Indeed, Vietnam is sweeter the second time around. Unlike last year when I traveled all by myself (Vietnam Adventure); I experienced many nuisances so noteworthy, I learned from it.
This trip is particularly special because I get to travel with my mom and friends after availing a 3-hour flight via Cebu Pacific Airlines from Manila. Our intention was to travel through 5 countries of Indochina and the Malay Peninsula. We entered Ho Chi Minh with the wish to go to Cambodia, then to Thailand, Malaysia and then exit Singapore to the Philippines.
Ho Chi Minh City (HCM) changed, it looks a lot better. I noticed that the city streets are well-lit (we arrived past 1AM) and cleaner. Obviously, Vietnam is developing in an unprecedented way and I am happy about it. I can’t wait to explore other cities in the northern part of this country.
People driving the scooters and motorbikes are more careful now. Traffic lights, signs and directions are clear everywhere. There is an observed speed limit but crossing the streets are still quite tricky.
Ho Chi Minh in southern Vietnam is the destination when you want to explore the culture and heritage of the people. The history behind the Vietnam-American War that took place here now plays a major role in their tourism industry. A visit to this part of the country is incomplete without commemorating the sad and tragic story behind the war. The Cu Chi Tunnels is a silent witness to what took place and the tourists can only imagine how it was like back then.
The tour to the Cu Chi Tunnels would normally take an entire morning depending on how the guide tells the story. Make sure to bring enough drinking water for hydration. Get ready with an extra shirt especially if you perspire a lot. Now, be very careful not to take offers from anybody in the streets to take you around or bring you to the Cu Chi Tunnels. You would not want to get robbed (ripped) just like what happened to me last year. The best and cheapest way is by bus which you can book for $5 per head through the many travel agencies around District 1 of the city. Prepare another $4-5 ($VND* 90,000) for the entrance fee. The bus will do a short trip to a local factory that creates local handicrafts.
* Vietnamese Dong $VND20,000 = $US1
Ho Chi Min is also a bargain hunter’s paradise. Visit the Ban Than Market in District 1 and see for yourself an astonishing array of anything and everything. A word of advise though, if you are not sure to buy any, do not make an eye contact. You would not want to piss them off. Generally, the vendors would quote high prices for their product as a buffer for the discount you wish to have.
Strolling at night is relatively safe but just make sure to cross the streets well and keep your personal belongings. Hold on to your cameras, wallets and electronic gadgets when near the roads, better keep them out of sight. They can easily be snatched.
Restaurants near Ban Than Market and the District 1 offers an array of authentic Vietnamese cuisine if you are up for it. But one of the best ways to enjoy dinner especially if you are there only for a night is to try the Dinner Cruise along the Saigon River. It’s fun, relaxing, the food is good and the cultural shows are really entertaining. Dinner costs around $US 14.
Ho Chi Minh city is a tourist-friendly destination. Approach the many travel agencies in the main tourist area for information; they communicate in English well. Be wary and vigilant to people who offer just about anything. There are many places to stay in Ho Chi Minh depending on your budget. You may get other information from your hotel’s concierge or the front desk.
To go to Cambodia, book either a night or a day bus for around $22-$24 depending on the company. I highly recommend the Mekong Express. A night bus saves you an overnight stay in a hotel while you’d definitely enjoy the country side on a day trip. Either way is worth it.
I’ve crossed the Vietnam-Cambodian border on my next post.