It will grow on you.Links to photos at the bottom ✌🏼
We nearly didn’t go to Ho Chi Minh, we nearly missed it out altogether and went straight to Da Nang but we thought if we don’t go we will never know if we would have enjoyed it or not so we booked a bus ticket to take a look and judge the place for ourselves. Making sure we didn’t have to endure another sleeper bus, we booked a day bus from Phnom Penh with a company we had used before (Giant Ibis) and, just like the last time, they were great.
An easy journey to the border but a completely different story when we got to the border, man oh man it was the craziest thing I’ve seen. Lanes no longer existed and there were lorries, cars, buses, mopeds and pedestrians filling in the gaps wherever there was one that wasn’t big enough – it was utter chaos. After sitting in the bus for 20 minutes our guide said we will walk to the border and he will sort things out rather than waiting in the bus so out we got, into the maze of huge vehicles and nippy little mopeds. We trudges along the side of the road, avoiding puddles, dogs and mopeds as best we could until we reached the border check point at which point the guide took our passports, hopped on the back of some random guy’s moped and drove off – safe to say we were all a little uneasy at this point having handed over our passports and watched them drive off in to Vietnam.
We sat and waited for what seemed like an eternity until finally the guy showed up, passports in hand and visas ready to go but still we had to wait for the bus. It finally showed up and we hopped on for two seconds until we got to the Vietnam entry control point to get our visas stamped and our entry in to Vietnam approved and official, happy with this we got on the bus and readied ourselves for the other half of our journey to Ho Chi Minh.
Three hours or so later we arrived and I kid you not, this is the most hectic city I have ever visited with 3.5 million people and over 7 million mopeds! I’ll say it again, over 7 million mopeds! The insanity hits you immediately and we all got off the bus thinking when can we leave but we had booked two nights and after getting over the initial shock we started to blend into the madness and live with it, adapting quickly to our surroundings. We went out for food because we had arrived in the evening and even finding the restaurant was a struggle in the chaos that is Ho Chi Minh but after asking three or four people, unsuccessfully, and wandering around like headless chickens, we found it and had some great food before heading back for some sleep.
From bakery bliss to museum heartache
We decided to get out and find the war remnants museum that we had read about which details all about the Vietnamese war from the point of view of the Vietnamese but also from the view of numerous American military photographers, a large number of which lost their lives during the war. But first, hunger struck and we walked in search of breakfast, finding a bakery that, when you’ve been without a decent croissant or pain au chocolat for a while, seems like finding the holy grail. The coffee is also amazing!
So with breakfast down us we headed off to the war museum via uber which is super cheap, you can get a normal taxi but Ho Chi Minh is rife with fake taxis that rip you off so uber is safer but there are plenty of green taxis, if you’re happy to wait and flag one down, which are safe and metered so you don’t get ripped off. From the outside, the war museum resembles a standard government building, other than the old war planes arranged at the entrance, and it has the same cold feeling inside which perfectly reciprocates the feeling that is inside of you when you realise just how horrific this war was. We took some pictures from the outside, of the planes, of the tanks and other various tools of horrific destruction – including a mechanicalised, motorised flamethrower – and we started taking pictures of the exhibits inside but we got to a point where photography just didn’t really seem right, we just wanted to walk around and think about the horrors that so many people had to endure – agent orange to name one. One of the main shots that stuck in my mind was accompanied by a quote from a photographer – it was a picture of a family on the side of the road, parents and children, and the underneath read some tang along the lines of ‘I knew what was about to happen but had to yell stop to the soldiers so I could get my photo. I turned and started to walk away then heard the gun shots, I didn’t need to turn around to see what happened’.
We took our time looking and thinking before finally exiting to find some lunch which we found at an incredible restaurant called Hum that only served vegetarian food but it was some of the nicest food we had in South East Asia – tempura vegetables served in a plantain basket, fried rice served in a hollowed out pineapple and some incredible fruit smoothies – safe to say we left wanting to go back for more, we even tried to get one of their menus because they were so cool!
