After 2 weeks on the beach in Thailand, about 5 days in quiet Cambodia, we have arrived to the big city of Ho Chi Minh previously know as Saigon. We were warned this city was filled with motorbikes, the sound of honking, and bright lights of neon signs at night. The amount of motorbikes blew my mind. I had never seen so many in one location before. Crossing the street was a literal nightmare, as vehicles do not stop for you like they do in the states. Although, they do a good job of dodging you! 🙂 We arrived at night, and were happy to see that our bus dropped us off very close to our hotel which was right on Bui Vien Street, aka “backpacker street”. I couldn’t wait to get to our room so we could enjoy a night on the town.
When we arrived at the Graceful Saigon Hotel we were pleasantly surprised to be upgraded! Although it was only for one night, not the 2nd night we booked. We told the front desk that we would rather not take the upgrade if it wasn’t for both nights, it was than we found out that the reason we were upgraded was because something was wrong with our room. I said well in that case you should upgrade both nights. She tried to argue this, but I was very firm that we were not moving rooms. In which she had to make a phone call, and said who knows what behind our backs, and we were finally able to get the upgrade for both nights booked. Pays to be aggressive in this town. 🙂 We were disappointed that had to walk 4 flights of a spiral staircase to reach our room, because we are lazy. But the room was very nice and you couldn’t hear a peep from the noisy street below as it was on the back of the building!
We quickly got ready and went to walk the main street. We saw what looked like plastic kids tables with little kiddie seats filled with many young locals. We went to go grab a seat, but were told by the lady at the restaurant that we couldn’t sit on the end we had to scoot in to the next seat available on the inside. I wasn’t very happy that I couldn’t choose where I wanted to seat. Regardless we sat down and enjoyed some friend dumplings and spring rolls while people watching.
The next day we went on a tour of the Chi Chi Tunnels that were used by the Viet Cong during the Vietnam War. You can see Jenny going into one of the hidden entrances in the video above. This was a couple hours away by air conditioned van. It was just us and another couple from Iceland who were a lot of fun to get to know. When we arrived they had us watch a movie from what looked like the 1970’s about the war. It was so weird to be referred to as “the enemy” as Americans in the video and throughout the tour. They showed us the traps they would set up for American soldiers, they were brutal. We climbed through the same caves as the Vietnam soldiers which were so small your back hurt after just one short climb. It was crazy to hear they lived in these tunnels. There was even a place to shoot guns, which the couple from Iceland were super excited about and we were all “oh we can do that any time.” The tour guide went very fast it was almost hard to keep up! At the end of the tour we got to try some traditional Pho soup. We were given limes, peppers and herbal leaves to add to it, as well as some sauces to dip the meat in. It was delicious!
That night we went to another restaurant with small plastic chairs right on the street. I ordered one of the best meals I had so far – crab in garlic sauce. Rob ordered beef with broccoli, and it ended up being cauliflower! You never know what you’re gonna get sometimes. Also they put out sauce on our tables, so of course we tried it. Than we were charged for it. So please note to always ask if something is free before using it!
The next day we decided to explore the city. We decided to take uber to the first stop seeing as it was a bit of a trek and was only $1 for a 25 minute ride through a traffic jam. We decided to do this instead of cab, because the cabs can sometimes rip you off. We would have loved to use an uber motorbike, but unfortunately it couldn’t take both of us at once and we didn’t want to risk separating since our phones don’t work here. We were picked up in a nice SUV by uber and he literally didn’t say one word to us, there is a good chance he didn’t speak any English. He dropped us off at the famous Saigon Central Post Office. Once dropped off here it felt like we were in a completely different city! Apparently the French once owned this city so the Post Office had a more french like architecture along with many of the other buildings we saw.
Across the street from the the post office was a large Catholic church. It’s name was Notre Dame; not exactly like the one in Paris but still very odd to see in a Asian country. Next we walked through a peaceful park. It reminded me of New York City; how you have your China town, old architecture, times square, and central park all in one city to experience.
During our walk a local could tell we were having trouble crossing the street so he helped us. He was carrying coconuts for sale, which I knew he was trying to sell to us. But after he let us give his job go by attempting to carry the heavy coconuts we couldn’t resist. It was actually a lot sweeter than most coconut waters and nice and cold on a hot day!
The next stop was an ugly building – you could tell was built in the 70’s which was The Independence Palace. It was the location where the Vietnam War ended when a Northern Vietnam tank crashed through the gates finally defeating the South Vietnamese. We decided not to go on the tour through here as we heard it was similar talk and feel of the Chi Chi Tunnels.
Than we went to The Ho Chi Mihn City Hall which was right by a pretty garden. This building screamed of Paris based on its architecture. Then we walked all the way down to the river to look at the Saigon River that runs through the city.
It was an interesting river walk; the river had tons of vegetation that was just floating down the river in large groups. This along with the brown color did not give the river the most beautiful look, but the thing that really ruined the view along the river were the 8 extremely large Heineken billboards just across the river. They were so big you literally couldn’t not see them when looking at the river.
Our last stop was the Ben Thanh Market. This market is the largest in Ho Chi Mihn City and has everything from food and drinks to actual handcraft items and of course good old tourist souvenirs. The best stands to see in these markets are the dried fruit, spices, and coffee stands. Stands like this that are grouped together feel like how this market would have felt in the past; now it feels like such a small percentage of these markets are that and most sell the same tourists items at each stand. We walked around and I really wanted to buy a shirt that ready “Just Pho you” with a bowl of Vietnamese Pho on it. If you haven’t tried Pho you definitely should! After trying on a few different sizes I found these were definitely mens shirt so asked for a small in hot pink. They couldn’t find a hot pink small for the longest time but then miraculously they found one. I thought it best to still try it on even though it had the “S” sticker on the shirt. Oh course when I tired it on it was much to big and Rob and I were both convinced that they tired to sell me a medium just hoping I wouldn’t try it on. Oh well. With all this shirt trying on I was now hungry; we went back to the food stand area of the market and all this talk of pho I decided to get myself some shrimp pho. It was delicious and cheap 🙂
After a long walk back we were very sweaty from the 90 degree city weather. Thankfully our hotel had an arrangement with a hotel close by that we could use their pool. It felt amazing to jump into that water after a long day of walking and sightseeing. We relaxed by the pool for a few hours and wrote blogs and worked while sipping a fresh pineapple-mango smoothie…it was so good!
After getting ready we really wanted to check out a rooftop bar for the sunset. Most were more fancy than we were in the mood for so we found “The View Rooftop Bar” close to us that seemed to be the right fit. We had to hurry to make it there in time for the sunset and then of course once we got there the sun was to obstructed by clouds to really see at all anyway. We decided to stay though and get a table with a view of the city for when it got dark and everything would light up. We ordered a couple drinks and of course one order of Vietnamese Spring Rolls 🙂 The restaurant had lanterns above our heads that all lit up after the sun went down and then the city followed in the distance. It was a great place for a view and to relax.
Ho Chi Minh was a very fun city with lots to see and a vibrant nightlife. However, it has been a long time since we had been at a beach. Look for our next blog post soon on where we head! 🙂