Today: Wed Nov 20 16:52:29 2019

The air tickets (to and fro)- booked two weeks in advance from budget airline (Tiger Air) - costed about S$230 per person. The plane departed from Singapore on Friday’s (early November) 7am. Once boarded the plane, I put on seat belt, closed my eyes, sat tight, never went to toilet, and fall in and out of sleep, during the short and sharp 1-hr-40-min trip. The timing of departure from SG and arrival at Saigon, of Tiger Air, which I took the first time, was perfect.

It was a three-night stay in an S$80-per-night 40-meter-square room, with two king-size beds, of three-star City Hotel, which is just about 50 meters from the eastern gate of Ben Thanh Market. The room could accommodate up to 4 persons and hence we were entitled to 4 sets of breakfast.

It seems like Vietnamese Dong (VND) is more popular than US$ nowadays and thus you need VND. We’d a rate of 1S$ to 14.5K VND in Singapore but was able to get a better rate of 1S$ to 15.9K VND in Saigon Airport or City area. It was fairly easy to find money changers in the area near Ben Thanh Market.

Once you clear the custom, but still within the air-port complex, you will see shops of money changer and taxi company. To be safe, we booked a taxi inside the complex (more expensive) for 210K VND and was asked to go to certain booth to board the taxi. We were told by the driver to fork out another 10K VND – unexpected of us - when the taxi need to pass by a toll station. A guy we met at the air-port during our return trip told us that he was able to get a taxi voucher at 180K VND at the normal taxi queue outside of air-port complex. For our return trip, the hotel booked the taxi for us and we paid 150K VND. Be careful and do some research to avoid taxi scam outside (or even inside) of the air-port complex.

Two of us took a while to confirm that the 1,590,000 VND that we exchanged for $S100, was correct. I tried to remember the conversion rate by imagine that a dreamed monthly salary of S$15K could have become S$1 if our currency was to depreciate that much.

It took about 40 minutes to reach the hotel – quite decent considered the long-heard-about bad traffic condition in Saigon. The hotel manager was friendly and we decided to sign up a half-day tour to Cu Chi Tunnel (in the afternoon) and a one-day tour to Mekong Delta (the next day). We were told to let them keep the passport for us during the stay and we obliged. It is kind of a regulation or guideline, imposed or suggested, by their government. We had about one hour to have our lunch and check in the room. The beds were not king-size as promised; upon enquiry, we were told that in Vietnam, that (queen-size bed) is king-size. I wonder how two adults can be slept in their queen-size bed ☺

At due time for the tour, we were told to took a taxi to join the half-day tour at another location – which is not what we had agreed on. Generally, tour bus should fetch customer from, and send customer back to, the hotel if the tour package is arranged via hotel. After a gentle argument to settle the mis-understanding, it was confirmed that the 15-seater tour bus will fetch us, and drop us (at end of tour), at the hotel.

It took us 3 hours (inclusive of a 30-minute delay and 30-minute toilet break at an art & craft center) to reach Cu Chi Tunnel, even though the itinerary listed the journey as 2 hours. The 30-minute delay was partly due to the bus not being able to locate another 4 tourists that were supposed to be waited at a particular location for the bus. We could end up like that if we were to take a taxi to somewhere to wait for the tour bus. The supposedly mineral water bottles to be provided(included in the package) were not given to us even upon request. The guide was able to ‘act blur’ and told us there weren’t any drink included. The tour of the tunnel, which lasted about one and a half hours, was a bit rush - even though the guide was friendly and put in effort to explain the related story of the tunnel - as the sky were turning dark.


I went inside and through the tunnel, which I suggest you should try if you’re physically capable of doing so. It is unlike to collapse since this should be built with some concrete material for tourism.
If it is a real left-over tunnel by the Viet Cong, I won’t go inside even if it can survive until today (~40 years after Vietnam War). There was an old left-over tank which you can push up its turret if you have enough strength. You can if an old man could do it ☺ I wanted to try firing AK47 but dropped the idea due to a long queue. It was pretty expensive. For those of us who had free live firing during the NS time, we should be thankful.

It took us another 2.5 hours for the return journey. The tour guide courteously told us that we would be dropped somewhere near Ben Thanh Market which is very near to the hotel, as the traffic condition was bad and hence it was difficult for the bus to send us back to the hotel – a request that we accepted.

The next day, another 15-seater tour bus picked us from the hotel at about 7:30AM. The journey to Mekong Delta took about 3 hours (with a 30-minute toilet break at a restaurant and another 20-minute stop at a temple). We then took a bump boat, with capacity of about 15 persons, to go islands-hopping. It was a hot day; we were not able to hear what the guide speaking due to the poor speaker system of the boat and noisy engine.

