Ho Chi Minh (Saigon) & Can Tho

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:

Eco Backpackers Hostel

  • 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)

Hotel Xoai

  • 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.

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Hanoi, Halong Bay and Sapa

So this my 6th day in Vietnam. So far everything has gone ok. As I mentioned earlier the traffic is crazy in Hanoi but today I felt quite ok walking in the downtown (“old quarter”). I didn’t feel like hitting and kicking everyone who is using the honk right behind me.

The narrower and the more crowded the street, the louder the honk. That’s at least how it seems to be here.. The motorbikers mainly use the horn for warning others (“I am coming”), to ask you to move away or apparently just for “fun”. It drives me nuts..

First my plan was to go to Halong Bay (an UNESCO World Heritage Site) for two days but the weather hasn’t been very good. It has been gloomy and foggy which is why I decided to go to Halong Bay only for one day. It was still nice and luckily I was able to see the beautiful isles and we also visited a cave and went kayaking. Halong Bay is around 170km away from Hanoi.

I also took a 2-day tour to Sapa which is around 380 km (6,5 hours by bus) away from Hanoi, in the north of Vietnam. I took a night bus on Monday evening and then returned by bus on Wednesday evening. I am so happy I made this trip! Even though it was also foggy in Sapa I was able to see the beautiful mountains and the rice fields. We hiked on Tuesday to a homestay and then we hiked on Wednesday to a small village where a mini bus took us back to the Sapa town (and then I returned to Hanoi). On Wednesday we hiked around 10 km which took us around 5 hours and on Wednesday we hiked only couple of hours. I have never done hiking before and I really fell in love with it!! It is so cool! We went up and down the hills and sometimes we had a small path and sometimes nothing that could be identified as a path. It was muddy and dirty – just the way I like it :-D but I didn’t fall. Our guide was amazing and the host family cooked us a delicious dinner and breakfast (pancakes, condensed milk, bananas and pine apples. Yum yum!).

We also saw many water buffalos, pigs and piglets, dogs and their puppies, chicken and goats on the way. Also it is very common that there are few local women and sometimes even children who are walking behind you and they want to help you. In the end of course they try to sell you some souvenirs. It is hard to be annoyed because they do it because they don’t get enough rice from the fields so they need another source to get food and money. But seeing the kids is very annoying because they should be in school and not selling the souvenirs. Anyhow, the trip was awesome!

First I planned to stay 3 days in Hanoi but because I was only one day in Halong Bay I am now 4 days in Hanoi. Three would be enough but I have bought a flight ticket for Saturday so I have to be still in Hanoi for today and tomorrow. Today I am pretty tired so I don’t have any special plans. I went out for a lunch and found also a cool cafe “Cộng cà phê” where I had an amazing rum milk tea. I also had a back massage (45min) and maybe later I will go to see the night market. If you are interested in the prices a meal costs usually 30 000 – 50 000 Vietnamese dongs (1,5-2 euros), my massage was 250 000 including tips (10 euros) and the rum milk tea was 45 000 (less than 2 euros).

Also what I really love here is the Vietnamese egg coffee (Giang cafe) that apparently is found only in Hanoi. It sounds strange but it is heavenly good! It is like an espresso with a sweet custard-like foam. If you are in Hanoi, you HAVE to try this! It costs only 20 000 (less than an euro).

Few comments about my hostels in Hanoi:

Little Hanoi Hostel 1

  • It is located near the old quarter, you don’t really hear the traffic noise
  • quiet hostel
  • good beds
  • nice staff
  • large breakfast
  • 6 USD (a bit over 5 euros) per night in women’s dorm

Vietnam Backpackers Hostel (downtown)

  • it is located in the heart of old quarter, you can hear the traffic noise very well
  • everything is close
  • breakfast is ok (choose from 3 options)
  • very lively, lots of people, nice staff
  • good security for luggage and valuables
  • nice beds
  • has a bar and daily activities
  • 9 AUD (around 6 euros) per night in women’s dorm

One thing has made me here super happy. Vietnamese cuisine uses coriander!! Something that I missed in Japan a lot.

edit: I forgot to mention that something very bizarre happened today. I arrived at the hostel really late and when I woke up in the morning, I noticed that my childhood friend who I haven’t seen in like a decade was in the same hostel room! What a small world!

First day in Southeast Asia

I decided that I’ll try to write short updates about my trip. Today I arrived to Hanoi. I was so nervous and sure that things won’t go smoothly with the immigration inspection and with the way from the airport to my hostel. In the end the immigration officers didn’t really even care that I don’t have a visa or a flight ticket out of Vietnam, and the way from the airport to my hostel was a “taste” of real Vietnam. The bus that I wanted to take was already moving but the nice guys outside the bus ran after the bus and stopped it for me. Then me and the backpack size of me went to sit in the front. I mean really in the front and next to the driver :-D I saw the whole way from the airport to the center. I knew the traffic would be crazy but that view made me almost pee in my pants, hehe. I also got a ride from the center to my hostel with a motorcycle. Yep, me and my backpack and a driver (who made me pay a bit more that was agreed, argh) on a motorcycle. That was crazy!

Today I just decided to go to the center and walk around. I also met a nice girl from Germany who is also travelling alone. We went to see Water Puppet show which was quite interesting. Never seen anything like that.. Basically there were water and the puppets were playing in that. There was also a band that sounded very nice but the people looked bored to death. I guess the same people make the same show every day (multiple times).

First impression from Hanoi is that the traffic is crazy (people just drive everywhere, really close to you and they use a horn A LOT), it is loud and there are many people who want something from you (but they leave you alone when you show no interest), there is lots of tasty looking street food and one should be careful of robbers (I bought a money pouch right away). Taking photos with a phone is apparently risky so I guess I’ll be very picky about what I will photograph. And I think I will only load them to instagram (see on the right side of the blog).

The currency is also crazy. I am like a millioner! One euro is around 24 200 Vietnamise dongs.

One journey ends, another begins

I am leaving Japan soon and going towards my next great adventure. I am excited and horrified at the same time because I’ll be travelling alone in Southeast Asia. I will go to Vietnam, Cambodia and Thailand, and I will spend around two weeks in each country. Yikes!

The most nervous I am about Vietnam because I’ve read that especially in Vietnam the locals want to just exploit you.. this is what someone wrote about his negative experiences in Vietnam:

“To give you an idea, while in Vietnam for one month I was targeted by scammers falsely posing as representatives of the Red Cross, got in an aggressive confrontation with a cab driver who tried to charge me the equivalent of $80 USD for a 5 minute ride, got hit by a menu switching scam in a restaurant, and was unfairly overcharged numerous times. Also, at one point a wild monkey ran off with my beer, though I’ll try not to blame that on Vietnam.” (source: www.indietraveller.co/destinations/travel-guide/vietnam)

I guess Cambodia and Thailand shouldn’t be that “bad” places but yeah I am terrified a bit. All the countries have of course many pros but few things worry me. E.g. I don’t like to bargain.. At the moment my plan is to visit Hanoi, Sapa, Halong Bay, Ho Chi Minh and Can Tho in Vietnam; Phnom Penh, Kampot, Sihankoukville (maybe Koh Rong) and Siem Reap in Cambodia; and Bangkok and a few islands in Thailand. In Thailand I will meet up with a friend and we will travel in Thailand together!

I am sure I will have an amazing time and this will be one of the most special trips I will ever make. I am also sure that everything will not go smoothly. But that’s life! If someone has any tips about what to pack in my backpack or any other advice, I would be happy to hear them. :-)

I hope something like this is waiting for me in Thailand..