Destination Asia: Vietnam (Part | )


Destination Asia: Vietnam ( Part | )

Trip 2:            Vietnam 
Duration:        7 days 
Cities visited:   Ho Chi Minh, Hanoi, Hội An, Da Nang and Hạ Long Bay



As I am writing this, I am starting to realise that I should have have split this post into individual cities as there is so much to talk about, but in keeping with the theme, let's try to do it in one post. As with all blog posts so far, this one includes another apology for the lack of good photos. 2017 Bianca evidently lacked any photography skills or a good camera. 

Vietnam was the second destination in the 'adventures in Asia' chapter of my life, and remains a special country that will always have a special place in my travel book for two reasons, the person I went with and the people I met there. 

That being said, the one thing that truly stood out from the beginning was the infernal traffic. We were forewarned that someone like me (who is perpetually scared of crossing the street anywhere in the world) will be traumatised by the never ending traffic, but let's just say, in spire of that I still didn't quite expect what I came across. When I say that you had to jump in the street to be let through, I promise you I'm not exaggerating (see video below).


Now onto the more important things that you came here for : what to do, where to go and how to get there..

Those who know me, or have travelled with me in the past will know that my travelling style is organised freedom. In order words, I will do my research ahead time, have a few places in mind I want to see but will often deviate from the plan if something spontaneous comes along. One of the best trips of my life was to Costa Rica which was booked on a whim and had absolutely nothing planned .. but we'll get to that in a later blog post. 

Sadly, as Vietnam was at the very beginning of my travel journey, a large proportion of the trip was done the traditional tourist way, so a forewarning before you proceed, this blog post won't revolutionise your travel experience but it will provide you with the basics.


First stop: Ho Chi Minh


Hong Kong International to Tan Son Nhat International Airport 

Before I go into the fun things to do, a straight forward piece of advice, always confirm your AirBnb ahead of arriving in the country. I know it sounds self explanatory but we ended up in a dark alley, lost in Vietnam in torrential rain not being able to get into our flat, having to ask locals for help... so for my own peace of mind, I'll write this down. 

A typical house in  Ho Chi Minh 
What we found throughout our time in Vietnam is that the locals are incredibly friendly. I'm talking trusting you with their phone and inviting you for lunch with their family friendly. I have been to a lot of places and none compare to the level of warm welcome we received in all the cities we went to in Vietnam. 

Also, the housing structure in Ho Chi Minh is completely different to what I've seen in Europe or the rest of Asia. The flats resemble the layout of a garage with the entrance directly into the main living area of the flat (photo on the left). 

Which brings me back to my earlier point - the locals walk in and out of each other's houses, nothing is locked or closed and things are open to nosy tourists to have a look at. In fact, it's encouraged and welcomed. The real cultural experience in full view for you to experience and take from it what you may. 

On the note of culture, one last point - you'll see a generational divide between the older generation referring to the city by its previous name, Saigon while the latter call it Ho Chi Minh. 

I could discuss the historical significance of the name change for the entire post but I will try to keep it brief. In a nutshell, the shift dates back to the Vietnam War and is linked to the internal turmoil between the North and South of Vietnam. 

Sightseeing and things to do:


1.  Cu Chi Tunnels tour 

we opted for the half day and that was sufficiently long to give us an in-depth insight into the history of the tunnels. What you can expect is a guided tour through the tunnels... and when I say through I mean literally underground. Once you commit, there is no turning back and you need to crawl in the last portion. So avoid if you don't like confined spaces. 

There is an option to walk alongside... or rather over everyone else above ground but I'm glad we tried the full experience. There are other ad'hoc activities that you can do like trying out the food soldiers ate during the war or go to the shooting range but none are quite as spectacular as the tunnels and traps (see videos below).

 



2. Central Post Office

 Yes, I know it's odd to recommend a post office but trust me on this one, it's worth the visit. Voted the most beautifully preserved architecture from the French colonial times, the grandiosity of the building definite doesn't disappoint. 

Although the first things that will likely catch your attention are the marble arches and the large portrait of Ho Chi Minh, make sure to look up. At either side of the post office you will see maps of Saigon in the 1800s. And yes, it is still a fully functioning post office (opening hours 7am to 9pm). 




Located next door is the Notre Dame Cathedral .... not the one you're thinking of, the other one - Notre Dame Cathedral Basilica de Saigon. Personally very rarely visit the inside of Cathedrals so we skipped the full tour of it but it's definitely worth spending 10 minutes looking at the external architecture. 


3. The Golden Dragon Water Puppet show: 

This is another one you'll have to trust me on. To be completely transparent, I really didn't want to go to this one but I'm glad, Alex (friend, housemate, trusted travel companion and an all around amazing person) convinced me otherwise. At 23 the last thing you want to do is go to a puppet show but this one is like no other. 

Dating back to the 11th century it originated in Northern Vietnam and includes Vietnamese folklore tales that have been passed down from generation to generation. There are a lot of interesting facts about the symbolism behind the shows which I will let you delve deeper into yourselves. History lesson over, from a purely aesthetic perspective, it's a joy to look at: brightly coloured puppets, complex water choreography and fireworks. Genuinely something you can only experience in Vietnam and a must add to your itinerary. 



4. The nightlife  


Surprisingly.. for us anyway, Ho Chi Minh has some of the best rooftop bars in the world. Notably Saigon Saigon, Chilli Sky Bar and Glo. As we didn't have a lot of time in the city, we opted for the nearest one to us which ended up being the best idea we had while there. 

Located in Bui Viet street (yes, the one you see in the brochures) which was behind our flat, we headed into The View Rooftop Bar at the Duc Vuong Hotel. To get to it, you need to 'follow the glowing red hearts' dotted around the street that guide you to the entrance of the hotel. Being one of the tallest buildings on that street means you not only get some of the cheapest cocktails (that actually taste nice) but also a phenomenal view of Ho Chi Minh. 

A disclaimer as always, the below photos were taken in 2017 on a not so good camera by a not so great photographer so the quality and the layout of the photos don't do this place nearly enough justice. I'd say just Google it instead to get a better idea of what you're getting yourself into. 




 

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