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So, flying down from Dalat to Ho Chi Minh City as again the buses didn’t look too tempting. The roads around the mountain are pretty hairy and the journey to do just a few hundred kilometeres was going to take 7 hours. Vietnam airlines are just too good and cheap not to use.
We were prepared for chaos in HCMC as some people had said that the traffic there was crazier than Hanoi. Not true. It’s definitely still crazy in places but there’s way more traffic lights and crossings so walking into swarms of traffic was pretty rare. I was a bit disappointed – I’ve become a real adrenalin junkie for walking into the road! It’s still got the traditional sights and sounds though and Mark wasn’t overkeen but I loved it.
It’s a much more modern city and seemed much larger too than Hanoi. We were staying in the backpacker area as that’s where pretty much all the accommodation was. It was great when we first got there as everything is on your doorstep but it wore a little thin pretty soon as most places to eat or drink were a rip off and not that good. Eventually we found some good ones, hiding down lanes or leaving the area.
There was a small cafe in our alleyway called the Asian Kitchen which was great and while on a touristy day we stumbled across an amazing restaurant called Nha hang khoai (near the war remnants museum at 3a le quy don)
We’d stopped for a cold drink after a long hot walk and seeing the interesting menu and the prices, made sure we came back. Simply not being in the middle of tourist trap meant this v modern, stylish and tasty restaurant was great value. The food was central Vietnamese I think.
Mark was very adventurous and ordered sea snails – now these were nice but they were huge and there was tons of them so I think unless you were gonna share between 2 or more people – not great idea for a wussy westerner. It was a lot of snail to munch through.
The sea snails:
We also had crispy pancakes, which I wish I’d had more of in our time in the country and I won the smug award by ordering crab glass noodles which was mind blowingly delicious.
Another good feed, back in the touristy area was Le Pub (one of 2 in the country – the original being in Hanoi) – fantastic Bun Cha there and we went to my first ever ice-cream cafe, ‘Fannys’. I so wanted to order the ice-cream that looked like sushi but went for taste instead of style.
The best part of our stay, and is what returned us to the backpacker area even though I wasn’t that keen on it, was our guest house. The Vietnamese family that ran it were lovely and sweet. They had an 18 yr old poodley dog that hung out at the front not up to much, bless him and there was another one in back room that we never saw but he did yap like crazy when heard us. Apparently he only does it for foreigners – just doesn’t like em!!
The place was called Ly Lyon and I can highly recommend – they are lovely people, it’s very safe and cosy and comfy. Nice little homey touches. Great price too.
My favourite thing about HCMC is the green spaces. There are large park areas in the city centre where all life goes on.
People walking circles around the park to get their exercise, little fitness areas setup with things to step on/swing on etc, aerobics classes, teenagers practicing dance routines, people sitting with guitar singing, the soccerish game involving kicking a shuttlecock high in air – that was super popular. Sundays were best – the park was bursting with life.
People watching is fun in HCMC – sitting on a street corner watching the crazy traffic and comings and goings. Although when in the backpacker area you of course have a lot of idiots. It seems to be a real hub for people coming and going at the starts and ends of their trips. Huge buses turning up all the time.
One of the first things we did was go to the War Remnants Museum. Not a cheerful day but an important one none-the-less.
Out the front of the museum are some tanks and planes, including ones abandoned by the US army. You can see most of the blokes around like this bit in the way that boys do, but once you move into the museum any excitement and enthusiasm they had for war is quickly dispelled (unless they are complete pyshcos). It is the quietest place I had ever been to as people walk alone contemplating what they see.
It is also a very fair museum. There is no condemnation for the US troops, only for the war itself. It was fascinating to see information on the extent of the opposition around the world which I’d never realised the extent of. In fact there are many instances of acts of bravery and of stand out acts of humanity from US troops and it also highlights the many US children of soldiers who have been affected by the horrors of agent orange. Kids with extreme deformities with smiling faces. I think my biggest shock was that there’s so much contamination still out there, these children are still being born – I naively thought it was only kids from the 70s affected – not now still. In a happy coincidence the day after we visited, it was announced that the US government was going to pay millions (not in compensation – haven’t got there yet!) but to remove a huge load of agent orange contamination in central Vietnam near Da Nang.
