This is an English-Indonesian bilingual entry.

Saigon is Vietnam’s largest city although it isn’t the country’s capital. The city was renamed Ho Chi Minh City after the Vietnam War ended, but many still refer to it by its old name. The compact city centre (District 1) makes it easy to walk around Saigon. We can get the history, arts and culture, architecture, panoramic view of the city, and, of course, shopping, all in just one round.

Meski bukan ibukota negara, Saigon adalah kota terbesar di Vietnam. Biarpun namanya resmi diubah menjadi Ho Chi Minh City sejak berakhirnya Perang Vietnam, banyak yang masih menggunakan namanya yang lama. Pusat kota Saigon (District 1) yang ringkas sangat memudahkan untuk jalan-jalan. Dengan sekali muter, kita bisa dapet sejarah, seni & budaya, arsitektur, pemandangan panoramik, dan pastinya shopping!

Ben Thanh Market

Anybody travelling to Saigon will likely to name Ben Thanh Market as one of their destinations. It’s just natural because the traditional market is a one-stop shopping spot for souvenir hunting. You can make big bargain if you’re highly skilled in haggling. Smoking is prohibited inside the market so you can shop around in comfort. Ben Thanh is often considered the “epicentre” of Saigon because people use it to find their ways to a certain road or landmark. The market is also strategically located; it’s easy to go to anywhere in the city from here, including to the airport.

Hampir semua orang yang travelling ke Saigon pasti nyebut Ben Thanh Market sebagai salah satu tujuannya. Tidak heran sebab pasar tradisional ini memang tempat one-stop shopping buat cari oleh-oleh. Harganya pun termasuk murah meriah, asal jago nawar. Asyiknya lagi, pasar ini merupakan kawasan dilarang merokok, jadi kita bisa belanja dengan nyaman. Ben Thanh Market sering dianggap episenternya Saigon karena apa-apa patokannya Ben Thanh. Posisinya pun sangat strategis. Ke mana-mana gampang, termasuk ke bandara.

The shops in Ben Thanh are clustered by categories. On one section is where the snack sellers are, on another is where you can find all sorts of souvenirs, food stalls, and so on. If you want to buy ao dai, that lovely traditional costume worn by Vietnamese women, you can buy any model you like at the market. Alternatively, you can buy the material and ask for a custom-made ao dai. Of course, the finer the material, the higher the price.

Lapak-lapak di Ben Thanh dikelompokkan sesuai jenis dagangannya. Di satu bagian isinya penjual cemilan semua, di bagian lain tempat ngumpulnya lapak suvenir, warung makan, dan seterusnya. Tau ao dai, pakaian nasional perempuan Vietnam yang cakep banget itu? Di tempat jualan baju, kita bisa beli ao dai jadi atau beli bahannya lalu minta penjualnya jahit sesuai ukuran kita. Tentu saja semakin bagus bahan sutera yang kita pilih, makin mahal harganya.

After the market doors are closed at 6pm, it’s time for the Ben Thanh Night Market outside the building. Even if you’re already stuffed with pho and colourful sticky rice snacks, you’re most likely to get hungry again when you pass through the smoke-filled grilled seafood stalls!

Setelah pintu-pintu ditutup sekitar jam 6 sore, tiba gilirannya Ben Thanh Night Market buka lapak di luar gedung pasar. Biarpun udah kenyang makan pho dan ngemil sticky rice warna-warni, begitu melewati deretan warung seafood bakar yang asapnya ke mana-mana, dijamin langsung lapar lagi!

Golden Dragon Water Puppet Theatre

From Ben Thanh Market, you can walk to the Golden Dragon (Rong Vang) Water Puppet Theatre. At about 750 metres in distance, it’s quite a walk, but the streets are well-paved and you’ll be walking under lush trees along the way.

Dari Ben Thanh Market, kita bisa jalan kaki ke Golden Dragon (Rong Vang) Water Puppet Theatre. Jalannya lumayan juga sih, sekitar 750 meter. Tapi trotoarnya bagus dan pohon-pohon rindang di sepanjang jalan lumayan bikin adem.

