Vietnam Travel Diary- 6 week travel story.
Tickets booked, bags packed (badly) and Michaela’s pink fluffy eye mask is on her head, we made it to the start of our 6 weeks trip to Vietnam, were we planned buy bikes and travel form south to north in true Top Gear style. These weekly blog post’s will shred light on Vietnam and hopefully provide a tiny bit of Vietnam Travel Tips for anyone of you who are thinking of travelling to popular paradise.
A Culture shock that makes even the most experienced travellers lose their mind.
Ok, maybe that was a bit of bold statement, but arriving in Ho Chi Minh City is one hell of a shock if it’s your first time visiting Asia. After a 14 hour flight from Heathrow to Guangzhou, a 2 hour layover provided a short break before the madness began. We landed safely in Ho Chi Minh, where we accidentally walked into a massive, stuffy oven.
If you’re going from the airport straight into the city centre, watch out for the locals who say they work for Uber. The people following you around, tugging your shirt whilst holding an uber app in their hand, surprisingly, DON’T work for uber. Our first mistake came when we were fooled into getting an ‘Uber’ from a guy who seemed very helpful & friendly. Now, if you’re smarter than us and you’ve already pre-booked your Uber driver, then great! However if after a 16hour long-haul flight, your head is all over the place, then don’t panic. Ignore all the locals hovering around the arrival gate, and follow the yellow brick road…Well, not really a road, but more of a bus!
Vietnam have recently started a shuttle bus service running from Ho Chi Minh Airport to the City Centre, from between 5:30am-1am. As soon as you touch down and are out through the gates, look out for the big yellow bus numbered 109. These new air conditioned bus will take you through the City Centre, eventually stopping at the bus station located right next to backpackers area, and will cost you VND 20,000, roughly USD 1$, for a single trip. If you aren’t too sure of where your stop is, then a good piece of advice is to punch in your hostel/hotel address into google maps and hop off when you get close.
There’ll be one thing that you will notice as soon as you step out of bus, and there’s no guessing as to what it is. Since about 6 years ago, Saigon ( the old capital of Vietnam ) was a nice relaxed city, with hardly any traffic throughout its streets, meaning you don’t have to take an hour dodging through the giant wall of motorbikes! These are one of those “You have to see it to believe it” scenarios, because trust me, you’ll see it. It’s surprising that during the whole 6 weeks of travelling, we didn’t see a single crash or incident, if you don’t count our one ( thats another story )
Hours of walking around in a hot, confused state, we finally found our way to The Like Hostel & Cafe, a great little hostel located in district 1 that I can’t recommend enough. If you’re backpacking on a budget, then Vietnam in general is a great place to visit. The Like Hostel & Cafe costs around VND 160,000 per night and its worth it. The beds are cleaned daily, with air conditioning providing the perfect fix for that unbelievable humidity & heat. The one thing that grabs everyones attention is a place with a great view, preferably a balcony bar or a roof top terrace. This hostel has a perfect spot to unwind with an ice cold beer, which is as cheap at a freddo over there! Anyway, enough trying to be a sale person, just keep checking Hostelworld out read ALL the reviews.
After a power nap, shower and a fresh change of clothes, we were finally ready for round two of the madness in Ho Chi Minh City. Speaking to other travellers, we found out some must visit areas no more than a 10 minute stroll from the hostel. As food is life, we headed straight to the Ben Tanh Street Food Market, which seemed like the perfect ‘Cultural’ place to find all the local food and drinks. At first this was great, It was packed out with people sampling foods of all variety, chatting and generally having a great time. Now, If you are on a two week break with the family or just a flying visit, then dig in! However if you are like us and you’re travelling for a few months and have to keep an eye on that moth flying out of your wallet, then its best to eat where the locals eat, on the streets and in the cafe’s.
A meal in the Ben Tanh Street Food Market, which you’ll find in district one right next to the Ben Tahn markets, will set you back around USD $6 (roughly VND 130,000) which for doesn’t seem like a lot to some, but it will soon add up if you have drinks and extras on top. After eating there for a few nights in a row, we quickly learnt that it was taking a big chunk out of our budget and was mostly just filled with tourists, so we looked around towards the side streets and food stalls instead. We found that if a place is packed out with locals, then thats the place to go! for VND 25,000, you could get the same meal they were selling in the food market, with the added bonus of meeting and eating with the locals, who were very friendly is sharing there stories.
I know it’s hard, but I’m going to stop talking about food for a minute and start talking about the many markets and stores that are dotted around the city. You can literally find anything in these markets, from rip off bags and shoes to to high end gold and silver. The main place, the Ben Tanh Market, is a stones from away form the food market, filled with 100’s of people selling all sorts. If you walk around building you’ll find a lot of shops that offer some nice little gifts that are surprisingly cheaper than inside, although it depends on how good you are at haggling. The walk around the outskirts of the market are full of clothes, souvenirs and all the gifts your family DEFINITELY need…ish.
Unfortunately, these are all Government shops, where the prices are fixed, so theres no way you can get that traditional Vietnamese hat for less, even if you’re amazing at haggling! Nope, theres no way around it, you’ll have to suck it up, be an adult and push your way through the extremely claustrophobic and organised chaos in the heart of the market. Here you’ll have every person tugging your arm, asking “What you would like to buy?” and ” You need this shirt sir”, No. One walk down would be enough to driver anyone mad, but it does have it’s perks. Here you can find some great little bargains and some surprisingly good rip offs and lets face it, who doesn’t love a cheap pair of knock off Nikes??
After the first initial shock, you find yourself forgetting all the bad things and start to enjoy the hustle and bustle of the market and just how the Vietnamese locals work. You’ll soon found out that all the items for sale are the same in each stall, with the prices always being cheaper than their neighbour. If you’re starting city is Ho Chi Minh, then I would say save your money and wait until you reach Hội An, which I will cover off in another chapter.
At 5:30pm, the market will close and re-open around an hour later in the street over, becoming the Night market. Here, it is pretty much exactly the same, although the prices seem to increase during the night, where many people make most of their money. Our main focus what not to buy any silly things that were deemed a waste of money and as you can see by the image below, we stuck to that promise perfectly….sort of.
In the next chapter I’ll be ticking off the coach and bus travels in Vietnam and if they’re really as dangerous as people are saying. For the meantime, enjoy the gallery of images from our short but sweet time in ho Chi Minh City.