It was an interesting visit but of course very hard and depressing. It’s the recentness of it all and the pointlessness (as is most war) – fear of communism and then fear of losing face. It’s amazing how Vietnam has bounced back from a devastated country to be thriving as much as it is today. And they are still communist – threatening? hardly!
So, after I’d picked my sad heart up off the floor we needed a little light relief so I found out about a place called the ‘Up Cafe’
This is a cafe out near the airport used mainly by locals which is based on the film ‘Up’ in that it’s designed to look upside down.
It was a fab little place – service was a bit odd but food was simple, tasty and it was just cute sitting with a piano hanging over your head.
We went to an art gallery that we stumbled on which was in a stunning old building and had some great modern works. Vietnamese art seems to really have taken it’s own route and has some very unique styles.
Vung tau – off to the coast
We knew that it didn’t have the most amazing beaches as there are lots of oil rigs and stuff off the coast but at an hour and a half by a cheap hydrofoil – thought would be a nice mini-break!!! The journey was really good – a little choppy at the end but took you off on the Mekong and past lots of Mangroves to the sea.
We stayed on Back Beach so we weren’t on an area pointing at the oil rigs/boats anyhow. Immediately the beach looked nice but it was initially a bit strange as it was almost 100% Vietnamese tourists only. It would get incredible choppy. Was quite nervous when went Mark went out a couple of times and he did say it was a little bit scary at times. Surfers would suddenly appear from time to time!
We know that not many westerners visited but it was unusual to see in a beach resort. It’s proximity to HCMC means that lots of people from the city go for the weekend. This was very noticeable. It was incredibly quiet all week then when the weekend came, bus loads came in and it was packed!!
We did discover that the westerners tend to prefer the side near the ferry terminal. We went over there to buy a ferry ticket in advance and headed for a lovely looking bar to get out of the torrential rain. It was a cool looking bar – Kurt Cobains face was carved into the brick and there was a lovely pool table so Mark was happy. Only downside was a couple of drunken idiots being loud and annoying – one English one Oz. When they disappeared we were relieved but when it got to 6pm the whole place changed.
The lights went down, the music went up and a bunch of girls with dresses as short as possible appeared, as did some unpleasant, sad western guys. The guys were very delighted to find these girls loved talking to them *coughs*. I was sat on my own while Mark was playing pool and he quite quickly came running back over as he was a bit scared. The girls had thought he was on his own so had descended on him. So we left & were so happy we didn’t stay in that part of Vung Tau. There did seem to be older guys with younger wives sprinkled about in other areas – but that’s not unusual anywhere in South East Asia. Most hotels don’t allow Vietnamese girls to stay in room with anyone unless married so it can be a real pain for genuine couples.
It is by all accounts a small area/part of the town and easily avoided so I would still highly recommend this town for a chilled out visit.
We did move from our hotel after a few nights to a super cheap, better one up into town as there was a fair ground setup opposite the hotel. Well, opposite a really wide road and a few hundred yards up the road. But from 7 until 10pm this was so loud it not only shook the room, it shook your eardrums and your brains. We are not usually fussed about noise but this hotel was pretty pricey and so it was ridiculous to put up with having to stay out all evening to avoid the noise.
We did venture into the fair one night on our way back from a little beach bar we frequented. Mark was a little ‘happy’ and so very enthusiastic. Zero foreigners so we were a bit of a spectacle. Mark had a couple of the games which were so blatantly fixed that it was just funny. Throwing a ball at a can in the hope it’d fall off – but it just ricochet’d off the solidly stuck can (and after hitting someone behind us – I decided it was time to leave!).
We had a bit of a splash out on most days paying to stay by the pool at the Imperial Hotel. This was a great pool on the beach and most of the time we shared it with only one or 2 sets of people. It was well worth it but we learned early to bring water with us – what they charged was extortionate! We also ventured to eat in there one day, only to be horrified that in this plush hotel, the ‘chefs special spring roll’ was like a potato croquette crossed with a findus crispy pancake. Hideous! So we were happy that we were enjoying the pool by day, while paying a pittance to stay in a guesthouse down the road.
