Hoi Chi Min City (formerly known as Saigon) in Vietnam had an amazing first impression on us and quickly became our favorite city in Southeast Asia for a number of reasons. No one pestered us when we got off the bus for anything, very clean and orderly, they like coffee (and good coffee!), so much cheap and delicious street food that is easy to identify, and the people are so friendly, to name a few reasons. Our mini hotel, Ava 2 Hotel, was small but excellent. They had 3 people greeting us each time we left the building plus laundered our clothes everyday for free, which was a bonus.
The city has more motorbikes than we have ever seen but we learned quickly to be brave and simply cross a huge street into direct traffic, all part of the fun! On our first day we toured the city visiting the HCMC Museum learning more of the history of the city with a quick stop at the Post Office, Notre Dame Cathedral and the People’s Committee Hall. The architecture is unique from other Asian cities since it has a large French influence. Sometimes we actually didn’t feel like we were in Asia. Then on to the Reunification Palace (also known as the Independence Palace), which as the work place for the President of Southern Vietnam during the war and was the site of the end of the war in 1975 when the Northern Vietnamese Army crashed a tank through its gates. It has been well preserved and looked as it did during that time.
Bánh mì (Vietnamese sandwich), Pho (chicken of beef noodle soup) and iced milk coffee (with sweet and condensed milk) have been on our daily menu. They are so cheap and on every street corner. Zane took an amazing cooking course, which he will blog separately about. It was so tasty that we went back to eat a 6-course dinner there after we enjoyed the AO show at the Opera House. The show is difficult to describe, as it was a perfect blend of Vietnamese dance, acrobatics, and music using large wicker baskets and bamboo poles. Very entertaining and unlike anything we have every seen before, it is well worth it. Before the show we had a drink at the iconic Rex Hotel roof top restaurant. The Rex Hotel is a five-story, five-star hotel located in District 1 that was made famous during the Vietnam War when it hosted the American military command’s daily conference, named “The Five O’Clock Follies”. Of course we had to stop into the famous Bến Thành Market, as it is one of the earliest surviving structures in Saigon and one of symbols of the city.
Our next tour was to the tunnels of Củ Chi, which are an immense network of connecting underground tunnels used by the Viet Congs as a place of hiding and communication during the war. Its impossible to wrap your mind around them living in such confined space in such a tense time. We were able to crawl through one of the tunnels that were hollowed out a bit more for foreigners to fit into! The day finished off with a visit to the War Remnant’s Museum which displays dark, depressing pictures of the after math of Agent Orange and unbelievable action photos from the war. It was a heavy day of realizations about the war filled with intense negativity towards our government’s decisions during that time.
The Mekong River starts in Tibet and flows through Thailand, Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam. The Mekong Delta is the region in southwestern Vietnam where the Mekong River approaches and empties into the sea. We visited some small villages along the Delta and saw the making of coconut candy, tried honey tea with pollen and took a traditional paddle ride through the small canals with Vietnamese straw hats on. The day was interesting but so touristy as the people in each village didn’t seem very happy to see us but definitely wanted some money from us. On the way to the Delta we stop at a religious site and saw the largest ‘Happy Buddha’ and ‘Sleeping Buddha’ we have ever seen, which was really cool.
Equipped with earplugs, head lamps and make shift pillows we braved another overnight bus to Nah Trang, our first stop on the Vietnamese coast. A crazy bumpy ride with crying babies and not enough room for Zane’s legs we survived with very little sleep. Online you will read that overnight buses in Vietnam are only for the adventurous souls, which we are! They are convenient, fit into the budget but they are definitely not the most comfortable!