2014 had ended gloriously for me and as a new year began, I started to map out my travel for 2015. Since I have a major plan for Europe this year, I decided to cover all the countries I have always wanted to go in this part of the world before heading for Europe. Vietnam was the top of my list and so I decided to hop on the next plane available and began my journey from Ho Chi Minh City (or what the locals referred to as Saigon) and made my way up from there.
Another reason why I started my journey from the South is that, Nina, a friend of mine whom I met back in Rotorua, New Zealand a few months back was making her way out during the same time, and so I took the opportunity to catch up with her and tagged along on one last journey before she went back home. This is what we experience in Ho Chi Minh City.
Looking for a complete travel guide and itinerary for Vietnam? 2 Weeks Itinerary for Vietnam.
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Where to Stay in Ho Chi Minh City
Ngoc Thao guesthouse, a small guesthouse with dorm rooms located in the small street right at the heart of the backpacker street, the Pham Ngu Lao. I stayed here for 3 nigths and it felt like I was at home. The people at the guesthouse made us breakfast, give a recommendation on what to see, and help organize your trip in Vietnam. I could never have asked for better customer service.
Day 1: Walk Around Pham Ngu Lao street
As some of you may know, I am a big coffee fan and the first thing I did when I arrive in Vietnam was to grab a cup of some of their famous Vietnamese coffee with a french filter. It was soooo good! Sweet yet strong.
Since Nina would not arrive until later, I decided to go for a walk and get the feel the city.
This is the Saigon Notre-Dame Basilica, constructed between 1860s to 1880s by the french colonists. It was impressive and very well maintained but it too touristy for my taste.
I met up with Nina at the Ngoc Thao guesthouse and we decided to go out for a drink that night near Pham Ngu Lao street with 2 of her friends (Phoebe and Madelon). Me and Nina had not talk for at least 3 months so we had a lot to catch up that night.
Day 2: Learn the History at the Vietnam War Museum and Relax in the Parks
Early in the morning me, Nina, Phoebe and Madelon decided to take a taxi early in the morning to the War Museum. It was a good call since the whole experience was so overwhelming, I can't see myself doing it in other times than in the morning where I am most energetic.
Right outside the museum stood the relics of war. American tanks choppers, planes that was captured after the war ended scattered throughout the ground. We were reminded of the movie Fury when we saw one of the tanks. Life must have been hell living in one of these tanks for weeks.
The first room on the second floor was dedicated to telling a story from the Vietnamese side. They claimed that after they gained independence from France, the United States installed a puppet government that acted as an agent. The fight for true independence by the Vietnamese against the puppet government resulted in a war we called the Vietnam war. Of course, they left out vital information, the Soviet Union and all the support they got from them.
But in all other rooms, the stories shifted back to the history we know well. There was this one room that showed all the photographs of atrocities commited during the war time from both sides. It was hard to handle the imagery but it was the truth and this is what would happen if we go to war again.
The war spared no one, not even kids. The fact that they had to shoot kids down because those kids would shoot them without hesitation if they didn't, saddened me.
There were also the use of Agent Orange that I believe was the worst atrocity of all. The agent orange is a powerful mixture of chemical defoliants that were used to elimiate forests during the war. Being exposed to these chemicals would create a chain of side effects from organ dysfunction to psychological symptoms and would be carried to their next of kin and the next.
It was so exhausted to learn about all this in a day. After 2 hours in the museum we decided to walk around the area and stumbled upon this replica of jails used during the war. I almost scream when I saw this. It looked so real!
It was overwhelming to the point that I needed a second coffee before noon.
Nina had to meet up with another friend and so me, Phoebe and Madelon decided to grab some street foods and had a little picnic in the park.. until the "park police" scolded us for not sitting in a designated bench.
As the sun shined directly above our heads we believe it would be best to hide in the shade for a while. Phoebe and Madelon decided to do more research on the Vietnam war and I decided to take a little nap.. of course until I got scold again by the "Park Police" for lying down on a sitting bench!
After a few hours of rest, we met up with Nina again and went off to the Ben Thanh market. This is where I had my worst Vietname experience.
One time, I was standing in front of this one store where I was waiting for my friend Nina to try her sneakers she wanted to buy in a nearby store. This one lady, the owner of the store I was standing in front, started to mumble in Vietnamese with a very cranky tone. Out of jealously for us not buying shoes from her store, she came out and started waving her hands angrily at me signaling me to move away from her store.
The other, I was talking to my friends about what we would do next in the middle of the main communal walk way and the woman from the big stores did the same to us. I am from Thailand and I have seen my fair share of rude vendors but this has got to be one of the worst!
