We landed in Ho Chi Minh City at about 1 in the morning and immediately hopped into a cab and fell asleep as soon as we hit our hotel bed. The next morning we woke up with the plan to take on the entire city – in fact, it was the only day we had designated to exploring Ho Chi Minh City. And turns out, we were able to do it in about 3 hours.
When we first arrived at our hotel, I was a little hesitant. It was at the end of an alley and we had to go up four flights of a spiral staircase to get to our room they said was on the “second” floor (spoilers: when we returned to this hotel after our Mekong Delta tour, we got moved to the “fourth” floor and I almost died getting up there with my suitcase). But turns out, it was one of our favourite stays! The rooms were a bit tiny and the lack of elevator sucked but the staff were so nice and the breakfast was great!
Emilie and I were expecting your standard free breakfast: some boxes of cereal and a loaf of bread left out on the counter. But Vietnam knows how to do free breakfast! At Hello House we enjoyed delicious Vietnamese coffee, fresh bread and jam, omelettes and a different type of fruit each morning.
After breakfast we decided to hit the town. As soon as we walked outside two things became immediately apparent: traffic is insane in HCMC and the only thing worse than the traffic is the heat. Probably the biggest themes of our entire trip were trying not to melt and trying not to get killed by motorbikes. So far, we’re succeeding!
Our first stop was the Binh Tay Market. Whenever I’m travelling, I love to go to local markets. It’s such a fun way to shop and, in Europe at least, there’s always cool finds or weirdly themed markets. The Binh Tay one wasn’t quite as pleasant. It was actually a bit of a scary experience. We began walking down one of the aisles and at each of the little shops, someone would stand up and say, “Miss, you want this one? How about this?” while holding up a random piece of clothing or knick knack. We didn’t feel comfortable browsing and just sorta put our heads down and walked through until we got to the end. Emilie did end up buying a purse, so it wasn’t all for naught.
After the market, we needed a bit of a break. We hid out in Highlands Coffee to enjoy some air conditioning and delicious iced coffee treats. After fueling up, we walked over to the Independence Palace. Unfortunately, it wasn’t open yet so we crossed a few dangerous streets to check out the Notre Dame Cathedral. It seems like every city has their own version of this. The building was quite pretty, as was the post office next door.
You know what wasn’t pretty? The Independence Palace. Luckily we only paid a little over $1 to get in but it was kind of a let down. It reminded me of the buildings Mr. Brady used to design on The Brady Bunch. Apparently the original palace had suffered quite a bit in the war so was rebuilt in the 60’s. There wasn’t much to look at inside as many of the rooms were closed. And the ones that weren’t, were just meeting rooms. But I guess we can say we saw it?
After our palace visit, we walked back to the hotel. It was a long walk but gave us a chance to see more of the city and practice our street crossing. The trick is, since traffic lights are often MIA or, if they are there, completely ignored, to walk steadily and confidently. If you pick a pace and stick to it, the motorbikes will swerve around you. It also helps to look straight ahead once you start crossing so you can’t see the bikes and cars coming at you top speed.
We got some lunch and headed back to our hotel room to rest up and soak in some more air con (another theme of our trip: trying to find air con whenever possible). We also met up with my good friend Jonathan, which was really cool! Jonathan was my supervisor when I was an RA way back in 2013. He moved back to Ontario to continue working in Residence Life and then left on his world travels this July. He did Europe, is now working his way through Asia and will be celebrating Christmas with his family in Australia before moving there for a year on a working visa. Pretty cool, right? It sounds amazing and I remember when that used to be my dream. I’m not sure it is anymore, but more on that later!
Anyway, we met up with Jonathan and another travelling friend of his for dinner. Jonathan is a vegetarian and Emilie is vegan so Jonathan found us a delicious and really cool vegan restaurant. It was sort of a DIY noodle bar where you got to pick the veg, protein and noodles. I went a little crazy with the expensive type of noodles (and by expensive, I mean my whole meal was less than $5) but it was delicious! And we finished off the meal with vegan soft serve ice cream, which Emilie was stoked about.
And that was our first day in Ho Chi Minh City! HCMC was the city we had to fly into/out of to get our amazing flight deal, but was never a place we had wanted to spend a lot of time. So I’m pretty happy with the amount of city we got to see in one day and the other destinations we chose to see instead.
Next up: The Hotels of Vietnam!