Named after the former prime minister of Vietnam, Ho Chi Minh city (previously named Saigon), is the London of Vietnam. Considering Hanoi is the capital, I assumed it would be the busiest and most lively city in the country, but actually Ho Chi Minh is so much more.
The buildings are bigger, advertisements brighter, there are about a gazillion more mopeds (so crossing the roads here makes Hanoi seem a breeze) and about a gazillion more shops, bars, restaurants and clubs… but less pavements. Overall it is basically Hanoi, but on a larger scale. Both cities have the same buzz; authentic streets filled with locals selling street food from carts with small plastic tables and chairs outside. Workers going about their day with their straw hats carrying heavy loads over their shoulders or pushing them in carts. Salesmen pondering about with giant wooden boards selling fake-branded sunglasses. People stood outside handing out leaflets for cheap massages and manicures. Classic Vietnam at its best!
We’re staying in Rou hostel, in the backpacker’s area of the city. It’s only £3 a night and has definitely not been the best out of all the hostels we’ve stayed in, but if you’re on a tight budget and just looking for somewhere to rest your head without all the fancy perks (pools, bar, restaurant, games etc.) then it’s really fine to stay in for a few days.
All of the staff here are some of the loveliest staff I have ever come across; the main lady who works at the front desk is so adorable and wants to help you with anything and everything. But the hostel itself is a bit run down- it’s like an unfinished building, so all there is separating you from outside is concrete blocks and they’re all covered in mould. Because of this, it smells really damp and it’s not good for your chest. It’s also really dusty and the floor doesn’t look like it’s been cleaned in weeks.Before arriving here we read reviews about bed bugs, so I was bricking it as I came up the dreaded three flights of stairs to get to the hostel. Luckily, I never came across any. But on our first night here I really struggled to sleep because I was convinced my mattress was moving beneath me and that I was going to get swallowed up by insects or robbed (there’s no security, no lock on the bedroom door and there were random people on the lower floors).
Vietnamese history has always fascinated me. I think it’s because the war with America was so brutal and it wasn’t even that long ago, which is terrifying. The war remnants museum is a must-see place if you go to Saigon. Honestly, it is the most devastating and heart breaking place I have ever been to in my life, but it is interesting and it’s good to make people aware of the horrors that took place so we can try and ensure they don’t happen again in the future.
Aside from having tanks and bulldozers outside, they also have old prison cells and torture devices. They had ‘tiger cages’ which were tiny and made purely of barbed wire. You could only sit hunched over or lie down in them and sometimes they’d squeeze two or three people into them. They had a tiny room called ‘the oven’ where they would keep women and it would get so hot in there that the prisoners would take turns sitting by the window. There were loads bats inside which was pretty cool, I’ve never seen so many in one place at once in a natural environment. They were SO FLUFFY AND CUTE AND FLEW FROM WALL TO WALL AND THERE WAS A BABY ONE.
The worst bit of the museum was one of the photography rooms, where photos from an American war photographer were framed on the walls. Some were of families, all clinging on to each other and crying, seconds before they were shot. Another was of a dead two year old and another from an elderly man on the floor that was apparently shaking in fear before the Americans shot him. There were photos of the American soldiers torturing locals in the villages, and what really got me in the chest is that some of them were smiling and laughing whilst doing so. My throat was hurting by the time we left the room because I’d been trying not to cry, but when we got out of there I burst into tears.
Another heart breaking room was the one dedicated to Agent Orange, a powerful cocktail of chemical defoliants used to destroy the forests and crops which were used by the Vietnamese as cover. It caused cancer, brain damage and so many horrible deformities which have affected the later generations. Photos of victims with two heads or misshaped limbs, eyes and faces hang all over the walls and it makes you realise how lucky you are to have not been involved.
I’m currently sat writing this at a Frozen Yogurt place called ‘Yogurt Space’. One of the women working here is such a cutie I want to carry her around in my pocket. She gets so excited to see us and always gets all shy and says “ahh I really like you”. It’s a good place to sit and write and they have the BEST smoothies in the world (get the banana and mango one, you won’t regret it), and it’s a do-it-yourself frozen yogurt place, so you do all your own flavours and toppings.
There’s also a vegan place here called ‘Healthy Farm’ and it’s SOOO GOOD! They give you a little shopping bag and you fill it with vegetables, noodles and vegan meat/tofu/ seafood and then they make it into a Vietnamese noodle soup for you! It’s delicious and fresh and the cheapest place I have eaten out in since being in Vietnam.
