My Love-Hate Relationship With Saigon

We dragged our sore bodies out of Mekong Express Bus after the conductor announced we have just arrived Ho Chi Minh City, still known as Saigon. I had no idea the 12 hour bus ride from Siem Reap, Cambodia can be very exhausting. Tired and on the verge of breaking our shoulders from carrying our bags, Maki and I hailed a cab that will take us to Hong Kong Kaiteki Hotel, our home for two days.
crossing the streets in ho chi minh
Taxi Scams and Jumping Meters
Our hotel is located at Pham Ngu Lao, the backpacker district. Not too long since riding the cab, I noticed our meter is already running around 150,000 VND ($7) and we’ve only been travelling less than 1 kilometer! ASDFGHJK!!! We arrived at the hotel after 5 freaking minutes and the meter stopped at 300,000 VND ($15). SRSLY. Maki asked if we should really pay the cab driver that much, I just said give him the money. I. WAS. TOO. TIRED. TO. ARGUE.

When I reached my own capsule (Hong Kong Kaiteki is a capsule hotel), I couldn’t believe we paid that much for a cab ride. I decided to search the net about reasonable fare in Ho Chi Minh. It said most companies charge around 12,000 VND at the start of the ride.  The fare goes up by 1200 – 1400 VND every additional 200 metres.  I was so pissed when I read this! How the hell did we end up paying 300,000 VND for a 1KM ride?! So lesson learned, research about the place before coming. I did not bother to do research because we were only interested about Mui Ne. 

MaiLinh Taxi <- not the one who ripped us off

The Art of Crossing the Street

We woke up early the next day so we can tour around the city. In the bustling metropolis of Ho Chi Minh City, the streets connected to the main road does not seem to have apparent traffic rules. Motorbikes, taxi cabs, cyclos and private cars go every which way they can.  But it did not take us long to master the skills of crossing the streets in Ho Chi Minh. We were not surprised because this is also what’s it like in Manila. Suddenly, Saigon feels so familiar. The secret to crossing the street in Ho Chi Minh? Make eye contact, just walk, do not pussyfoot. ^_^
Maki asking for directions
city of contrasts

Of Vietnamese Cuisine and Being Instant Millionaires

We went around Pham Ngu Lao to look for a money changer that has good rates. When we found one, I handed 60 dollars to the lady. I was surprised when I received 1,265,291.96 VND! Not that I was expecting less, but I really feel so rich that day. Lol.

a taste of authentic Vietnamese cuisine
After we got our millions, Maki and I decided to eat. We went to this random Pho house along Binh Thanh District. It was around 9 in the morning so there were a lot of customers. Pho is perhaps the most popular breakfast in Vietnam. The term Pho actually refers to the noodles, not the broth. Stack of fresh herbs and veggies are served on a separate plate. We had no idea what to do with these fresh greens. We just imitate what local customers do.

stack of fresh greens
Saigon Opera House and Saigon Notre Dame Basilica
We finally found Saigon Opera House and Saigon Notre Dame Basilica after so much walking. I was happy that we can now see the famous attractions in the place that inspired the broadway musical Miss Saigon. After taking some photos, we went to the park across Saigon Opera House to rest. Several hawkers approached us. They were selling books, souvenirs and there was this shoe shine guy.

We tried to avoid them because they really look sketchy. In my head I asked, “Am I gonna be ripped off again? Not anymore please.” But this shoe shine guy grabbed my shoes and started cleaning it. WTF. I told him I’m not interested but he said my shoes need to be fixed. OK. FINE. And when he’s finished he asked me to pay. I gave 10, 000 VND but he did not accept it. He cannot really speak English so I was not sure if he was asking for less or more.

Saigon Notre-Dame Basilica
I handed 20,000 VND but still he did not accept it. He tried to speak in English and from what I understood, he was asking for 100,000 VND. “Are you serious?!” I asked him. He was just smiling, but I thought he was actually mocking me. I was furious!  If I was not in a foreign place I would have punched him in the face. In the end, I handed 50,000 VND and left. I was so angry.. We haven’t stayed in Ho Chi Minh for 24 hours and yet we were ripped off twice!
Street Scenes of Ho Chi Minh
I was still furious of what happened to us earlier that day, but I told Maki I wanted to explore the city. Despite being ripped off twice, I still want to experience something new. I realized I can be ripped off anywhere and I will be a total loser if I don’t give Saigon another chance. We went to Baba’s Kitchen to fill up our stomach first. It has great Indian food made with fresh ingredients. Then we went to Ben Thanh Market to buy some souvenirs.
random souvenir shop along Ben Thanh Market
I love the crazy street scene of Saigon. Because it is a densely populated city, it’s impossible not to capture interesting sight wherever you focus your camera. People sipping Vietnamese coffee or energy drink on the sidewalks, scooters and vespas all over the streets, and row of shops selling different merchandise are some of the most common feature of every photo. 
Lady wearing a Non La, Vietnam’s Iconic Conical Hat. 

Cheap Accommodation

Saigon’s backpacker district offers loads of cheap hotels and guesthouses. Hong Kong Kaiteki is not the best but definitely one of the cheapest. Rooms can go as low as 150,000 VND or around 250 – 300 PHP.

Vietnamese Coffee
Cafe Sua da is Vietnamese Iced Coffee which you will see anywhere in Vietnam. Every 5 seconds, may nagtitimpla nito dun. #siguro It is a combination of concentrated coffee brew, condensed milk (never evaporated milk) and a lot of ice. It is probably the best thing I love about Saigon, or Vietnam in general. You can practically get good coffee anywhere! It is richer than iced coffee at Starbucks and it’s so much cheaper (15,000 VND or around 30 PHP). Our favorite past time during our stay in Saigon is sitting our fat asses on the sidewalks while drinking Cafe Sua da.
iced coffee in Vietnam
Have you been to Vietnam? How was your experience? Did you love it? Or Hate it?


  1. I have a similar post like this (How My Favorite Country Betrayed Me)
    but instead of an undercurrent of anger, mine was a feeling of betrayal.
    I wasn't disillusioned with HCMC until my 4th trip there. It was a
    really weird event, as you;'ll see when you read my post. I'm still
    hoping that next time I go back, though, I'll find the Vietnam I loved

  2. I just read your post Aleah. I have no idea what the driver will get by saying bad things about you. He might have mistaken you with another Filipino? But still, what he did is unacceptable. I hope the next time you go back, you'll have a great time. Let's just stay away from district 1 🙂

  3. HCMC has a unique charm, but one that not all will probably appreciate at first. I love the street scenes, a mixture of ancient and modern, and everyone seems friendly. On a recent visit, a friend got mugged while wandering Benh Tanh Market so tourists really have to be extra careful. Taxi scams like what you have mentioned are prevalent, we were told to just take Vina Sun taxis.

  4. I wish I read pre trip reminders before I went to Vietnam. I hate being on high alert in preparation for the next ripoff coming my way. Good thing, I really enjoyed our stay in Mui Ne, and that is enough to make up for the negative experiences we had in Saigon. The next time I go back to Saigon, I will stay away from district 1 🙂

  5. I haven't been anywhere in Asia but the Philippines lang. I'd love to go travel because of the food. Ang sarap naman ng iced coffee!

    100,000 VD for a shoe shine? Magkano ba yung VD to peso sis? Grabe naman yun.

  6. Wahh! Kainis ang ganun. I experienced being ripped off even here in PH. Kainis talaga. Anyway, that basilica reminds me of the church in Baguio. Ganda!

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