After the 50 min flight with zero service with Cambodia Angkor Air I touched down in HCMC – former Saigon.
I only chose to fly because I heard that it is a lot easier and cheaper to get an e-Visa and enter the country through one of the airports where this is valid. Otherwise I would have taken a bus, which would have been a lot cheaper and also better for the environment. Next time I will take a different approach. It was super easy though. There was no need for me to queue at the visa counter but could directly go to immigration. And no corruption fees to pay. Downside was that I only got a dull stamp and not one of those nice looking visas in my passport. Xin chào Vietnam!
I met an English couple while waiting for my luggage who had booked a fancy hotel in the same district as my hostel. They had a pick-up included and offered to take me to their place so that I could either walk or take an Uber from there which would be a lot cheaper than from the airport. The Uber took ages to come and then just drove past me without returning. So I was forced to get a cab anyway. Due to constructions the driver threw me out still a bit away from my hostel and there was such a maze that it took me more than one hour to find the Tu Anh Hostel. It was like a flat in an apartment building. The hostel only consisted of the 6-bed-dorm and a bath room. No common room or anything. It was clean, but the mattresses were very hard and due to the constructions it was super loud. I was the only guest. Definitely not a place I would like to stay for more than one night! Once I dumped my luggage I set off to find something to eat.
I had my first real original Vietnamese Phở at the Phở 1954.
I looked for another place to stay and found the Budget Hostel close to the Walking Street
and reserved two nights. People in HCMC were super friendly and helpful. Even if they didn’t speak any English they tried to help using Google translate. One girl working at a butcher shop even offered me to stay at her place if I didn’t find the hostel. On my way back I walked through a park where in almost every pavilion people where dancing to different styles. Really nice!
The next morning I found several cockroaches in the room and some bugs on the other beds. I was quite happy to leave the Tu Anh Hostel. I only had to check out at eleven so I left my luggage and took off to explore the city.
I walked to the Notre Dame Cathedral. Unfortunately it was closed due to some event. After visiting the Central Post Office which was built by the same architect as the Eifel Tower in Paris,
I went to one of the many Highlands Coffees for breakfast. Vietnamese people drink a lot of coffee and they have coffee shops on every corner. I walked along the Independence Palace (Entry 380000 Dong, about 14€) to the Tao Dan Park.
I used the workout station there.
Those public free workout stations are quite common in Vietnam. Then it was time to pick up my luggage and move to the new hostel. The Budget Hostel was so much nicer with breakfast included, common area, comfy beds, clean and nice people staying there. After getting some things done, I went for food with another guest. We had nice, low priced food in big portions at the Lam Café. In the evening I went to the roof terrace of the Mobylette Saigon Hotel – one of the narrowest high buildings I had ever seen. I started a discussion there with some guy and we took off for a walk. We had a coconut, went for dinner to the Vegi Saigon and had some delicious IPA at Rooster Beers. The next day it was time for some history again. I went to the War Remnants Museum.
This museum is heavy stuff, especially all the photographs you can see in there and reports from victims, soldiers and journalists! After already seeing the sites in Cambodia it really churned me up. It took a couple of hours to work my way through the museum so plan enough time. On my way home I got a Bánh mì – a very delicious Vietnamese Sandwich with French baguette you get everywhere. Since I was quite tired I took a nap. At 4:30 pm Anh came to pick me up. She was a local who happened to be the girlfriend of a friend of mine from Switzerland and he had put me in contact with her. We walked around and she took me to some places she usually hangs out with her friends. We had smoothies at Factory Smoothie, colorful rice on the street,visited the food court Zone 87
and took some pictures.
It was a lovely evening with another super friendly Vietnamese. Anh had also organized a friend of her to accompany me to the Củ Chi Tunnels the next day. Van picked me up with his motorbike the next morning and we drove through the crazy city traffic for about 50 km.
With one short stop for breakfast for Van it took us about 2.5 hours. The entry fee to the tunnels was 110000 Dong (~4€) for tourists. The first part was a remake of a typical village of the people who had built the tunnels. They showed how they worked and lived and the traps they had built. The guide only spoke Vietnamese. I was very happy that Van was with me so he could translate the most important parts for me.
After that we went to the real tunnels. They shortened them and blocked a lot of the paths in order to reduce the risk of people getting lost and also to easier show things. But they are still part of the original tunnel system which was the Viet Cong’s base of operations for the Tet-Offensive in 1968. The tunnels were used by Viet Cong soldiers as hiding spots during combat, as well as serving as communication and supply routes, hospitals, food and weapon caches and living quarters for numerous North Vietnamese fighters. The tunnel systems were of great importance to the Viet Cong in their resistance to American forces, and helped to counter the growing American military effort. Once inside and experiencing the narrowness, darkness, heat and the fact that you have to bend or even crawl since they are so low, it is hard to imagine that people basically lived there and had to walk for kilometers inside those tunnels. You mustn’t be claustrophobic in there!
On our way back we stopped for some typical local food of this area. We had spring rolls and Bò Kho Cơm Cháy – beef with crispy rice. Very delicious!
Shortly before 6 pm Van dropped me at my hostel. I returned the helmet I had borrowed for free at the hostel, got some water and snacks, had a shower and changed and took an Uber to the train station in order to catch my night train to Nha Trang. The train network in Vietnam is pretty good. Trains are more expensive than busses, but also more comfortable and a lot safer. Apart from the aircon being turned on freezer it was a very nice ride. There was only one more person in the compartment.
My first impression of Vietnam was very positive! I really liked HCMC although I am no fan of big cities! The people were very friendly and helpful and the food was great.