Anna and I wanted to celebrate the New Year away from Bangkok. Bangkok’s a great place to ring in the new year as there are many rooftop bar parties, street revelries, or friend’s who always plan something festive. However, with all the time that Anna gets off for the holiday it’s best to take advantage and get out and go someplace new when she has that time off. This year we chose Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam! I was super excited (see my banh mi post).
I love that Bangkok is the springboard to the rest of Asia. Flights are plentiful, cheap, and short in duration. A quick 1 1/2 hour flight and we were landing in a Vietnam as self-made millionaires (you don’t have to convert too many dollars or baht to dong to become a “millionaire”). We’d arranged with the hotel to have a shuttle service from the airport to the hotel–it was super cheap and smart to do.
Once we checked in we immediately set about finding a bowl of pho and a beer. We found a little corner place to people watch and take in the scene.
It’s quite easy to get around Ho Chi Minh City. My preferred conveyance is my two feet. We stayed around District 1 which is the touristy area (lots of shopping, dining, and bars)–but that doesn’t mean you don’t get to a flavor for the local life. It’s chaotic with the hustle and bustle of cars, motorbikes, bicycles, cyclos (bicycles with a 2-wheeled cart in the front for passengers), and buses all getting to where they need to be by any means necessary. When out and about you really have to have a 360 degree sense of awareness at all times–even on the sidewalks!
We went on a walkabout just to familiarize ourselves with the area. There is much to see and do all within walking distance.
Anna and I discovered an app called Get Your Guide that enables you to search available tours for the area that you’re in. We found a reasonable priced tour (about $120/person) that included an early morning pick-up from our hotel, an English speaking guide, transportation to the Cu Chi Tunnels, admission fees, then lunch and a boat tour up the Mekong to a little village with canal boat rides (a bit touristy but fun), visiting a bee farm and sampling some of their treats, and a return to the hotel in time for dinner. It’s much cheaper to go along with a group tour (about $20/person) to just see the Cu Chi Tunnels, but it’s absolutely worth it to take a private tour as you can avoid the crowds and go at the pace you wish and it bundles the experience of the Mekong River tour. A Mekong River group tour can be found for under $40/person.
We negotiated a cyclo ride around the city. It’s a great way to see the city sights, but you run the risk of meeting some unscrupulous cyclo drivers. That was our experience anyways. We negotiated what we felt was a very fair price for 2 drivers for 2 hours…I don’t recall exactly what it was but at they end they tried to pull a fast one on us and charge about $100 USD. I ended up just walking away and giving them what we’d agreed on. They didn’t pursue us so I’m pretty sure they were trying to scam us–they’d have really raised hell if we were in the wrong.
From the cyclo journey we stopped and visited several temples as well as had lunch at the Lunch Lady’s noodle stand. I do recommend folks try this conveyance, but just be cautious about who you deal with. There is also the option of booking a cyclo tour by the hour through the Get Your Guide website or app. This is what we would do if we could do it all over again.
Ho Chi Minh City is a foodie’s delight. There is so much to eat on the streets or little hole in the wall joints. A quick banh mi sandwich, a piping hot bowl of pho noodles with fresh herbs, there are snacks to be had every few feet. It’s also a drinker’s paradise. You can have a high-so Manhattan or martini while listening to live Jazz, a giant green bottle of Beer Saigon at the many open front bars, or even a super cheap glass of fresh and foamy home brew Bia Hoi and some casual conversation with strangers (whilst folks come by offering beer snacks to purchase).
We rung in the new year on a very crowded and chaotic Bui Vien Street (also known as Bar Street). Music was being blasted from every surrounding bar. The chairs from each bar crept further and further into the road as a way of attracting more customers. This resulted in funneling everyone right into the middle of the road…which was still an active roadway for scooters. It was pure joyful chaos…that maybe I’m getting too old for. I won’t lie, as soon as it was midnight and everyone went bananas, it was nice to make a bee line back for the hotel!
Anna and I spent 5 days in Ho Chi Minh City. Honestly, we could have spent 3 days there and covered it well. After day 4 we were pretty beat because of all the walking we did…and it is exhausting to walk and walk and constantly be on the lookout for crazy traffic. The food is amazing and the beer (and prices) are awesome. But the hustle and bustle of that city can wear you down. Immediately after returning to Bangkok we needed a vacation and went to Koh Chang for beach time!