Vietnam Diaries part 4: Ho Chi Minh

After spending a few days in my favourite place in Vietnam aka Phong Nha, I flew to Ho Chi Minh, as I didn’t really have enough days to do it slowly by bus. There are three main airlines you can use for this (VietJet, JetStar and Bamboo Airways) and in total there are about 5 flights per day on this route. You can buy the tickets up to a few days in advance… or even on the day before or the same day, but a few flights could have sold out by then. I used Skyscanner to book, as this showed me all the options together. The cost of this flight is between £25-£100 normally, and it takes an hour and 40 minutes.

The name of the airport near Phong Nha is Dong Hoi, and you can take the local bus from Phong Nha to the airport for 50k dong (£1.65) and it takes an hour. The buses go about every hour, but ask the staff in your hostel for details. Tell the driver you want to get off at Dong Hoi Airport, and they’ll let you off on a random road where you then walk for about 10 minutes in a straight line to get to the airport (get a local person to point you in the right direction, or use Google Maps).

Once I was in Ho Chi Minh, I took a Grab (like Uber) to the hotel/hostel that I’d booked… one of the weirdest sleeping experiences of my life… A CAPSULE HOTEL! When I saw it on Booking.com, I felt like I had to stay there because it was potentially a once in a lifetime opportunity.

The Capsule Hotel is built inside of a regular hotel called Sunland Hotel. It costs £13/night for a capsule, but the amazing thing is that you get access to all the hotel facilities too. This includes an outdoor swimming pool, free buffet breakfast, and a rooftop bar with fancy cocktails and amazing views. It was really memorable and I’m so glad I stayed there.

The capsules themselves are in dorms with about 14 capsules in each one. They have charging points, a safe, a TV, lights and a giant mirror inside:

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The futuristic theme extends to the bathrooms too (the bathrooms are in a different room in the corridor so they’re shared between everyone in the capsules).

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You can leave a few things on the little shelf in your capsule, but there are also lockers in the corridor and your room key-card opens your locker for you, so that’s where you keep most of your things.

The fancy free breakfast was a nice little addition. It had loads of hot food, but not much for vegans, so I mostly ate fruit and enjoyed the views.

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The rooftop bar was one of the highlights of the hotel for sure. I don’t know about you guys, but my budget traveller self is not often found drinking fancy cocktails at a rooftop bar, so this was a super cool experience for me. The cocktails here were expensive by Vietnam standards (around £5 per cocktail), but of course this is still cheap by Western standards, and the staff up there are really friendly. Even if you stay somewhere else, I’d recommend going to a rooftop bar in Ho Chi Minh (there are lots of them there), especially for sunset.

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I don’t have any photos of the pool, but I spent one morning there. It’s also super high up and it has plenty of sun loungers etc. – Definitely different from the hostels I usually stay in.

Ho Chi Minh is massive and is divided into zones/districts. Most hostels are around the crazy backpacker street called Walking Street or Bui Vien Street. This is a central location (District 1), but personally I was glad that I wasn’t staying on it, because it’s the biggest sensory overload I’ve ever experienced in my life. It’s COMPLETELY mad and disgustingly busy (on weekends anyway). Personally I’d recommend staying in District 1 but just not on Backpacker Street.

As Ho Chi Minh is a big, busy city, there aren’t that many things to actually do, but more things to eat and see, in my experience. I also found it to be a really tiring place to be, as even crossing the road is such a mission because of the insane amount of motorbikes there are there, and I ended up walking a lot in the hot sun too. This meant I ended up needing a lot of chill time, so I spent quite a lot of time each day just sitting down somewhere to have a juice/smoothie etc.

These are a few of the interesting places I saw/visited/ate at etc…

  1. The Pink Church (free to visit, type in Pink Church on the Grab app to get a motorbike taxi there but make sure you pick the option with the address Puong 8, District 3). It’s basically just a pretty church, but it’s nice to visit because you probably won’t see many other cute pink churches in your life. It’s also hilarious to watch tourists (who all happen to be from a certain country, but I won’t name it) who come to do an entire photoshoot in very fancy clothing with a tripod and everything.

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2. Pet Me Cafe (cafe in an expat/upmarket neighbourhood with lots of parrots wandering around, and a few reptiles to see. Type in ‘Pet Me’ and get a Grab motorbike).

Until I experienced drinking a Vietnamese iced coffee (55k aka £1.82) surrounded by cute colourful parrots, I had no idea that this was something that everyone should do once in their life! My plan was just to have a drink and stay for about half an hour, but I ended up video-calling my friends and family as an excuse to stay longer, and to show them the cute parrots.

The parrots are quite unruly, which makes the experience kind of funny. One nibbled my shoelace so the ends of it are frayed since that day (great souvenir) and another one stole the receipt that was lying on my table! If you ask a staff member for help, you’re allowed to hold one and take pictures.

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3. War Remnants Museum (40k entry aka £1.32, type in War Remnants Museum on Grab and take a Grab motorbike there).

This museum takes about an hour to go around, and it’s quite a shocking experience, as you can literally stand right next to tanks and other things that were used in the Vietnam War, which wasn’t actually that long ago.

