We finally made it to Vietnam! After a few delays in Cambodia, we were itching to get to Vietnam and start what we’d agreed to be the proper part of the adventure. We had the bike, we had the visas – we couldn’t wait! Ho Chi Minh was our first stop, and from there we’d be making our way up to the North before leaving from Hanoi in a months time. As Vietnam is James’ favourite country, I was very excited to finally get there!
We arrived into Ho Chi Minh at about 9pm, as driving from Phnom Penh had been a long journey, and included crossing the border from Cambodia into Vietnam! We stayed in an AirBnb, which we couldn’t actually find at first! After some confusion we finally made it, and lucky for us our room had been upgraded! We had a shower and changed before heading out for a much needed drink. We were staying about 10 minutes from Bui Vien Street, which is basically Ho Chi Minh’s strip. Who knew Ho Chi Minh had a strip?! This street is lined with bar after bar, blasting out loud music and trying to get you in with drink or food deals. We decided to walk the length of it to experience it all, but this proved to be very stressful. As someone who hates crowds, I got very panicky as I kept losing James and nearly getting run down by bikes trying to manoeuvre their way through the crowd! I was much happier when we finally entered a bar, where we sat upstairs overlooking the street and away from all the chaos. I can imagine that Bui Vien Street is a lot of fun if you’re wanting a night out, but I wouldn’t advise going there for a quiet drink after a long day…! We only stayed for a couple of drinks before heading back to our Airbnb – bed was calling us.
We woke up quite late as we were super tired from the journey the day before! We headed towards ‘Saigon Walking Street’ (or on Google Maps, Nguyễn Huệ Pedestrian Street) which is a big square – or more of a rectangle…
It’s surrounded by restaurants so we headed into a big building full of them, ending up in a place called Sushi 79. We both got noodle soup (again!) which cost 49,000 dong each – this is approx £1.56. So cheap! Our whole meal cost us £4.60 which was soups and beers for both of us. I’m gonna have a serious shock when I go back to the UK. We finished our soup which was really yummy then went to explore.
We then went to Independence Palace (also known as the Reunification Palace) which was 65,000 dong for a ticket including palace entrance and an exhibition. It’s a really impressive building from outside! It’s huge, with an immaculate green turning circle and big fountain. We looked around the grounds of the palace first before heading inside, as they have war vehicles on display.
We then headed inside the palace, which was really interesting – it’s completely untouched and in perfect condition. Guides were available but we just read the ins formation outside each room. It was really interesting to read about Vietnam’s incredible history and everything that happened with the US. Each room had glass walls, so you couldn’t go inside yourself but could see everything. We then headed down into the basement, where they had the cars that were used in the war. It was strange to walk around somewhere that once was such an important place full of people, especially when it looks the same. It was almost like going back in time!
We then headed to the exhibition, which was called ‘From Norodom Palace to Independence Palace’. This focussed on the history of Ho Chi Minh before the independence palace was built. This focused on the old palace, which was bombed leading to the independence palace being built. Here we learnt about the French colonial history of Ho Chi Minh and Diem’s ruling. If you’re headed to Ho Chi Minh I would definitely recommend going here and learning about history of Vietnam. I think maybe you’re actually meant to do this exhibition first before going into the main palace, as that would be the right chronological order!
After this we got a drink in the cafe next door then made the short walk to Ho Chi Minh’s very own Notre Dam Cathedral (Notre-Dame Cathedral Basilica of Saigon). It’s currently having work done so you cannot go inside, but it is still beautiful to see. You can understand why it is such an attraction here, as this was the first Cathedral we had seen! I guess it would be like if we had an incredible temple like they do here, back in the UK. After learning about the French history of Ho Chi Minh (formerly Saigon), it was amazing to see the French influence in the architecture of the city.
Next to the cathedral is the Central Post Office, which may seem like a strange thing to go and see but it is an attraction in itself. The building is incredible, exterior and interior. Inside I was surprised to see it is still a fully operating post office, but also has stall selling jewellery and souvenirs – which I guess is clever seeing as it’s such a tourist hotspot!
