Entering Vietnam from the City: Ho Chi Minh City

Tips and tricks for HCMC
– Learn a few Vietnamese phrases
– You might want a face mask as pollution is high
– Keep going when crossing the road, the cars won’t stop for you!

Day 1

Two tubes, two aeroplanes, a bus and a taxi ride later, Sam and I finally arrived at our hotel in Ho Chi Minh City. Only 24 hours until our other  buddies arrive! Let’s go!

Saigon Europe & Spa Hotel
I would recommend this hotel, for sure as it’s very well located, they do a great breakfast and the staff always go above and beyond. When we arrived I told the bellman that I needed to buy a phone charger, and asked if he could advise me. Far above my expectations, he went to the shop himself and bought the charger for me!  Clean and spacious rooms, with comfy beds and a very clean bathroom. This was a great spot to stay for our first 2 nights.

Heading out
It was our first evening so we headed to Bùi Viện road, only two minutes from the hotel. This is very much a tourist location, there are numerous bars and restaurants with outdoor seating, lots of people and plenty of entertainment. We stopped at a restaurants where I had fried noodles with prawns. I actually ate this quite a lot throughout the trip! Bùi Viện road is a great place to pick up street food and grab a few drinks. Be aware that there is sometimes a compulsory service charge, which is written in the smallest of all small print at the bottom of the menus! It was on our first evening that I was introduced to the famous Vietnamese Saigon beer. I am not a beer drinker at all, but at approx 75p a bottle, I couldn’t refuse.

HCMC Canal
After our first meal and a couple of Saigons, we took a stroll to the canal. As expected, it’s not quite the same as a walk down the Thames, but be prepared for a few surprising sights. We walked up the river on the left hand side, where we saw friends and  families eating and drinking. It seemed a social place to have some chill time and hang out, so we crossed the bridge so we could walk down on the other side. The contrast was shocking. This was our first real exposure to poverty in Vietnam, many homeless and disabled people who accommodated a bench for the evening or, if lucky, a few blankets too.

Heading back
We knew where our hotel was so didn’t need a map to get back. But, let me tell you; returning to our hotel was not quite as simple as you would imagine.
Travel tip for Vietnam: Hotels close their shutters as of an evening. They appear closed, but just bang on the shutters (literally) and they will open them for you. If someone from another hotel tries to persuade you to book a room in their hotel instead, just say no. Something I wish I had known prior to our arrival!

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Day 2

Jade Emperor Pagoda Temple
We took a taxi to Jade Emperor Pagoda temple. The atmosphere was touching; prayer with incense and blessing of food, but the interior and exterior was not as expected. We genuinely thought we had been dropped to the wrong place! I think it’s a shame that the temple isn’t  well kept. Overall a pleasant and interesting experience – I would recommend the Lonely Planet book for this one as it has excellent explanations and descriptions of the temple.

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Traffic overload
After taxi-ing it to the temple, we were about to have our first real experience of being pedestrians in Vietnam. Everything  you’ve heard is true- it’s crazy!  Naturally, cross at the crossings to be safe, but be aware that black and white stripes don’t seem to mean anything at all. Locals know that tourists feel a bit out of their depth and will often help you to cross the road. Who would have thought!?

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As a linguist, I felt it was important to make an effort. I had tried to learn a few phrases to help me get by, but my lack of Vietnamese and the lack of English spoken in Vietnam wasn’t the best combination. When you’re out there, keep a phrase book with you, it will be useful! Rather than having vegetable fried rice, I ended up with a basic salad and a side of rice. Not quite the same but it could have been worse.

Reunion
We headed back to the hotel where we were super happy to see our friends had arrived after travelling in Cambodia for two weeks! We showed them around and took them to Bùi Viện road, where we chatted and caught up over food and drinks. The Vietnam crew were now ready to roll!

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Day 3

Binh Tay Market
This was the first stop of the final day in HCMC. An enriching experience – if you want or need something then this is the place to go. They have everything and anything! Keep your bags close at all times as this is an easy location for pick-pockets. Be sure to barter at every opportunity because they won’t want you to walk away empty handed.

Reunification Palace and War History Museum
On our way to the Vietnamese War History Museum we walked past the Reunification Palace. Not the most spectacular looking palace, so we weren’t too fussed that we didn’t have enough time to go inside, but it’s worth stopping for a few minutes to take a look.

The War History Museum was the most enriching part of my stay in HCMC. Prior to visiting Vietnam, I didn’t know much about the Vietnamese war, but I left feeling full of knowledge although very sad at the same time. This is by far my top recommendation of HCMC, the museum is set out in such a way that you can’t miss a thing and leave with a strong understanding of the war and its  consequences on today’s society.

First northbound trip: HCMC -> Mui Ne
In the evening, we took a 5 hour coach from HCMC to Mui Ne. This was our first coach journey, and it wasn’t bad all! We were on a sleeper bus, which meant we were able to put our heads down and rest. Only issue is that in Asia, the people tend to be quite small, therefore these buses are seriously lacking leg room.

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