My Version of Roughing It, Culture Shock and the Best Seafood Buffet!
Ho Chi Minh City Travel Blog› entry 13 of 24 › view all entries
I stayed up late packing for Vietnam - had to leave all my Bali loot at V's in Singapore and taking a smaller bag for the remainder of the trip. Then I was too excited and only slept for about 3 hours. Tried blogging but had difficulties connecting to travbuddy. Tired, cranky...
Said goodbye to J, C and V (sniff). Will miss them. But A and I headed off on the 2nd half of our journey. We had agreed to go more budget in Saigon since we've been spoiling ourselves at V's penthouse and in the villas. It was the first time either of us have ever stayed at a hostel. I could only hope tripadvisor had accurate reviews (cross my fingers!).
The flight to Saigon was quick - about 2 hours. But I quickly learned that there was an astonishing lack of respect for personal space and queuing.
Visa for Vietnam - you can get a visa before you arrive, or arrange (usually through your hotel) to get a preauthorization letter. For the pre-authorization letter, when you arrive you need to go to the "Landing Visa" window, provide them the letter, your passport, a passport photo and $25US for a 30day visa.
V had told us that in Vietnam, when crossing streets - just walk ahead with purpose and at a steady pace, no sudden movements. We didn't really understand what she meant until we were being transported to our hostel. The mad mass of motorcycles and cars, seemingly driving with no lanes, lights or traffic rules is quite a shock to the system. The persistent and consistent honking is terribly jarring, especially compared to the peace of Bali. I had a friend who visited Saigon last year and he hated it; now I see why... The city is not particularly attractive and is loud and trafficky. Generally, the people ranged from being reserved to wary and suspicious.
(Note - apparently the locals still call the city Saigon, although the official name has been changed to Ho Chi Minh City. Out of respect to the locals, I'm using "Saigon" for my blog.)
We arrived at Bich Duyen - the manager (Chanh) greeted us and showed us to our room (5 flights up, no elevator - I guess I'll work off all the food I ate in Singapore and Bali - lol!). (Random note - the manager was quite amazing - he was literally everywhere and did everything - he was the manager, receptionist, bellboy, concierge, cook - all rolled into one.
And then, we crossed our first street. You can laugh, but it was quite a feat. You'll understand if you ever come here. (The "just keep walking and hope they swerve around you" does work but it takes getting used to because they only miss you by an inch or so.
We had wanted to book some private tours - mainly because we were so miserable landing in this loud place and because my ankle was now swelling (yes, it was my foot before; now the ankle) so we wanted to be pampered. We read that Ann's Tours was reputable so, with a handy little hotel map, we headed out based on the address provided by my Frommer's Guide ... turns out it had the wrong address (for Hanoi, not Saigon - but both cities had a street by the same name....) and because of that we circled the main part of the city twice. It wouldn't have been so terrible except it was dreadfully hot and loud. We were finally provided the correct address by the rude concierge at the New World Hotel, who couldn't even be bothered to talk to us because he was "too busy" - instead his colleague (total sweetheart who spoke no english) felt bad for us and got us directions despite him yelling at her (big jerk that he was).
We decided to celebrate our accomplishment of walking the entire length of District 1 (twice) by having ice coffee at a local coffee place nearby. The waitress didn't really speak english so we just sort of pointed. At first she brought us a glass with ice and coffee flavored water.
Another random thing we noticed while walking and in the cafe - there is a strange obsession with christmas here. We kept seeing christmas decorations and signs up randomly. Not sure if it's kitsch for tourists ... or I'm just missing something ...
Refreshed we cut across town (again) and visited the Ben Thanh Market - mostly souvenirs, bags, shoes, etc.
On our way back to our hostel we walked through a park and so many local people were out gossiping, enjoying the cool night air, playing badminton, etc. There was something nice about seeing the city relatively untouched by tourism ... this will likely change soon.
By the time we returned we had a better appreciation of the city and its people - the bustling life packed on the busy streets; food stalls everywhere cooking up their delicious smelling streets; friends hanging out for hours refreshing themselves with ice coffees and teas; lovers parked on their motorcycles in the parks; families playing with their children .