Stomachs full, we needed to walk to help the food go down so we headed for our next destination but stopped on the way at a swanky hotel with a rooftop bar that over looks the river Sông Sài Gòn at which we handed over a whopping $12 for a bottle of water – needless to say we never went back and left pretty swiftly to go to the Bitexco Financial Tower, home to an incredible viewing platform with a 360 degree view of the city from which we were lucky enough to see the sun going down over the high rise buildings – it was a little cloudy so we didn’t get the full sunset but the cloud broke up the suns rays nicely, displaying an array of colours over Ho Chi Minh.
After this it was time to get some more food again, we took an uber back to the hotel then went to a food court that we had heard about to get some street food and man, we were in for a treat. It had everything, from Vietnamese noodles to Indian curries to Mexican tacos to Philly cheese steaks. There were even fusion stalls where Vietnamese chefs would combine a local beef dish with tacos and needless to say everything that we ate was incredible – the Mexican tostadas and the half Philly cheese steak, half Italian sausage baguettes, the Vietnamese tacos and the sweet corn frittas (mouth watering intensely whilst writing this) and to make it even more incredible, you can get the food delivered to your hotel via vietnammm.com! This food court was the best yet but there are still the Singapore Hawkers to go to and their reputation is unbelievable. Fully fed and beered it was time for bed, ready for the early rise and pick up for the Mekong Delta.
Snake wine and dragon eggs
On day 3 we awoke with anticipation of seeing some of the famous Mekong delta and after a three hour bus trip we arrived and the boat, ready to take us over to the villages at which we would get to see how the people lived on the delta, enjoy some of the hospitality and get entertained by the locals singing and playing us some traditional music.
We started off by going in to a local village in which we got to handle some honey bees and try some freshly made honey straight from the hive (nicest honey ever!) before going in to the home of a local family – every time we got to go in to a local home it is always so interesting to see how basic their homes are but without doubt, no matter how simple and, frankly, poor the home looked, there was always a 32 inch flat screen tv showing either the news or football, every time. It almost makes you question the legitimacy of the show – not to be cynical but anyway, we moved on.
Outside a table was set up for us to try some bee nectar and more honey before the sales pitch trying to sell us some of it too but we were distracted by the eight foot boat that quickly went from being in a cage to being hung around our necks. We asked where they get the snakes from as there were three or four in cages and they said that they capture them from on the lake and in the bushes in the area – naturally we were walking around with a heightened awareness of every noise made in any nearby bushes that we walked passed on the way to a shed where the locals handmade and wrap candy from coconuts. Again, another sales pitch.
After, we were led through to where the boats were waiting to take us along one the many rivers that make the Mekong Delta but before we embarked we had to go and say hello to an extremely cute little puppy that was waiting for the ever present attention from tourists but fussing over, it was time to start our journey through the mangroves to dinner – no word of a lie, there is less traffic on the M25 than on the Mekong Delta! Constant crashing in to other boats, constant reminders from other boat locals that it is okay to tip them even though they haven’t been the one paddling us down the river and constant ‘hellos’ from people who don’t get to see white people all that often but we got there in the end and were greeted by a nice family who told us about how they make snake wine by adding freshly caught and killed king cobras into a jar of rice wine and then leaving it for six months before indulging in the whiskey-esque drink – they tried to get us to try it but inner fear of the unknown defeated natural curiosity on the day. We did however get to try extremely well cooked and prepared elephant ear fish which was cooked whole and served in rice pancakes to make delicious spring rolls, accompanied by a local ‘dragon egg’ which is sticky rice, fried in a certain way that makes it balloon to the shape of a giant egg and glow like that of what one can assume a dragon egg would look like.
Nicely fed and watered it was time to head back the way we came and make our way back to the bus that would take us back to the city, ready for a flight that afternoon to Da Nang – gateway to incredible town of Hoi An.