We booked the bus through our hotel to HCMC. We left at 11am on a sleeper bus, although we were only travelling about 5hours to HCMC. It was incredibly hot only for us on the bus as we were at the bottom and apparently the air con didn’t really work that well on the bottom but was freezing for the people that were at the top! We met a really nice Australian couple that we were talking to for a while as they were travelling before eventually moving over to London as well as a really nice German girl. Luckily there was a short bathroom break halfway through the journey where we cooled down with some whippy ice creams!
We arrived in HCMC not having booked a hostel as they were booking up fast online but also seemed quite expensive. Luckily where we were dropped off was in the backpacker area in District 1 on Pham Ngu street. We walked to one of the busier hostels that we knew about- it was more of a party hostel but include a free drink and breakfast for an ok price. Unfortunately they were all booked out so we ended up at Saigon Marvel hostel (£7 a night each!). This was ok and they had more capsule type beds with privacy curtains so it meant there was about 14 people in each room with several different rooms. Facilities were clean and comfortable, plus we got free breakfast however it was very loud at night due to a number of clubs being close by. Luckily we had only booked one night so we moved to a cheap hotel where we were able to get our own room/ bathroom and free basic breakfast for less money than us being in the hostel. Plus it was quiet.
Our first evening there we explored District 1 a bit and had some spring rolls and noodles (40 000 dong) on Bui Vien street. This street is filled with a number of bars, restaurants and clubs so it gets very busy and loud. However, you can get some cheap bargains on food.
We also walked to Ben Thanh market- that marketplace was closed as it was more of a daily event but we grabbed a quick iced coffee as we were told the street next to it gets shut down between 6.30-6.45pm and then a night market is erected very quickly. It was incredible to watch at 6.45pm stall owners began dragging scaffolding, stalls, equipment and stock from alleyways where it is stored and teams of people erect the stalls in 15minutes so that they are ready when the police close the street to cars at 7pm. It is mainly clothing, souvenirs and a few snacks but it was interesting to watch! Just up from here there is an indoor area marked ‘Street Food Market’. This is full of street food type restaurants where you could get any cuisine you wanted but at a slightly higher price than normal street food, but it is a trendy area if you have the money.
We continued our walk by walking more towards Pasteur Street Brewing Company, as this was somewhere Dave wanted to visit whilst we were there. On the way to finding this, we found a huge mall where we wandered around and cooled off in the AC. At the bottom of it, there was a band playing, whilst people were handing out samples of Sapporo beer to advertise it. Free beer and we didn’t even get asked any questions by the advertising people! We also found a shop selling mochi and we picked a couple up (chestnut and chocolate), as I had never had it. Definitely not something for me, a very weird squidgy texture. After finding the brewing company we made our way back to our hostel for their buy get one free beer hour (20 000 dong).
In the morning we got our free breakfast at Saigon Marvel hostel before moving over to our room at Saigon Balo hotel. We walked around the park outside our hotel a bit (23/9 park) before following an itinerary from the visit a city app to see some of HCMC’s sites. We went over and saw Notre Dame Cathedral, the old Post Office, the Opera House and Ho Chi Minh square where we just admired their architecture. Notre Dame was not open to go in and you can only visit the opera house by seeing one of the shows there- it is home to a cirque du solei type show that they charge extravagant amounts of money for.
After this we explored the bottom mall areas of the Bitexco financial tower eating pork buns and dumplings in the food court there. The rest of the tower has lots of offices in it. We travelled up to the Helibar. There is a bar, restaurant and café at the top of the tower which provides amazing views of the city. We went for the bar as they have a happy hour from 1-4pm where a draft beer is 80 000 dong+ tax. This is incredible expensive for our budget but it meant we got beer and an amazing view. There is also an observation sky deck that you can buy tickets for to see the view but the tickets for this are 200 000 dong each (with no beer!). We also got a free little bowl of spicy peanuts… woo!
After this we walked across the city to the War Remnants museum (15 000 dong entrance) they have lots of old planes outside, then different exhibitions about the Vietnam War- photojournalism exhibitions, affects of agent orange, a documentary, stories from survivors of agent orange or affected in other ways by the war, general history about the war and information of the prison camps on phu quoc island. Unfortunately, we got there at 3.45pm and it shut at 5pm. We spent so long just in the photojournalism section as it was so interesting that we did not see any more of it so we had to go back another day.
In the evening we tried one of the Banh Mi stalls recommended from Migrationology blog posts (25 must try foods in Saigon) at 37 Nguyen Trai. For 18 000 dong we got a banh mi sandwich that was filled with small barbequed pork patties and it was delicious.
