Free and easy Ho Chi Minh

Jes , 4 Comments

Eat like a king. Shop like a king. Sleep like a king. Rest all you want and cafe hop like it costs nothing. How would you like such a vacation?

Vietnam has long been neglected as a popular destination due to their poorer English proficiency compared to Thailand and less commercialized tourist spots. However, that's the beauty of it. I actually prefer Ho Chi Minh than Bangkok as it is much more cheaper and more exotic.

First of all, hotels are cheap. I stayed in a business hotel which is Novotel Saigon Center in District 3. The price is around $150 per night and is better than a typical 4 star hotel with great breakfast, wifi and facilities. For budget travellers, you can try Asian Ruby Luxury Hotel at S$61/night or Saigon Hotel at around $90 a night as both are in District 1 and with nearby restaurants. Do read my tips on travelling to Vietnam before you head there.

Day 1
As usual, tourists will want to visit all the top attractions first. The Number 1 on Tripadvisor is the War Museum. This is to showcase the brutalities and sufferings during Vietnam war and how the country managed to prevail during that 20 years. Quite informative but all the pictures get kind of repetitive after a while.
Do take note that they close from 12 to 1pm
Heavy machinery alert!
The second one is Reunification Palace but I did not enter because there was no one there! Oh well, I don't think I missed much.

Anyway, time for lunch! The most well known Vietnam food is Pho (pronounced as 'fur' but in a questioning tone). The most popular among locals is Pho Hoa, located at District 3. You can take a taxi there. The soup is satisfying, the noodles is addictive, the beef is fresh.. indeed one of the best I have tasted. If you are lazy, you can try Pho 24 or Pho 2000 or even Pho Hung, which are all ubiquitous franchises commonly seen.
There is really you tiao on the menu and you only pay what you have taken, not the whole plate
The raw beef is not really raw after they put into boiling soup! One big bowl cost around $4
The spring roll is lacklustre, but the youtiao goes well with pho soup!
After which, you may want to head to Saigon Opera House to buy tickets for the popular 1 hour show called 'AO show'. Just buy the cheapest 'Aah' tickets which cost around 567k Dong, which is S$35 per person. I think it's good enough and do sit on the right side of the stage if there are vacancies to choose.
Saigon Opera House is not so special during the day
Needing some exercise after lunch, the post office is just 15 minutes away by foot. Take a walk over and it's a good place for stamp and antique collectors. It's also nice to relax your legs and enjoy the architecture.
How the post office looks from outside
And from the inside
The Notre Dame church is just opposite the post office so you can do some selfie shots here at the nice roundabout.
Notre Dame Church which is only opened on weekdays
Before dinner, you can head to Vincom Center just nearby for some quick branded names shopping or just to relax in international cafes. For dinner, if you like beer and bbq food, then 5Ku station is for you! I like the food because it is barbecued but still served in Vietnamese style and sauces. Cool place to hang out and enjoy yourself.
5KU station .. I did not even get any smoke in my hair
Mam Kho Quet - Steamed vegetables in dipping sauce
This is what I will usually order in Vietnam because you cannot find this anywhere else and it's addictive!
Bbq prawns in salt and chilli
If you still have time, head to Ho Chi Minh square from 6 to 11pm to watch some lights and water fountain display. It's a great place for group shots and just 5 minutes from Saigon Opera House.
Hello Mr Ho Chi Minh!
I really like how Saigon Opera House lights up at night. It's not too bright, it's more of a coy, sophisticated elegance that makes you marvel at the architecture and beauty.
The majestic elegance... tada!
This is how the inside of the opera house looks like. I sat at the left side of the theatre and I think I missed out on some parts on the stage but doesn't matter, it's a good experience to be here.
Waiting for the curtains to open up with a flourish
The nearby Hotel Incontinental doesn't lose out in terms of glamour too
Day 2
Fresh from a good night's sleep, it's a shopping day! First, get some shopping done at Ben Thanh (pronounced like 'burn tan' ) market. You will face a lot of harassment and soliciting inside this market. You should also start bargaining from half what they initially offered and they will normally give in to the price you want because their mark up is really quite outrageous. Have fun negotiating with them there.  
It's sheltered but really stuffy and humid inside
Lunch is nearby with a short taxi ride to the backpacker's district. Finally got to eat my favourite Vietnam food which is Bun Cha (pronounced 'Boon cha'). It does not look good.. and actually most vietnamese food don't look that spectacular but they do pack a punch. Especially this barbecued minced pork and noodles dipped in fish sauce. Bun Cha 145 is the highest rated in Tripadvisor, the sauce and meat are fragrant and you can enjoy the food in air con. Of course, I have tried better ones in Hanoi but they are less comfortable and hygienic and they will usually barbecue the pork on the streets. Usually it comes with free flow green papaya which is good for digestion but you will have to request for more here.
Still my best food in Vietnam
Betel leaf wrapped beef (Bo la lot) - A must try because it's real shiok!
Next, Saigon Square 1 is a short walk from Ben Thanh market. It's a different location from Saigon Square or Saigon Square 3, which is located at District 3 and just beside my hotel. The concept is the same like Platinum Mall in Bangkok. Lots of clothes, bags, shoes at a discount, lots of imitation goods and you can shop in an air conditioned area.
The motorcycles are parked by an attendant neatly
Many rows of fashion products made me a bit confused
For high tea, you should try My Banh Mi, a baguette sandwich. It looks similar to a regular sandwich but Vietnamese incorporate lots of herbs and spices such that it tastes quite special. It's very near to the post office which brings the tourists here. 
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The perk of going free and easy is that we could find some hidden cafes to enjoy and one of them is this - Ngoi Nha So 7 Cafe. It took some time and walking to find this place at a back alley near a high school. Interesting to see students inside napping and it was really quite a nice place to rest. The drinks were great and the ambience was relaxing. The cost is around $3 for all drinks. Seems like I keep eating and drinking haha.
See those school girls lying on the couch waiting for their lessons?
Quaint decorations, seemed like they have live bands performance at night
Alternatively, you can try Trung Nguyen (pronounced as 'zhong wing') cafe that are seen everywhere in District 1. The cafes in District 1 are usually frequented by tourists and there was once I recognized 4 separate Singaporean groups occupying this particular cafe near Ben thanh market! Our accents are distinct and I am proud of it. Anyway, MBS also has this cafe if you missed this.
G7 is the brand and you can also find them in NTUC 
Time to really shop big time! Going to a locals' market will allow you to shop at half the price of Ben Thanh market, and less bargaining is required. As Tan Dinh market is also walking distance from my hotel, I like this place much better and it just took 15 minutes by walking. I always buy the macadamia, almond, cashew nuts (around $2+/100g) and also some lotus seeds and dried shrimps. Then, I would head nearby to get the Arabica coffee beans (around $2+/100g) that would definitely taste nicer and cheaper than Trung Nguyen. Shop like a local and it is really so bloody cheap!
On the way, you will pass by this pink church that looks really cool
The dried shrimps which all mums would want for cooking
The nuts and dried food are so fresh and cheap!
The best Vietnamese restaurant in my opinion is Cuc Gach Quan, very near Tan Dinh market. I have tried hundreds of them and this is really the most delicious with the home cooked taste. You will definitely regret if you do not try this when you go to Ho Chi Minh! The best food I had there was the soft shell crab in tamarind sauce... salivating as I type this, haha. I love eating food cooked in tamarind sauces but you can only find them in Vietnam and sometimes, Thailand. Ate seafood like a king and yet the final cost is only around $15/pax... How satisfying is that!
The not so obvious entrance
No pictures for food because all were finished so fast! The drink is special with young sugar cane as a straw
Day 3
If you only have the morning before you head to the airport, you can relax and chill at Tous Les Jours cafe, a Korean bakery but with the same owner as Paris Baguette. This bakery chain is everywhere and the bread is nice and cheap. You can catch up on some shopping and try some $2+ broken rice (Com Tam). It's nothing special but is a local food item and I had some at Com Tam Cali, also a chain restaurant. Better to ask your hotel on where to find them. 
The rice is average but the pork goes really well with it!
If you are sick of Vietnamese food like me, you should try these:
French - Vietnam was a French colony so naturally, their french food are famous too. I tried the #2 in Tripadvisor, which is La Villa. The food has foie gras, steak, little bits of unidentified food and I think it's quite nice, just not my cup of tea. However, French style of eating takes 3 hours to finish the 8 course dinner so be prepared to spend a lovely, romantic time with your friends. And also, a hole in your pocket - It cost around $80 per pax without wine.
Foie gras terrine  - pan seared taste better I think
Fine dining but it's definitely enough after 3 hours!
Western - Buying the tickets from the opera house entitles you to free drinks at 6 different cafes but the most popular one is L'usine, located at the second floor just diagonally opposite the Opera House. I tasted the best calamari in my life here and it's really a terrific place to chill and get great western food. So worth a visit!
Some exotic tea 
Fish and chips
Korean - Koreans occupy the largest foreigners community in Vietnam and so, I think the Korean food there is really quite authentic. Definitely better than the Japanese food there. The most popular food is Korean BBQ and there are a few chains - Sumo BBQ, King BBQ, Choi Go Jip, Dae Jang Gum (Da Chang Jing). All are quite good but if you ask me to pick one, I would go to Choi Go Jip but it might be out of the way. In that case, King BBQ at Vincom Center would be the most accessible and it also taste good!
The small dishes are what I like the most