After this we were going to go to the War Remnants Museum but ended up getting lost (don’t ask how). This meant we got there about 5pm, and as it closes at 6pm we decided to save it to go another day as we didn’t want to be rushed! It was really nice to just have a walk around the city and get a feel for the place. Ho Chi Minh as a city seemed so clean! I’m not sure if this was in contrast to Cambodia, but it felt like we were worlds away. It was also very green, with trees lining most of the pavements and walkways. We walked back home, getting some dinner on the way from a Singapore noodle place.
After chilling for a bit back at the room we got changed then headed out for the evening to Malt. This is a really cool little bar that you can play darts and a game called shuffleboard at. James came here a couple years ago and said how fun shuffleboard was, so we went back so I could see what it was all about. For those who don’t know, it’s a bit like boules but on a board with disc/counters rather than balls. It’s also a lot harder than it looks! We played quite a few games before giving up trying to be any good and just drinking instead. If you go to Ho Chi Minh id definitely recommend going to Malt, it’s a really nice place for a drink as it’s not too busy or loud. We ended up spending our whole evening here!
We woke up on Sunday morning feeling pretty hungover! We watched a film in bed trying to recover before heading out for something to eat and some fresh air. James had uni work he needed to hand in so after eating and having a wander around the shops we went back to the Airbnb. Walking around Ho Chi Minh, you realise how crazy the roads are. I was so glad we only had to drive Bruce (our motorbike) in the first night, and that we decided to walk after that! There are so many bikes coming from all directions. We worked out to cross the road, you just had to go for it and they drive around you – near misses but misses all the same! That night we headed out for dinner to a place on the strip, it was so loud! I definitely wouldn’t recommend actually eating here. We couldn’t speak to each other at all as the music got turned up as soon as we ordered our food. We considered staying out for a bit and to watch the football, but instead went back so James could finish the uni work sooner rather than later!
The next morning was spent doing work too. I didn’t really mind, as it was raining a lot! We did go out for lunch and ended up in a ramen place called Sai Sai Ramen. This little gem was on the side of the main road and only a short walk from where we were staying. We both got the porkbone noodles + gyoza combo, which cost 53,000 – £1.70 each! It’s actually crazy how cheap stuff is here, especially when it’s so good too. This was one of those ramens where you taste the soup and it’s like, how did they make it taste so good?!
After this we headed back again to work for a couple of hours before heading out to the War Remnants Museum. I wasn’t too sure what to expect from it, as I hadn’t actually read up on what was there. It was just something I kept seeing in all the ‘Things To Do In Ho Chi Minh’ pins I’d been reading. It cost us 40,000 dong to get in – which was definitely worth the price. The first floor has old propaganda posters and other bits from the Vietnam war, which are all hung on the walls in the style of a gallery, with different themed sections.
Downstairs there is also lots of information on MAG, which stands for Mines Advisory Group. This is an incredible organisation who do a lot of work in Vietnam to make it a safe place after the war. Vietnam is still heavily contaminated by unexploded ordinance, meaning that locals are in danger of landmines exploding. The poorer areas which are the most contaminated are also the ones which heavily rely on agriculture for a living. MAG work to clear areas of landmines, meaning it is therefore safe and can be used for farming. The museum shows videos of MAG at work, as well as lots of photos and statistics of how their work has made a difference. You can read more about MAG’s work in Vietnam here. I will be honest and say I had no idea about any details of the Vietnam War before visiting Ho Chi Minh, and I didn’t even consider the fact that places may still be unsafe from unexploded ordinance as I was totally unaware of the scale of what happened 40 years ago. It was amazing to read about the work MAG still do to change the lives of those that live here.
Next we headed upstairs, where we looked at the exhibitions. I won’t go into these too much, as I think they’re something that should shock you when you see for yourself. As I said, I was uneducated about the sheer scale and brutality of what happened in the Vietnam War, and so I found these exhibitions very shocking – not to mention upsetting. I had no idea so many people lost their lives, and the massacres that went on. The exhibitions are not for the faint-hearted – there are very graphic and upsetting images. However, these are needed to fully tell the story of the awful things that went on.
