When I initially planned this trip last March, I didn’t think of adding Vietnam to my go-to list. After booking my flight to Singapore, I mentioned it to Peter, my long-time college buddy, through an FB chat. He later invited me to visit him in Ho Chi Minh because 1) he has a place that I can crash, and 2) he is currently working there as an English teacher. After days of mulling, I finally booked tickets to Ho Chi Minh.
When I think of Ho Chi Minh (formerly known as Saigon), I always associated it with the popular West End musical, Miss Saigon. I remember being a kid and growing up listening to all the songs. My parents somehow found a Betamax tape of the documentary/rehearsal of this musical and I’d sing along to this line: “You are sunlight and I moon….”. Now looking back, the song is somewhat inappropriate for a little kid like me to sing these songs.
The musical became a huge hit here in the Philippines because of Lea Salonga because she was the first Filipino artist who landed a lead role in a West End musical. And back then, it was a huge deal here in the country. Finally, someone like Lea is putting my country in the map!
My parents used to tease me as a Viet because of my small, slanted eyes. Out of my siblings, I’m the only one who got the looks from my mother (her side of the family has a bit of a Chinese descent). Also, I have brown skin so that added to the teasing but I got used to it.
So how is this relevant to this next travel series? Well, trust me, it will become relevant and just read on.
I stayed in the city for 5 days straight and to be honest with you, I had a blast staying here. As usual, I’ll nitpick on some of the highlights of this trip.
peter as host/tour guide
All thanks to this lovely human being, I continued with my journey all the way to Ho Chi Minh. I was really glad that I’ll be in safe hands with Peter because not only I trust him with my life, but we’ve been college buddies and friends for a long time.
He became a gracious host. He showed me around when he was free from work and introduced me to some amazing, Vietnamese food. Not only that, he took care of the budget because I wouldn’t really know how much to bring or spend during the day we were out and he helped ease my worries. All throughout this blog post, you’ll see his name many times because he was with me during my adventures… or misadventures, ha!
Did I thanked you enough, Peter? If not yet, really, a huge THANK YOU!!!
the “motorcycle” culture
I could not stress this enough and I am not kidding here – there are TOO MANY MOTORCYCLES in the city!!! It was really a shocker at first and most of the time, motorcycle drivers tend to break the laws very often and a lot of them do counterflow. Not to mention, it’s dangerous to cross the street and run into these drivers.
Peter taught me a tip when it comes to crossing on a busy street: just cross the street with confidence. When he told me that the first time, I almost flipped out because I could never dare that with so many motorcycles passing by. I did found out later that motorcycle drivers know how to navigate and avoid you while you’re in the middle of crossing the street. So I guess, you’re safe?! Ha!
I swear guys, I never dared cross the streets of Ho Chi Minh on my own unless I have Peter beside me or when I joined a few people, specially locals. However, if you’re in the pedestrian lane and there’s the red light, you’re good then!
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not trying to shed a bad light on the city. In fact, I love the place. I think it’s just HCM’s way of life and I think the motorcycle thing is what makes them unique.
Thinking of Ho Chi Minh reminded me back to my childhood days and the musical, Miss Saigon. I wondered if I’ll learn more about the Vietnam war (and a few other revolutions) while being there. And I was right – I learned so much more just by visiting a few of the museums.
One museum that left a huge impression for me is the War Remnants Museum. Formerly known as the Museum of Chinese and American War Crimes, this museum has been visited by many tourists worldwide. It showcased exhibits, photos and artifacts of the Vietnam war and the and the first Indochina War involving the French colonialists.
To be honest with you, after visiting one exhibit hall after another, it became all too depressing for me. I could never imagine what the Vietnamese have to go through during these dark times in history.
Depressing as it may seem, I still believe that going to museums and know the culture or the history of one’s nation serves us a reminder to never repeat the past mistakes and learn from them.
Trust me when I say this: Ho Chi Minh has some of the best delicacies I’ve ever tasted!
Peter (my ever kind host), recommended me to some of the local dishes and one of my favorite is “bahn mi” sandwich, a French baguette topped with Vietnamese ingredients like cucumber, coriander, pickled carrots, daikon. There’s so many variations of this sandwich and some even add meat on it. Really, I have been craving for it ever since!
We also went to a local restaurant called Bun Bo Gahn in District 1 for lunch and I was completely satisfied especially with dishes like “bun bo hue” and “bahn dac biet”!
And who could forget the famous dish, Phở? I could never leave Vietnam without having a taste of this noodle soup. If you do dare leave without tasting this delicacy, you’ll be sorry.
cu chi tunnels in the rain
Due to our busy schedules on a Thursday (I was working in the morning while Peter was off to his morning class), we decided to visit Cu Chi Tunnels in the afternoon.
For those who are not familiar with this popular tourist destination, it’s comprised of connecting underground tunnels that were used during the Vietnam War. According to history, the Viet Congs (VC) dug these tunnels underneath the Cu Chi district northwest of Saigon to combat the Americans.
It took us two hours and two bus trips to get to the place. We arrived at 4PM and I
kid you not, it started raining! Silly us, we were unprepared for the sudden change of weather and got too worried if whether we could actually do the tour or not. Also, the last bus trip back to the main city was at 5:30PM.
To make the long story short, Peter and I, and a family of four, finally took the last tour at 4:30PM. We were both drenched in the rain while following the tour guide (who was wearing a poncho, lucky him). For me, it was quite a scare to crawl tunnel after tunnel but I survived! Also, I learned that the government used 1/4 of the tunnels for tours and educational purposes while the rest were preserved.
Peter and I both agreed that despite the rainy weather, we had a blast and it’s a tour that I will always remember.
Catching up with LA!
I was pleasantly surprised when I received a text from a good friend, Ley De (I call her LA), that she was actually in the city. So we finally met up and it was a blast catching up with her. We had dinner, met her friends over drinks, and talked and talked until it was time to hit home.
I really admire this lady and she’s one of those people that inspired me to travel. Not only is she a solo backpacker, but she’s also a digital nomad like me. I always looked forward to catching up with her and discuss topics relating to travel and technology. Also, she doesn’t take shit from anybody so in my books, she’s badass!
Party out at Bui Vien with Couchsurfers
As you can probably tell by now, I love to connect and meet new people. After getting hosted by Peter for 4 days, I booked a hostel for my last night in the city. With my friend’s recommendation, I booked a nice yet cheap hostel, at Bui Vien Street – a backpacker district. Once there, you’ll see dozens of bars, hostels, and restaurants. Be careful at night though because you’ll bump into so many rowdy, drunk people.
Since I had nothing else planned for that night, I decided to meet up with a few travelers from Couchsurfing. I met a local girl, Hien, near a park. We talked for awhile and traded travel stories. Later on, we switched to a Sky bar lounge and met a few more surfers who were also traveling within the country.
To make the long story short, we partied out in the streets of Bui Vien. We hopped from one bar to another and drank a few beers. I was even surprised when one of the girls was actually staying in the same hostel as me. Talk about coincidence!
Although I didn’t get to take everyone’s names and only connected to at least 2 of them on Facebook, it was okay. We all had a blast and I’m pretty sure most of them are now enjoying their travels and connecting with new, amazing people along the way!
Honestly, it was saddening to say goodbye to Vietnam and I knew my short 5-day trip was up. Still, it was worth it and I couldn’t ask for anything else. I do plan to come back at some point and explore the northern part of the country. For now, I’ll cherish these Ho Chi Minh memories and be grateful that I got to travel here.
Anyway before I get all sappy, do enjoy these photos I took from my iPhone (no filters, lah)!