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Water puppet is one of Vietnam’s famous traditional arts. As its name suggests, the puppets are played on water, with a shallow pool as the stage. Six musicians sit to the left and right of the stage; they also serve as storytellers. The puppetmasters control the puppets from behind the screen and will emerge at the end of the show. I wonder if any of them catch cold after nearly one hour getting soaked in water.

Water puppet alias wayang air adalah salah satu kesenian tradisional Vietnam yang paling terkenal. Sesuai namanya, wayang ini dimainkan di air, dengan “panggung” berupa kolam dangkal. Di sisi kiri-kanan panggung duduk enam pemusik yang juga bertugas sebagai penutur cerita. Dalang-dalangnya ngumpet di balik layar dan nanti muncul di akhir pertunjukan. Pada nggak kedinginan ya, hampir satu jam berendam di air?

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The stories don’t differ much from those commonly known in other Southeast Asian countries, such as farmers’ rural life. What’s cool about the performance is the use of pyrotechnics and dry ice effects. Even if you have no idea of what the storytellers say, this is a very entertaining show.

Isi ceritanya tidak jauh beda dengan kisah tradisional asal Asia Tenggara, misalnya tentang kehidupan petani di desa. Tapi mereka juga pakai teknik kembang api dan dry ice effect yang keren. Walaupun sama sekali gak ngerti apa yang diomongin, ini pertunjukan yang sangat menghibur.

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The musicians cum storytellers
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The puppet masters appear at the end of the show

There are two performances at 5pm and 6.30pm daily. The ticket costs VND 180,000 and can be bought up to a week earlier at the theatre’s box office which opens since morning. The shows are always packed with tourists. If you come just in time, you may find the tickets sold out to tour groups.

Pertunjukan water puppet di sini ada dua show setiap jam 5 dan 6.30 sore. Tiketnya seharga 180.000 dong (kira-kira Rp 108.000), bisa dibeli sejak seminggu sebelumnya di box office teater yang buka sejak pagi. Pertunjukannya selalu rame ditonton turis, jadi kalau beli tiketnya last minute, bisa-bisa kehabisan diborong rombongan tur.

Independence Palace

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The Independence Palace complex is located to the right from the main gate to the Water Puppet Theatre. This is one of the places in Saigon not to be missed by history buffs. The palace used to be the official residence of the President of the Republic of Vietnam (South Vietnam). When the country lost the war against the North, the unified state of Vietnam as we know today was born. That’s why the palace is sometimes called the Reunification Palace. You should’ve heard something about it, especially if you’ve seen Miss Saigon.

Ke arah kanan dari pintu utama Water Puppet Theatre terdapat kompleks Independence Palace. Buat para penggemar sejarah, ini tempat yang sayang dilewatkan di Saigon. Independence Palace dulunya istana kepresidenan Republik Vietnam (Vietnam Selatan). Vietnam Selatan kalah perang melawan Utara, dan lahirlah negara Vietnam yang bersatu. Makanya istana ini kadang disebut Reunification Palace. Yang pernah nonton Miss Saigon ngerti sedikit-sedikit lah ya.

The palace is huge (It was a presidential palace, after all!) and you can have a look at rooms and chambers that the former presidents used to receive state visits and diplomatic credentials, and of course the president’s office and living quarters. There are even a cinema and a game room on the upper floors.

Bangunan istana luas banget (Ya iyalah, bekas istana presiden!) dan kita bisa ngintip ruangan-ruangan yang dulunya dipakai presiden untuk menerima tamu negara dan melantik duta besar, dan tentunya ruang kerja dan tempat tinggal presiden. Di lantai atas bahkan ada cinema dan game room segala lho!

Another interesting feature in the palace is the underground bunker where the president and his staff took shelter during raids. On the palace grounds you will see models of armoured vehicles identical to the ones that crashed through the main gate when the Northern Vietnamese Army took over the palace at the end of the Vietnam War.