A 3D2N itinerary can look like this:
Day 1: War Museum - Pho Hoa - Post office/Notre dame - Vincom Center - 5KU station - Saigon Opera House AO show
Day 2: Ben Thanh market - Bun Cha 145 - Saigon Square - My Banh Mi - Ngoi Nha So 7 Cafe / Trung Nguyen Cafe - Tan Dinh market - Cuc Gach Quan
Day 3: Try broken rice at Com Tam Cali

I understand that some of you may not be able to complete all the attractions in 2 days so the third day is left free for you to do what you want! Enjoy yourself in Vietnam because I sure did :)


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  1. Hi Jes,

    I been to HCM many times and never ever realise that there are so many nice places.

    Enjoy yourself!

    1. Hi Rolf,

      If alone on a business trip, I wouldn't have explored too much either. It's a different experience going on a holiday so better to extend your trip! Thank you :)

  2. Hi there! I’m Thien from Hanoi, Vietnam. As I read your post, it seemed that you enjoyed Ho Chi Minh City in every single moment. You described very detail how you ate, how to discover the city in just 2 days but a list full of destinations and experience. As a domestic tourist from Hanoi, for the first time I arrived in Ho Chi Minh city, I did spent 2 days exploring the city. But next time you come back the city, let’s spend your day to enjoy the night life. I bet that experience will never fail to satisfy you.

    1. HiThien,

      Yes I really enjoyed Vietnam a lot. It's a great place with good food and shopping is fun too. I just can't get used to crossing the roads though, it still looks dangerous to me.

      For night life, sounds like you know quite a lot of interesting night experiences. I will be sure to check out other attractions in the future :)