Ho Chi Minh City - District 1 & 3 on foot

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Ho Chi Minh City map: recommended walking route by Duc Vuong hotel bell boy
I split up with my cousins and brother since they were interested in seeing the Củ Chi tunnels about 2.5 hrs away and I wanted to walk around the city and discover some bánh mì.

I went downstairs to the front desk to change some dollars to dong and one of the bell boys asked if I needed assistance since there was a gentleman in front of me.  I said I needed to change my $20 to dong and also asked how much it would cost for me to take a taxi to the War Remnants museum.

Beautiful building I saw while walking
During our conversation as we looked over my map together, I asked him what I should see in the city.  He seemed to direct me to touristy spots but I asked him if he would ever go to these places himself.  He said he's never been inside the (3) Independence Palace but recommended (7) Notre Dame Cathedral and (16) Bitexco building as well as walking along the Saigon river front.

My next question was pho and bánh mì and he wrote them on my map as Phở Quỳnh and Như Lan.  He didn't know the addresses specifically but made dots on my map so I can easily find them.

He also assured me it was safe to walk the city alone and the recommendations that he made for me would take me all afternoon and take me back to the hotel.  I thanked him for his time and gave him $2 US dollars.  He refused it but I insisted he take it since he provided me with some nice perspective of the city as well as some good food recommendations and I was on my way!

I probably spent about 1.5 - 2 hrs at the War Remnants museum but also hid inside because of the rain and I refused to buy an umbrella.  As I exited the museum, I did go the wrong way as I began to follow the trail traced on my map but luckily Ho Chi Minh City is a grid so it was easy to find my way back to the starting point and headed over to Independence Palace.
Independence Palace or Reunification Palace
Independence Palace or Reunification Palace (based on travel books)

It looked tranquil as I stood outside the gate and saw all the tour buses with Koreans and Japanese taking pictures on the grounds.  I saw the replica of the tank at the Southern side and wondered what everyone felt 39 years ago as it crashed the gates.

I had no time to look inside since it was already late in the afternoon and many places close at 5pm so I continued my walk to Notre Dame Cathedral.
Notre Dame Cathedral in Ho Chi Minh City - District 1
Notre Dame Cathedral

Mass was in procession while I entered and like most basilicas, the interior was grand with some stained glass windows.  One of the ushers noticed me and handed a pamphlet along with a donation envelope which I think was all written in Vietnamese.  I smiled to myself since here's nothing more cooler than people thinking you speak another language!

I stayed about 10 minutes before I decided to walk over to the General Post Office since I heard the interior was beautiful as well.  I was pressed for time and owed my friend Rich postcards.  I saw a rotating bin for free postcards but since it was late in the day they were only filled with junk letters.

I riffled over postcards at the middle kiosk that was selling all sorts of knick knacks.  Most of the Vietnamese postcards were of rice paddies or women in rice hats which I thought wasn't a very nice representation of Vietnam. I was in Ho Chi Minh City and wanted a picture that evoked motorcyles, lights, and the vibrancy; and all I could find was a night photo around Quách Thi Trang.  I paid VND 5,000 and the woman at the kiosk assisted me with buying stamps to send over my postcards to Rich who lived in NYC.

I was disappointed my battery died on my camera so I wasn't able to take any interior or exterior shots of the post office.  I did more wandering around of the area to see if I can see City Hall but ended up walking towards a department store so I walked back to Hai Bà Trung and headed East towards the river.

I crossed to Ðai Lộ Tôn amid the whir of motorcycles and cars.  What I noticed most about Ho Chi Minh City that despite all the motorcycles and chaos, traffic moved unlike driving in Manila.  People wove in and around each other in this majestic dance to their destination and most of the cars were taxis but those were limited.  However, I was in District 1 were most of the tourists stay so I didn't know what  what traffic was like in District 5, 8 and 10.