There’s a small Mexican place called ‘Nonla guys’ as well. We told one of the guys we’d be back later when he hailed us over earlier in the day and he was happy that we kept our promise. They cheesy chips, tacos, enchiladas, burrito bowls… everything Mexican! They made me up a tofu quesadilla, because they didn’t have a meatless one on the menu , and it was so nice.
Just like any other market in Vietnam, Ben Thanh market is full of colourful jewellery, patterned shirts and trousers, fruit and souvenirs. The last pair of pretty patterned trousers I bought ripped, so I got another pair for ridiculously cheap. This time they’re pink and purple with elephants. They match the nail vanish I’m wearing now and are shorter in length so they fit better.
The Notre-Dame Basilica cathedral is beautiful and of course has that typical gothic style standing tall and mighty. On the road opposite there were brightly coloured pigeons, with either pink, green electric blue feathers, which is something I never expected to see.
Trying to be tactical, me and Jenny decided that because we have to get up at five AM for our flight to Bangkok tomorrow, that we should go out the night before (as in last night) so that we can sleep throughout the day (today) then just stay up and wait for our flight. We had such a good night. It started off that we lied to the guys in our room because they kept trying to get us to go out with them and I would honestly rather slit my throat and roll in acid than go out with them. We sat at a restaurant down the main strip, facing the road and people- watching.
One man was breathing fire in the road, with mopeds and cars veering past him, backpackers drunkenly marched along with fresh tans, restaurant and bar workers grabbed people and pulled them in and the whole street was illuminated in different coloured lights. On the table in front of us were two people from London who we discovered would be on the same flight as us on Sunday! We sat somewhere shortly after and had four beers each for about £1.60 and had some really nice conversations about family and friends and how lucky and grateful we are to have the people in lives that we do. We also spoke about the old days and the memories we had, going right back to the Primary school days when we were both little troublemakers.
We met these other people from England that were really lovely and went to a club with them. The music was obviously terrible but we were drunk and didn’t care. At one point I walked into a glass door and Jenny wound these guys up by potting their black ball in the middle of their game of pool hahaha. When we left to go outside, this TINY woman came out of nowhere trying to sell gum (you know someone’s tiny when they come up to my shoulder), and she just groped Jenny’s boob out of nowhere! I was in stiches and she ran over and kissed my nipple?!?! It was sooo weird she was like giggly away then following us trying to do it again hahaha. SO WEIRD!
We got busted by one of the guys from our room when he spotted us from across the street. After waving politely we saw he was about to try and cross the road to come over to us so we both looked at each other and at the exact same time said ‘oh no’ and ran away haha. It was just one thing after another that night, sooo funny.
Also- the most hilarious thing has happened this morning (I’m now no longer in the frozen yogurt place, but finishing this off sat on my assigned bed in my mouldy corner, listening to Florence and the machine, slightly hungover and craving a four cheese pizza). Basically, we’ve had these four British guys staying in our room and they have been the most annoying people in the world. Having to climb over their mountains of mess is one thing, but being woken up every single night at three, four, five in the morning by their loud voices and the light being turned on is something else.
You know the kind of the people- a group of wannabe lads who are all clones of each other but each think they’re the dog’s b*llocks, who have no consideration of anyone other than themselves and who talk about nothing other than how many girls they pulled last night, how many fights they got in or how many Valium’s they took because pharmaceuticals are really hard. Who say things like “let’s buy the club tonight lads” or “the club last night was LIT”.
Anyway, we were looking forward to them checking out this morning. Although thanks to them I’ve had three hours sleep and been awake since seven AM so my tactical plan for staying up tonight has been pissed all over. A few hours after they checked out to get on their bus to Cambodia- ONE OF THEM APPEARED. It was the same guy who asked me to cover up a hickey somebody gave him the day before (gross). He’d got so drunk and taken so many vallies that he’d passed out somewhere and THEY ALL LEFT WITHOUT HIM HAHAHA. So just as we thought we’d got rid of them, one of the leaches is still clinging on.
It’s safe to say I have never been anywhere so versatile, with so much character. Vietnam has everything from bustling cities, picturesque beaches, bright green rice fields and tropical foliage, caves, islands, history, sand dunes, amazing food and amazing people. A month here was the perfect time to spend and I feel like I have seen the most of what there is to see, so I’m walking (or flying) away satisfied. See you in Bangkok!