The Heat Is On In Old Saigon

Old Saigon

Saigon Vietnam now Known as Ho Chi Minh City Reminds me of the Musical “Miss Saigon”

When I think of Saigon Vietnam, the first thing that comes to mind is the musical “Miss Saigon”.

Saigon Vietnam

It is about a tragic tale of a local lass left by her lover, an American soldier. How can I not?

Lea Salonga. Photo by Marky 198/CC BY-SA 3.0
Our very own, Miss Lea Salonga of the Philippines, popularized it. While thinking about the musical, the beat of the chorus in the musical “….the heat is on in Saigon” runs in my head.

Yes Saigon Vietnam is the place I want to see.

Saigon foods

Of course, the best guerrilla campaign we have ever known also came to mind.

The Vietnam War must have really left a mark on the Vietnamese as my brother had a hard time in the Immigration with his American passport.

A Fun Visit to Saigon Vietnam

We had a fun visit to Saigon, now known as Ho Chi Minh City. There are a lot of similarities with the Philippines, the weather being one. We were able to find a flight during a seat sale. The hotel we got is strategically located.

It was reasonably priced, clean and comfortable. It also helps that the breakfast fare is varied and it gave us pretty much a taste of the local fares without spending additional money. Shopping is also good and affordable. The food is terrific and within budget.

Saigon Vietnam motorcycles galoreSaigon is often mistaken as the capital of the country.

This city in the southern region of Vietnam is not that.

The honor goes to Hanoi in the north.

Saigon was renamed Ho Chi Minh City in 1976 after the communist revolutionary who was responsible for uniting the country at the end of the Vietnam War. Most Southern Vietnamese still call it Saigon though.

I love it that Saigon Vietnam is now cosmopolitan and westernized. However, you can still see the traces of its colonial past in every corner. Just like the fact that you still see local women in ao dai (their traditional dress consisting of a silk tunic with pants) and those who are wearing contemporary clothes side by side.

Though my friend noted that those wearing the traditional clothes are lesser than when she visited 10 years prior to our visit.
Saigon Vietnam

Let’s Eat, but Watch your Step – there are Motorcycles Galore

Be careful when out in the streets as there are motorcycles everywhere. The Vietnamese are so adept in riding one that they can maneuver it easily. They are said to have learned to ride a motorcycle from a young age. Motorcycles are the most convenient way of transportation for them.

I practically only ate pho (a noodle soup made with a clear stock, rice noodles, meat, and herbs). The best sandwich ever for me which is the banh mi. It is a baguette filled with a variety of ingredients, like liver pate, cold cuts, pickled vegetables, cucumber slices, and cilantro).

spring rolls

That and their spring rolls (made with rice vermicelli, shrimps, lettuce and various herbs) during our stay were delicious. These three complete my favorite of their local fares.

And then for a coffee lover like me, let us not forget great Vietnamese coffee. I can drink it like water. It helps that they have quirky apartment block cafes. They have these cool cafes from what seems to be old abandoned buildings that were repurposed.

pho dish in Saigon vietnam

So there we are enjoying our coffee in the most interesting ambiance.

The food in the street stalls never disappoint too. So while out in the street and we need a quick bite, we never went wrong in stopping by one.
Saigon Vietnam

Shopping for Souvenirs and other Surprises

For souvenirs and handicrafts, we dropped by Ben Thanh Market. The embroidered and lacquered handicrafts are just so pretty. We also went to an outlet of sort, which name escapes me, where we got a number of branded clothes for a song.

Now I know why when we buy these items in the stores of those brands, made in Vietnam is on the neck label.

The Post Office
The Post Office

We were happy with our purchases. Same quality as the ones in the branded stores but at cheap prices.

Speaking of shopping, a walk along Dong Khoi Street is worth it. Not so much to buy from the grand department stores with luxury items but to admire the colonial architecture starting from the southern end of the bank of the Saigon river.

The smaller boutique stores tucked in the corners of Dong Khoi Street gave us wonderful surprises of unique souvenirs like a lacquered jewelry box with dragon flies (they fly aplenty in their parks) and the most gorgeous of embroidered blouses and shawls by local designers.

uncle ho
Uncle Ho

It was dusk when we walked the streets of Saigon Vietnam. Upon reaching the southern end, we were greeted with an impressive sight of the grand entrance of the Saigon Opera House all lit up and majestic.

Saigon Vietnam

A Few more Stops We Couldn’t Miss Out On

A reminder that Vietnam was once a French colony.

Notre Dame in Saigon VietnamWe had our Sunday mass at the iconic Notre Dame Cathedral.

Nearby is the Buu Dien post office designed by Gustav Eiffel.

Since it was a vacation, we decided not to visit the Cu Chi District for the war reminders.

We only want happy memories. Instead we went to the Museum of Fine Arts. It is a beautiful 1929 colonial era mansion housing Vietnam’s biggest art museum.

It is a yellow and white mansion that has a combination of both the French and Chinese architectural styles. There are intricate tiles and stained glasses. Since it is near the Ben Thanh Market, we took the chance of dropping by the market again for more items to bring back home.

Our last stop but not the least interesting is at the Museum of History for the water puppet show. Water puppetry is an old tradition of the Vietnamese dating back to the 11th century.

Making puppets dance on water originated from the villages in the Red River delta area of northern Vietnam. The puppet play used to be the form of entertainment of the villagers when the rice fields would flood.

Performance of the shows are done in a waist deep pool. The lacquered wood puppets are supported by large bamboo rods under the water. Puppeteers controlling them are hidden behind screen. Puppets appear like moving above the waters on their own.

Saigon beer

The usual theme of the skits are Vietnamese folklore on their day to day living in the rural areas. It is normal that the skits have humorous twist. Stories revolve around harvest, fishing and their festivals. Watching the show was a most fascinating way to end the trip.

Saigon Vietnam


Gigi Galang is an upcoming writer traveling the world and writing of her travels. We’re wondering where her next destination and story will be about.

Saigon Vietnam