It isn’t long enough. ”12 days?” ”You’re going to Vietnam for 12 days!”
Research through my friends didn’t bode well. I planned to skip in from Cambodia. Then fly back out to Thailand for my fourth Full Moon.
”I only have 12 days, flight out is already booked”. So then the wisdom started coming. Turns out you can do A LOT in days-not-weeks in Vietnam.
Visiting Ho Chi Minh (aka Saigon), Hoi An and lastly Hanoi and Halong Bay. Here’s part 1 of how things ended up going for me and my pal Jen in wonderful Vietnam …
We bussed it across from Pnomh Penh in Cambodia, the journey was easy. Sit down, chill. Eat, chill some more. Get out, cross the border. Get back in for more chill. No dramas of border invasions. An air con coach playing a movie. Reclining seats. Our trip into our latest country was grand. We especially enjoyed crossing the Mekong River on a crammed open top boat while still on said coach!! We made it in the end.
No matter what others tell you of Ho Chi Minh, you can’t prepare yourself for what your eyes see, your ears hear and your nose smells: SCOOTERS. Millions of them. They are everywhere.
Roads, pavements, crossing grass, weaving, stopped, racing, carrying generations of families, transporting animals, moving houses. Whatever you could possibly imagine seeing people do on scooters happens in Saigon, ten fold.
We stayed at a random guesthouse we’d found on Booking.com, near a bustling food market. We were just a couple of streets from the main Pham Ngu Lao backpacker area for $5 a night, it was great! Anywhere within easy walking distance of the backpackers hub is a perfect location. Mind the scooters as you walk, you’re good to go!
Must do’s in Ho Chi Minh
Get to the War Museum. This should be your first port of call. I was warned about the ”Orange room, it will change your life” and for sure, you never forget some of the sights you see. The museum is harrowing. By the end of your visit you will be overcome with feelings of despair and shock. It happened and you are in the country it happened. Take it all in and leave with a newfound appreciation of where you are.
Taste Vietnamese street food and drink. The smells are full on! The tastes are something else! Take your pick and go for it!
Become a millionaire. Withdraw a wad of cash equivalent to not-so-much from your home town and voila, you’re minted! Savour that moment. It feels pretty damn good.
Go to a salon. $5 (and 3 hours) later I went from tangled backpacker hedge hair to red carpet ready.
Actually care about a Starbucks. Get a cuppa at the massive Starbucks on what appears to be the busiest roundabout in the world. Sip and enjoy as you watch the endless stream of scooters trying to cope with the traffic at every angle. Scooter watching never gets old!
Get fed, watered and partied out in the Pham Ngu Lao backpackers area. Eat cheap, drink cheap, meet fellow travellers, swap stories and see where daybreak lands you.
Stay at Vietnam Inn Saigon. I never heard of it at the time but lots of my friends from the road love it there – go, go, go!
Beware! If you get a massage it might well be the worst one you ever have. Ever. The guy who did me might has well have rolled Tonka Trucks up my back (think Ross from Friends). He then asked me for a tip after and when I refused he got in a huff and stormed out! If you do get any treatments done be prepared to tip no matter how much you might end up laughing at the crazy way you are manhandled.
Get low. Visit the Cu Chu tunnels, the underground network laid beneath much of the country. This was something I didn’t do but again, I know many who have done so and they reported a one-off experience definitely worth doing.
Top Tip: Do the popular day trip that takes you pretty much everywhere. Ours cost $5, booked through our guest house. Wherever you book a city day trip it should include the most important sites: the War Museum will be included in this. As will China Town, The Post Office (where you simply must send your first Vietnam postcard home from), the famous Binh Tay market and more. Day trips may sound stuffy for those too cool to ‘do culture’ but miss this day, miss out. You’re in the country to embrace Vietnam right? Exactly. So go for it.
I loved our hectic intro to ‘Nam. What a tangled web Saigon is! I always recommend starting any Vietnam trip there, not only does it just feel natural to travel the country from South to North but the culture will smack you in the face like a sledge hammer from the moment you reach the city.
It teaches you so much about Vietnamese people, and the country history. The things you learn keep you aware as you travel onwards and many things you witness in that City will stick with you for life.
(Starbucks pic credit gregswords.wordpress.com)
READ MORE BELOW, Travel, Inspiration, Relatable, From The Heart