My four day visit to Ho Chi Minh City, formerly called Saigon, consisted of amazing food, cheap tours, learning history, and more food.
Our Vietnam experience started right when we left the airport. We got into a taxi, and made sure that the driver was using a meter so that we don’t get ripped off. However, when he started driving, the meter started to increment very rapidly. Normally, the rate to our hostel should have been around 150,000 VND. However, our meter was at 700,000 by the time we reached our destination. On top of that, the driver told us that there was a 200,000 airport charge, showing us a fake receipt. We knew that 900,000 VND (45 USD) was a ridiculous amount for a 15 minute taxi ride in Vietnam, so we tried to bargain. After 5 minutes, we got it down to 700,000, and after another 10 minutes, we managed to get it down to 500,000. (Pro tip: Only take taxis from the companies Vinasun and Mailinh).
The first thing we noticed when we got out of the taxi: the number of motorcycles in this city is CRAZY. With a population of 8 million, there are 4 million motorcycles in Ho Chi Minh City! We had to cross the road to our hostel, but we didn’t know how to do it. There were no crosswalks or traffic lights, but all the other pedestrians just seemed to cross carelessly through incoming traffic. So we did the same, though I was very terrified the first time I did it. The motorcyclists are the ones that avoid the crossing pedestrians, so you just have to cross and trust that they do not hit you (they don’t).
We completed our Vietnam experience for the day by having a bowl of pho. It was amazing.
We stayed in the ‘backpacker’s district’ in District 1, where most of the tourists tend to stay. For the next three days, we just booked day tours through our hostel. The tours were absurdly cheap; they were around 10 USD for a full-day tour that included lunch.
On our first full day in Ho Chi Minh, we did a city tour, which lasted from 8am to 4pm. We first visited the War Remnants Museum, which had exhibits relating to the Vietnam War (called the American War in Vietnam). The Vietnam War was something I almost knew nothing about, likely because I did not learn much about it in my education in Canada. I learned about the war and the huge number of casualties that came with it. The museum had many graphic pictures, which made the experience depressing, but much more powerful.
We then visited Chinatown, the Reunification Palace, and the Saigon Central Post Office.
After our city tour ended in the late afternoon, we had another tour lined up for us: a food tour! Two girls in their early 20’s came to pick us up at our hostel, and we rode on the back of their motorcycles around the city to sample Vietnamese food.
It was an amazing experience even just to sit on the back of the motorcycle. I was in awe while I watched my guide zig-zag through the crazy traffic of cars, motorcycles, and pedestrians.
During the tour, we went to a restaurant for vermicelli with grilled pork, did some of sightseeing at the Saigon bridge, went to a cute cafe for Vietnamese Coffee, and finally went to another restaurant for a large selection of desserts!
We booked another full day tour, this time going to the Mekong Delta. The Mekong Delta is a region by the Mekong River, about 3 hours west of Ho Chi Minh City. When we got to the Mekong River, we got on a boat and cruised along the river. The Mekong Delta is famous for its floating markets, but we did not get to see much of it. Apparently to visit the floating market, you have to book a two day Mekong Delta tour, and visit the markets in the early morning on the second day.
After the tour and the three hour bus ride back to the city, we decided to try what was apparently the ‘best’ pho in town.
The pho was fantastic, though I don’t think I was able to tell which was ‘better’ from the pho we had on the first day. This one did come with a lot of meat, which was very noms.
On our last day, we did a half-day tour to the Cu Chi Tunnels. During the Vietnam War, these huge underground network of tunnels were used as a base, hiding spot, supply routes, and hospitals for the Viet Cong.
We got to enter the tunnel and crawl through 20 meters, which was much more exhausting than I thought it would be. The tunnels themselves were only a meter tall, and there was barely and light. Many people in my tour exited only after halfway, because they couldn’t take the tiny space they had to crawl through. I can’t imagine using those tunnels everyday for shelter and a method of transportation.
After the tour, we finished the day by going to an interesting Vietnamese water puppet show, and then going to apparently what is the ‘best’ banh mi in town.
For our last night in Saigon, we decided to switch hostels and try out a capsule hotel.
This capsule was actually so spacious, that I wouldn’t even consider it a ‘capsule’. It was pretty much like sleeping in a hostel bed, but you get much more privacy, along with your personal TV and AC unit. Everything was so clean and quiet, and also very cheap (8 USD/night)! I highly recommend trying out this capsule hotel if you are staying at Ho Chi Minh City!
If you love pho, I would say a trip to Vietnam is worth it even for that one bowl. (: