Wednesday, 24 December 2008

Ho Chi Minh City trip - Prologue

Vietnam is my 2nd overseas trip in 2008. Will be going there wif YQ from 25 - 30 Dec. I said before that i wanna travel 4 times a year but end up i only travel twice this year. Anyway both are consider mid-trip as my taiwan trip was 8 days and vietnam trip is 6 days. These 2 countries are one of the top priority which i wanna visit for quite some times.

I guess there are still people who thought that that Vietnam is quite a backward country mainly due
to the perception of the Vietnam war. This is not the case as compared to other Asean countries such as Laos and Myanmar, Vietnam is urbanising much faster than them.

Vietnam is approximately 331,688 km² and is larger than Italy and almost the size of Germany. Vietnam is 1,650km from North to South which is longer than the west coast of USA and the country is only 50 km across at its narrowest point. (Singapore is 42km from East to West and 23km from North to South.)

Map of Vietnam

There are many places in Vietnam, the most popular are Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi (the capital). There are 3 UNESCO sites in Vietnam – Hue, Hoi An and My Son. The place which i gonna visit is Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC) a.k.a Saigon. It is the largest city in Vietnam. There are 12 districts in HCMC and Saigon is used officially to refer to District 1. District 1 is the financial, commercial and administrative center of Ho Chi Minh City which is similar to our CBD area and most hotels are located here.

Booked Tiger Airways return airtixs in Jul and the departure tix cost $89.99 and return tix cost $129.99. There are 2 flights by Tiger Airways departing to and returning from from HCMC daily. The departure flight is 7.45am and 3.20pm while the return flight is 9.20am and 5.25pm (GMT +7). B.t.w, there is 1 hr time difference between HCMC and Singapore. We chose the 3.20pm flight as the 7.45am flight tix is much more expensive and i do not want to wake up 4am in the morning and chose the 5.25pm return flight. Other than Tiger Airways, there are other airlines flying from Singapore to Vietnam - Jetstar, Singapore Airline, Vietnam Airline, Lion air etc.

Just sidetrack a bit, the budget airlines are making themselves as no frill as possible. For Tiger Airways, there is luaggage charge of S$10 for 15kg of standard luggage and all booking made using electronic mode of payment would be charged a convenience fee of S$5 per person. Isnt it ironic that there is a convenience fee chraged when the airline encourages paseenger to book online and the only mode of payment online is of cos electronic mode, the airline can't possibly get the passenger to pay cash at the post office right? For
Airasia, there is a booking service fee of S$4.50 and pre-purchase rate of S$2.50 for each luaggage check in. The airlines seem to think of ways to earn extra money when the airfare isnt decreasing after all these additional charges.

There are many hotels in Pham Ngu Lao, known as the backpack area of HCMC which is similar to Khao San area in Bangkok. According to the travel forum, under US$5 will get you a dorm room with a fan. For US$5 - US$10, you will have your own bathroom that will be moderately clean. The room will be big enough for the bed and a couple of bags. For US$10-US$20, you will get an air-con room with cable TV, wireless braodband, hot water bathrooms (often with a tub), comfortable bedding and
breakfast included.

We booked a room with Nguyen Khang Hotel Saigon at the Pham Ngu Lao street in District 1. It cost US$22 for a twin room including breakfast.
The South has 2 seasons. The best period for travelling in HCMC is the dry season from December to April while the hottest season is February to March.

Vietnamese Dong (VND) is the local currency and USD is also widely accepted in Vietnam. Previously it's difficult to exchange Dong outside Vietnam due to the currency restriction. While doing research, i read that there are some money changers in Singapore do sell Dong. Anyway i change US$200 for the accomodation and bring S$ to Vietnam and exchange to Dong there. Haiz, US$ is appreciating against S$, now exchange rate is 1.53 compared to 1.35 in July. =(
It's better to change money at gold shops as they offer slightly better rate than banks. Unless you are in urgent need of Dong, don't change in the airport as the airport may charge a commission as high as 3%. The current exchange rate is about S$1 to 11,000 VND. Haha... I'm would be a millionaire in Vietnam, so many zeros in the notes.

The voltage in Vietnam is 220 volts AC or 50Hz. Vietnam plug adapters come in 3 types: flat blade plug, two-round pins and two parallel flat pins with ground pin.

Tentatively below is my itinerary for the 6 days:
Day 1: Arrived at HCMC @ 4.35pm (GMT +7)
Day 2: City tour and water puppet show
Day 3: Shopping
Day 4: Shopping
Day 5: Cu Chi Tunnel & Cao Dai Temple tour
Day 6: Depart for Aiport @ 2.15pm (GMT +7)

I found free tour guide while doing research. Saigon Hotpot club is a student voluntary club comprising students from different universities in HCMC. Currently, they have approximately 70 members who introduce HCMC to the world for free from the view of a local Vietnamese. They mainly provide private city tours and private Cu Chi Tunnel and Mekong Delta Tour on weekends. Tour registration:

We booked a day city tour with Saigon Hotpot on day 2 from 9am - 4.30pm. The places we would be visiting are:
Opera House, City Hall, Notre Dame Catheral, Post office, Reunification Palace, Jade Emperor Pagoda, War Remnants Museum, Ho Chi Minh Museum and Vinh Nghiem Pagoda. Initially, Saigon Hotpot sent to me an itenerary with the places of interest and the places included by Saigon Hotpot are the most popular places in HCMC but as you all know, i did my research so after discussing with YQ, we decided to add in the last 2 places - Ho Chi Minh Museum and Vinh Nghiem Pagoda. Although the tour is free, the tourists have to bear the entrance fees for the tour guide and the taxi fares. There are only 3 places which charge entrance fees and entrance fees range from 10,000 VND to 15,000 VND ~ S$1 - S$1.50, cheap right? As for the taxi fare, according to the forum, it below US$5 within the city.

For the Cu Chi Tunnel and Cao Dai Temple tour, we decided to book with a reputable budget travel agency in Vietnam - Sinh Cafe. Although Saigon Hotpot does provide free private tour but the car rental is abt 900,000 VND - 950,000VND ~ S$90 which is way above my budget. Sihn Cafe only cost US$8 per person but it would not be a private tour. Of cos, you pay for what you get.
Made YQ do some work by compiling the food lists which i have research into different districts. Cant possibly let him shake legs while i did all the research rite? =p Haha... now YQ realise that planning a trip is not easy from buying airtix to deciding the accomodation to the itenerary. Must be fully impress of me rite?
My budget for this trip is ~ S$500 comprising $50 (transport), $100 (meals) & $350 (shopping) and had exchanged US$100 for accomodation.

HCMC travel forum:

>>Day 1: 25 Dec 08

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