I went Vietnam thrice this year, and I am still not bored...

I went Vietnam thrice this year, and I am still not bored of it yet.

Yes, i know its only July now. In the span of 6 months, I went Hanoi once, and Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC) twice. After all my trial-and-errors, I am here to share with you some tips.

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When you are flying to HCMC, look out of the window and try spot this sign that I saw!

Why am I not bored of Vietnam?
It is this very 3 reasons why you should give this developing country a chance:

1. You don’t have to break your bank.

2. The Banh Mi and Pho are worth going back for more.

3.  It is more than a messy, wild traffic and foreign land.

For those who never heard anything about Vietnam, here’s a quick crash course,

Map of vietnam

Photo credit: halongbayonline.com

Vietnam shapes like an elongated letter “S”. Singapore offers flight to HCMC (Tan Son Nhat International Airport (SGN)), Hanoi  (Noi Bai International Airport (HAN))and even Da Nang (Da Nang International Airport (DAD)). Let’s just focus on HCMC and Hanoi for now.

Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC), also known as Saigon, is the largest city in Southern Vietnam. HCMC alone is more than 2.5 times bigger than Singapore. Although it is not the capital of Vietnam, it is the economic centre of the country. With that said, HCMC has interesting landmarks, war museums that tells the story of their French colonial history.

On the opposite end of Vietnam, Hanoi is located at the northern end, with a slightly smaller population. It is a 11th century French-influenced capital, punctuated with lakes and parks. Unlike HCMC, Hanoi does experience 4 seasons. (Remember, to check the weather forecast too)

HCMC vs Hanoi

Personally, the city girl in me prefers HCMC. But, hey, each of us have our own interest and preferences. The travelling buddies’ needs or interests are important factors for consideration too. Feel free to refer to this infographic when you decide between the two cities.

HCMC or Hanoi?Got lost in the infographics?

If you MUST go to Ha Long Bay (also known as Vietnam’s most beautiful tourist attraction that was conferred as UNESCO World Heritage Site), you will need to travel from Hanoi. The bus ride from HCMC is really quite intense.

Around December to March, temperature in Hanoi will be around 16 degrees to 20 degrees. Hence, if you are going for the cool weather, choose the months wisely!

How much do I need?

With an exchange rate of VND16,100 to SGD1, Singaporeans have no troubles living like kings and queens in Vietnam.

Personally, I would recommend a 4 full days to either destinations, which totals up to SGD501 for decent beds, taxi rides from destination to destination, and endless of food.

Budgeting HCMC

After adding taxes and luggage. here's the $150 return flight ticket!
After adding taxes and luggage. here’s the $150 return flight ticket!

Off-peak budget air tickets for HCMC or Hanoi averages around SGD150 (inclusive of light baggage). Around 29th Jan 2017, ticket prices may be on the steep side as the Vietnamese will be celebrating their popular National Festival – Tet Nguyen Dan.

If you want to go even more budget, you could hit as low as SGD300 for your 4D3N trip to Vietnam.

(How to go even more budget: Don’t take the cab from the airport, take the group bus-taxi that drops people off at their destinations. Bus fares start from VND5000 compared to taxi’s VND12,000 average. Risk aside, you have to watch out for your stop and ensure that communication with that driver is accurate enough to bring you to your destination. Walk whenever possible and not cab, Shop lesser and Indulge lesser in massages.)

Itineraries

Suggested itinerary for HCMC — Leisure Travellers:

(Day 1)

Fly to HCMC, take a sleeper bus (VND119,000) to Beach resort along Phan Thiet area. Relax, Massage, Swim, Stroll along the beach.

(Day 2)

Visit the Red Sand dunes (less commercialised, with only sand slides) or the White Sand Dunes (more commercialised, with ATVs), have seafood dinner along the coastline.

(Day 3)

Relax, Take the sleeper bus back to HCMC. Stroll around the area and Go to the Night market near Ben Thanh Market.

(Day 4)

Half day tour around HCMC city, shop around for your souvenirs and head back to SG.