Yang tidak kalah terkenal adalah bunker di ruang bawah tanah istana, tempat presiden dan stafnya berlindung pas lagi ada serangan musuh. Sedangkan di halaman istana ada model tank yang sama persis dengan tank yang dulu menerobos gerbang utama waktu tentara Vietnam Utara merebut istana di akhir Perang Vietnam.

The Independence Palace opens daily from 7.30am to 5pm, but it’s closed between noon and 1pm. When the afternoon closing time comes, the fountain in front of the palace is turned off and those still inside are asked to leave. The admission fee to the palace is VND 30,000.

Independence Palace buka setiap hari dari jam 7.30 pagi sampai 5 sore, tapi siang-siang mereka tutup antara jam 12 sampai jam 1. Begitu jam istirahat mulai, air mancur di depan istana dimatikan dan yang masih keliaran di dalam dipersilakan keluar. Tiket masuk istana sebesar 30.000 dong (Rp 18,000) per orang.

Notre Dame Cathedral & Central Post Office

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If you walk through the tree-lined park in front of the Independence Palace, you’ll reach the Notre Dame Cathedral and a statue of Virgin Mary in front of it. Vietnam used to be colonised by the French and the cathedral is one of the French heritage in the city. The sanctuary is open for public viewing at certain times of the day. And of course everyone is welcome to attend its Sunday mass.

Kalau kita keluar dari Independence Palace dan menyusuri taman yang teduh banget karena banyak pohonnya, kita akan sampai di Katedral Notre Dame dengan patung Bunda Maria di taman di depannya. What? Notre Dame!? Biasa aja kali, ini masih di Saigon kok, belum tau-tau loncat ke Paris. Dulu Vietnam pernah jadi jajahan Perancis dan katedral ini adalah salah satu bekas peninggalan mereka. Gedung katedral dibuka untuk umum pada jam-jam tertentu. Kalau pengen ikut ibadah Minggu tentunya juga boleh banget!

Right next to the cathedral is another of Saigon’s most important landmarks, the Central Post Office. Like the cathedral, the architectural style of the post office is “so French”. The outer walls are painted mainly in yellow and there’s a large clock above the entrance. The old-fashioned interior is very well-maintained. If you look at the ceilings, you’ll feel like being in a train station rather than a post office. A huge portrait of Uncle Ho is hung at the end of the room. The post office has currency exchange, city tour counter and gift shops. But what’s unique is the still functioning old telephone booths. You can make international call home if you want to.

Persis di samping katedral ada gedung yang juga jadi landmark Saigon: Central Post Office. Sama seperti gedung katedral, gaya bangunan kantor pos pusat ini juga Perancis banget. Warnanya didominasi kuning dan ada jam besar di atas pintu masuk. Bagian dalamnya bener-bener antik tapi masih sangat terawat. Kalo ngeliat desain langit-langitnya, rasanya seperti lagi di stasiun kereta, bukannya di kantor pos. Ada foto Uncle Ho yang gede banget dipasang di ujung ruangan. Di dalam kantor pos ada money changer, konter city tour dan toko suvenir. Tapi yang paling unik adalah bilik-bilik telepon kayak di wartel jaman dulu. Dan masih berfungsi pula! Bisa buat international call juga lho. Boleh tuh coba nelepon ke rumah.

Vincom Center

Dong Khoi Street, Saigon’s high street, starts in front of the cathedral. The street is home to various shops, cafes, designer stores and luxurious hotel as well as Vincom Center, a modern shopping and office complex. Passers-by can freely have some rest at the lovely open area in front of the building.

Di seberang taman katedral dengan patung Bunda Maria ada jalan yang namanya Dong Khoi. Ini high street-nya Saigon. Toko, kafe, designer store, hotel mewah, semua tumplek blek di sini. Salah satu penghuni Dong Khoi Street adalah Vincom Center, kompleks mall dan perkantoran modern. Di depannya ada taman yang asyik banget buat duduk-duduk kalau capek jalan.