After a not very fun experience, I decided to let it go and not judge a country by the encounter. And I was right to do so, as I found out later that the majority of the locals would go out of their ways to help you out.
We walked from the market straight to the Bitexco Financial Tower, the tallest building in Saigon, to get to the roof top bar before sunset.
We were right on time for the golden hour..
And also the Happy Hour. :)
The city sprung up to life with all colors of lights an eye could see as the sun set.
Right after the financial tower, we took a taxi back to Pham Ngu Lao street and grabbed ourselves some vegetarian cusine.
Since Madelon and Phoebe were leaving the next day we hugged it out and said goodbye to each other. With me and Nina left, we decided to book a tour to the Cu Chi tunnel for the next day via our guesthouse. It costed us only 5USD for a half day tour.
Day 3: Visit The Cu Chi Tunnel
We woke up quite early, bought ourselves some breakfast and lunch and headed off to the Cu Chi tunnel. It was a long 2 hours tedious ride from the city to the tunnel.
The guide was a little bit of a talker for my taste (and Nina agrees) but all in all, it was quite an interesting experience. This was me trying to fit myself into one of the hole the Vietcong dug to ambush the soldiers.
I could barely fit myself in there. Imagine being in here for hours a day waiting for someone to approach.
After the guide explained all the weapons and techniques they used to kill each other, it was time for us to go into the real tunnel where the Vietcong soldiers lived for months.
We met Jenny from Germany and Matt from England and I let them lead the way where Nina waited outside. This is not for those who are claustrophobic. The tunnel is very small, uncomfortable and long. The heat and the humidity did not make it better either.
There were at least 4 exits along the tunnel to allow people to go out if they are feeling uncomfortable. I did feel uncomfortable at times. At one point, me and my backpack got stuck in the tunnel and I went into a little panic attack, but I was able to gather my consious and moved back, took my bag out and threw it forward like nothing happens.
At the end, everyone got out safely except one guy who fainted and collapsed right after he exited the tunnel. He had claustrophobia and he did not even know it.
At the end of the tour, we had the option to shoot with a Vietnam War era gun. I had never shot a gun before so I decided to share bullets with Matt and gave it a go.
As I shot each bullet, the adrenaline rushed through my body giving a feeling of exhilaration and a little satisfaction as the bullet shell ricocheted off from the gun. It was that moment that I realized why people love violence. The feeling of cheap excitement is the culprit.
Since it was Nina's last day in Vietnam, we decided to go for a luxurious Vietnamese cuisine in the city center. I still couldn't believe that me and Nina met first in New Zealand almost 5 months ago and again in Bangkok 5 weeks ago and again in Vietnam. It was a happy accident.
And it was time to say goodbye to my good friend Nina. To tell you the truth, I was a little reluctant to continue on solo after hanging out with people I know, but it was the life I chose, to travel solo, and so I continued on with optimism.
In retrospect, it was understandable for me to feel a little sad since I had not travel for 5 months after New Zealand and the purpose of solo travel escaped me for a bit. It did not take me long to recover though and I continued on to my next destination, Hoi An. Stay tuned as I visited one of the most photogenic town in Vietnam.
Continue Reading the Next Part: The Colorful Lanterns of Hoi An's Ancient City .
Further Reading about Vietnam
Are you looking for more information about traveling in Vietnam? Here are a few more articles that can help you with your trip in Vietnam:
- Looking for a complete travel guide and itinerary for Vietnam? 2 Weeks Itinerary for Vietnam.
- Are you planning to travel to Vietnam as part of a big Southeast Asia trip? Check out our 3 months backpacking itinerary for Southeast Asia.
- Looking for things to do in Hoi An? Be sure to check out an article I wrote about my experience in Hoi An here: The Colorful Lanterns Of Hoi An's Ancient City
- If you are looking for an off-the-beaten path destination in Vietnam, do not miss a chance to explore the caves of Phong Nha National Park.
- Ninh Binh is a great alternative to Halong Bay if you are not so keen on sleeping on a boat for a few days and having to deal with cheap tour agencies and drunk tourists. You can read more about my experience of Ninh Binh here.
- I have written about my experience traveling to Sapa by train, hiking and exploring the mountains and hills of Sapa on a motorbike.
- Not convinced by my words about Vietnam? Here are 33 photos that will inspire you to visit Vietnam now.
- You can see all my Vietnam related articles on my Vietnam Travel Guide page.
The Solo Traveler’s Journal is a series of posts by BucketListly where we will follow our founder, Pete Rojwongsuriya around the world as he singlehandedly travel alone and experience different cultures, people, and historical locations one country at a time.
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