June 24, 2012

10 Things to See in Saigon. Part 1.

“You must learn to see, what you are looking at.”

            After our satisfying breakfast, my sister and I are ready for our Saigon City tour.

            Ho Chi Minh City is divided into 24 districts with the first 12 as urban and sub-urban districts. Almost all of the main tourist spots can be found in District 1.

Before I go into our trip, here’s a map of Saigon’s District 1 plus our route and our destinations. This route is about 7.5 kilometers long, if you don’t include the tour inside of the buildings and attractions. Just click the image to enlarge.

1.      23/9 Park

            So we head out to the main street, Pham Ngu Lao Street, which is part of the “Backpacker’s District”. In this area, you’ll find all kinds of accommodations from luxury hotels to the cheapest hostels, coffee shops, pubs and bars, restaurants as well as food stalls, travel agencies and tourist information.

            Beside Pham Ngu Lao Street is the 23/9 Park. The park is bustling with activity at all times of the day. For the locals, it seems as if the park is the ‘place to meet’ where they do exercises, business and even jamming sessions and for doing school projects. While for foreigners, it’s the best path to go to the city’s main attractions. If you love people watching, this is the best place to do it.

2.      Ben Thanh Market

            Northeast of 23/9 Park is the Ben Thanh Market. In Ben Thanh Market, you can find all sort of things. From clothes to bags, jewelries to trinkets, ceramics and potteries, household items, souvenirs, coffee, tea, spices and other weird ingredients like seahorse, sea cucumber, books and more. There are also food stalls in the back. You can have Pho, Spring Rolls and Barbecues there without spending a lot.

            If you’re planning to shop in Ben Thanh Market, be sure to check your items before purchasing. Almost everything is fake, so just make sure it’s in good condition. Also, learn to haggle and bargain for the prices. If you’re a tourist, they’ll double the price, sometimes, even higher. Another thing, Ben Thanh Market is only open until 5pm. If your free time is in the evening, you can shop in Saigon Square which is open until 12am.

            We headed north of Ben Thanh Market and to the site of The Reunification Palace. But before going there, I was amazed at how Saigon was able to maintain the trees in the city. About 90 percent of the places we went to are roads lined with trees. The sidewalks are also wide, about 1.5 to 2.5 meters and there are plans everywhere. You wouldn’t mind walking even if it’s 2 in the afternoon, because all the pathways are shaded with trees.

3.      Reunification Palace

Also known as the Independence Palace, The Reunification Palace is the former palace of the president of Southern Vietnam. It was around 12:20pm when we got here so the Palace is closed for lunch break so we decided not to go inside. Honestly, it’s not that striking but I guess it was worth seeing it.

            After the Palace, we walked Northeast, about kilometers to the “Lunch Lady” made famous by Anthony Bourdain. This, I will do on another post.:)

            In front of the Palace is this park divided by a major road, leading to the Notre Dame Cathedral and the Central Post Office

4.      Notre Dame Cathedral

            In a country where Christianity is not the primary religion, stands a Cathedral worth noting for. It’s not the most beautiful cathedral you’ll see in your lifetime, but it’s still magnificent with its red bricks and towering spires. In addition to this, all the materials in building the Notre Dame Cathedral are imported from France.

            Most days, the Cathedral is closed. Another attraction though, are the pre-nuptial shoots in the Cathedral’s vicinity.

5.      Central Post Office

Beside the Cathedral is the Central Post Office, a Gothic style building designed by Gustave Eiffel (Yes, the Eiffel who designed the Eiffel Tower as well as the San Sebastian Church in Manila). The building looks simple from afar but when you take notice of the details, then it’s a different story.

If you find it beautiful outside, wait ‘til you get inside. The interior is just, magnificent.

            From the Notre Dame Cathedral, head south, along Dong Khoi Street. Dong Khoi Street in itself is a tourist destination. Around here are the 5-star hotels, branded clothing lines, shopping malls and restaurants. You can also find souvenirs from the war through different shops along this street.

For the Second Part of the Saigon City Tour, click here:

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