Welcome to my Solo Travel to Saigon. This is my very 1st solo trip anywhere. Embarking on a journey of self-discovery, I find myself drawn to the vibrant heart of Vietnam: Saigon. As I stepped into this bustling metropolis, a cacophony of sights, sounds, and scents assailed me, promising an unforgettable adventure. From the historic charm of the Central Post Office and the poignant War Remnants Museum to the lively tantalizing Ben Thanh Market, Saigon offers a captivating blend of past and present. With each winding alleyway and motorbike-filled streets, I delve deeper into its rich culture and warm-hearted locals. This solo escapade to Saigon is not just a trip, but a chapter of my own tale waiting to be written. Thanks for coming along on my solo travel to Saigon. Saigon or Ho Chi Minh City ? “Saigon” and “Ho Chi Minh City” both refer to the same city, which is the largest city in Vietnam. “Saigon” is the historical name of the city that carries a lot of cultural and historical significance. However, after the end of the Vietnam War in 1975, the city was officially renamed “Ho Chi Minh City” in honour of the Vietnamese communist revolutionary leader Ho Chi Minh. The name change was part of the government’s effort to highlight the city’s role in the socialist and revolutionary history of Vietnam. Today, both names are used interchangeably, but “Ho Chi Minh City” is the official name. Locals might refer to it as “Saigon” in casual conversation, and you’ll often see both names used in various contexts. Must-visit places and things to do Ben Thanh Market My 1st destination upon arrival was the Bến Thành Market, just a 1-2 min walk from my hotel. The market is located in the center of Hồ Chí Minh City, District 1. The market is one of the earliest surviving structures in Saigon and an important symbol of the city. Ben Thanh Market is a famous destination for many locals and foreign tourists from all around the world.
Fresh fruits for the taking. All are locally grown. They have very good Vietnamese coffee, a wide range of souvenirs, and local produce to buy home.
The aunty who pulled me to eat at her stall obliged to a quick photo without being asked. An Xoi seller stationed herself at the West entrance. Pronounced (soi) is a savoury (mặn) or sweet (ngọt) Vietnamese snack made from glutinous rice and other ingredients. A coffee powder stall assistant at the market photobombed the picture. Seafood stall. Not quite what I like. Just a click will do. But I understand many locals like this dish. Vendors wearing the traditional conical nón lá hats, a well-known symbol of Vietnam. Cu Chi Tunnels
The Cu Chi Tunnels are an extensive underground network located in Cu Chi District, about a 1.15 hours drive from Saigon city centre. These tunnels gained significant historical importance during the Vietnam War when the tunnels served as a crucial base of operations for the Viet Cong, the communist forces fighting against the South Vietnamese government and its allies, particularly the United States.
Tunnel entry demonstration by the site crew. Only slim and fit people can enter, and exit. That’s why during the war, many US soldiers were massacred when they attempted tunnel penetration, only to be stuck, with their lower body parts stabbed and sliced by the Vietcongs. The tunnels of Củ Chi are an immense network of connecting tunnels located in the Củ Chi District of Ho Chi Minh City and are part of a much larger network of tunnels that underlie much of the country. This is the underground path to the Cu Chi Tunnels. I had the mistaken impression that the tunnels were so clean and well lit, till I saw the real thing. The Viet Cong built booby traps in most of the tunnel systems. Tunnel rats could expect grenades, poison gas, punji stake traps, and tethered venomous snakes. None of these traps would have the audio or scent signature a tunnel rat could recognize from a guerilla waiting in ambush. A bomb manufacturing center. Only unmarried VCs are assigned to make the explosives, the married ones are excused, due to the possibility of accidental explosion. Remnants of the war, an American M-41 Tank destroyed by mine in the Vietnam War. Boiled tapioca was served at the end of our walking trip. It is a dish that dates back to a long period of national resistance. For modern comfort, this dish was accompanied by a savoury-sweet dip for the tapioca and pandan-flavored tea. During the war, it’s just the tapioca. With the low nutrition level, the Vcs physique remained small., ideal for the narrow tunnels. Mekong Delta Overview
The Mekong Delta is a vast region located in southwestern Vietnam. It is often referred to as Vietnam’s “Rice Bowl” due to its key role in the country’s economy from its agricultural production. Its complex network of rivers, canals, and waterways, spans over 39,000 square kilometers and is characterised by lush landscapes, fertile land, and a unique way of life. The region is home to numerous small villages and towns, where communities’ livelihoods rely heavily on agriculture, aquaculture, and fishing.
