Ho Chi Minh city (formally known as Saigon) is the largest and most popularised city in Vietnam situated in the SouthEast. The city is growing and urbanising at an extremely fast rate and is expected to grow by almost 6million people by 2025. HCMC has got a bit of everything; metropolitan areas filled with swanky bars and classy restaurants, as well as traditional street food stalls and local markets. It is very built up with designer, upmarket malls beneath high-rise buildings and skyscrapers. There is a large park running through the centre of the city which holds some crazy looking gym equipment. All the locals gather together in the evenings to play badminton and socialise on the lawns. The city felt quite sticky and humid when we first arrived, especially since coming from the cool temperature in Dalat, which didn’t help when we were trying to find the hostel! When we eventually did, we met up with Max again, from earlier in Hue, Hai Van Pass and Hoi An.
The hostel, ‘Vietnam Saigon Inn Backpackers’ was pretty cool and a proper backpackers, similar to those further North of the country like Hanoi. The hostel had a rooftop bar overlooking part of the city, which was the perfect chill out spot, with pool tables, music and prime sunset viewing positioning!
The first night we arrived, the hostel was holding a pub crawl which turned out to be the most number of people they had ever had on these crawls! It was soo fun! We were especially up for socialising coming from Nha Trang and Dalat where the nightlife wasn’t really happening as much as we would have liked, and we had stayed in for a few nights. We went to a few different bars and got to know some people from the Hostel. It was a good night and the hangover wasn’t even very bad…bonus!
The next morning we 30/40kms out of HCMC to visit the Cu Chi tunnels; an underground tunnel network used in the America/Vietnam war during the 1960s. Back then, the tunnels stretched impressively all the way from the South Vietnamese Capital right to the Border of Cambodia.
It was amazing to see the actual tunnels they had to hide in for so long. The network comprised of camouflaged trap doors, living areas, kitchens, boobytraps lined with blades to injure and kill the Americans, and weapon factories. The Vietnamese men had to be 35kgs to get down and move through the tunnels which is absolutely insane seeing as that is probably the weight of one of Matts legs! They would move through the tunnels and pop up and fire at the Americans and then vanish again without a trace causing hundreds of casualties…it resulted in the area becoming ‘the most bombed, shelled, gassed, defoliated and generally devastated area in the history of warfare’, as described by BBC journalists Tom Mangold and John Penycate.
The only problem with our tour was the actual guide. I feel a bit sorry for him because he was old, and he was quite funny sometimes but all we wanted from the tour was the facts and to learn more about the war and the reasoning behind the tunnels with true accounts of the happenings that occurred. Our tour guide however, reckoned he was in the war, but fighting as an American captain with his own American team fighting against Vietnam. He kept telling us stories that just didn’t really add up, for example when the war started he would have been 13 years old, however he believes he had already been living in America at the time and used to drink with all the Americans. It was just really weird and made you question every word he was saying. To the point I actually had to google the tunnels themselves because I was confused about what he was jabbering on about and what was true and what wasn’t. We all squeezed into the tunnels, that they had actually widened for the western tourists, and tried to crawl through for 30 metres. It was sooo claustrophobic and even though I always thought I was fine with small spaces, I started to panic and had to get out! Haha I was too embarrassed to announce I was getting out so I just skulked to the back and made a runner and met them the other side haha loser!
They all came out absolutely drenched with sweat and filthy from head to toe, from being down there! It really does help to put it all into perspective, it is unreal! At the end of the tour we were all able to have a go at firing a M16 gun, which gave Matt the chance to show me his shooting skills! I missed every target by about 500 metres but Matt said he would take me clay pigeon shooting one day to show me how its done!
As it was my birthday the next day, we all went for a really nice meal in a place called Temple Club. The food was lush and we had more wine! The actually restaurant was quite hidden and obviously relied on word of mouth and trip advisor reviews for its customers, as it was a very subtle and classy restaurant. After again eating ourselves into a near coma, we went up to the Skydeck in the Bitexco Financial Tower.
From the moment you enter the shopping centre below, you feel instantly rich. Between the ground floor door and the entrance of the skydeck, you are greeted by at least 7 different staff members showing you the way and pressing the lift buttons for you. When we saw the menus, it was quite clear why they aim to make you feel like that…because you definitely have to be rich to drink in there! One desperado cost $15 (£7.50) and if you didn’t buy a drink you had to leave! It was far too expensive for what it was in my opinion and I know there are other sky bars which have happy hours and much cheaper drinks. So obviously after one drink here we made a move haha. The views over the city were beautiful however.
The following day was just your average day, apart from it was MY BIRTHDAY and Christ, I did not let ANYONE forget it.
Leanne and I were up early and went out for a girlie day shopping for an outfit for that night. It was such a nice day! We did however, get very lost a ridiculous amount of times and ended up getting 5 taxis because we kept walking around and ending up in the exact same place and miles away from the shops!! We did find a Topshop though which was a bonus…turns out it was in the mall under the skybar we had been to the previous night. Leanne and I realised we hadn’t been shopping for so long or even picked up a magazine that we were totally unaware of the fashion the moment and very out of touch with what people were wearing. After walking around Topshop for 5 minutes we realised nothing had changed!! Matt had given me some money to treat myself which was exciting as I hadn’t been shopping since New Zealand!
The shops in Ho Chi Minh were actually so good…slightly out of my price range; e.g. Gucci, Cartier, DKNY etc however they did have a few goodens like Topshop, Mac, Zara etc. We met the boys for lunch at Vespa Sofar Bar, which was a quirky cafe/cocktail bar so it would have been rude not to get margaritas! Matt gave me my birthday present…a gorgeous pair of Raybans!! I literally love them! Slightly scared about having something in my possession worth any money, but I’ve made it my mission to look after these for as long as possible, and am very anal about keeping them in their case!
We went out that night to celebrate the big 2-5 (bloody scary) and it was a really good night! The hostel workers knew it was my birthday so insisted on giving me shots of rank rice wine all night as well as jaeger and anything else they could scrounge from the bars. But all in all, it was a fab birthday!! The wine was cheap in our hostel so we decided to buy 7 between us to take advantage of it.
It is crazy to think that the year before I was on a boat sailing around the Sydney Harbour with Matt and all our friends…the birthdays just keep getting better and better and I’m so excited to think where we could be next year!
The next morning was a bad morning. We had to pack and check out…and none of us were in any kind of fit state for this!
We had a flight that evening to take us to Indonesia so we made the most of our last day in Vietnam by visiting the War Remnants Museum. We were all soo hungover we were laying down in a cafe for about an hour waiting for the museum to open!
When it did open, it was only 15,000 VND to get in and my god it was so good! It exceeded all of my expectations and dramatically illustrated the happenings of the war in such a shocking way. It is of course, quite biased to Vietnam, just as the Hoa Lo Prison Museum was but I guess you can expect that to an extent, and this would likely be given a ‘hollywood analysis’ from the other side.
Upon entering the grounds, a series of actual war planes, helicopters and tanks are displayed. Each room in the museum is themed, and the floor levels likewise. The themes include war weapons and military equipment including unexploded bombs, a very graphic and disturbing photograph room that displays the effects of Agent Orange and other chemical bombs and also materials from around the globe showing the strong protests to end this war.
It was definitely a highlight of Vietnam and I really don’t think you can visit this country without visiting this museum and getting to grips with their very recent history.
It was now time for us to head to the airport to say our goodbyes to the wonderful Vietnam…and hello to INDONESIA!!!