Good morning, 2015! After an eventful night and a few too many beers celebrating NYE (no regrets), we had a slow start to the New Year. At about noon, we finally made it out of our room and back onto the streets of Saigon!
We had a plan to visit the Reunification Palace, the Saigon Central Post Office, the Notre Dame Cathedral, and the Jade Emperor Pagoda. We looked up the route back at the hostel (we usually opt to walk every where, rather than take taxis) and saved it as a pdf on our devices in the event that we got lost. This method proved to be extremely useful because we got lost a lot and the Vietnamese street names are really difficult to remember.
After a short 20 minute walk, we arrived at the entrance of the Reunification Palace. The entrance fee was only 30,000vnd ($1.40USD) each and well worth it! We got to explore every level of the palace and look into the rooms of the home and workplace of Ngo Dinh Diem (President of South Vietnam) during the war.
The building was designed by architect Ngo Viet Thu, who used symbolic concepts derived from Eastern philosophy as inspiration. The building is still fully furnished as it was during the war, including desks, chairs, beds, dressers, and even a screening room.
The grounds were full of incredible bonsai trees and there was also a small garden inside the building.
After touring the Reunification Palace we moved onto the Notre Dame Cathedral. Constructed by French colonists, its original name was “Saigon Church,” but was changed after the installation of the Peaceful Notre Dame statue in the front. The Vatican conferred it a basilisque in 1962, and thus the official name has been “Saigon Notre-Dame Cathedral Basilica” since then.
Brick wall of the Notre Dame Cathedral
We happened to arrive in the middle of a mass. (Another awkward tourist moment taking photos during a religious ceremony.) But this one was relatively small and tourists were confined to a small place in the front of the cathedral, so it was much less intrusive than our experience at the Cao Dai Temple.
Next we walked across the street to the Saigon Central Post Office, another building constructed by the French. In fact, it was designed and construction by Gustave Eiffel. We were especially excited to finally find postcards here, as we had not seen a single one anywhere else!
Our next stop was the Jade Emperor Pagoda. It’s worth mentioning that we also tried to visit this on our first day and failed to find it. We did not find it on this day either. However! It lead us to a part of the city that we otherwise would not have explored and it ended up being a lot of fun. We were pretty far from any tourist areas and it gave us a more authentic image of what life is like living in Saigon. We were getting a lot of stares so we opted to not take photos, but we never felt unsafe. We did get a couple of shots of the river, though.
We had managed to meander pretty far of Pham Ngu Lao Street, so we opted to take a taxi home. There is a plethora of options as far as food goes on Pham Ngu Lao, and we stopped at a stand boasting “$1 Noodles!” We couldn’t pass that up so we ordered our noodles and went to pay, but realized we only had 500,000s on us ($1USD is 21,386vnd.) Normally this wouldn’t be an issue, but the woman handed our change back in wads of extremely small increments that we were unable to count right there and then on the street. We would later find that she had only given us 350,000vnd back, meaning we paid 150,000vnd ($7) for what should have been $2 worth of noodles. This is a common method of ripping people off in Saigon, but is easily unavoidable if you a) carry small bills and b) double check the change you’re given, even if it takes a couple extra seconds. But in the big scheme of things, she probably needed that extra 5 bucks a lot more than we do, so hopefully it made her life easier in some way.
Despite the setbacks, we both really enjoyed Saigon, and would come back. The city is beautiful and most people are very friendly and nice to interact with. There is a lot to do at any hour of the day or night and it has a ton of energy!
2-1.5 Liters of H2O: 30,000vnd ($1.40)
Breakfast: 64,000vnd ($2.99)
1-16oz. H2O: 7,000vnd ($0.33)
2-Reunification Palace Entry Tickets: 60,000vnd ($2.81)
Redbull: 20,000vnd ($0.94)
Postcards and Stamps: 165,000vnd ($7.72)
Taxi: 83,000vnd ($3.88)
Dinner: 150,000vnd ($7.01)
1-1.5 Liter of H2O: 14,000vnd ($0.65)
Private Room: 625,535vnd ($29.25)
Total Spent: 1,218,535vnd ($56.98USD)