A boat ride through a mangrove palm canal. Natural mangrove landscape, allowing visitors to escape the searing afternoon heat. The dining ambience here among the rustic shelters is reasonably nice. The food is pretty decent, but best to avoid seeing the condition of the kitchen. The site has a crocodile pond with many reptiles getting ready to be made into handbags or wallets. We were also treated to a honey-tasting session, right from the source. A staff holding up a hive, without safety gear to show us bees are usually non-hostile. Beekeeping in Vietnam often follows traditional methods that have been passed down through generations. Many rural communities practice beekeeping as an integral part of their agricultural traditions. Bamboo hives, nestled in the Mekong Delta, are a common sight. Beekeepers maintain a close bond with nature and have a deep understanding of the local flora and its influence on honey production. A snack offering for the late morning, with fresh fruits grown from the fruit farms around the island. Dragonfruits, banana, pineapple, jackfruits, and sapodilla. Washed down with pandan-infused tea. We were treated to the melody of “Don Ca Tai Tu”, a genre of traditional folk music which is an indispensable spiritual cultural activity in the Mekong Delta people’s lives and officially recognised by UNESCO as an Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. The songs are invariably of a sad theme, like children leaving home for education, etc. Hand-made coconut candy factory. This lady single-handedly does all the candy, with only the wrapping carried out by the rest of the staff. The Mekong Delta is renowned for its diverse culinary offerings and unique beverages. Snake wine, for example, is a traditional drink. It involves placing whole venomous snakes or scorpions, into bottles of rice wine or other alcoholic beverages and letting them steep for a certain period. The belief is that the snake’s essence is infused into the alcohol, imparting health benefits. Departing Unicorn Island, which is just one of the many islands offering picturesque landscapes, lush greenery, and unique local experiences. These islands provide opportunities to experience local culture, try fresh tropical fruits, and interact with friendly locals. Prior to returning to Saigon, we stopped at the beautiful Vinh Trang pagoda, considered the biggest and oldest ancient pagoda in Southern Vietnam influenced by Asian and Western architecture and culture, which is located in My Tho Town. Bui Vien Walking Street
Bui Vien Walking Street with its vibrant and energetic nightlife is certainly a must-visit. Situated in the heart of the city’s District 1, Bui Vien Street transforms into a pedestrian-only zone in the evenings, becoming a popular destination for both locals and tourists alike.
There is no mistake when you arrive at Bui Vien Walking Street. The vibes, the thumping sound systems of the bars, and the mass confluence of visitors draw you in like a magnet. Bui Vien Street is the so-called “Western Street” (Pho Tay) referring to its Western culture-orientated features. Before becoming a walking city, Bui Vien Street was crowded with backpackers coming here to have fun, try unfamiliar cuisines, and explore new places during their trip to Saigon. This is Saigon’s equivalent of Bangkok’s Khaosan Road. Bui Vien Street, also known as Western Street or the International Intersection, is located on De Tham, Bui Vien, Pham Ngu Lao, and Do Quang Dau Street in District 1. Bui Vien Street used to be very thinly distributed in population but it was in 2009 when the area started to get more crowded and thus attracted increasing numbers of traders coming in to do business. Nowadays, Bui Vien Street is one of the most crowded streets in Ho Chi Minh City. The street was opened for pedestrians on 15th July 2017 and on 20th August 2017, a grand opening ceremony was held and Bui Vien Street officially gained its title as a walking street. It is the second walking street in Saigon after Nguyen Hue walking street. It was the Westerners’ flocking to Bui Vien Street that helped the area become so crowded. Westerner tourists tend to be more free-handed and have higher demands for accommodation, food, and services in general. The high demands intrigued traders to come and boost the economy of the whole area. Before 1975, the area was unofficially called the International Intersection by journalists and artists, the appellation referred to the five streets around Nguyen Van Hao Cinema (now called The Worker Cinema). The name was popular among journalists and writers as the area was a hub of printing stores and newsrooms. War Remnants Museum
Once known as the Museum of Chinese and American War Crimes, the
War Remnants Museum is the most popular museum in Saigon with Western tourists. It contains exhibits relating to the First Indochina War and the Vietnam War. I reached the museum at 715 a.m, too early as it opens at 7.30 a.m. daily. The Museum is open on all days, including public holidays and Tet. Ticket price: 40,000 VND (S$2) for adults and 20,000 VND ($1) for children aged 6-15. Children under six years old can visit for free. The museum exhibits are emotionally powerful and thought-provoking, as they provide a sobering look into the human cost of war. The museum aims to educate people about the war’s history and its enduring effects on Vietnamese society, while also advocating for peace and understanding. The ravages of the Vietnam War linger till today. I had the opportunity to chat with the friendly Mr.Gue (54yo), previously a farmer, who lost both arms, a leg, and an eye in a landmine accident at his farm. He was hospitalized for 6 months and lived to tell. Gatling Gun in a Helicopter. Nicely restored, the previous version was encrusted in rust. Waging Peace – This exhibit talked about the opposition to war within the United States, which was the largest peace movement in America that went against the government’s pro-war propaganda. Unlike free-speech democracies like the USA, such actions would be considered as treason elsewhere. Being the very 1st to arrive at the museum, it’s a surreal quiet feel. A USAF F-5A fighter, in retirement phase, with the war in the distant memory. Saigon Central Post Office
The Saigon Central Post Office is a well-known historical landmark and a functioning post office. It is considered one of the most iconic and beautiful colonial-era buildings in the city.
