My guide to Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam
I spent the first 7-8 hours of my New Year working, looking after passengers, feeling tired and with sore ears, which unfortunately kind of set the tone for the rest of the year. But I also spent most of the last 24 hours of 2016 exploring Saigon, a city I’d dreamed of going to since I embarked on my cabin-crew-journey, which was such a nice summary of the year of adventure I’d had.No nature for me
The first thing I will say is that this is not the blog I had hoped to write about Vietnam and I’m desperate to go back so I can write that blog (if anyone can hook a girl up let me know ;) ).
You might know, if you follow my blogs (if not and you’d like to, you can find a follow button to your left), I bloody love nature. There are multiple accounts from Mexico and Iceland of nature having made me cry, in fact. So, this being the case, I really wanted to do the Mekong Delta river tour. You get to go out on a river, in a boat (if you’ve read about my trip to Turkey, you’ll know how I feel about boats *spoiler alert, I love them!*) and see the stunning Vietnamese countryside.
All the tours are a little different. I’ve had friends who have gone into the tiny tunnels the guerrilla soldiers would hide in during the Vietnam war. Others have held giant pythons. And some went to amazing floating markets. They also went on a boat and saw loads of nature in Vietnam and I’m insanely jealous, but enough of that…Kind of worth it?
The reason I ended up not doing the tour was pretty much just bad timing. This tour was really popular with crew so a few other colleagues wanted to go too.
To cut a long story short, we decided to buy our tickets in town after dinner rather than in the hotel where it was triple the price. It turned out that we didn’t leave the restaurant till late and by the time we got to the ticket places, everyone was all sold out. I was gutted, but the amazing dinner kind of made up for it.
Our FO (First Officer) used to be based in Ho Chi Minh, so he and his friend let virtually our entire crew tag along for dinner.
We went to Barbeque Garden, where you cook your food on little hot plates in the middle of the table.
I know these places can be kind of polarising as some people think it’s a bit of a rip-off paying to cook your own food. I couldn’t disagree more, I love these places AND Barbeque Garden is cheap, atmospheric and totally delicious.
What I loved about it:
Sitting outside in the humid East Asian air drinking a cold beer.
Sitting under rafts of beautiful twinkly fairy lights.
Cheese wrapped in beef. This will literally change your life.
The toilets (baring in mind this place is outdoors, to be fair) were nowhere near as bad as they could have been.
So the next morning, after along, well-deserved and much-needed sleep, I met up with some of my colleagues to figure out a backup plan.
Vietnam is famously cheap, so we decided that it was definitely worth visiting some kind of market, so we headed over to Cho Ben Thanh market.
Specificity. If you’re shopping for something in particular, different markets will better meet your needs, so doing your homework will save you valuable time and help you to find what you’re looking for.
Touristiness. There is absolutely no shame in going for the touristy option. Culture shock is real and can be paralysing. Also, sometimes it’s nice to just take things easy. Equally, nothing beats getting off the beaten track, but sometimes this needs to be navigated, especially if you lack local language skills. You can map the territory using review sites, to strike the balance between an authentic and stress-free shopping trip.
Price check. In South East Asia, haggling is par for the course, but this art differs wildly from country to country. Many take a relaxed approach to haggling, while in countries like China, the process sometimes resembles fighting! One of my friends was once actually hit by a woman she was haggling with in China. The point is: each country, and even market, is different, so it’s good to get an idea of how to shop where you’re going. It’s also good to have an idea of how much certain items should cost you.
Ambience. Some markets sell a lot of food and some are really cramped together and are often very busy on specific days/ at certain times. If you have a nose like a bloodhound (and thus really can’t stand bad smells), suffer from claustrophobia, fear of big crowds or anything like that, reviews can be a godsend. There are some markets that maybe you will be better off just avoiding, but for other’s it could just be a case of timing it right.
Anyway, now I’ve pointed out some, maybe, obvious, but nevertheless important, tips on market research (get it?!) back to Cho Ben Thanh.
If you go on Trip Adviser it gets a pretty varied writeup. I won’t lie, it’s nothing special really, particularly if you’ve been to other Asian markets, but it has its own particular charms:
The market’s building is apparently one of the oldest surviving buildings in the city.
I personally found the haggling here really relaxed, but the market was also really quiet as it was NYE. I think usually it’s a little tougher.
The market contains a fish market by one of the entrances. It’s fascinating watching them handle the fish, but it’s also kind of smelly! Fortunately, the main market is so large you can’t smell it elsewhere; just don’t walk in through that entrance and it’s all good!
If you want to get a surgical mask to travel with (as recommended in my packing tips) and have a taste for the finer things, you can get plenty here, including fake-Louis-Vuitton, fake-Gucci, fake-Hello Kitty ones. All the big fake labels. Needless to say this made me laugh A LOT.
There are some astounding knock-offs here. I mean it. See below for evidence.
One of my excellent finds at Cho Ben Thanh. I, to this very day, regret not buying these: Knock-off Ferrero Rocher!Lest we forget
After we had a little shop and some lunch we decided to head down to the War Remnants Museum, which was a really interesting experience.
The museum features lots of different artifacts from different wars, but is well known for the exhibits covering the Vietnam War and particularly its coverage of the longer-lasting effects of ‘Agent Orange’ on the country and its people.
I’d love to be able to write something really insightful about this museum, but there’s a lot here that could offend or upset readers, or politicise the blog, which none of us really wants right?
So let’s just say, war is shit, who needs it? But, it did happen, so let’s keep an open mind and learn from this insightful and educational museum that Charlotte, aka the Titchy Traveller, visited.
Okay. Cool. So…
What I will say is that for anyone who has studied the war in any capacity (I *ahem* do have a GCSE in History, so y’know) this is a really eye-opening experience, because you might discover there’s actually still a lot you didn’t know. I certainly did.
Also this museum is harrowing, graphic and actually quite upsetting. It’s also very authentic. You’re getting a deep glimpse into Vietnam’s perspective on the wars they have participated in and been subject too, which, while hard to see, is important.
Quite often on layovers I didn’t really manage to do anything cultural, so this, despite being kind of serious, was actually a nice change. Even if it was kind of difficult to see.
But to finish on a lighter note, I think one of the most notable things about Vietnam is that there are motorbikes EVERYWHERE. Seriously.
Roads, pavement, markets, malls, probably hotels. All over the shop.
Well, it was a reminder of this motorbike thing, from the below Hamish and Andy’s Gap Year clip (FYI my newly discovered favourite TV show, sorry Catfish, we had a good run), that inspired me to write this post, so I’m sharing it with you :)
Enjoy and happy travels :)<3