We were horribly exhausted after traveling for 32 hours when we arrived at 2 am in HCMC (Ho Chi Minh City), formally known as Saigon. Thankfully it was a breeze getting through customs since we were literally the only flight to arrive at that time. We had our visa set up to pay on arrival so there was no issue there either. The only reservation we made for the entire 10 weeks we will be traveling was for the first night so the hotel would set up the airport shuttle. We didn’t want to worry about how to get to the hotel and it only cost $14 dollars. It wasn’t until after we arrived that we discovered Uber works in HCMC and it would have been 1/3 of the cost. Anyways we stated at Madam Cuc 184. It costs $20 a night. The hotel is in a quiet part of the backpackers district which can get crazy at night. The rooms and bathrooms were clean. The only thing I didn’t like was how they lock the gate at 2300 each night. Since we were jet lagged we would wake up at 0300 in the morning and were stuck. Also the manager requested to hold our passports during our stay. At first I was a little sketched out but we later learned that this is actually a law. All hotels are supposed to take your passports.
There are plenty of options to eat around the hotel including a market. The park is right around the corner and we were surprised at all the Vietnamese people getting up early to exercise in the park. Some were doing their own thing, some were in groups all wearing the same shirts. We saw people doing the fan dancing thing, Thai chi, and aerobic dancing. Tim and I decided to jump in and play too. 🙂
We read about the hazards of pedestrians in the city so we were mentally prepared. Some streets are easy but some times you have to literally put yourself out there, with a confident step you will succeed in crossing the street. The cars and buses are the real threat. They are like the great white sharks of the road and will squash you without hesitation. The motorbikes can easily manuever around you. Once you do it a couple of times you get the flow of traffic and will understand. There is a method to the madness.
While in the city we visited two different museums, the War Remnants museum and the Reunification Palace. The war remnants museum was interesting and displays the atrocities of the war. However, some of the facts and portrayal of the Americans are slightly skewed. It was nice to stroll around the Reunification Palace and view the luxurious rooms and underground bunker.
HCMC smells of cigarettes and gasoline with a hint of fish sauce. Smoking is an epidemic here and the motorbikes are everywhere. The fish sauce comes from the food obviously. However it is delightful and charming in its own way. It’s a vibrant city and there is always something to do at all hours of the day. This is why it’s a good place to be whilst getting over jet lag since there is always somewhere open to get beer, food, or whatever your heart desires. The Vietnamese people are very friendly and willing to help us even while we butcher the correct pronunciation of their language. Google translate has been a God send and I highly recommend downloading the Vietnamese language pack. For some reason I was under the impression that most people spoke English here. We are slowly picking up phrases and it always helps to smile when approaching people. 🙂