Suggested Itinerary for HCMC — Avid Travellers:

(Day 1):

Fly to HCMC, check in to your Accommodation (in my case: Pavilion hotel), head to Ben Thanh Market / Saigon Square 1 & 2 for shopping, Lunch, head to Sinh Tourist to book your tours, Explore along Bui Vien Street and Massage, head back to hotel to drop off your shopping loots, head out for a night tour with Saigon Free Walking Tour or Saigon Hotpot. Night Food Tour around Saigon River and the 

(Day 2):

Head out to Mekong Delta river tour (VND200,000). Dinner. Shop at the night market near Ben Thanh Market

(Day 3)

Cao Dai + Cu Chi Tunnel (VND159,000). Dinner. Walk along Bui Vien street. Go for a Massage

(Day 4)

Half day HCM City Tour, followed by half day China Town tour with Saigon Free Walking Tour or Saigon Hotpot (FREE TOURS!!). Cultural – Golden Theatre Water Puppet show (VND200,000). Last Minute Shopping / Dinner. Head to the Airport.

Extra things to note:

#1: While Saigon Free Walking Tour and Saigon Hotpot are free tours ran by students (who wish to practice their English), you can always give a token of appreciation or support their cause! My guide (Dương Khánh) from Saigon Hotpot shared with us many interesting places around HCM City Tour and ChinaTown. Also, Trường Huỳnh from Saigon Free Walking Tour brought us to eat loads of delicious Vietnamese food. You can either pay VND70,000 for a scooter ride or just flag a cab to travel between attractions.

#2: You can even pre-book your cooking classes in HCMC or have a Full day HCM City tour/ China Town tour, if you decided that boat trips aren’t for you. In my case, it was bad weather, so we had to give boat trips a miss.

Suggested Tips for Hanoi:

Be sure to go there on either Fri/Sat/Sun for their Weekend Night Market. Mix and Match the tours by Student Guides from Hanoi Free Tour Guides and Hanoi Free Walking Tours.

My Packing List

On top of your usual clothes, toiletries, daily use items (charger and travel adapter) and money, you may just want to prepare these too.

1. Electronic copy of your Flight itinerary.

Better to have a smooth immigration clearance, rather than one that escort you to the office for more verification. There was this one time where HCMC’s immigration requested for proof that I will be leaving their country.

2. Sanitiser and wet wipes

Always sanitise your hands before eating. If you run out of these, you could buy these at the convenience stores too.. Wet tissues at restaurants are provided at the table, but it is chargeable upon use.

3. Charcoal Tablets/ Po chai pills

If sanitising your hands and wiping your utensils doesn’t help, stomach relieve medication would be a life-saver. During my days in Vietnam, Pharmacies weren’t a common sight. And, I still wouldn’t bet on their cleanliness levels on our well pampered Singaporeans’ stomach.

4. Mobile Apps (Grabtaxi, Uber, Google Translate and Google Maps)

Surprise Surprise, Grabs and Ubers are actually quite popular with the locals in Hanoi.  Just Grab and Uber all the way! The inbuilt maps helps you get to your destination without any detours. Just be sure that you stand at a prominent location for the driver to pick you up along the crowded streets.

For those going to HCMC, just flag down any white Vinasun cabs you see on the roads.

Vinasun cabs

Photo credits: Vietnamonline

Sometimes if flagging taxis doesn’t work, there is a taxi operator dressed in long sleeve dark green top with a red tie, outside touristy destinations (eg, Airport, outside Saigon Square, opposite Pavilion Hotel, Around Ben Thanh Market). Simply walk up to him and say “Vinasun?”, and viola, he will radio-call for the nearby taxi to pick you up. At the airport, if you are looking for a safe, convenient and affordable cabs, insist on Vinasun. Don’t be swayed by the the lady dressed in traditional clothes(who quoted me VND 300,000)! Find the Vinasun taxi operator (who used the meter, and the fare from the Airport to Pavilion Hotel totalled VND180,000).

Apparently, Mai Linh cabs are not too bad too, since it is trying to compete closely with Vinasun cabs.

Communication-wise, it doesn’t harm to install Google translate. Prepare the Vietnamese keypads or use the speech function). After doing all my pre-trip research, I didnt face any communication problems in HCMC and Hanoi actually. The drivers bring me to my desired destinations, tourist attractions are full of locals who has basic english skills, and sign language (pointing and using calculators or fingers) helps too.

Transportation-wise, use Google Maps! For travellers who don’t intend to buy a data card, download the offline map for Vietnam and save the places you want to visit! 

