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There are so many ways to describe Vietnam especially Saigon. We noticed the locals referred to it as Saigon, while we all referred to it as Ho Chi Minh. The easiest way I can describe it is organized chaos!! This was my 32nd country, I visited and the most unique one to date. Vietnam was never on my list to be honest. My grandparents went a few years ago and loved it, but it wasn’t somewhere I thought I’d go. However, my uncle became sick in Saigon, and my dad needed to go to visit him. I joined simply to help my dad out.
Booking our tickets last minute meant we didn’t do much research. We quickly learned a Visa is necessary. Because we booked everything last minute we opted for a Visa on Arrival via a letter through Vietnam Visa Pro and I highly recommend them for your travels.
IMPORTANT“You will be denied entry for misspelled names, incomplete names, or incorrect birth dates.”
*Make sure you include your full name as it appears on your passport. My dad simply put his middle initial. Thankfully, the gate agents in Taiwan caught it. Immediately we called Vietnam Visa Pro and they graciously met us at the airport with a correct Visa (for an additional $15). You will be denied entry for misspelled names, incomplete names, or incorrect birth dates.
*Apply earlier rather than later to ensure all documentation is in order.
*Check the Arrival Letter to confirm all of your information is entered correctly.
*A Visa on Arrival will cost you for the letter as well as $25 USD at the airport.
*Upon arrival, after deplaning, you simply hop into the line in the waiting area for your Visa. Because my dad paid extra for a corrected Visa, he skipped the line! I ended up waiting almost an hour and a half for my Visa. We quickly noticed they have men who will expedite the Visa process.
Leaving the Airport in Saigon Vietnam
Finally, it was time to leave the airport! By this point we spent nearly four days traveling. Completely exhausted and not thinking clearly we trudged into the sticky air. Before arriving I read numerous articles about taxis. Do NOT just jump into a taxi. Make sure you use Vinasun which is white with green and red writing. A gentleman approached us and flashed his Vinasun badge then promptly wanted us to follow him. Red flags started flying. He was taking us away from the main area to a dark parking lot. Thankfully my gut instinct kicked in. I demanded my suitcase back and we went back to the main area. He was not a Vinasun taxi driver, and actually had a fake ID we believe. The Vinasun drivers will be in a taxi marked as such and have a meter.
Important Note Regarding Taxis“Make sure you use Vinasun which is white with green and red writing.”
“Carry smaller denominations of cash to pay the drivers.”
Before leaving the airport, I suggest you take out some cash. You will need it to pay the drivers. Smaller denominations are extremely helpful as drivers don’t/won’t have change. We found a restaurant near our hotel which was willing to give us change thankfully. The nicer hotels will tell you how much to expect to pay. If you have issues, the hotels will gladly help you.
Another option is to download the app Grab. If you are brave enough you can use this and take a moped. I am NOT that brave. You must download the app before arriving in Vietnam.
Where to Stay in Saigon Vietnam
To begin with we stayed in District 10 because it was closer to the hospital where my uncle was at. District 10 is Chinatown. Delicious food, but it is hard to locate and it was insane. The first day there we walked to the hospital because it wasn’t even a mile and nearly died! There are mopeds and people everywhere! Walking to restaurants proved futile, so we ate at the hotel which was pricey. Side note, I am not an adventurous eater, but tried some sesame seed dumplings-DELICIOUS! They were almost like a caramelized sugary dessert on the inside, but tasted like a doughy bread outside.
Later we moved to District 1, and enjoyed Ho Chi Minh a lot more. It is not as chaotic and easily walkable. If you are visiting, I suggest you stay in District 1, especially if you have children. I noted on more than one occasion, I would have had a panic attack if my children were there. Trying to cross busy intersections in which mopeds are flying in every direction is scary as an adult, it could be traumatic for a small child-especially one with sensory issues.
