Chào Saigon: A Walking Tour of Ho Chi Minh City

July 01, 2012 ASEAN Backpacking

According to the Mekong River Commission website (, the Mekong River is the tenth largest in the world and flows approximately 4,909 km. through China, Myanmar, Lao, Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam. 

This magnificent river is the inspiration of our recently concluded ASEAN trip that traversed three countries, four cities and approximately 1,158 km., with new found friends and longtime travel buddies.

The Mekong River Map at Saigon Mini Hotel, our first stop

Planning the Trip

It all started with a post or invitation by Mervin Meruenas at the group page of Guys4Mountains, where I am an honorary member.  Seeing that a lot of my friends from Guys4Mountains were interested, I signified my interest also and when they started booking flights from Manila to Ho Chi Minh and Bangkok to Manila, I followed.  

Mervin, having done this tour several times, organized the whole trip for us.  By that I mean arranging land transfers, accommodations, restaurant reservations and everything else.  All coordinations were done over facebook and he patiently answered all our inquiries.  He even issued SMS tips and reminders, which included having small dollar bills ready, bringing photocopies of our passports, etc.  

Weeks before a trip, he sent us this itinerary.  
He also computed for us our travel budget, which as mentioned in his initial invite didn't exceed US $300.00.  

The Adventure Begins

took the midnight Cebu Pacific Manila - Ho Chi Minh flight.

Ho Chi Minh City, here we come!

My first authentic bowl of Pho

We started our great Mekong Adventure with a tour of Ho Chi Minh City (formerly Saigon).  

The only way to start this is with a bowl of pho.  

As soon as we checked in at our home for two nights, the Saigon Mini Hotel (196 Bui Vien St., District 1), we walked to Pho QUYNH at Pham Ngu Lao for pho.  It was around 2 in the morning and that bowl was perfect to calm me down for a good night's sleep.  We needed that because we only had a few hours to snooze before we started exploring Saigon.

We started our day early the following day. After having breakfast at the hotel, where I enjoyed scrambled eggs, bread, and Laughing Cow cheese—a popular choice in Vietnam—we gathered in the hotel lobby to begin our walking tour.

Our first task was to secure bus tickets from Vietnam to Cambodia. We headed to Sinh Tourist on De Tham Street in District 1 to book our bus tickets from Ho Chi Minh to Phnom Penh (USD 10.00) and from Phnom Penh to Siem Reap (USD 7.00).

Following our visit to the travel agency, we walked to Ben Thanh Market, one of Ho Chi Minh's popular landmarks, for souvenir shopping. Yes, that early. I hadn't planned on buying too much in Ho Chi Minh since we still had seven more days in our itinerary and two borders to cross.

The market offers a variety of souvenirs, local handicrafts, food, and other interesting items.

I seriously considered buying these items as souvenirs, but I hesitated, fearing that the glasses might break.

In the end, I opted for refrigerator magnets and shoe bags as souvenirs.

We also took some tourist shots at Ho Chi Minh City Hall and Opera House, just a few minutes' walk from the market. Although the City Hall isn't open to tourists, we captured photos of its French colonial facade and the statue of its namesake in the small park in front of it.

Next on our travel plan was the Opera House, another exemplar of French colonial architecture in Vietnam.

Afterwards, we strolled to the Saigon Notre-Dame Basilica to offer a quiet prayer of thanks and appreciate yet another Ho Chi Minh landmark, officially known as the Basilica of Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception.

We continued our souvenir shopping at the Saigon Central Post Office, located next to the cathedral. This gothic architectural landmark, built by Gustave Eiffel—renowned for his most famous work, the Eiffel Tower (which I had the chance to see in 1997)—adds another layer of historical charm to our exploration.

Inside, the post office is even more magnificent, and I found myself instantly wishing that our post office in Manila could be developed into a similar tourist landmark. The souvenir items inside are not only nicer but also more affordable.

After that half-day walk in the city, it was time for lunch. We headed to Jollibee, where my choice was two pieces of Chicken Joy, served with red sauce instead of gravy like in the Philippines.

After lunch, we hailed a cab to reach one of the popular shopping destinations in Ho Chi Minh City, Saigon Square. There are two Saigon Squares here, and the one we visited is the larger of the two.

This mall is brimming with both original and imitation items, ranging from clothes to backpacks and other goods. Indeed, you can find a variety of popular outdoor brands like TNFs, Millets, and other favorites.

After our shopping spree, we needed to cool down, so we headed to Kem Bach Dang Ice Cream, located near the corner of Saigon Square. The ice cream was delicious, and I opted for a coffee-flavored one.

By the way, upon sitting down, waiters promptly serve dumplings and wet wipes. It's worth noting that these are not complimentary.

We regrouped at the hotel afterward. While some opted for a massage, we chose to explore the other Saigon Square.

For dinner, we headed to Kim Cafe on De Tham Street in District 1, and this feast for seven hungry tourists only cost us USD 34.00. Not bad at all. I especially enjoyed the vegetarian fried rice.


We didn't get to enjoy much of the street food here in Ho Chi Minh. As a fan of fried rice and street food, I feel like I could live here, maybe in the future or in another lifetime.

That was a recap of the first leg of our adventure.  

Up next is Phnom Penh!

Other Good Travels