P.s There is no subways in Vietnam yet. Buses are available, but the locals advised us not to take it alone. 7 seater vinasun taxis are as common as the 5 seater taxis we see in Singapore.

5. Street Wits

Crossing the roads of vietnam

Photo credits: Tumblr

Whatever street smart wits or jaywalking skills you have, bring them ALL to Vietnam. You will definitely need it while you walk alongside the motorcycles and cross multiple streets. 95% of the time, traffic lights are for aesthetic purposes. There’s no point in waiting for the streets to clear up. Do not wait for the powerless Green man too. Instead, use the locals as your green man/guide. Cross together with the locals and NEVER RUN. Give way to cars. Move at a SLOW speed into the oncoming traffic and DON’T STOP SUDDENLY. The motorcyclist will somehow gauge the speed and distance to manoeuvre around you. It may feel intimidating at first, but you will get the hang of it!


We have a destination, a budget, an itinerary, a packing…. and last but not the least, FOOD!

Must Eat Food in HCMC!

1. BANH MI

bánh-mì-huỳnh-hoaPhoto credits: thongtindiadiem

Making the banh mi

Banh mi & Saigon Post Office

Bánh Mì Huỳnh Hoa法棍
Address: 26 Lê Thị Riêng, Bến Thành, 1, Hồ Chí Minh, Vietnam

Banh Mi is essentially a Vietnamese baguette with variations of pork. Due to the French Colonisation back then, quite a number of the popular local delights have French influences.

Price: VND33,000  (SGD2).  Quoting a friend, THIS banh mi puts Singapore’s Subway to shame.

P.s yes, there are cheaper VND15,000 banh mi around, but this is a MUST EAT.

2. PHO (pronounced “fuh”) – Vietnamese noodles

PHOGuide on orderingMenutable placingPhở Hòa Pasteur
Address: p. 8, 260E Pasteur, Hồ Chí Minh, Vietnam

Zoom in to the menu pasted on the wall. There are various of beef bowl available, offering different parts of the cow.

Similar to the wet tissues, the side dishes on the table are chargeable upon consumption. If you happen to sit on a table without the side dishes that you want to try, signal for the waiter and point to the item on the menu. Don’t worry when it comes in one big plate, they only charge the number of pieces you eat.

Price: VND55,000 (depending on your type of pho bowl)

3. Vietnam Coffee

Vietnam drip coffee
Vietnam drip coffee

Trung Nguyen
Address: Various locations

TRUNG NGUYEN CAFÉ is available at Marina Bay Sands Singapore.  But nothing beats drinking Vietnamese coffee in Vietnam. There are many Trung Nguyen coffee cafe around HCMC – near at the end of Bui Vien Street, Near Reunification Palace, Pavilion Hotel, and Saigon Square. So, be sure to drop by the cafe and chill.

Price: varies, depending on your coffee grade.

P.s: When overseas food chains have the ability to open a franchise in Singapore, it goes to show how GOOD they are. Don’t you agree?


Must Eat Food in Hanoi!

1. Hanoi Speciality – Egg Coffee

egg coffee

Yes, they put an egg into your coffee. Brewed at a temperature, it ensures that your egg doesnt turn into a hard boiled egg while you enjoy your coffee. Some cafes have it, and their prices vary.

2. Vietnam’s Savoury Sticky rice 

sticky rice Xôi Yến (Sticky rice)
Address: 35b Nguyen Huu Huan | Hoan Kiem, Hanoi, Vietnam

According to my vietnamese friends, this is a popular hangout for couples to eat supper too! For fans of green bean, you can’t miss the sticky rice with green bean combination! You could add on more ingredients, like chinese sausage, chicken floss, shredded chicken,fried hard boiled egg,etc. Top it up with a soya milk and the meal is perfect!

Price: Around VND25,000, depending on your ingredients.

3. Hoa Quả Dầm (Ice Kachang with Fruits)

Vietnam ice kacangAddress: Any stalls Along To Tich Street

After visiting Ngoc Son Temple, head over to To Tich street for this delicious Ice Kacang with a generous serving of fruits, yoghurt, tapioca balls and syrup.

Price: Around VND20,000, depending on fruits etc.


We have got you all covered!

So, are you ready for your own adventure in Vietnam? Go with an open heart and get that air ticket now. Not to forget, share your experience with us!

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