One of my favourite cities.
Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. Formally known as Saigon..
It is famous for the pivotal role it played in the Vietnam War, stunning French architecture, traffic mayhem , cheap guesthouses and 5 Star hotels, street food and high end roof top bars, crowded markets and luxury designer stores.
It is a crazy and intoxicating clash of commerce and culture. And it will grab you by the throat and drag you along for the ride. This is why it is one of my favourite cities…
So, we left a chilly Melbourne winter and flew via Singapore with Jetstar to Ho Ch Minh. Its an easy trip. We arrived at 9pm local time and after a seamless exit through customs and visa approval, we hopped straight into the pre booked a car that was waiting kerbside. I always suggest this as my preferred option upon arrival. It can be a bit daunting landing in a foreign country at night and its just easier to spend a little more and get to the hotel. (**check with your hotel prior to travel, as most will offer courtesy shuttle, so you can pre book it before you leave home.)
I had booked the Hotel Liberty Central Riverside. It is as it sounds, on the Saigon river, located in District One, which is the best district for nightlife and shopping. 600 mtrs to the Ben Thanh Market, 20 minute walk to the Notre Dame Cathedral Saigon and only 15 minutes to The Saigon Opera House. It has a fitness centre and roof top bar with a pool..so all my preferences were ticked!
After a traditional Vietnamese breakfast which consists of Pho Bo ( beef noodle soup), lots of chilli, coriander, bamboo shoots and fresh lime…we hit the Ben Thanh Markets.
This is the place to find local handicrafts, ‘faux’ Nikes and lots of T-shirts, sunglasses, belts , travel bags and electronics …You name it ..and it is here. It also has an amazing array of market food, fruit, vegetables, dried fruits and most important the Vietnamese herbs and greens for the traditional street foods and soups.
Expect to spend about 2- 3 hours here and prepare to bargain. Start at half asking and creep up to no more than two thirds of the original price. The Vietnamese people thrive and expect bargaining…so don’t be shy.
Getting used to the traffic in Vietnam is probably the most difficult task to master. The streets are full of honking trucks, taxis and motorbikes on a intensity level not known in Western Countries, with road rules that don’t exist. Bikes, cars and people seem simultaneously, collectively and individually to be heading straight at each other.
Be warned, drivers will not slow down, or stop, so therefore you must be confident. Step out into the traffic, start walking, keep an even gait at all times and just keep walking.
DO NOT STOP. I liken it to blood flow. It keeps going and flowing at a natural pace. The traffic will ebb around you. They anticipate your speed and adjust to suit. The honking of horns is considered a polite gesture…to let you know they are near…not as an angry one. So take a deep breath and go for it. (it will take you a day to get used to it.)
Once we had loaded up at the markets, it was time for lunch. Vietnam is all about fresh and light food. So we headed to a local restaurant and ordered all the traditional options. More Pho soup, fresh rice paper rolls, vegetable noodles and completed the feast with my new obsession.
Iced or hot, this is an addictive blend of ox-strong black coffee and sweetened condensed milk. Addictive. Delicious. Heart Racer. More please.
After lunch we did what any other 3 gals would do next…hit the day spa. We found a clean, modern beauty salon near the market and proceeded to spend the next four hours being completely pampered. Leg scrubs, body massages, facial steams, eyelash extensions, tummy wraps, pedicures, manicures, eyebrow wax, hand massage, foot massage, head massage..total cost $300.
It was the best few hours and totally refreshed we headed back to hotel to change for the night time activities.