Must Do In Saigon Vietnam
If you have ever read my blog you know we love walking tours! Especially free ones! We did one in Bucharest and Vienna. The highlighted tours were the free walking tour and a street food tour. Neither one worked with our schedule, but I do think they are worth noting. District 1 is a great area to walk and sightsee. We visited the Ho Chi Minh statue, Notre Dame, high end shopping area, Ben Thanh Market, along with some great restaurants.
Chinatown also has their own market at the Windsor Plaza. It was huge! I believe 4 floors of vendors selling items for dirt cheap. We saw Converse high top tennis shoes for $4.00 USD. My kids love those shoes and in the states they can easily run $60. We noticed they didn’t haggle you quite as much as the Ben Thanh Market. Unfortunately, I only brought a carry on bag, so no room for too many extra items. It is also illegal to take knock offs out of the country. I wasn’t sure if they were real or fake so opted not to purchase them. If they were knock offs they were really good ones.
Ben Thanh Market
Ben Thanh Market is the craziest place I have ever been! I wondered if it felt like being on the floor of the NYSE. People from all corners asking you to buy stuff. I even saw some vendors physically grabbing people and shoving them into their stalls. I wouldn’t touch anything for fear they would get physical with me. One vendor latched onto a woman and wouldn’t let her go without a fight. But while it was crazy, we walked through it a few times.
The air is filled with the smell of garlic, jackfruit (these smell absolutely terrible, think some mysterious food rotting in your pantry, yet sweet), smog, fresh flowers, and fish. Add in the sounds of mopeds honking, people yelling, chatting, and laughter and you can just start to envision the markets. I’m sure in the summertime it is very crowded and extremely hot and humid. Definitely worth visiting if you are in Ho Chi Minh.
The Cafe Apartments
The cafe apartments were in an beautiful old building. The architecture was my favorite part. This apartment building is chalk full of adorable cafes and boutique stores. Most of the boutiques were higher end and pricier even for American standards. But I suggest you make the climb to the top so that you can see the views of the city. Plus stop at each level to enjoy the nooks and crannies of each level.
Saigon is known for their delicious street food. We walked through several food markets, but neither of us were brave enough to try any street food. It was very tempting, but we didn’t have time to deal with sickness. We did however visit several restaurants.
Hands down our favorite was L’Usine. The atmosphere is lovely and inviting and the food was yummy. It is a lot pricier than local places, but we never worried about getting sick. One day we headed to to Royal Saigon and I tried my first bowl of Pho. I really liked the Pho, but didn’t think the place was worth all the hype. The service was extremely slow and they forgot our drinks and we had to ask for them. I did try Saigon Cider which was a fun thing to try. Another great cafe was Kai Coffee which is located on Hong Bang. They had my favorite cappuccino and croissants.
Saigon, Vietnam is a city that is completely different from anywhere I have ever been before. I am not sure I would return, but I am glad I joined my dad on this trip. It was definitely eye opening. I will be blogging about the importance of travel insurance very soon as well. For years I wanted to visit Southeast Asia, but I was drawn more towards Bali and Thailand. If they’re anything like Vietnam, I am not sure I would love them. I would love to hear your thoughts on Bali and Thailand in comparison to Vietnam.
Vietnam is HOT and humid and I went in the winter. I can only imagine visiting during the summertime. It is quite dusty as well so for shoes-I love Chacos! They are incredibly comfortable to walk in for hours. Mine are black and white and go with everything. Originally, I brought mostly long dresses and ended up only wearing my long skirt one day. Quickly, I learned that it is very difficult to cross a road dodging mopeds while in a long skirt! I suggest you wear shorter (not too short) skirts/shorts or lightweight pants.
We love GoPros and use them on a regular basis. For sightseeing I suggest a backpack clip to make it easier. Take a water bottle because it is hot! I bought a large bottle of water and refilled mine. I love my Takeya water bottle because it keeps water cold as well as having a handle. Also, we found restaurants that had “Safe Water” stickers in their windows where you could refill water bottles as well.