“Our real discoveries come from chaos, from going to the place that looks wrong and stupid and foolish.”
This quote by my all-time favourite author Chuck Palahniuk describes my time in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam pretty well. After getting off of my plane several hours after it was supposed to land, thanks to Obama landing in the same city that very day, I was tired and slightly antsy.
It took about an hour to get to the hotel we planned to stay at due to rush hour traffic, but the room turned out to be less than optimal. My traveling friend and I decided to find a new spot to crash for our three night stay, so we settled with Beautiful Saigon 3, which I’ll get into more later.
My first impression of Ho Chi Minh City, also called Saigon, was absolute chaos. The honking of motorbikes racings in between cars, often driving down the wrong side of the road, fearlessly swerving left and right with precision and alertness, was similar to what I experience in Nha Trang but much more intense.
I found myself trusting this chaos more than I’ve ever trusted any type of chaos in American, most likely due to the fact that this city is structured by their messy order.
My time in Saigon was short, and semi-stressful due to some money going missing, a terrible bus experiences, the hotel switcharoo, some AC unit frustrations, and unreliable internet for security reasons (thanks, Obama!) but all of those issues were coincidence, having little to do with the city itself. I thoroughly enjoyed the city, as it’s a sociable place for backpackers and a melting pot for tourists, while still providing a tried and true Asian experience.
This is one of the highest ranked activities on TripAdvisor, and for a good reason. This museum holds artifacts from the Vietnam War, though unfortunately it highlights most of America’s horrific contributions to the war and will leave you feeling sick to your stomach.
The museum will take about 1-1.5 hours to go all the way through, and it will include military equipment, stories, artifacts and tons of disturbing photography.
We didn’t have time to go to the floating market, but I heard some cool things about it. The link I attached is just one example of a tour that will take you out there, but once you arrive to HCMC you can check with your hotel about signing up for tour, which may be easier. The floating market is a great place to watch locals trade commodities and buy produce for their stands. It’s a big attraction, so I wish we had time to take the trip.
We signed up for this tour, and made it to the bus, but after about 10 minutes of driving we both felt sick from our heat exhaustion (more on this below) so had to get off. From where we were, the tunnels were about 2 hours away and we didn’t want to risk it. These tunnels hold exceptional history, as they are were the hiding spots for Viet Cong soldiers during combat, and provided a safe place for people to communicate, hide, trade food, and provide medical services. You can even shoot machine guns here!
Definitely haggle the prices here if you don’t want to get ripped off, but this is a good spot for checking out the market scene (both during the day and at night) and buying clothing, food and other unique Vietnamese commodities.
I’m not much of a coffee drinker, but I was quickly becoming one while in Vietnam. The coffee tastes ten times better than any coffee I have ever had in America, but it’s definitely stronger as well. If you don’t want sugar in it, always let them know.
If you’re also not much a coffee drinker, I would suggest you still enjoy a cup or two while you’re in Vietnam. That won’t be enough caffeine to become addicted, but after tasting it, you might just find yourself wanting it a a few more times. Live a little!
This is a beautiful, huge church right across the street from the Central Post Office, established by French colonists between 1863 and 1880.
Located downtown, the post office is a hot spot for tourists as it’s a rich piece of history from the time Vietnam was part of the French Indochina in the late 19th century. It has Gothic, Renaissance and French features, as it was designed by Auguste Henri Vildieu, Alfred Foulhoux, and Gustave Eiffel (yes, of the Eiffel Tour).
In my opinion it was very pretty but not as exceptional as I was believing it was going to be. It’s free though, so might as well pop on in!
Yet again, another sight I didn’t get to experience but one that you should know about. If you want to avoid the hectic streets of HCMC, book a weekend trip to Vietnam’s largest island, Phu Quoc, to dive, lounge, rest, play and soak up plenty of sun. You can stay at a few places here, but I heard there is a homestay that may be particularly enjoyable. Don’t go here on a weekend you really need internet access, as I think it’s pretty unreliable.
Similarly to my Nha Trang Travel Guide, I don’t have much to say about places to stay. We first went to the Alien Garden hotel, but weren’t fans on the translucent bathroom in our room, so we booked another one after searching extensively on Agoda, and found one with more privacy.
