Firstly, let me point out this is what the title says – a ‘whistle stop’ guide, meaning I do not profess to be in any way an expert on matters Vietnamese. I only spent 6 days there!
However, it left a lasting impression in my heart and mind, and can safely say it has shot straight to the number 1 spot as my favourite S.E Asian country! (everyone has their own ‘top of the charts’ lists right?)
It’s a country steeped in history, dominated by the war history. The people are friendly, a massive bonus, and as a solo female traveller I never felt uneasy or unsafe. But what is the jewel in Vietnam’s crown? THE FOOD! Of course, why on earth would it be number 1 with me if it wasn’t for the amazing street food. I’m going to devote a whole post to the food, to be honest you could (and some have) devote a whole BLOG to the food. It’s that good.
Anyway, I only visited two places as I had limited time in the country, I swung through Da Nang, but only enough tell you there is a lovely noodle place opposite the train station, a kindly man helping me to the right bus stop for Hoi An, and a terrible Banh Mi vendor opposite the train station….the only ‘bad’ food I had in the whole country.
So, I’ll begin with:
HO CHI MINH CITY or as some still call it SAIGON
This crazy busy, manic city is alive with activity, 24 hours a day! Yes, the roads are almost impossible to cross and there are lots of fumes and pollution in the air (if you are there for more than 3 days I strongly recommend you buy a face mask) but it has an amazing charm, and some beautiful architecture, plus a couple of must see museums.
I’m going to say that basing yourself in the Le Loi area, close to the City Hall is pretty much as good as it gets, and I’m going to shout our here to my lovely hotel which was cheap (by western standards) clean, with smiley, lovely, helpful staff. Also a nice little bonus is they provide you with a lovely silk dressing gown for lounging in! The location is up an alleyway, do not be discouraged by this, I felt totally safe at all hours walking up the alley and it also means it’s a little quieter than being on the main road. Here’s a link to their website: Little Saigon Boutique Hotel
So. You’ve got yourself a base and you can now get out and explore. There are many things to see so if you have limited time choose wisely. I read quite a lot of other blogs about the city and loosely based my first day on this walking guide by Sharyn at Hoh Chi Minh City Highlights Walking Guide Day 1
As I’ve already mentioned I’m a fan of the charting method of preference, so here are my ‘Top 5’ of things I did (not saying you should do them too) in HCMC
Tao Dan Park
Possibly the best two hours (actually I went there a number of time so racked up many more hours) I spent in HCMC. My train back into the city arrived at 5.20am, so I walked to the park and found a coffee stand…plonked my already sweaty body down on a chair and settled in for some of the best people watching on the planet! It was Sunday morning and the place was BUZZING!
Ranging from ferocious badminton games to gentle fan dances it seemed like the whole of the city had descended upon the park to get their fitness on. I had an urge to join in and do some yoga, but resisted in favour of keep watching and moving to areas that had ‘display’s’ going on.
Fine Arts Museum
Not only is this museum a wonderful (and a cool break from the heat with lots of fans) way to pass a few hours with lots of beautiful, mostly post war art, but it in housed in a stunning colonial building which I literally could not stop taking photos of.
War Remnants Museum
I’d class this as a ‘must do’ regardless of your thoughts and preconceived ideas about this war. It’s harrowing in parts, be warned some of the photography exhibitions can get quite upsetting, and it is of course biased, however it is an education and a thought provoking way to learn more about this devastating war.
Sunset at Bitexco
Another tip from the HCMC City Highlights website is not to pay for the observation deck in the city’s largest building, the Bitexco Tower, but head up to the 52nd floor Heli Bar for their happy hour, even after buying a VERY expensive drink (in Vietnemese terms) you will still pay less than the observation tower entry price and can sit there whilst the sun sets over the city with the most incredible view.
Eating Street Food
Of course! what else would I do when in this country?! I wanted to try street food, and after reading this delicious post by Jodi at Legal Nomads: Guide to Saigon’s street food
Although I did try to find the ‘Prison Granny’ Pho stall (seemed to have been replaced with a Com Ta joint?) I gave up and rather just walked the streets, ducking into side alleys and following office workers on their lunch breaks to just find my own food. I also visited a couple of food courts, where they had menu’s so you knew what you were eating, but I found although the food was good these lacked that atmosphere and were double the price of the real street vendor’s. Anyway, food being one of my favourite subjects a whole other blog post will be coming very soon dedicated to my Vietnamese culinary tour.
I hope this post gives you a flavour of why YOU too should visit this wonderful country and city.