What I found the most shocking, was the exhibition on ‘Agent Orange’, which was a chemical used by Americans in the war. I didn’t take photos of this exhibition, as I didn’t think it was appropriate. Agent Orange causes birth defects, and the exhibition was photographs of babies who have been born affected by Agent Orange. This included babies born with mental and physical defects, such as conjoined twins. The pictures were really upsetting, as it made you realise how even after the war was over, children were still being affected. I didn’t know anything about Agent Orange, so I learnt a lot in this exhibition. Even if it was really horrible to see it is the reality and makes you realise how awful the war was for Vietnam, and that the devastation isn’t over yet.
We headed back downstairs after this, both feeling very quiet at everything we’d seen and learnt. It’s hard to process that such awful things went on and that humans could be so cruel. Outside the museum are war vehicles, so we had a look at the planes and tanks before leaving. To anyone going to Ho Chi Minh, you really can’t miss the War Remnants Museum off your itinerary. It’s a harrowing experience, but one that I’m very glad we did as it makes you truly appreciate what Vietnam went through and taught us so much. Just be warned that it is an emotional place to go, and that the photos you see are upsetting.
It had started to rain, so we ducked into a bar for a drink and for some shelter. The rain only got worse, so after a few beers we decided we’d better brave it and ran to the nearest restaurant. Here we ordered an absolute feast! I got a Vermicelli noodle salad, as I felt like getting something new. We also ordered some meatballs to share which were delicious! Annoyingly, I cannot remember the name of the place I went or I’d definitely recommend it!
After dinner we headed to Glow Sky Bar. One of the things I wanted to do whilst in Ho Chi Minh was go to a sky bar, as I’d heard the city has some really good ones. I adore views, especially over cities at night – so this wasn’t something I was going to miss! We looked up a list of the top sky bars, as we weren’t really sure which to go to. We decided on Glow as it didn’t have a strict dress code (we only had trainers!) and had happy hour till 8pm, meaning all drinks were half price. Unlike the Heli Bar in Kuala Lumpur , the sky bars in Ho Chi Minh do rack up their prices due to the good views, and we weren’t prepared to pay 10 times the normal price for a beer! We got there at about 7.45pm so ordered two drinks each so that they were within happy hour (not ashamed!), though they kept our second drink cold behind the bar till we’d finished the first and didn’t charge us full price. The bar had the most beautiful outdoor seating areas, but as it had been raining until about ten minutes before, we were the only ones there! Still, it was nice to have the places to ourselves and admire the view without crowds of people.
We decided after our drinks to head back to Malt, as we’d had such a good night there previously! We weren’t too far, so walked across town. I’m really glad we did, as we saw a part of Ho Chi Minh we hadn’t yet walked through. We walked past the Opera House, then along a street of row after row designer brands. This part of town was next to the Saigon Walking Street we’d been to in the first day, but I hadn’t got my bearings till now! We hadn’t come to Ho Chi Minh to shop, but if we had, this was the place to go – aside from the designer shops we also walked past a huge shopping mall. As we’d got a taxi to Malt the first night in the dark, I hadn’t got any sense of where it actually was! We stayed for a couple of drinks before heading home, as we didn’t want a late night when we had another drive tomorrow. This may have been a different story if we’d got into playing shuffleboard, but the table was busy when we got there – which was probably for the best! The next morning James submitted his coursework (this took longer than expected – wifi speeds…) and we headed to the coast. Our first stop, the small town of Long Hai – just north of the city of Vung Tao, and the perfect start to our route north up the coast.
Ho Chi Minh was definitely one of my favourite places we’d visited, and definitely my favourite city of South East Asia so far. It was surprisingly cosmopolitan, with a massive mix of old and new and so much history! There had been so much to see and do here, with places for every taste and/or budget. The people here were all lovely and really friendly, which made it such a great start to our travels in Vietnam. There really isn’t anything I could complain about (makes a change!). I’d love to go back to Ho Chi Minh and explore further than the places that I did, but for us it was time to move on. Thank you Ho Chi Minh for treating us so well – we had so much fun and will definitely return!
Charlotte Rick x
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