I have a story to tell: one of pristine beaches, sunny skies, warm people, and ridiculously cheap beer. This story takes place in Vietnam.
When I told my grandfather that I was going to Vietnam the look of disbelief was pretty humorous. My grandfather, along with many other people I told of my upcoming travel, did not think that Vietnam was the perfect getaway for my next trip. Truth be told I did not really know what to expect either. I just knew I wanted to experience a new culture and go on an adventure. I can say with all certainty that I enjoyed my two weeks in Vietnam immensely and plan to go back again in the future.
My trip started in Ho Chi Min City, formerly known as Saigon until the North renamed it after their beloved first President following the end of the Vietnam War. Accordingly, many inhabitants of Southern Vietnam still refer to the city as Saigon. Traveling from Phoenix, Arizona, the trip was long. We flew to San Fransisco, then to Hong Kong and finally to Ho Chi Minh City. In total it takes about 17 hours of flying.
Upon arrival I was taken aback by the humidity. There’s about 80-85% humidity this time of year and as a resident of a place known by its “dry heat,” I experienced a shock to the system. I arrived late at night and was a little nervous about jumping in a cab. While Vietnam itself is safe to dangerous crime, petty theft and other small crimes are common. One scheme I read about online was taxis that will drive you to a different location and then charge you an exorbitant amount to bring you to your actual, desired location. I was fortunate and had zero issues while visiting the country. Someone in my group did experience an issue with a taxi driver but luckily out of a group of 30 that was really the only problem anyone encountered throughout our two week trip.
This next part is worth mentioning because after reading a lot of travel blogs prior to my trip I became nervous about the “dangers” of Vietnam and being ripped off. This was not my experience and with the conversion rate being “ripped off” equates to spending an extra 20 cents. As on any trip keep your wits about you, but I felt no less safe in Vietnam than I did in any other major European country I’ve visited.
Anyone looking to travel inexpensively should consider Vietnam. When I went the conversion rate was $22,300 Dong to USD. Yes, you may giggle, their currency is the Dong. Moving on…
We stayed at the Vien Dong Hotel in the heart of Ho Chi Minh City. I’d recommend it to any visitor. It was a nice hotel with all the necessary amenities in a great location. The hotel was only $50 per night, the affordability of Vietnam is incredible!
The first morning (I arrived in the middle of the night and didn’t see much traveling from the airport to the hotel) when I walked out of the hotel I said to my travel partner, “I just need to stop and take this all in for a moment”. It was overwhelming! It was hot and humid, yes, but there were so many people out and motorbikes whizzing by. The sounds were different. What I think is truly wonderful about Vietnam is the juxtaposition of new and old world, traditional and modern. I hope that many of my pictures in these next few posts will illustrate this point.
Ho Chi Minh City, like all of Vietnam, has been occupied by various countries over the last several centuries. Most recently France ruled Vietnam from 1859 until 1954. Because of all of the different occupying countries Vietnam has an unusual architectural mix. Ho Chi Minh feels like an Asian/ Parisian fusion. Many aspects of French cities can be found here, wide side walks, large courtyard parks, and a replica of the Notre Dame.
My favorite activity we did there was wandering the streets. There are so many street vendors selling hot food, raw meat, fruit, souvenirs, chickens, coffee, and so much more.
We also went to the War Remnants Museum, which was enlightening but also disturbing. I realized I didn’t know nearly enough about the Vietnam War, or what they call the American War. While the museum is run by the Communist Party and obviously is propaganda, there were a lot of meaningful things to see and learn. Many people in our group enjoyed seeing the weapons and tanks that were on display outside in addition to the other indoor exhibits.
We also took a short drive out of the city to the Cu Chi Tunnels Museum. There we were able to learn about the intricate network of underground tunnels the North built during the Vietnam War. We were even able to walk for a few yards in one of the tunnels.
I honestly can’t even imagine being a soldier for either side during this war. You’re in a jungle, it’s hot and humid, and there are traps everywhere just waiting for you to make a mistake. The North Vietnamese would live in the pitch black in these tiny tunnels for up to a month. I felt claustrophobic after just the few minutes I was in one, I can’t imagine spending even an hour in there. The museum also offers the only legal way to shoot a variety of different guns while in the country. I took advantage of the opportunity and shot a few rounds of an AK-47.
The street food and the nightlife in Ho Chi Minh are also noteworthy with a lot of options close by. I’d also recommend getting a massage or facial. The streets are littered with spas and their rates are ridiculously cheap. I had two facials and a neck and back massage during my travels and all of them were fantastic and a quarter of the price you’d pay in the States. I’d also like to talk about the iced coffee, oh the iced coffee! It’s delicious. Their coffee is strong and nutty. They use condensed milk instead of fresh milk and the result is a savory, caffeine boost. A must try.
Ho Chi Minh was wonderful but that’s just the start of my trip. Up next, the Mekong River Delta.