The place visited was not as impressive as promised in the itinerary. Only the rowing boat trip along a small canals was something new to me. There were a maximum of 6 persons, inclusive of 2 rowers, per boat. Mineral water (or any drink) was not provided again during the lunch. The food at the restaurant is expensive. A coconut costs 60K VND whereas you can get it at 20K VND at Ben Thanh Market and 10K VND from street vendor.


During the return journey, the guide nicely told us that by taking the express way, we could cut short the return journey by more than half an hour, but a toll fee of 60K VND per bus had to be paid. We contributed 20K VND and the rest 40K VND. When the bus reached the tour office, we were told that we could need to alight and take a taxi by ourselves to reach our hotel. We protested since hotel manager had clearly told us that the bus would brought us back to the hotel. The guide told us that she was just following instructions and suggested we could discuss the issues at their office. So, they called the hotel but we didn’t know what they were discussing or whether there was a discussion at all. My sister was trying to take photo of the office and the lady guide was trying to block her – a ‘cute and comical’ drama. Finally, the boss or manager of that tour agency agreed to fetch a taxi and pay the fee for us. Although he was trying to explain to me (not a friendly way) the reason behind the episode, I just couldn’t understand his explanation.

We paid 279K VND for the half-day tour whereas you could get it at 89K VND + 110K VND (entrance fee). We paid 337K VND for the Mekong tour but you could get it at 145K VND outside. On hint sight, you need to ask whether you're taking a 40-seater or 15-seater bus. It makes a different if you have to wait for 40 persons before moving off after a toilet break at a souvenir shop. We didn't know which package (different quality) the hotel signed up for us and how much of commission they made. The receipt from the hotel didn't specify the price we paid and so there might a loop hole there for staff to pocket some money.


The next day we did a walking city tour by ourselves. We spend about three hours at War Remnant Museum. Many impactful photos taken by war journalists during the Vietnam War were exhibited indoor. There are also couples of leftover helicopter, tanks, boat, artillery and small planes for you to ‘enjoy’ outdoor. The photos about soldier and ordinary people living under the environment of war, the leftover effect of agent orange, Napalm bomb and etc. could drive people emotional as I saw some ladies shedding tear. I could have been so if they were to play some sad music.

We than spend another one hour at Museum of Ho Chi Minh City, which I suggest you can skip if your cultural or historical index is not too high. We then walked pass the Independence Palace, sat at chairs inside Saigon Central Post Office, and took an inside look of Saigon Notre-dame Basilica.

We were then ready for blood-fighting. The area around Ben Thian Market are flooded with tourist and price are tailored-made for them. If you’re particular about getting a fairest price, just ask about the price of the interested items from a few more shop. You could than get a (NTxx) fair price of the items.

The lotus seeds from a shop in Ben Thian Market was nicely packed; their weighing machine was properly calibrated as the weight of the package taken by weighing machine of Tiger Air at the airport, tally perfectly. The mere printing of their address at the package is a signal that they care for long term reputation and future business opportunity.
The shoes I got from a shop along the street in front of City Hotel costed 2*550K VND. The listed price for a pair was 580K VND. I believed this is reasonably closed to the fair price since we had bargained with another 2 shops about the price. Not to forget everyone needs to make a living and so we should left some love under our hands. Anyway, unless it is big item, I'm kind of thinking whether I should buy or not, rather than how much to bargain for the item. If I care so much about the saving gain by bargaining, then I should save the total amount if I don't need that item. I like supermarket (or a world) since no bargaining is needed - poorly personal view - not representative of my wife's. The shoes look nice and are meant for my 2 sons. I should have got one for myself to test out its quality. There are shops that listed every item and those that not listed every item. Those shops with listed price tend to have bargained prices closer to the listed prices. You should be able to get better deal if you venture out of tourist area or have a local friend to help you.
There is night market (like pasar malam) at the streets near Ben Thian Market after ~7pm every night. There were at least 4 mobile (set up only for pasar malam and dismantled after that) food stall that provided at least 40 to 80 seats each. The price and quality are reasonable. If you like bia (beer), there are cheaper than fruit juice.

We enjoyed this week-end get-away. Duration is short enough to experience what should be experienced for an average person like me. Probably very unlikely for me to make any trip to Saigon in the future since I'm not good a blood-fighting. I would be lost as to what to do if I was to given another one more day at Saigon.

You need to know English if you’re on a free-and-easy tour. The traffic is bad and hence not suitable to bring children. If you like shopping, a plus point to go there. There are un-spoken additional charges, short-cut and cut-corner in the business deal (tour package) that we experienced, maybe due to a less a regulated market and keen competition. Other than that, the people we encountered are generally friendly.

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