Coming straight from Phnom Penh, we felt as if we had been launched a couple of decades forwards into modernity. The coach journey between the two cities was a world apart from our border crossing between Thailand and Cambodia – it was easy, well organised and a single coach took us all the way through. Bussing about, we were overjoyed to discover, was to become a hell of a lot easier now we were in Vietnam; and that was before we saw the sleeper busses! Yay six hour journeys = nap time.
HCMC was both busy and lively but spacious and green at the same time, with wide leafy roads. This city has been at the heart of the countries economic development and the buildings are a mix of the French colonial style and newer architecture. It was one of the cities in Asia I could see myself living in. Even the elderly seemed full of vitality in Saigon.
It’s a big city yet all the tourists are clustered in one small area, near the centre. We were staying in District One, and that was big enough that we didn’t even get into any of the other districts during our few days in the city. Our small family run guesthouse was very pleasant and well located, with a park at one end of the alley and a road full of bars at the other.
In order to keep up, we reckoned we needed to try a good dose of the Vietnamese coffee. After heading to the nearest café we realised that we didn’t have a clue what any of the Vietnamese coffees were, despite the menu all being in English. Forget lattes and cappuccinos – Vietnamese coffee is something entirely different. The flavour is so rich and velvety but it is also very strong and sweet. The water drips through a filter that sits on top of your glass, then condensed milk is added so its thick and syrupy. At first, I absolutely couldn’t drink it but by the end of my time in Vietnam I was hooked. The iced coffee is particularly addictive in the heat. They have a huge coffee drinking culture in Vietnam, and I really liked how there were so many individually owned cafés. It makes a change from the huge chains like Starbucks.
Vietnamese food (in my personal opinion) like a fresher yummier version of Chinese food. Our first meal in Vietnam was at a busy street food vendor which was more like a full sized outside restaurant. The only thing I remember from that meal were the meat fried spring rolls as they were AMAZING and eclipsed all else that evening. On the healthier side, the next day I was introduced to fresh spring rolls which were, to my horror, basically salad. I was presented with a plate full of LEAVES which I had to wrap up myself. The most interesting thing we ate was a special type of Pho (noodle soup) at a restaurant which specialized in making noodles coloured with vegetable extracts.
So other than eat and wander about, what did we actually do whilst in HCMC? We had an absolutely heavenly massage at a ridiculously cheap price (best to look up reviews on trip advisor to ensure you get an enjoyable experience on the cheap). We took in some history at the War Remnants museum and Independence Palace, and were conned into buying too many coconuts in between – one coconut is one too many for me.
One afternoon I ended up playing video games in an electronics store whilst sheltering from a sudden onslaught of rain. When the rain comes down the ponchos come out. Its brilliant to see whole families piled onto tiny mopeds swathed in brightly coloured plastic ponchos.
We also went on a package day tour to the Chu Chi tunnels: if you are heading further up north I’d recommend giving these a miss as we didn’t think much of the tour (there were too many people and we were herded about like cattle) and we thought the Vinh Moc tunnels were of more interest. But on the other hand we did get to climb on a tank!
Leaving HCMC on the first of our Vietnamese sleeper buses – excited about the wifi and bunk beds! It was a good thing we are both short though as the seat/beds weren’t designed with tall westerners in mind.