Taoist, and build by a Cantonese man named Luu Minh. It was later converted to a Buddhist temple after Thich Vinh Khuong, a Buddhist monk, took it over, and is now one of the most popular temples in Saigon.

Jade Emperor Pagoda

Jade Emperor Pagoda

Jade Emperor Pagoda

It certainly did seem popular when I arrived, being packed with locals and tourists alike. So packed in fact, that I was shoulder to shoulder with people in some areas as I squeezed my way around the temple.

Jade Emperor Pagoda

After I was done at the temple, I started to head out to the museum I wanted to visit, but on the way I noticed a gourmet, Michelin star restaurant I was familiar with …

McDonald’s

Well ok, maybe not quite Michelin star, but it was familiar!

Now, I’m not a snob, and am perfectly fine eating at McDonald’s from time to time. In fact, don’t tell anyone, but I actually like it! 😳
And when travelling, I’ll sometimes check out the local McDonald’s menu, as it’s usually a little different from what we have back home. Unfortunately, the menu was pretty much the same as in N.A., except with the addition of fried chicken.

So for the burger, I just went for the double cheese burger, but to drink I had a delicious iced matcha latté. The burger was just as good as you’d expect - assuming you like McD’s burgers of course, and the latté was really delicious. Eating indoors with AC in Saigon was also a big bonus!

Price: 134,000 VND

McDonald's

Alright, enough cheap fast food, and back on track to my next and last stop of the day, the history museum.

History Museum of Ho Chi Minh City

One thing to keep in mind while in Vietnam and visiting things like museums, is that they close for lunch, which can range from 1 to 3 hours in length. Why they don’t stagger the employee lunches is beyond me, but it is what it is. So make sure you check the hours before heading out, or you might end up like me, and have to wait around for a while.

Now I did know the museum would be closed during lunch, I just didn’t know exactly when I’d arrive, and of course go figure I arrived during the lunch hours. So I walked around a bit to find a store to buy some more water, as I was running low, and then sat down in the shade to wait.

History Museum

The History Museum was actually the first museum in the south of Vietnam, and it’s full of incredible artifacts from Vietnamese history.

When you walk into the initial courtyard, after purchasing your ticket(s) at the gate, there’s a manicured garden, and you’re surrounded by the museum’s buildings. The museum was built by the French in 1929, in the Indochina style.

History Museum

The museum contains over 43,000 documents and artifacts. There are a number of different era’s and ethnicities represented, including I believe some artifacts from the Cham people, some Buddhist statues, and even a mummified corpse. It even includes items from the prehistoric period (500,000 years ago to 2879 BC) and the metal age (2879–179 BC).

History Museum

History Museum

There are around 20 or so rooms in the museum, so you can easily spend a few hours walking around and checking out all the displays. I spent about 2 hours there, and I could have spent more time if I’d read all the information on the displays.

History Museum

History Museum

History Museum

History Museum

History Museum

History Museum

Museum Verdict

This is a really beautiful museum, with a ton of interesting artifacts and information.

I’d say it’s a definite must see if you’re in Saigon and into history and culture.


Day 21

On day 21, I was on the hunt for some soft serve ice cream! I found a place online that looked good inside the Saigon Center mall, and it wasn’t too far from the War Remnants Museum, which was my main destination for the day.

Betsu Milk Ice Cream

I was originally looking for the Betsu Milk stand, as their ice cream looked good, and kind of fun, and it’s soft serve which is my absolute fav!

I had a heck of a time finding it though, as it wasn’t with the other desert places in the food court. I finally found it though, tucked in a corner on a different floor.

Betsu Milk Ice Cream

Betsu Milk Ice Cream

The ice cream is a vanilla & matcha swirl, but it honestly didn’t have much matcha flavour. It was still good, but not as flavourful as I was hoping, and I feel the price was a bit high for what it was.

Price: 83,000 VND

Thankfully, while I had been searching for the Betsu Milk stand, I passed by another ice cream place that looked good, so I decided to try that one as well.

Hokkaido Baked Cheese Tart Ice Cream

I’m a huge cheese cake addict, baked or not. I also love cheese desserts like cannoli, so when I saw this ice cream, I knew it had to be amazing, and man I wasn’t wrong.

Hokkaido Ice Cream

Hokkaido Ice Cream

I think they usually have 4 or 5 flavours, but on the day I was there only the regular cheese flavour and durian were available. I’ve never tried durian before but was aware it’s an acquired taste, but I figured why not give it a try?!

Price: 35,000 VND

Man oh man, I definitely made the right choice as it was unreal. Sooooo creamy. Sooooo luxurious. Sooooo delicious! 😍
And the mix of cheese and durian flavour was so good. The durian flavour was somewhat mild, but just enough that you could feel the bite of it, without the durian flavour over powering the cheese ice cream.