The Beautiful Saigon 3 Hotel is in the heart of the backpacker part of town, also called Bui Vien street. This is the area you’re going to find the best food and bars, but it’s also where you have a higher risk of feeling claustrophobic. Go when you know you can handle vendor after vendor approaching you to buy their cigarettes, sunglasses, fans, or taxi rides.
Since our hotel was in the heart of this area, we had to venture into it every time we left our room but fortunately, we were extremely close to the main road that led you out of the hustle bustle.
Our hotel included breakfast, fully loaded with juice, coffee, fresh fruit, an omelet station, yogurt, cereal, porridge, sausage, pork, rice, and veggies. The pool wasn’t ginormous but in my opinion, it was perfect. The heat index got up to 115, so it was nice to know that we were staying at a place with a pool for cooling down at the end of a long day.
If you don’t choose to stay at Beautiful Saigon, I would recommend you do all of your searching on Agoda. Each place has a clear price range, rankings, reviews, and to top it all off, no matter where you go you don’t have to pay more than a deposit until you actually check in. Check it out HERE.
Eat and Drink
This hipster cafe was our personal favourite place for food and working on our laptops, considering its lightening fast internet. We went here three times in less than 24 hours…that’s how much we loved it. The menu had everything you could want from sandwiches to salads to breakfast options to smoothies and desserts. The salads were unlike any salads I’ve ever seen, infusing a sense of vietnamese culture with French (I think?). The bottom half of the cafe was a store, so don’t be confused when you walk in. If you’re a digital nomad, I highly recommend coming here to get work done, but even if you’re not, come here for a glass of wine or to enjoy some of the finer cuisine available in HCMC.
We didn’t get to eat here but it’s very similar to L’Usine from what I could tell, and it’s only a few shops away from it. Another modern, eclectic spot for working and drinking some good ole’ Vietnamese coffee.
I had my favourite meal in all of Vietnam at this spot. I ordered the Bun Cha (something I regret not eating a lot more of), as well as the grilled okra and the green rice covered fried bananas dipped in chocolate. Bun cha is a popular vietnamese meal, consisting of pork, broth, herbs and noodles. The portions are smaller, more like tapas, so order all that you want from the menu to experience an array of Vietnamese dishes.
Pop up here for some drinks, music, food and a great view of the city.
Don’t take this bus if you’re going anywhere, but especially Cambodia. Our 42 person limousine bus was downgraded to a 12 person van when only 12 people signed up for the ride. We were expecting comfortable seats with leg-room, wifi and a bathroom, and instead we got a tiny little van with poor ventilation and zero bathroom breaks. The bus driver also told us to pay him more than we were supposed to pay for our Cambodia visa, and when our entire bus revolted, he said he was going to leave us at the border if we took longer than five minutes. There was a big uproar, and everybody was upset, trying to reason with the driver saying 1. You can’t rip us off like that, mister, and 2. You can’t just leave a bus full of people at a border.
When he did drop us off at the border, he drove a mile up the road and parked the van telling us to meet him there (by walking on foot). One of the passengers had to walk with a cane, and couldn’t walk that distance but he didn’t care. After we got across the border, we all jumped on motorbikes and had our drivers take us to our van up the road. Fortunately, we made it.
Our 6 hour drive turned into an 8.5 hour drive (remember I said no bathroom breaks?). It was a mess, so I definitely recommend you do not risk having this experience.
Keep your stuff close to you when you’re on the streets. If you have a backpack, wear it backwards so that all your stuff is close to your chest. When you leave your hotel room, use the safe inside of the room.
It’s pretty common for rooms to have translucent restrooms. If you’re traveling with a friend and you’re not cool with that, make sure you check with your hotel to make sure the bathroom is “private”. Sometimes you will even see restrooms like this inside of stores. I was in a bookstore and had to use a semi see-through restroom.
Vietnam is hot, hot, hot. Especially if you go when I did around May-June. Both Todd and I started to experience signs of heat exhaustion in HCMC, including diarrhea, stomach cramping, dizziness, hardcore sweating, and clamminess. Drink lots of water to avoid dehydration, eat plenty of salt to balance out the sweating, and try to avoid spending extensive amounts of time outside if it’s really hot. We walked everywhere, so we probably were more vulnerable to heat exhaustion, but if you can avoid it, try.
That’s all I have to say about Ho Chi Minh for now! If you’ve been to HCMC before and you have more attractions to add to the list, please comment below and let me know! If you haven’t been before, what looks the most fun from this list?