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The shops in the mall are no different from any other malls, but it’s fun to get the different atmosphere. VinMart, a large supermarket, occupies two of the top floors. Browsing the local food sections is great fun. During lunch time, a small food court inside the supermarket is packed with office workers and the smell of food being cooked will undoubtedly make you super-hungry! When you indeed crave for something, the basement level of the mall is a food paradise. It’s a restaurants-only floor where you can find almost anything, from Vietnamese, Western, Korean, Thai, Japanese, the usual chain restaurants, cafes, food courts, and many more. There are even multiple ice cream parlours there.

Isi mall-nya sih beda-beda tipis dengan mall di Jakarta. Tapi seru aja mengalami suasana yang beda. Di lantai atas ada hypermarket dua lantai, VinMart. Paling seru ngeliat tempat produk makanan lokal soalnya di situ yang suasananya berasa paling beda dengan Jakarta. Pas jam makan siang, food court di dalam VinMart rame dengan orang-orang kantoran. Dan bau masakannya ke mana-mana! Lapar beneran? Lantai basement adalah surga makanan di mall ini. Satu lantai isinya restoran semua. Vietnamese, Western, Korean, Thai, Japanese, franchise yang udah banyak di Jakarta, kafe, food court, macem-macem deh. Toko es krimnya aja sampe berapa biji!

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Vincom Center also has Free WiFi, perfect to spend the time waiting for your legs to recover for another walk around the city.

Asyiknya lagi, di Vincom Center ada WiFi gratis. Lumayan buat update status sambil nunggu kaki lurus lagi.

A O Show at the Saigon Opera House

Still on Dong Khoi Street, there’s another French building that is still very well-maintained and used as its original function: the Saigon Opera House, or officially the Municipal Theatre of Ho Chi Minh City. Saigon Opera House is home to the internationally renowned A O Show. A O Show itself is the most famous of the three shows produced by Opera House-based Lune Production; the other two being A O Show My Village Version and The Mist.

Masih di Dong Khoi Street, ada gedung yang juga bekas peninggalan Perancis tapi masih sangat terawat dan dipakai sesuai fungsi aslinya: Saigon Opera House, atau resminya Municipal Theatre of Ho Chi Minh City. Saigon Opera House adalah basis utama sebuah pertunjukan kelas internasional, A O Show. A O Show sendiri adalah yang paling terkenal dari tiga show produksi Lune Production yang bermarkas di Opera House ini; dua show lainnya adalah A O Show My Village Version dan The Mist.

The shows depict traditional Vietnamese life, presented in a contemporary way while utilising a very cool combi of bamboo cirque, drama, dance, acrobatics and visual arts. The stories range from those with serious tones, sad, cheerful, even hilarious.

Show-nya menggambarkan kehidupan tradisional masyarakat Vietnam yang dikemas secara kontemporer dengan memadukan bamboo cirque, drama, tari, aksi akrobatik dan visual arts yang amat keren. Ceritanya mulai dari yang serius, sedih, ceria, bahkan konyol.

The show tickets often come with freebies or discount coupons for dining at certain restaurants or visit to certain attractions. (I was entitled to a free single scoop ice cream at a parlour in Vincom and discount to access the Saigon Skydeck, among others.) One trivia here: Why is it called A O Show? Because that’s the reactions expected from viewers: exclaiming ‘aah!’ and ‘ooh!’ when they see the spectacular performances. If you purchase the best seat (VND 1,479,000), you’ll get the ‘wow!’ experience.

Jika beli tiket untuk nonton, kita suka dapet bonus seperti diskon atau free item di sejumlah restoran atau special price untuk masuk objek wisata tertentu. (Saya dapet es krim gratis di Vincom dan diskon untuk tiket masuk Saigon Skydeck.) Satu tebak-tebakan: Kenapa namanya A O Show? Karena itulah reaksi yang diharapkan dari penonton: berseru ‘aah!’ dan ‘ooh!’ melihat kerennya show ini. Kalau beli tiket untuk kursi yang paling mahal (1.470.000 VND, atau Rp 882.000), kita akan dapat pengalaman yang ‘wow!’.

Seriously, if you’re a performing arts lover then you really can’t miss this!

Saigon Skydeck at the Bitexco Financial Tower

About 600 metres from the Saigon Opera House while passing through Ho Chi Minh City Hall towards the Saigon River, you won’t fail to notice a uniquely shaped skyscraper. Getting its inspiration from the shape of lotus, Vietnam national flower, Bitexco Financial Tower is an award-winning shopping mall and office tower complex.

Sekitar 600 meter dari Saigon Opera House dengan melewati Ho Chi Minh City Hall ke arah Saigon River, ada sebuah gedung pencakar langit berwujud unik. Dengan bentuk yang terinspirasi dari lotus, bunga nasional Vietnam, Bitexco Financial Tower adalah kompleks mall dan perkantoran yang sudah memenangi berbagai penghargaan.

An observatory deck named the Saigon Skydeck is located on the 49th floor of BFT. The 360˚ panoramic view of the city from up here is so amazing! You’ll be able to see that Ben Thanh Market has a unique design for its roofs. You can also try to come back at night when the view of the Saigon River and the city’s colourful night view will undoubtedly remind you of your crush. (Puh-leeze!) Saigon Skydeck opens daily from 9.30 am to 9.30pm. A one-time entry ticket costs VND 200,000. The deck has free WiFi so you can immediately post your pics online.

Di lantai 49 BFT ada dek observasi yang dinamakan Saigon Skydeck. Pemandangan 360˚ kota Saigon dari sini sungguh luar biasa. Kita juga bisa lihat bahwa Ben Thanh Market punya bentuk atap yang unik kalo dilihat dari atas. Biar lebih puas, coba balik lagi waktu malam. Pemandangan Saigon River dan kota Saigon di waktu malam dengan lampu berwarna-warni bakal bikin keingetan pacar atau gebetan. (Lebay!) Saigon Skydeck buka setiap hari dari jam 9.30 pagi sampe 9.30 malam. Harga tiket untuk sekali naik 200.000 dong (sekitar Rp 120.000). Oya, di sini juga ada WiFi gratisan, jadi habis foto-foto bisa langsung upload.

From the BFT we can walk through the Ham Nghi Street to go back to Ben Thanh Market. There are shops selling Vietnamese traditional snacks along the street where you can buy souvenir foods to bring home.

Dari BFT kita tinggal menyusuri Ham Nghi Street untuk balik ke Ben Thanh Market. Di sepanjang jalan ini ada macem-macem toko yang jual cemilan khas Vietnam yang bisa kita beli buat oleh-oleh.

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Useful information

Golden Dragon Water Puppet Theatre
VND 180,000
55-B Nguyen Thi Minh Khai Street, Ben Thanh Ward, District 1, HCMC
Tel. +84-8-39302196, +84-0913874808
Ticket box: 08.30-11.30, 13.30-18.15
Show schedule: 17.00, 18.30

Reunification/Independence Palace
VND 30,000
135 Nam Kỳ Khởi Nghĩa, Ben Thanh Ward, District 1, HCMC
Admissions: 07.30-11.00, 13.00-16.00

Saigon Cathedral (Notre Dame)
Free admission
Opening hours: Mon-Fri 08.00-11.00, 15.00-18.00
Sunday mass: 09.30

Saigon Central Post Office
Free admission
Opening hours: Mon-Fri 07.00-19.00, Sat 07.00-18.00, Sun 08.00-18.00

A O Show
From 630,000 VND
Saigon Opera House
7 Lam Son Square, Ben Nghe Ward, District 1, HCMC
Ticket info: www.luneproduction.com/ao-show

Saigon Skydeck
VND 200,000
Bitexco Financial Tower
36 Hong Tu Mau Street, District 1, HCMC
Opening hours: Mon-Sun 09.30-21.30
Info: www.bitexcofinancialtower.com/?page_id=1420

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