Well, there you have it folks. A solid pun right in the title of my post.
Day 1: Exploring HCMC
Wow, it feels like it has been months since my friend, Pranati, and I went to Ho Chi Minh City/Saigon, Vietnam. But it was roughly just one month ago (I really need to be more timely with my blog posts). I only went to HCMC for 2.5 days but it was enough time for my heart to be stolen (along with almost my phone) and my desire to go back to see Northern Vietnam is stronger than ever.
The flight from Singapore gave us a phenomenal view of Vietnam as we flew during the afternoon. When we landed in HCMC, we had to get out Visa on Arrival, which he had already applied for in advance. Much to our dismay, we had to wait approximately 2 hours just to pay the Visa fee for a one-time entry. Once we had dealt with all airport processes, we took a cab to our hostel we had booked beforehand, New Saigon Hostel. I was in for a serious traffic shock in Vietnam. Honestly, Singapore has spoiled me with its efficiencies but there are stark differences in Singapore when compared to other places in Southeast Asia. Driving in HCMC seems so unbelievably scary and one must have a very high reflex to avoid accidents given the immense amount of motor bikes, scooters, and pedestrians crossing the street whenever the opportunity strikes.
When we arrived at the hostel, the friendliest staff I have ever come across welcomed us with a glass or orange juice as we checked in. The hostel has an awesome system where you just pay at the end of your stay. We freshened up and it was time to hit the streets of HCMC! We started with Phuong Mai Art Cafe, a restaurant that serves the most delicious vegetarian pho. The photos speak for themselves – this cafe was a total hit! The café also had art pieces hung on the wall that you can actually buy but let’s just end that thought at #studentbudget. After getting our phonomenal pho, we crossed the street and checked out the Ben Thanh Market, which had hundreds of stalls selling everything from the funky elephant pants to Vietnamese dolls and more. We didn’t buy much on Day 1 except for a Vitnamese Hat, known as a Non La. We then did a quick photo shoot on the street to model our newly purchased Non Las.
The night was still young so we planned to head to Strata Tower to catch the sunset over HCMC from the highest coffee shop/bar in the tower. On the way, a Vietnamese man on a scooter who was turning left tried to snatch my iPhone out of my hand whilst I was crossing the road. Luckily, the traffic in Vietnam is so scary that I was clutching on to everything for dear life. So I can cross “almost getting robbed” off my check list. Not that it was on there in the first place. It was interesting to see everyone around me hold their things a little tighter as they saw me almost getting robbed. The more I think about it, the more I think about the reason behind why he tried to steal my phone (i.e. maybe he wanted to sell it to fund his child’s school fees). Obviously I’ll never know but it’s clear that hopelessness can sometimes drive you to do things that you didn’t think you would.
Anyway, the view of HCMC from the coffee shop/bar was incredible. There is just something about being so high up and realizing we are so small in this gigantic universe; a feeling you can’t explain but only feel.
We also caught the Ben Thanh Market lit up at night on our way back to the hostel. We planned to book tours of HCMC for the next 2 days to ensure we see everything we had planned.
Day 2: Mekong Delta Tour
With an early alarm for 6:30 AM, we were up and getting ready for our tour! We grabbed our free breakfast from the hostel (free is the magic word you want to hear whilst travelling, folks) and we were picked up by the tour bus company. The 4 hour ride was made very enjoyable with our tour guide, Nai (who I am not Facebook friends with). He entertained us with his jokes, enlightened us with the history of the Vietnamese/American War, and would randomly say “I love you too” even if no one had said “I love you” (it sounds funnier when you hear it).
The Mekong Delta tour was incredible from every perspective. We became really good friends with a few Vietnamese locals, who welcomed us into their group of friends, taught us some Vietnamese words, and just wowed us with their overall hospitality and generosity. We all took tons of pictures together and exchanged our emails and Facebooks. I especially loved seeing the simple lifestyle of people on the Mekong Delta, where people would operate floating markets in the daytime but also lived in their boats so they cook, clean, etc. there as well. For them, Mekong Delta is home. We were also provided lunch and snacks on this full day tour whilst visiting Vinh Long village. We also saw multiple workshops at the village, including rice making, caramel candy tasting, and coconut workshop and we also had a mini tea party with all our friends. We also saw some interesting types of wine: flavours included scorpion and snakes. One of my fondest memories is when Pham, one of our Vietnamese friends, gave my friend and I an origami heart made out of Vietnamese currency as we parted ways. It was the sweetest gesture as we all said our goodbyes. Maybe we will meet in Norther Vietnam one day!
When we came back to our hostel, we had time to go to Ben Thanh Market to do the deed. You know what I am talking about. The purchase of the funky elephant pants. It had to happen and it was totally worth it! It became our #ootd for the next day. I am also a (self-proclaimed) queen of negotiations so I really enjoyed finding good deals and bargaining with the locals. We found our way back to the Art Café for dinner, where I tried fruit spring rolls and a crêpe (healthy, aren’t I)? We also got hooked on Vietnamese coffee (I don’t even like coffee but I’d drink this quite often). We tried it at McDonald’s and it was one of the wisest decisions made in HCMC. I miss it so much.
Day 3: Cu Chiu Tunnels Tour
We had our flight in the evening so we decided to do a half day tour for our last day in HCMC so we could make it back well before our flight. Mickey (like Mickey Mouse), our tour guide, welcomed us on the bus with his energetic voice by saying “GOOOOD MORNING VIETNAM!” His energy alone felt like 4 shots of Vietnamese coffee, which I wouldn’t complain about. Our two hour bus ride was very enjoyable with Mickey constantly cracking jokes and also saying “I love you too” at random times. He gave us a thorough tour of the Cu Chiu Tunnels. I got to experience being inside one of the secret tunnels, which was a very claustrophobic but interesting experience. There is so much history included in the Cu Chiu Tunnels that I learned about but writing about it all will make this blog post already longer than it is. Being inside the tunnels was an experience I cannot even begin to put into words. I went through various exits and as the tunnels got tighter, I got a bit hesitant to continue so I can’t even imagine what it must have been like for people who had to stay hidden in these tunnels for days or even months and actually lived there. They even cooked in these tunnels but had to make a separate path for the smoke to be released to prevent their life from being in danger from the opposing parties during the Vietnamese/American War. We also went to a rifle range but it was quite pricey to buy bullets (we had to buy minimum of 15 at one time). Two sweet British girls approached us and asked if we wanted to split, so we agreed but unfortunately, that was against the rules but we bonded over that conversation and became friends. After our tour, we all went for lunch together at another Pho restaurant (surprise surprise) called Pho 2000. We also took them to McDonald’s to introduce them to the wonders of the Vietnamese coffee (plus they also had a buy one get one free promotion for International Women’s Day) so yay for #girlpower. We then went to Ben Thanh Market, where we found some good deals on Converse, Vietnamese dolls, and the most beautiful cards carved out of paper (I don’t know what the correct name is for them but they are so beautiful).
Our time in HCMC came to an end but we made SO many wonderful friends along the way, took so many pictures to cherish our trip and loved every moment of it. I definitely want to go back to Vietnam again and see the Northern side and connect with my local friends once again.