Our Vietjet flight was quite pleasant, ran on time and the transfer organised by the accommodation was there upon arrival (which is always a relief!). We got to our accommodation Cozy House and checked in. The location was down an alleyway and despite outside appearances, it was, well, cosy!
Nigel had seen the place advertised in an article by the Daily Telegraph as budget accommodation and so after checking out the prices we thought it looked reasonable and went ahead and booked it on Booking.com. The check-in process was pretty painless, they had a list of activities you can book through reception on a board and the room was really quite nice; a welcome break to the busyness of Ho Chi Minh. The main difference we noticed here was the lack of breeze and sweltering heat of the city…and of course how manic the traffic was; our room, however, had great aircon and was quiet (apart from a building site next door which didn’t bother us too much). We arranged a transfer from the airport through the accommodation for 300k (just over £10).
In respect of our accommodation it was a comfortable room and did us well for a few days but there were a few gripes; they lock you in at night by pulling shutters across, breakfast choices were very limited (you could only have one choice, for example, coffee or juice and it was a rigid choice of menu only allowing one selection) and staff seemed to want to talk us out of booking the advertised tours. Never the less it did us well and the room was ideal. When we arrived we were a little hungry so popped down the road to a rather amusing place called The Hungry Pig which served nothing but bacon. I enjoyed my food here although Nigel wasn’t so keen. It had some fun menu choices though.
We had watched a programme called ‘Eight Go Rallying: The Road to Saigon’ which ended in Ho Chi Minh at the Independence Palace so we headed to there to stand where the celebrities completed the race and to visit the museum. It cost 40k (Approx £1.32) for the entry and the palace is a government building which goes back to the French occupation in the 19th Century. The Palace also was the site of the end of the Vietnam War on April 30th 1975 when tanks crashed through the gate. There were different rooms you could view including the Cabinet Room, Security Chamber and Banquet Hall as well as the command bunker.
One place which is a ‘must see’ is the War Remnants Museum which opened in September 1975 after the end of the War. Outside of the museum are American military planes, tanks and helicopters which were recovered after the war ended. The entrance fee here was 40k (£1.32). Entirely logically, that war is not known as The Vietnam War here, instead, it is referred to by locals as The American War.
Inside is a sombre experience, graphic photos and displays of ordinance which depicted the suffering of both sides of the war. What was plainly obvious was that this was very slanted towards the ‘winners’ of the war rather than the Americans; however it also told the stories of civilians and journalists. The pictures really were shocking and seeing the suffering in such candid pictures was hard to stomach; however it happened, went on for a long long time and thousands and thousands of innocent people, as well as soldiers, were killed. Some of the most horrifying parts of the museum were the effects of Agent Orange and the famous ‘Napalm Girl’ photograph which featured here.
The photograph taken by Nick Ut in 1972 became famous worldwide and won several awards; he took the picture of 9-year-old Kim Phuc who had 30% burns to her body. This photograph was said to have changed the world view of the war and Kim herself has gone on to win peace awards for her work with UNESCO and for speaking out against violence and hatred. Photographer Ut took Kim and other children to the hospital and demanded they were treated. Despite the harrowing stories and images the museum definitely should be included in any visit to Ho Chi Minh.
For our wedding anniversary we decided to treat ourselves and as is customary had a trip up a tower… in this case, we had booked sunset cocktails and dinner at floor 51 of the Bitexco Financial Tower in the EON heli bar and EON 51 restaurant.
The location was easy to reach by taxi and we started our visit at the Heli bar for sunset cocktails. This is the highest bar in the Ho Chi Minh vicinity and the cocktails were on a par with London prices at approximately 260K dong or £9. Interestingly you can pay to go to the Saigon Skydeck for 200k or make a reservation in the Helibar for free so it was a no brainer! We had lovely cocktails here with a lovely view; Nigel had a mojito or 2 and I had pina coladas.
After the sun had set we made our way to the restaurant. The food here was lovely and whilst expensive it was good compared to the prices we would have paid for a similar high-quality meal and service like this is the UK. The staff were very attentive to our needs. For a special occasion, this is a fab place to come and you can make it as expensive or as cheap as you like.
Our accommodation was located in District 1 of Ho Chi Minh which was surrounded by many bars, restaurants and hotels. We enjoyed a visit to a rooftop bar called The View where they have cocktail offers every day.
There are a few markets in Ho Chi Minh and we decided to visit Ben Thanh which has both a day and a night market. As markets go it was ok; we were able to barter for some reasonable souvenirs but it was quite busy there and we were aware that you had to be careful of pickpockets here. We had no problems. Very near the markets is City Hall which is an impressive building and the Ho Chi Minh Statue. This was lovely to see especially at night.
On our last day in Ho Chi Minh, we visited the Vincom Landmark 81 site. This is a new development which has the tallest skyscraper in Vietnam. We were hoping to visit the observation deck but unfortunately, this was not yet open. At the base of the building, there is an exclusive shopping centre and several properties which have been built by Vincom. This can be found on the western banks of the Saigon River in the Binh Thanh district. We spend a little time here exploring the area but most the shops were mostly out of our price range; if you are going to visit here wait until the observation deck is open.
Ho Chi Minh was a great place for a city break but there is no air; we could only imagine how hot it would be in the height of summer as we were sweating in April. The main thing we will remember it for was the traffic as we have never seen anything like it before; it comes to something when you celebrate getting across the road safely and you do just have to ‘go for it’ because nobody will stop for you. Several high fives were undertaken by us in a celebration that we were still alive after crossing busy roads! Also, be prepared in some places for mopeds to be on the pavement with you!
Another issue we had in Ho Chi Minh was trying to find cash points which would work with English cards. We have had quite a few issues abroad but here we really did spend a lot of time trying various different banks and ATM’s. The one we were successful with was Citibank; it is worth having cash with you when you arrive so you don’t have this problem and whilst a lot of bars and restaurants do take card many smaller outlets don’t.
Finally, we did find some peaceful areas of Ho Chi Minh, there are parks which are a welcome respite from the hustle and bustle of the city streets. One in particular we enjoyed was the Tao Dan Park.
All in all Ho Chi Minh was well worth a visit but only for a few days; any more and I think we would have found it too much. There is plenty to see and do but the intense heat, traffic and general chaos were a little too much. I think if we mentioned the traffic a thousand times we may still fail to get across just how busy it is, so absolutely incredibly manic.
Now it was time to leave Ho Chi Minh and start our route back home via Bangkok……….