When in Vietnam (Day 1): Ho Chi Minh City

One thing comes into my mind when I hear the place “Saigon” and other Filipinos would probably tell the same thing—it’s the musical play Miss Saigon. Other than that, I hardly knew much about Saigon. In fact, it wasn’t that long when I learned that Saigon was then changed to Ho Chi Minh City, a name derived from their revolutionary leader Ho Chi Minh.

Curiosity really brought me to Ho Chi Minh City. I was so excited to discover the place, try the healthy Vietnamese cuisine, and get to know the people.

I was with my high school friend KC during this trip. We flew at night and arrived Ho Chi Minh City past midnight already. From Tan Son Nhat International Airport, we took a cab going to Pham Ngu Lao Street, a known backpacker’s district.

I can say that taking a cab from the airport is safe. The cab ride took less than 10 minutes. Our driver was very friendly. He even helped us with our luggage.
We stayed at Quoc Minh Hotel. I just searched and booked this hotel online. From the main road (Pham Ngu Lao Street), there’s a small alley going to the small hotels including ours.
If you are on budget travel, Pham Ngu Lao is the place for you. It pretty much has everything, from hotels to cheap food to travel agencies.

We started the city tour on the next day. After eating breakfast, we met Francis, a local from Couchsurfing who toured us for free. Actually, it was my first time to meet somebody from this site and it left a good impression.

Vietnam was colonized by the French and it can be seen in many buildings around Ho Chi Minh City. One is the Notre Dame Basilica. It’s a very beautiful church. 
Make sure that you also go inside. Tourists are allowed to enter but not up to the altar for crowd control reasons. There was a wooden barricade when we visited.
But since we are Catholics, we wanted to say a little prayer and so we asked help from Francis to get through. And we did (:
Right across the basilica is Saigon Central Post Office. Its bright yellow painting makes it very noticeable. 

The interior of this building has a strong French influence. There are old maps and traditional phone booths inside. Post cards and other products are also sold here. Entrance is for free.
Our next stop was the War Remnants Museum. Most of the exhibits are about the Vietnam War. I'd say it may require at least one hour to read and see everything in this museum. Entrance fee is very cheap. It only costs 15,000 VND (around 31PHP). It's open daily (including holidays) from 7:30AM - 12:00PM, then they temporarily close for lunch break and opens again at 1:30PM - 5:00PM.

There’s a collection of aircraft, bombs, and tanks used during the war outside the museum.
But what I found most interesting is the gallery for the “tiger cages.” A tiger cage is a detention area or jail for political prisoners by Saigon authorities. Each cell is very small and dark. Many people were tortured and killed inside the cell.

Aside from cells, different torturing devices are also found here. Each one has a description. If you go this museum, there might be a lot of reading but they were all interesting. This place is not for the weak heart, but it is good to know these things as they are part of Vietnamese history.
After a tiring day tour, we took a rest and ate late lunch. Francis let us try to ever popular pho (Vietnamese noodles)!  I’ve been eating Pho in the Philippines, but I’d say nothing beats the authentic! I ordered Pho Ga (chicken noodles). It was so delicious!



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