The post office was built between 1886 and 1891 during the French colonial period in Vietnam. It was designed by Gustave Eiffel, the renowned architect famous for designing the Eiffel Tower in Paris, France. Other than the iconic building, I noticed the staff in yellow Aodai, on Youtube. I feel they really enhance the experience at the Post Office, so I make it a point to feature these svelte girls. The building provides a glimpse into Vietnam’s history, as well as the architectural influences of the French colonial period. It’s a place where modern functionality and historical charm coexist, making it a truly special landmark. Although it is a historical landmark, it continues to function as a post office to this day. Visitors can send mail, purchase stamps, and experience the bustling atmosphere of a working post office. Local Food Tour
Saigon is renowned for its vibrant street food culture and a wide range of dishes influenced by Vietnamese, Chinese, and French cuisines. But you will need an experienced local food guide to better experience and navigate Saigon’s cuisine labyrinth.
I had a fabulous time with a 1-on-1 “Local Food Tour” guided by the amazing I was whizzed around the nook and crannies at the back of her trusty scooter as we sought out the tasty treats. Kimmy Nguyen. Our 1st dish of the food tour was Bánh Xèo, a crispy and savoury Vietnamese Crêpes. Aunty manning the 4 hot skillets of Bánh Xèo like a Symphony Orchestra conductor. Next on the trip, we had the Chuối nếp nướng (grilled banana sticky rice). In Vietnamese, “chuoi” means banana, “nep” means sticky rice and “nuong” means grilling. The name “Chuoi Nep Nuong” perfectly describes the dish, which features ripe bananas wrapped in sticky rice. The banana sticky rice rolls are then wrapped in banana leaves and grilled until the outside is golden. We had the snack hot off the grill drizzled with creamy coconut sauce and toasted sesame seeds. Not too sweet and very homely feel indeed. Hủ tiếu khô is a traditional noodle dish originating from Southern Vietnam. The noodles in this dish are dry, without the usual broth that accompanies them. The broth is served on the side, in a small bowl, and it’s made with shrimp, white radish, sliced pork tenderloin, and pig bones. Roasted peanuts and chili sauce are also often served on the side, along with the accompanying vegetables such as herbs, chives, cabbage, bean sprouts, and curry lettuce. Just a stone’s throw from the BBQ banana place, I was introduced to Nguyễn thiện thuật Apartments. These apartment buildings have existed for about half a century. Most of the people who have been living there do not want to leave their familiar living place. Some of them have been neighbours since the Vietnam War. We next scooted to the Hồ thị kỷ flower market which was just a short walk away. Ho Thi Ky market is Saigon’s hidden gem with the biggest 24/7 flower market in the city and the Cambodian market inside. Kimmy brought me to Hồ Thị Kỷ Street, the last stop of our food tour. Located in District 10, it is a paradise for street food, with over 100 stalls, visitors can find famous dishes. This street is famed for its seafood, so it’s fitting that it ended with a seafood dish. At the last food stall, we visited on the food street, this lady stall owner greeted me in Korean. Guessed I looked like kimchi. Bò Kho Gánh Sài Gòn – Beef stew( bò kho) – our last stop of the food tour, But we are not here for the beef, which smells so good. We were here for a Vietnamese coconut ice cream to wrap up our food tour. We had the Kem dừa (coconut ice cream) to end the food tour on a sweet note. Not quite like the coconut ice cream in Bangkok, this version is less sweet and quite refreshing. Enjoy the Saigon Traffic and Public Parks The morning peak hour rush. Motorcycles played an essential role in Vietnamese daily life, enabling the locals to travel around the city from door to door. Honda motorcycles is the undisputed No. 1 motorcycle brand in Vietnam. The greatest thing about buying a bike in Vietnam is how affordable it really is. You can find bikes for anywhere from US$200 to over US$2,000. In Vietnam, 86 percent of the population uses motorbikes or two-wheelers as their main mode of transport. Building an MRT network is unlikely to alter this 2-wheel psyche. I really can’t believe “fitness” nuts jogging in the morning smog. It’s akin to smoking cigarettes. A Kung Fu master displaying his art. Look at the smog in the background, enveloping the city. Despite Western lifestyle starting to creep into the heart of young people, the middle-aged and older crowd and many under 30 still like to go to bed early and get up at dawn. Parks in the early morning are jam-packed with people of different ages. Young men glidingly run with their shirts off and teenage girls joyously pass the shuttlecock while men and women in their late 60s calmingly enjoy their morning jog. Conclusion
As I stand here at the crossroads of past and present, bidding farewell to vibrant Saigon, my heart swells with a bittersweet mixture of gratitude and reluctance. This city, with its bustling streets, aromatic food stalls, and harmonious blend of tradition and modernity, has etched an indelible mark on my soul. Saigon’s pulse, a rhythm of life that beats with intensity, has taught me to embrace the present moment and find beauty in the chaos. Its people, resilient and full of hope, have reminded me of the power of human connection and the kindness that transcends language barriers.
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