After Dave had visited a game shop and played on a VR headset we made our way to Pasteur Street Brewing company. Their bar is down a tiny alleyway and then it is split over two levels but each room is very small. Dave had seen this craft beer company all over Vietnam so wanted to try their beer and treat himself. He got a tasting board of 6 x 175ml beers for 250 000 dong where he had a passion fruit beer, a coffee porter, a jasmine IPA, a spiced saison, a double PSB IPA and a double ESP IPA. I tried a small 175ml watermelon beer. Dave really enjoyed most of them and I didn’t enjoy any of them. Next to us in there were a dad and his two daughters from America who had been cycling the Mekong delta on holiday for a couple of weeks. We chatted to them for a while and all tried each other’s different beers. After the beers we were a bit peckish so we found more Banh Mi in district 1- a meatball one and a red sausage one for 15 000 dong each and had ice coffees on plastic stools at a place called ‘5 boys’ watching chaos unfold on Bui Vien street.
Whilst eating breakfast on the rooftop of our hotel the following day we heard a lot of commotion from the park opposite us. There were thousands of school children there- cheerleaders, bands and drummers. Apparently they were all competing/ performing there for the day as celebrations for the king. After breakfast we explored the park and watched some of the performances. We got an early Banh Mi lunch from Banh Mi Hong Hoa (20 000 dong for roast pork) and then got another ice coffee sitting watching a band perform in the stage of the underground food courts in the park.
At 1pm we made our way to the Sinh Tourist office, as we were booked on the Cu Chi tunnels tour with them (109 000 dong for the afternoon tour). We chose to go in the afternoon as full day tours that combine Cu Chi tunnels with other places usually get there in the morning and make it very busy. We only wanted to see the Cu Chi tunnels so we thought an afternoon tour would be less busy and it was relatively quiet when we visited. It took us two hours on the bus to get there, which we used to look at the places we wanted to go in Cambodia. The guide with us from the Sinh Tourist office was very interesting and engaging giving us lots of information. We tried and got in one of the small entrance holes to the tunnels (that has actually been widened for tourists as they were getting stuck), watched a video of the history, learnt more about the tunnels on the tour and then went through one of the tunnels. This has also been widened for tourists and we were only allowed to travel 40m through it. There are small exits every few metres for anyone that gets really claustrophobic. I felt my heart racing in there as I do not like small spaces but with the option to get out every few metres I managed to make it to the end and we were only in there a couple of minutes at most. The tunnel systems used to be much larger but they are not as big as the Vinh Moc tunnels we had previously visited. These tunnels were primarily used as a base for soldiers to ambush US military as well so there were never hundreds of people living there which is why the tunnels and entrances were much smaller. Whilst we were there we were also able to try some cassava with peanuts which was actually quite nice, a bit like a sweet potato but I don’t think I would want to live on it constantly like the soldiers did as they could not cook rice as it would show their position to the enemy. On the way back to HCMC there was lot of rain and thunderstorms. It was coming into rainy season for the south as we were there; luckily we were leaving in a couple of days.
Instead of venturing too far for food in the park there was a massive tent erected with food stalls in it for the weekend so we tried several different snacks from here- a sausage coated in chips (25 000 dong), chicken tandoori wrap with egg (35 000 dong), toryaki (squid and mince balls), fried banh bao (25 000), a Japanese cheesecake and a sponge fish with chocolate inside it. Some things were a lot nicer than others and some were very average! We spent the rest of our evening having an ice coffee at a restaurant over looking Bui Vien street. We tried to watch some different videos about places in Cambodia to decide where we wanted to go but I ended up spending the evening and all night up ill again.
Our last day there we went to a café called Flat White for coffee and a parmesan croissant whilst we waited for the War Remnants museum to open at 1pm. We finished the rest of the War Remnants museum- definitely somewhere worth visiting. For lunch we went to the Asian Street Market, which is a food court that was opposite our hotel on Pham Ngu street. We had Com Tam from one of the restaurants there which was grilled pork, spring rolls, rice, egg paste, pork skin (like a weird stringy floss), veg and salad for 60 000 dong. We then went and got a coffee in the afternoon at the Manga café across the street where we booked a hostel in Phnom Penh for the next day.
In the evening we ventured to a different area of the city (still by walking) to a small local restaurant that was recommended on migrationology blog (linked above) for their Bun Thit Nuong which is grilled pork, noodles, peanuts, vegetables and usually spring rolls but they were out of these at Chi Thong Bun Thit Nuong. We walked back through the park after buying ice creams and as we were finishing these off someone approached Dave and asked if he could chat with him. In a few minutes, about 20 different people surrounded us all about our age. They just wanted to talk to us to learn about our lives and we spent a while exchanging information about life in the UK as well as their lives in HCMC. We ended up speaking to them for about an hour and a half as well as attempting to play the shuttlecock game with them (much harder than it looks). Apparently they go to the park every night to meet tourists and practice their English with them. This was a fantastic time to our end in HCMC as well as Vietnam. The people here are all lovely and often trying to better themselves.