Wednesday, 5 November 2014

Ho Chi Minh City [Saigon] in Vietnam

We arrived in Ho Chi Minh in Vietnam a couple of weeks ago, travelling from Phnom Penh in Cambodia. We travelled by bus which was surprisingly pleasant and well organised. The border crossing was super easy and the whole border area was really nice too. The absolute complete opposite of our entry into Thailand at Poi Pet, which you can read about here. The easy crossing is largely down to the fact that you are required to have a visa arranged in advance for entry to Vietnam, rather than paying at the border. This cuts out the hassle, middlemen and scams. 

We were dropped in Pham Ngu Lao, which the Lonely Planet guide book suggests is a good base for backpackers. After dodging hundreds of mopeds trying to cross the first road, a few people on the street were trying to offer us guest house rooms. We eventually let a lady on a bicycle guide us to a little guest house down a side street, which was much quieter than the busy main road and pretty cheap, at just 15 USD [around 10 GBP] for a huge double room with a balcony. We had a lovely view from the window of the rest of the street, which very much reminded us of places we had been in Europe. Ho Chi Minh City, formerly named Saigon and also formerly a French colony, still has lots of European influences, especially in the architecture. We enjoyed a really pleasant continental breakfast the following day, in a lovely street side cafe with a little veranda.

On this first full day in the city, we booked an afternoon city tour, which was a whopping 6 USD [approx 3.70 GBP] each. A guide with very poor English travelled with a group of us in a bus around the city, negotiating the terrible traffic, which seems to be super busy and chaotic at all times of the day and night. We stopped at the Reunification Palace, which is symbolic of some important national history, but is essentially a boring 1970s council office and not much fun to look around! We were also taken to the everso exciting Central Post Office [not sure how this is supposed to be a tourist attraction!] and the Notre Dame Cathedral. The latter is amazing as it looks like it has been beamed in from France and looks very much out of place in Vietnam. We also went to a workshop where disabled artists are given the opportunity to earn a modest living making souvenirs. The trip wasn't the most exciting, but it was so cheap and was a good opportunity to see city life, which would have been difficult on foot, especially with the roads being so difficult to cross! We also met a friendly lady from Singapore on the bus.

We did a bit of our own exploring the following day, including a visit to the War Remnants Museum. We'd just got there and saw all the cool military planes, tanks and other vehicles outside, when we were turfed out after less than five minutes for their hour and a half lunch break. We planned to go back later after finding food, but the wind picked up and a huge thunder storm washed out the rest of the afternoon, so we took shelter in our guest house and had a lazy day instead.

There wasn't a great deal of stuff to do in HCMC, but we'd already booked our flight from the city to Danang [45 minutes from Hoi An], departing three days later. The Pham Ngu Lao area of the HCMC that we were based in had lots of good food options for tourists and pretty good nightlife. Well worth a visit to this city for a day or two, but best spending your time more wisely in the North, if you are a little short of time on your travels.  

Visiting Hoi An came highly recommended by a few people and I'll be writing about our very lovely visit there in my next blog post. 

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