Something that I noticed a lot in the food in Vung Tau was there was a lot of use of black pepper in the food. It was so good – the Pho here was way better and cheaper than most of HCMC.
The beach area we didn’t venture into until near the end of our trip was much busier and you could really see the ‘localness’ of it all. There were tons of deck chairs, shacks and small food sellers. It burst into life at the weekend. It reminded me of Brighton on a sunny weekend – when it seems like the whole world descends!
We also met one of my favourite people of the trip. The incredible laughing old lady. We went to buy some water from her and she just rabbited on and giggled and chuckled her way through the encounter. I think she’d initially told us it was one price and realised her mistake and then told us the correct price but was tickled by her mistake. Have to say – most people wouldn’t have corrected themselves or even given us the ‘real’ price she did in the first place. It was the way that she was rambling on that made me laugh the most – just a really sweet encounter. She was like a nice, Vietnamese verson of Catherine Tate’s ‘Nan’.
We did have one sticky moment – we were attacked by a huge (and heavy) floor standing umbrella. We weren’t quite sure how it happened – there was no-one near it and no-wind but it had been raining so whether that had weighed it down somehow. It just pretty much fell on us as we walked past but luckily didn’t hurt too much. It landed on our backs rather than our heads!
Back to Ho Chi Minh City….
This place was built in the late 60s when the previous one had been bombed (I think) and was to be where the South Vietnamese government would sit. But when the North Vietnamese tanks rolled in, marking the end of the war, it stopped being used and has been preserved pretty much exactly how it was. So for me – a vintage lover – this place is not only a blinder in terms of architecture but the interiors and the little bits and pieces were just amazing.
There were conference rooms and a very cool retro lounge and underneath the whole place were the enforced rooms in the basement where the big wigs could flee to (these were creepy). There were map rooms, office and even a cinema and a party space on the roof. There was some interesting taxidermy and artwork.
The ‘state of the art’ industrial kitchen of the time was cool too.
I could have hung out in the this place for days on end but after many hours Mark had had enough. He was particularly getting annoyed with my insistence on photographing every instance of vintage phones we’d see. I must admit, in the end, even I gave up as there were so many – but we got plenty – for the record!!!
This made me laugh – the kitchen equipment generally needed a description – but thought that ‘table’ was a given.
Highlights & Notable
One of the Vietnamese TV channels seemed to show daily episodes of The Bill from the 80s. For those who don’t know The Bill is a recently cancelled London based police drama. A classic – especially these old episodes with Bob Cryer, June Ackland etc. It was dubbed over in Vietnamese but the weird thing with some of the dubbing here is that they don’t blank out the original speaking so if you listen really hard…
Found this gem of a place a little too late. It was 30 seconds from our guesthouse but we didn’t go in until our return to HCMC where we only had a day to play.
The food was amazing – lots of great cakes but for savoury toothed me, the pizza slices and savoury bakes were my thing.
Funnily enough when we caught our bus to Phnom Penh, our provided breakfast box was from there – so that was a thumbs up!!
As I have seen elsewhere – weddings are big news. I saw some more fantastic brides and I also liked this sweetly decorated car:
Something that is synonymous with Vietnam are the streetcarts filled with french bread rolls.
The independence anniversary artwork
This was slightly different to that in Hanoi but still really cool.
Chewy Cream Puff
This amused Mark immensely – simple things eh?
These were used all over the place, but the funniest thing was how often they were setup over an entire path, so you have walk into the road to avoid them.
Sleeping on mopeds
You see this all the time – impressive!
Common all over in South East Asia but in HCMC they seem to take this to a whole new level. There is the ones with wings out to the side. And they wear them on the beach ???!!!!! Each to their own but the point of this drives us mad. I mean – sweaty face.
This is the Vietnamese airlines life size cut out lady. She stalked us all over Vietnam. Everywhere we went. Sinister gal!