Saigon Day 1: Bui Vien, Fine Arts Museum, Dong Khoi, Cafe Runam

Touch down in Ho Chi Minhbleary eyed with the plane ride, but so full of excitement about exploring this new city! Before I officially start off this series... I must say that Vietnam is now top on my list of favourite Southeast Asian countries (including Thailand, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore, Indonesia.. will go for more to find out if it remains top)! Mostly I love the relaxed vibes and how cheap most things are (relative to Singapore), less so in the city but the towns away from Ho Chi Minh. Yet the city itself is totally worth checking out with many things to see!
Before departure for HCM, I exchanged some Sing dollars for Vietnamese dong at a rate of 1:15700. I also downloaded offline maps on Google, just in case. Of course, don't forget your travel insurance as well.

Get your SIM card at the airport which will make everything a lot easier from now on, especially finding your accommodation, maps... there are limited types of SIM cards, but the most popular one that everyone is buying is the unlimited 5GB for 100,000dong (~S$6.40). The connection is very strong and never gave me any issues. How can I not love Vietnam already?!

We kinda got scammed for the cab fare because we went to the taxi booths where there were people coordinating how much the fare was before we got on (ie. fixed price). In hindsight, we should have just flagged down a cab and used the meter, which would have been a lot cheaper. In any case, it wasn't that expensive anyway in Singapore terms so it wasn't that annoying.

After depositing our luggage at the hostel, we went out for some late lunch at nearly 4pm... and of course, beef pho was the undisputed choice, so we went hunting for some along Bui Vien Street in District 1 which was very near to our hostel. This place that we settled down was:

Viet Restaurant
59-61 Bui Vien Street, Pham Ngu Lao, Q1


The Vietnamese beef pho was pretty good for a place we didn't check with Tripadvisor beforehand, though I must say that the one from Melbourne's Pho Hung Vuong remains my favourite pho in the world. The soup was the best part, with really thick and flavoursome with the coriander, mint, and meaty tastes. I found the beef tougher than I would like it. Other than Vietnamese beef pho, we had the Bún Bò Huế as well, one of the must-haves when in Vietnam. It was quite spicy and thank goodness we had the Vietnamese beef pho to even out the taste a bit. It was still very delicious as well. Overall, I would say if your accommodation is within 5 minutes walking distance, Viet Restaurant is a good balance between convenience and its delicious factor.

We had to cross the crazy roads for the first time... they absolutely have no traffic lights at most places, and so you just had to 'jaywalk'. I doubt it's an offence there since everyone does it, and if you don't, you'll be extremely tired just to walk down long stretches to a place where you can 'cross safely'. So how do you cross the roads of HCM without getting knocked down?
You just do. Of course some safety pointers I'll advise is that... check that the traffic is not crazily fast, that the drivers somewhat notice your existence, and try not to cross in front of cars. Other than that, take your first brave step onto the road, and most importantly, keep walking at a constant pace, and don't stop! Taking a step backwards suddenly can be extremely dangerous because the motorists would not expect you to move back. They will dodge you.

After a few days, I actually accidentally cross the road without even looking at the traffic and I remained safe, though I don't recommend doing that..

Later we headed for Fine Arts Museum on foot, which was a little bit stupid, we should have taken a taxi instead. It looks near - "1.1km, 14 mins", says Google, but for the number of junctions we have to pass, it was not really worth it. Then again, it was day one (full of energy!) and it helped us gain bearings, plus understand the geographical locations of the attractions around. 

The Fine Arts Museum was a rather well-maintained, albeit non-air-conditioned and slightly old, museum that houses many interesting art. It was also our first brush to understand how heavily affected Vietnam was by the war, to which most tourist attractions was built around. There are quite a bit of art drawn by civilians during the Vietnam war, as well as 'cultural' pieces. It's worth a look, especially on the first day as a form of initiation to the country. During the time in the museum, we got to know some new Vietnamese friends who were visiting from the towns outskirt of HCM - they were university students and they explained some of the Vietnamese words/ culture to us while we helped to translate Chinese words on a couplet of the drawing (see above).

We spent 1 hour there, but would probably spend around 1.5 hours if we weren't limited by the closing hours. After closing hours, some of the locals played volleyball at the empty court, which was entertaining to watch because they were quite serious about it. Soon we also realized that Vietnamese (or at least those in HCM) are really very enthusiastic about sports and exercise!

Note: The museum closes at 5.30pm instead of 5pm as stated on Google, but they are quite strict about it.

Entry: 10,000dong (~S$0.64)

We then walked to Dong Khoi street, which was a very spacious and long boulevard with many activities going on... baskers playing music, someone blowing bubbles in the air... Everyone was just strolling around and relaxing, which was very nice.

It was then time for 'dinner' to which we obviously just feast on cakes and desserts at Cafe Runam, a relatively upscale cafe compared to other cafes around HCM. Yet it was disproportionately much grander for the price you pay, and made us feel like tai-tais.
We had a Cafe Gourmand (Vietnamese/Italian coffee + 2 mini desserts) for 110,000dong (~SGD7) and a Passionfruit and coconut cheesecake for 90,000dong (~SGD5.7) The cheesecake and eclairs were definitely worth every bit of my money and stomach space, though not the cupcake. With the Cafe Gourmand, we had our first Vietnamese drip coffee there, which was extremely potent (I had a semi bout of caffeine poisoning that night) so... for people who are sensitive to caffeine, drink it before 5pm. And share it.  Around Dong Khoi, there is hardly any other cafes around, so Cafe Runam makes for a good place to rest your feet if you need.

Cafe Runam
96 Mạc Thị Bưởi
Bến Nghé, 1, Hồ Chí Minh

Dong Khoi at night... looks even more lovely because everything is lit up! We went to visit a local stationery store along Dong Khoi and I bought a little Pokemon figurine for 15,000 dong which you can see in this post. I wished I bought more... there are plenty of super cute ones you could choose from. This concludes our first day in Ho Chi Minh!

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a travel and food blogger with a constant longing to be somewhere to makes her feel alive ☆ life's an adventure

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