I went to Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam with my girlfriend and friend over the recent weekend, coming back on the Monday evening. I flew in by Tiger and booked my hotel through agoda.com. A brief summary, with photos taken from the internet is as follows.
Friday 13 December 2013
I had web-checked in so I did not have to arrive at the airport that early. Nevertheless, I took my luggage to work heading straight to Changi Terminal 2 after a staggered half-day to catch my 1715 flight.
The flight to Vietnam took about two hours and I reached the Tan Son Nhat Airport. My previous trip to Vietnam was slightly ruined because we got ripped off by the cab driver. He charged us 400,000 dong for a 250,000 dong trip (10,000 dong ~ USD 0.50). Determined not to get cheated this time, we ordered a cab from the Mai Linh Group but it still cost us 300,000 dong. The journey took about 1 hour plus due to traffic surge. Otherwise, it would have been a 30 minutes journey.
Note also that throughout Vietnam, the dong is mainly used but only at tourist traps as well as inside the airport, they prefer or quote US dollars. Note also that you must be brave when crossing the roads. There seems to be more following of traffic lights but in any case, just cross the road (jaywalking) by walking in a slow predicable manner, stopping only for cars and buses. The scooters will avoid you.
I had booked the Grand Silverland Hotel and Spa because of its amenities but never did get to use them. The rooms were also smaller than what was in the photos... However, the location was a strong selling point, close to the city's main tourist attractions. After checking out the rooms we went to the city center to have our dinner (KFC) as well as visit the Ben Tahn night market.
The drinks at the Rex Hotel rooftop bar (above) was very expensive. Two cocktails and a bottle of Corona cost us about 250,000 dong. A bottle of Corona at the convenience store costs only 12,000 dong. It was not worth it in my opinion.
As it was Christmas and the malls had put up decorations, we saw throngs of locals taking photographs with their big cameras. The girls were in their dresses and make up, posing for the glamour shots.
The Ben Tahn market (opens both day and night) is a must visit. Because it was the Friday and Saturday, some of the roads around it were closed to allow food stalls to do business. Personally, while you could buy food, you should not buy any items as they are marked up.
Saturday 14 December 2013
We visited the War Remnants Museum (below), entrance fee 15,000 dong. Initially, I thought 40 minutes would suffice but my girlfriend went through each of the exhibits and that took us about 2 hours. By then, seeing so many Agent Orange photos ( a chemical that causes severe deformations and genetic mutations) we were emotionally drained and headed to the city center and Ben Tanh market.
The night was the fun part. We paid 800,000 dong per person for the night tour organised by XO Tours. It was very pricey considering that the average local salary is about USD 200-300 a month. However, we managed to see the parts of Ho Chi Minh, that without a local to bring us, be accessible. I will let the video of the night tour speak for itself.
Sunday 15 December 2013
Me and my girlfriend went to the Cuu Chi Tunnel in a small private tour bus, costing us 360,000 dong, booked from the tour agency just outside the hotel. The bus picked us up at 0900 (supposed to be 0830) and we were the only two Asians, the remaining seven from UK, USA and Australia (counts as Asians?). The guide, Mr No, was an elderly gentleman who spoke halting English. Cuu Chi is about 1 hour 30 minutes from Ho Chi Minh and the whole tour took about 2 hours. We went through a propaganda film, looked at the exhibits and even crawled through on of the tunnel systems (causing thigh aches the next day). The bigger sized tourists had some difficulty with the tunnels but they all paid to shot some rounds at the shooting range at the end of all the exhibits.
The remainder of the day was spent visiting shopping malls as well as having a hair wash.
Monday 16 December
Girlfriend went for a spa in the morning while me and my friend went to a stadium nearby to watch elderly gentlemen play soccer. Once we linked back up with my girlfriend, we checked out of the hotel and left our luggage at the lobby. We visited the backpackers' area to look for trinkets to buy back but ended up having a foot massage. It cost us 80,000 for a 30 minutes foot and back rub but they asked if I could give them a tip! Eventually, I went to have Pho at a corner shop that almost all tourist go to. My girlfriend said that it was the best meal the entire trip!
We headed back to collect our luggage and headed to the airport. For your information, the checkin counter opens strictly 2 hours before the flight and all hell breaks loose then. We took the 1730 flight back.
Overall damage ~ SGD 540
Airfare ~SGD 200 (includes credit card charge and check in luggage)
Hotel ~ SGD 383 for two persons over 3 nights, inclusive of breakfast
Total Spending in Ho Chi Minh City: SGD 150 (includes paying for all the tours and taxi)