To be perfectly candid, Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam was never on my list of dream travel destinations (and I do have quite a long list). It was certainly never part of my travel plans, but it seems that fate (or Instagram) knew better and now I’m so glad I was able to spend 3 nights there.
Ho Chi Minh City, still more popularly known as Saigon, may not be the capital city but it is definitely the largest and the economic center of Vietnam. The city is, in fact, subdivided into 24 districts: 5 of them rural and 19 urban districts. Where I stayed at was the busiest, and probably the wealthiest, zone called District 1 (Quan 1). It is where InterContinental Asiana Saigon (my home for 2 nights and the reason for this trip) is located. Just across the street from the hotel is the Saigon Book Street on Nguyen Van Bình — a short, tree-lined stretch of pedestrian road that has rows of small book shops and cafes celebrating bibliophiles. It’s only 144 meters long and it’s one of the attractions that I loved the most about the city. I must’ve passed there about ten times during my 3-day stay. I was able to buy a copy of The Little Prince in Vietnamese for my collection, a lantern for my sister and some postcards for my friends. I loved this street!
Just past the book street is the imposing Notre-Dame Cathedral Basilica of Saigon, an architectural gem with its two bell towers and a neo-Romanesque design. It was built starting in 1863 and was completed 17 years later in 1880. It is the only remaining bastion of Catholicism in the predominantly Buddhist country.
A few meters away from the Basilica is the Saigon Central Post Office, which is also considered a popular tourist attraction because of its French colonial architecture. Aside from the mail center, it houses a couple of souvenir shops and some travel kiosks where tourists can book a variety of city tour packages. I was able to mail a handful of postcards to some of my friends around the globe. A few made it to their destinations while the others did not. *sigh*
One of the best things I did on my trip was the Saigon River Dinner Cruise, which my Vietnamese friend arranged for me via Saigon Tourist. The whole package cost me almost one million dong (equivalent to a little over P2,000.00) but it was definitely worth the price tag. It was inclusive of a private van, a friendly tour guide, a traditional water puppet show, an hour-and-a-half river cruise onboard Indochina Junk boat, and a very satisfying seven-course dinner. It was amaaaaaaazing!!!
I had a pretty awesome time just strolling the streets of Saigon while pausing to take photos and just taking all the scenery in. I found the city relatively clean and safe, despite its population of over 10 million. Dong Khoi Street is at the heart of the commercial district, considered as the affluent area and is home to numerous hotels, malls, designer shops, restaurants and old colonial buildings such as the City Hall and the Opera House.
Truly, my Saigon sojourn is an experience that I will fondly remember and I am grateful that the universe conspired to make it happen.