I received some curious looks while I walked along the riverfront and avoided their gazes.  I was stopped by a tuk - tuk driver asking where I was from and told him I was from the Philippines.  He seemed nice and told me there were many Malaysians, Singaporeans and Filipinos who visited Vietnam then he told me he can drive me back to my hotel and show me some nice views.  I wasn't very interested and read up that tuk - tuk drivers can be a rip-off but also at the same time felt some guilt since it was his livelihood.  I politely refused and began to walk again except I went the wrong direction.  He followed me for a bit and asked if I was sure I didn't need a ride home.  I began to feel nervous and began to avoid eye contact and said I was alright.  He said if I was headed to the night market, I should turn left and all I did was smile.  He was right after I walked the wrong direction and had to turn around.  A few other tuk - tuk drivers that were parked on the side asked if I needed a ride but I shook my head and avoided them all.

As I continued down my path, I did see the Bitexco building.  I guess skyscrapers no longer give me a sense of awe since I live in the city.  There was nothing special about it. It was your typical skyscraper made of glass and steel with the large logo up at the top. Maybe to the bell boy, the skyscraper signified wealth and prestige, but I never asked him why it was important to him.

I finallly turned on Hàm Nghi street and I guess what I found! Cake!  I couldn't resist and I was so happy to have found a bakery! If anything could be considered kryptonite for me; it would be cake!  There were all sorts to choose from: tirimisu, black forest, mocha, etc.
Givraly Bakery - Ho Chi Minh
I couldn't believe the prices either!  Depending on the cake, prices ranged from VND 15,00 to VND 30,00!  I think it took me about 10 minutes to decide what I wanted since I wanted something different but at the same time I wanted to make sure it tasted good.  I finally decided on the buttercream cake roll.  Now who could resist buttercream?!

The young lady behind the counter packed it nicely for me in a silver box and I picked up a business card to make sure I would remember the name.

Finally, my next destination would be bánh mì.  It took me some time to find it and I was beginning to get discouraged that I wouldn't be able to taste it in Vietnam until I saw this corner market between the streets of Tôn Thát Đam and Hồ Tùng Mậu which the bellboy dotted on my map.  I walked around the outer perimeter and looked at all the food carts.  I saw the trays of meat and bread and decided that I would get one.  I said, "bánh mì" to the man at the cart but he just looked at me. I pointed to the first words on the menu since but he still looked at me out of curiosity.  Another woman behind me ordered some sandwiches so I waited and his partner created two sandwiches which looked like bánh mì and handed them over in a plastic bag.  I felt like I was on the hunt for the Holy Grail so I tried again.  He finally decided to make me a sandwich and I handed him over VND 50,00 since the sandwich cost only VND 25,00. I counted my change a couple times since dong still throws me off and I wasn't sure why he hesitated with me as I counted my change. Perhaps, he was waiting for some type of tip? I wasn't sure since it was a food cart and went on my way.

Banh mi in Ho Chi Minh City
Bánh mì at Như Lan
I made it home and was greeted warmly by the doorman and the same bellboy who helped me earlier.  I wanted to stop and thank him for the wonderful afternoon but there was another guest at the desk and didn't want to take up the rest of his time.  I know I should take down his name to remember him but I was also tired and sweaty.

I ended up eating the bánh mì sandwiches hours later after my cousins and brother came home and was relieved they already ate dinner so I didn't have to venture out with them again.

Desserts are definitely different overseas as they're not oversaturated with sugar.  The buttercream cake that I coveted earlier was light but bland.  It was a hearty helping but was disappointed as desserts are always a favorite part of my meal.  I moved on to my bánh mì sandwich and had no expectations.  The bread was soft and chewy but the beef was definitely seasoned correctly so there was enough spices that pleased my taste.  The mayo serving was light and had no aftertaste and the vegetables served in the sandwich was fresh as well. I was surprised that the sandwich satisfied my hunger since the only thing I had that day was the buffet breakfast at the hotel.  I was pleased with the results of the day and enjoyed walking around Ho Chi Minh.


I was compiling my facts for my blog post and as I was googling the names that the bellboy wrote on my map to eat, I realized that the Bánh mì sandwich at Như Lan is considered a chain.   I failed to mention during our conversation while he was circling places on my map, that food is a family affair for him so I assumed he ate at home.  However, I am still grateful he took the time to let me know the places to eat as I would have never found this place in a guidebook.

You Might Also Like


2014 - 2016 JoieDeVivreNYC All Rights Reserved. Powered by Blogger.