The inside part has various rooms with displays of old posters and news articles etc. from the war, along with signs explaining the context behind them.

I sometimes find it difficult to engage with museums as I struggle to make the connection between what I’m seeing in the museum and the actual real-life event that it came from, but this museum was really good and it made me feel quite emotional and sad about the things that happened in the war. I would definitely recommend it, whether you have any prior knowledge or not about the Vietnam War.

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4.      BaBo Cafe (reptile cafe – go there on a Grab bike)

The parrot café was such a cool experience that I decided to also go to the reptile café. It’s located in a very non-touristy area, so it was interesting to be there and see what a more regular neighbourhood is like, compared to the busy District 1.

The café itself is small and not fancy at all, and the only customers when I was there were Vietnamese men catching up over coffee in the outside area, but in the inside area you can sit on cushions on the floor and see snakes and lizards etc. When I was there, the biggest one was just chilling on the floor (not in any cage or container) so I was able to sit right next to him, and I was also allowed to hold a snake when I asked a member of staff. I paid 50k for my coffee (£1.65).

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5.    Enjoy food from all over the world

Ho Chi Minh is home to people from loads of different countries, and its cuisine reflects this. If you’ve been eating noodles every day on your trip so far, you might enjoy trying some different foods in Ho Chi Minh.

A few of the places that stood out to me were Sara Ethiopian and Al Sham (middle eastern food). This food was obviously more expensive than local food (I paid about 150k dong aka £5 for a meal and drink at both of those places) but this is still super cheap compared to England, and it was a nice change.

Ethiopian food is one of my favourites in London, so obviously I recommend you trying it if you haven’t had it before (Sara Ethiopian food and restaurant pictured below). If you get the chance, you could chat to the friendly owner about his life journey and how he ended up moving from Ethiopa to Vietnam.

I also found a cute little spot for pizza INCLUDING VEGAN PIZZA! Its name is Vicolo and it’s located near the backpacker street, but not quite on it, so it’s a lively street but not too busy. For this reason, I’d recommend going there in the evening and sitting on one of the outside tables, as it’s a great people-watching spot. The place also does smoothies and lots of different beers. Pizza is 45k dong per big slice (£1.50).

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5.    Wander around Ben Thanh market (hectic market catering to tourists and local people – walk or Grab there by typing in ‘Ben Thanh Market’).

This market is found in a large dark building, and it has a section for clothes and trainers which is popular with tourists, as you can get fake Nike/Adidas etc for super low prices. Personally I found prices to be lower in Hanoi, but this market has a better selection than what I found in Hanoi.

There are also sections for fruit, vegetables, herbs, spices and coffee, and there’s an area with food vendors selling Vietnamese dishes and drinks (pictured below). I just got a coconut to drink from one of the food vendors and sat and people-watched for a bit, after wandering around the rest of the market. You could definitely spend a whole hour walking around it. It’s open until midnight so you could also go there for a night time adventure.

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6.     Eat the yummiest vegan food at Veggie Saigon (walking distance from Backpacker Street, open every day until 10pm).

Being vegan in Ho Chi Minh is really easy. Wherever you are, you can open the HappyCow app and you’ll see that there’s a vegan spot somewhere nearby. Luckily for me, Veggie Saigon was around the corner from my accommodation, and I went there every day because I just couldn’t get enough of it.

Once you go in the entrance, you have to take your shoes off and then go upstairs (I’m not sure if this is to keep the floor clean or because it’s a Buddhist restaurant, or both). The restaurant is small, quiet and basic, but the menu has veganised versions of not only Vietnamese food but also some other Asian food e.g. Thai. You can see some of the dishes and prices on the menu below.

After long days in a hectic city, the tasty food and the quiet atmosphere at Veggie Saigon were exactly what I needed.

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Other things to do in Ho Chi Minh include nights out on Backpacker Street, Vincom Mega Mall (a mall I didn’t go to that apparently has an ice staking rink on the top floor), Push Climbing (indoor rock climbing), some more animal cafés I didn’t go to – Ailu café (cat café) and Ken’s House (dog café), and Golden Dragon Water Puppet Theatre (I didn’t make it here either).

In terms of safety, you have probably read elsewhere that Ho Chi Minh is one of the less safe places in Vietnam. I personally didn’t have any issues and I never felt uncomfortable, but I did notice that local people didn’t have their phones out in public as much in Ho Chi Minh as they did in Hanoi, so I tried to copy this too.

Obviously this made it difficult to use Google Maps to walk to places, but I just tried to look at my phone in a shop doorway, memorise the next 5 minutes of walking and then repeat until I got to my destination. I don’t think Ho Chi Minh is crazily dangerous or anything, but it’s just so big and busy that it’s obviously going to have more crime than a smaller place.

Overall, I would say it’s worth visiting, as it shows you a completely different side of Vietnam compared to the countryside places and even Hanoi. It’s also a good place to stop if you want to then go on to the Mekong Delta area, because you can easily get a bus there from Ho Chi Minh.

To see more of my travel photos, follow me on Instagram – @zoe_93

 

 

 

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