My bus journey to Ho Chi Minh City, previously known as Saigon was surprisingly pleasant with the Mekong Express providing free water and baked goods onboard. It took around six and a half hours in total including a 15 minute ferry crossing and a lengthy stop at the boarder which involved scanning everyone’s bags through in a very inefficient manner. So lengthy I managed to sneak in this photo despite the big signs saying no cameras. What I’ve noticed whilst travelling in Asia is that there are grand casinos at every boarder crossing which look hugely out of place next to wooden shacks selling small items and children begging for food and money as you step off the bus.
I was overjoyed to find a lady selling my favourite bamboo cake and another selling sticky rice and jam with baked banana wrapped in banana leaf – yum! I arrived at Ho Chi Minh City and checked into a brand new hostel called Hideout which was recommended by friends I’d met along the way and just so happened to be opposite where the bus dropped me off, perfect. Hideout Hostel is clean and so friendly they knew me by name within the first hour. You also get free breakfast (I’m so bored of peanut butter and banana baguettes) and two free beers between 6-7pm (yippee) which gets everyone socialising.
Every Saturday the New World Hotel hosts the Saigon Soul Pool Party from 10am until 11pm. I gathered some people from the hostel and headed there for 8pm which unfortunately was a little too late as most people had already moved on. The pool looked incredible though and I wish I had arrived earlier. That night was spent drinking Saigon Beer (a bottle of beer is half the price of a soft drink in Vietnam!) on the red chairs that line Bui Vien, the main backpacker drinking street also popular with locals.
My first full day in the city was spent wandering around the park and visiting the War Museum where I learned all about the Vietnam/American war which I previously had limited knowledge of. Although incredibly one-sided and a little too graphic for my liking it was well worth a look.
I went for dinner at Five Oysters which had been recommended to me by people at the hostel and scores highly on Trip Advisor. Sally, a girl I had met at the hostel, and I shared a savoury pancake and each had a bowl of Pho, traditional Vietnamese soup. Both very nice, the soup (Pho) was a little too fragrant for my personal taste and a lot different to that found in Thailand or Cambodia.
A trip to the Chu Chi Tunnels is a must if visiting Ho Chi Minh City so I booked myself on to a half day tour (book at number 209 on the Main Street Pham Ngu Lao – they are cheapest!). After hearing mixed reviews I expected the worse but it was surprisingly interesting thanks to our guide Jimmy who I sat with on the bus listening to some of his highly entertaining Vietnamese music. I laughed at the stories he told us including how Gorilla war heroes were award with the “American Killer Award”. Again, the information was incredibly bias.
That afternoon I took a walk round the beautiful French quarter and along the river after a huge plate of BBQ chicken and rice from a street food vendor. One of my favourite meals on my trip so far, the chicken just fell off the bone and at a price of just $1 was a steal!
I had planned to catch the early morning bus to the coastal town of Mui Ne the next morning but after a few beers with Tim, Matt and co I ran down to the office at #209 to change my ticket and randomly decided to book myself on to a tour of the Mekong Delta. Having the ability to make travel plans at midnight after beer o’clock is risky business. After a heavy night out I instantly regretted my decision, especially after hearing mixed reviews from other backpackers. However, if there’s one thing I’ve learnt about backpacking it is that it’s best to regret doing something than to regret not doing it. I have no shortage of time as there’s nowhere I desperately need to be so I thought why not!
After speaking to other backpackers I knew this trip would be incredibly touristy with the majority of the day spent in a mini bus, just like my trip to the tunnels. I hate these sort of tours and anything remotely touristy and my sore head from the night before made it so much worse. The morning improved when I got chatting to a couple from Kuwait, the first I’d met from there. I was also pleased to find that the older Canadian guy with the young Vietnamese boy was on the tour also. I had met them on my tunnels tour the day before and found their story incredibly interesting – the Canadian man had taught the boy to speak English on Skype and now they have reunited.
The tour was surprisingly good and included a trip to a bee farm, ride on a horse-drawn carriage and a chance to sample some delicious coconut candy, honey tea and weird and wonderful fruits. This was where I also met Aussie Phoebe, who I met up with again in Mui Ne and the journey up.
My final night was a quiet one and I joined Sally for another meal, this time in Dinh Y recommended by Lonely Planet which was a little disappointing. I need to remember that fried thick rice noodles usually come with a strange jelly like sauce which I’m not a fan of!
Ho Chi Minh City is a wonderful cosmopolitan city I can see why some travellers choose to stay. There is plenty to see and do and most importantly, lots of fantastic street food to try (although I hear the new capital of Hanoi is even better!). It’s worth taking a walk outside of the main backpacker district (district 1) and venture into some of the more local spots such as district 4 for cheaper and tastier local food. Day trips are a good way to see the surrounding area but if you have the time and the confidence (I don’t fancy my chances riding the streets of Saigon!) renting a motorbike would be best.
Time for my first bus in Vietnam……..
Living life, loving travel,