It was much better than the Betsu Milk ice cream, and at a fraction of the price. I absolutely recommend Hokkaido Baked Cheese Tart for their ice cream, and they have several locations throughout Vietnam and Asia so you should be able to find them around.

After that thoroughly amazing ice cream, I headed to the War Remnants Museum, which was only about 10 minutes away by foot.

War Remnants Museum

War Remnants Museum
Image Credit: Prenn

Entrance fee: 40,000 VND

Warning: Reader Discretion Advised

The following content contains graphic text and images related to the Vietnam War, a significant historical event with images that may be disturbing or distressing to some individuals. I urge you to exercise caution and consider the sensitivity of the content before proceeding.

By choosing to continue and read the post below, you acknowledge that you understand the potential distress that may arise from the graphic content. I strongly advise viewer discretion, especially for children, individuals with PTSD or related conditions, and anyone who may be adversely affected by the graphic representation of war-related themes.

This was a tough museum to go through. Tough because reading about all the torture and inhumane murders really can take a heavy toll you. I had read some reviews before going mentioning exactly this, but didn’t fully understand or fully appreciate the extent until I was reading the details in the museum for myself.

I’m embarrassed to say I didn’t know much about the war before visiting Vietnam or the museum, and wasn’t even originally sure if I would go, as I’m not generally into war museums. I’m so glad I decided to visit after all though, as it was an amazing walk through of what went on.

When you first pass the ticket gate, you’re greeted by some of the large military vehicles used during the war, including tanks, helicopters, and planes. It’s funny, but I never realized how big these things were until I saw them in person. Not that I thought they were small, but standing right next to them, you really get a sense of the size and power of these machines.

War Remnants Museum

War Remnants Museum

War Remnants Museum

Besides the vehicles on display in the front yard, the museum is mostly pictures and text descriptions, which is where it starts to get real.

Here are some descriptions and images of the “Tiger cages”:

War Remnants Museum

War Remnants Museum

War Remnants Museum

And then there were a whole bunch of boards describing the various torture methods. I only took pics of two of them. Really, really, sick stuff …

War Remnants Museum

War Remnants Museum

There was a picture of the sewer described in the image below, but I didn’t snap a pic of it. The text is really all that’s needed, and is probably some of the worst that I read due to the ages involved. Again, be warned as the text is very graphic.

War Remnants Museum

I think it was at this point I had to take a bit of a breather. I was feeling pretty sick to my stomach after reading that, and wondering how humans can be so cruel and sadistic, and infinitely more so towards innocent children.

Un. F’ing. Real.

According to an article from the New York Times, Kerry ordered his squad to execute the villagers because he didn’t want them to give away their position. He later received a Bronze Star for the mission!!
Am I alone in thinking WTF??

Mr. Kerrey was a gung-ho Navy SEAL lieutenant when he led his squad, known as Kerrey’s Raiders, into Thanh Phong on Feb. 25, 1969. Their mission was to hunt down a Viet Cong leader believed to be operating in the village.

The squad members first encountered a hut they had not expected. To avoid giving away their position, they used knives to kill five people, witnesses said, slitting the throats of an elderly couple and stabbing their three grandchildren.

Although Mr. Kerrey has taken responsibility for ordering the killings as squad leader, he has said he did not participate in them. However two other members of his unit say Mr. Kerrey helped kill the grandfather, later identified as Bui Van Vat, 65.
nytimes.com

I’m not really sure what to say, and I’m not sure how to feel about this. I mean it all made me feel pretty sick, and quite sad, but as I’ve never been involved in any war, I suppose I can’t really judge. I’m sure it’s a lot different when you’re in the middle of it, and I’m sure there are things that happen that you wouldn’t normally do, but I’m not sure how you can justify killing innocent children.

In some of the outside areas, near where the above boards were, there were some example “cells” on display. I took pics of a few but could only find this one afterwards. Not sure what happened to all the rest of my pics.

War Remnants Museum

Inside the museum, there were many pictures of the aftermath of the war, including the effects of Agent Orange and other chemical sprays used during the war. I didn’t take any pics of these, but they were pretty disturbing as well.

Even more disturbing is that in some areas of Vietnam the effects of these chemicals are still being felt today, with children being born with birth defects and other health issues.

Museum Verdict

I’m not one to visit war museums, but this was pretty eye opening, and while it pulled on my heart strings, I’m so glad I went.

I think it’s a good thing to understand the history of a country, and this museum does a great job of showing the horrors of war. As such, I feel this is an absolute must visit if you’re in Saigon.


Well, that put a bit of a somber end to my time in Vietnam. The 3 weeks I spent here just flew by, and I honestly had an amazing time, and certainly learned a lot. I’m so glad I decided to come here, and I’m sure I’ll be back again some day.

Up next, I’d be heading off to Thailand, starting with 3 days in Phuket.

Until next time,
michael 😀

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