I flew with Vietnam Airlines from Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh (old city name is Saigon) on Saturday 7th of February. The flight wasn’t cheap but I compared the price with the train ticket price from North to South and the travel time. By train it would had taken forever to reach South and on this trip I am not interested to spent too much time in a train / bus in Vietnam. The ticket costed 97,98 USD. Vietjet and AirAsia has tickets that are half the price but I did some research and found that these two airlines are not really recommended. So this time I choose to pay extra for the flight ticket.
I had to take a taxi from the airport because in the end that was my only option. The signs are very bad at the airport so I couldn’t find the “underground transportation” that my hostel recommended (and no one knew about it of course) and the last bus had left by the time (6pm) I realized where I should be waiting for it. I paid 200 000 dongs (around 8 euros) to my hostel that is in the District 1. I think I paid 20 000 dongs too much… but not much.
My hostel in HCM was Eco Backpackers Hostel that is located in the “backpacker area”. The interesting layout of the room made me book a bed from this hostel. I kind of had my own “booth” so I thought that would give me a feeling of a private room. Unfortunately on the first night there where some Asian girls who didn’t speak much during the daytime but in the night they came and were very noisy. I thought they were a group of 20 people but no.. they were like four. But luckily they shut up quickely. Also a bit unfortunate was that the cleaning lady came to clean the washroom between 6 and 8 AM every morning (why??!). She was incredibly loud.
I spent one day strolling around Ho Chi Minh city, and I was quite surprised how it looked like. Very different from Hanoi. In my opinion the traffic is not as bad as in Hanoi maybe because of the bigger and wider streets. And the people look maybe a bit wealthier than in Hanoi.. There are more high buildings, restaurants and shops. All the city districts are called District + number (e.g. District 1) which to me reminded the Hunger Games! I was waiting for Jennifer Lawrence but I didn’t see her, bummer.
I heard from other travelers that Ho Chi Minh is awful and boring and no one really specially liked it when they visited Saigon. Some said that they even hated it. I can say that one day was enough for me but not because it was awful but I think it was a bit boring. Just a big city. But I really enjoyed the Fine Arts Museum. I didn’t want to spend another day in the city so I decided to do a one day trip to Cu Chi tunnels and Cao Dai temple. The time spent in the bus was quite long (about six hours!) but the places were interesting though. I don’t know if they were worth of all that travelling.. The Cu Chi tunnels are a 250km network of underground tunnels that were built by the Vietnamese guerrilla fighters during the war. We were able to try to walk in the tunnels and we heard some basic information about the history. I was overwhelmed about the complexity of the tunnels and just wondering how an earth were the people able to built them. If I wanted to stand in the tunnel I was only able to be in squat. And for building the tunnels the guerrilla soldiers used just a hammer and a bamboo basket.
I also liked the Cao Dai temple even though it was 170 km away from Ho Chi Minh and we only spent one hour there. It was a bit overwhelming because the temple was on a separate vast area that looked like a “religious village”. The temple itself was very cute because it had lots of bright colours, e.g. the roof was sky blue and there were silver stars and white clouds, and to me it looked like a “candy temple”. Very different from any of the other temples I’ve seen before. According to our guide there are around 2 million people who practice Cao Daism. The religion itself sounds also interesting because they accept all the religions and the people have sort of combinations of different religions.
After couple of days in Ho Chi Minh, I left to Can Tho which is in the Mekong Delta area (170km from HCM). Can Tho is a “small town” and has population of around 2 500 000. I thought it would be a small quiet town where traffic is very light. But no.. It is quite lively but it is small in a way that they don’t have many big stores. I came to Can Tho basically because of the floating markets and I did a boat tour that started 5:30 am. The tour lasted for 7 hours and we visited couple of floating markets and then just cruised around the Mekong Delta rivers which was very nice and relaxing. I was a bit disappointed about the markets because I thought they would have all kinds of things because I was ready to buy something like a bracelet or food but they basically sold only vegetables, fruits and drinks. We bought a pine apple that we ate on the boat but there was nothing else I wanted to buy. Overall the boat tour was very nice even though I had to wake up 4:40 am that morning.
I also participated on a food tour that our hotel organizes every evening. I thought it would be a great way to taste some Vietnamese delicacies. But I really didn’t give a thought about what they could be.. In the end the food tour included barbecued pork and fresh rolls (for me Vietnamese “pan cake omelette”), Vietnamese deep fried pie (for me without meat), cooked eggplant, mouse, frog legs, tofu and sticky rice. I was so interested about the mouse meat that I actually took a bite and I have to say it wasn’t bad. But the frog legs I had to skip because just the idea of eating it grossed me because they served the whole leg. Others said it tasted a bit like fish. I really loved the pan cake thingy, the deep fried pie and the eggplant!
Today I am back to Ho Chi Minh for one night and tomorrow I am heading to Cambodia! I don’t have yet a specific travel plan for Cambodia but I will start from Phnom Penh.
Short comments about the hostels:
- there are two very nice receptionists (girls) who have helped me a lot and seem truly interested to help but one receptionist (a guy) wasn’t very interested to do anything (not even handing me my key)
- the beds are quite comfortable and the bed is like a booth (gives a feeling of a private room), nice washroom
- the cleaning lady cleans really early in the mornings and she is loud
- breakfast not included
- good location (District 1, backpacker area)
- one night in women’s dorm costs 130 000 dongs (5,4 euros)
- very nice staff
- nice rooms and nice prices
- location is not in the downtown but quite near (15 min walk)
- quite expensive tours but the “food tour” made by the hotel worker was good (pay what you want)
- roof top with hammocks
- breakfast not included
- private room for one night 10 USD
My thoughts about Vietnam in a nutshell:
I really enjoyed Vietnam but the pollution, traffic and fear of being robbed weren’t nice. It was the first time that I have visited a developing country so this was a very special experience for me. I felt surprisingly relaxed all the time and sometimes crossing the street in the crazy traffic was exciting. The food is absolutely great and tasty and the beer is cheap. Travelling has been made easy for tourists and Vietnam really understands how important tourists are for them. The people are sometimes really nice but I was afraid that I will be scammed if someone is being nice to me. But on the way and in Can Tho I felt that people were more genuine when they were nice to you. Twice I was in a situation where the people didn’t sell food to me. One lady got apparently annoyed when I asked too many questions (like 4-5) about the prices of the food and what was on the menu, and one lady was eating breakfast and refused to serve me even though I was told on the previous day that the restaurant opens 6 am and I was trying to get something to eat at 7 am.
I had very good experiences with all the tours and with the Futa buslines. Of course one needs to be aware in the tours and specially in the buses. My tip is to always make sure where you are going especially when you are not doing a tour and if you doubt something then double check (trust your instinct). Also get some information in beforehand. E.g. I knew that if I take a Fusa bus then in the destination a ride to hostel/hotel is included in the ticket but they didn’t tell me that. Also when I returned to Ho Chi Minh from Can Tho I got a free ride to my hostel with another bus that was heading to another city. I was suppose to get a ride to another place but because I asked they put me in this bus which was much more convenient (and cheaper) for me.
I am sad I didn’t have time to go to Hoi An because I heard many good things about it. Everyone who has been there has loved the place. Well, I guess I need to return to Vietnam.