I arrived in Ho Chi Minh (Saigon) on December 29th, a few days before NYE. I stayed at Vietnam Inn Saigon on recommendation. It’s a new hostel near the backpacker street, Pham Ngu Lao. The hostel is more like a hotel in a 9 story building. It’s modern and clean with a rooftop bar. Guests get free breakfast and 2 free beers a night which was pretty sweet for only $8 a night.
My first night I met a girl in my dorm from Toronto. We went out to dinner on Pham Ngu Lao with a few of her guys friends, and then we all headed back to the hostel for our free beers. A few of my friends from Laos/Cambodia joined and at midnight we all headed back to the backpacker street and drank at Miss Saigon.
My first official day me and Toronto went to the War Museum aka the America Sucks Museum. The exterior of the museum has US war planes, tanks, etc. The museum itself depicts the Vietnam War from the Vietnamese perspective. It was interesting and sad but very one-sided. A few classes I took in college covered this and therefore it wasn’t too shocking for me; however, a lot of foreigners were horrified by the U.S.
After the museum we walked downtown on “5th avenue” past the beautiful Spanish looking post-office, Notre Dame Cathedral, and the opera house. We walked along the river during rush hour and almost became road kill, and then headed towards our hotel passing the Saigon Square mall (a clean indoor clothes/accessories market) and Central Market (the not so clean outdoor market.)
Saigon has beautifully manicured parks throughout the city. The entire city is incredibly clean and green compared to anywhere else I’ve been so far. The streets rumble with traffic and high end shops/restaurants are just as common as street food. Many parts of Saigon remind me of NYC- it’s the first place I feel like I’m home, which I loved.
Some friends and I attempted to see the Water Puppet Show one night but the woman laughed at us. Apparently all shows during New Years week were sold out a while ago.
I found the most amazing tasting bun bo on the street one night. Bun, although similar to pho, has a more spiced broth and different noodles. I 100% prefer bun to pho.
On New Years Eve day Toronto and I went shopping. Our first goal was to find legit flat sandals. We went to the Aldo in the fancy neighborhood but little did we know what we’d be walking into. Everything in the store was 50% off and the store was a nightmare. The whole place was packed with Asians, the shelves were almost empty, and bags and shoes were scattered everywhere. People were pushing and yelling; it felt like a stamped. Nonetheless we attempted to find shoes. Unfortunately they don’t carry my size.
The shoes here have American and European sizes but they’re different than elsewhere in the world. Normally I’m a 9/39. Here a 40 is too small and narrow. We went to a department store across the street and only one company carried above a 39. I lucked out but just barely.
We ate lunch at a BBQ outdoor garden where we cooked our own meat skewers. Then we got manicures (me white, Toronto black) with silver sparkles on one nail. And then I got a foot massage while she got her hair done.
Getting ready that night felt like being in a sorority again. For the first time since traveling all the girls properly dressed up (minus heels.) We lined up along the bathroom sink putting on make-up. I blow dried my hair, wore real jewelry and a nice dress that I bought for $11 that day.
Toronto and I went for a nice dinner.
We got a massive sashimi boat and hot saki. The boat had all the usual fish plus a fancy oyster and a bunch of grape seaweed. The seaweed looked and felt like fish roe, popping with liquid in your mouth.
Every backpacker made their way to our hostel for the countdown. We had an amazing view of the fireworks from the rooftop. We thought the fireworks were going to come from the harbor but they actually came from the tallest building downtown, the Bitexco tower. They were shot from the observation deck, the roof, and all around the sides. The building outline turned off so it appeared as if fireworks were coming from mid-air at times. They were incredible to watch, and my first NYE fireworks in a city.
At midnight everyone ran out. We went to wander the backpacker street which was a mad house. There was a massive motorbike traffic jam and pedestrians were maneuvering through bikes to walk the street. People were spraying foam and there was gold confetti everywhere. We managed to make it into a small bar for some drinks and solo dancing. We actually didn’t stay out late, the crowd was too much to handle. I felt like I was in Times Square for NYE, which I would never do.
On New Year’s Day we went back to one of the fancy malls to buy flip-flops. We ended up finding a Chinese restaurant and had a dim sum lunch which is exactly what we had been craving. I had steamed shrimp dumplings and shrimp wonton soup.
Walking home I bought some papaya and an avocado. We went to our hostel lounge and watched Captain Phillips and snacked. After our free beer we treated ourselves (again) to an Italian meal. We split meat lasagna, penne with vegetables and bacon baked with mozzarella, and bruschetta. I dared to try the Bordeaux on the menu and it was good enough for a second glass. After dinner we stocked up on Haribo and chips and headed home for a second movie, Hurt Locker. We were not the only ones who had this idea. By the end of the movie the lounge was full of exhausted backpackers.
My last day in Saigon I went to the Cu Chi Tunnels. The tunnels were built in the 1940s before the Vietnam war. The tunnels were used by the Vietnamese Army. We saw a bunch of trap doors, and were able to climb through a tunnel. I only made it 20 meters because you have to climb on your hands and knees which hurt in shorts.
After the tunnels our tour guide said he was going to take us to a real Vietnamese restaurant in District 4 (the tourist district is 1.) He explained a signature dish and said we must pre-order it, so we did. It’s a Shrimp Rice Pancake. The pancake is made from coconut flower, coconut milk and water. The shrimp is placed inside after 7 minutes of cooking, and then it’s cooked for another 3 minutes. When the pancake is done it’s cut and the bites are wrapped in lettuce to eat. When we got to the restaurant it ended up being a small tourist spot right next to our hostel. As usual it was a scam. The pancake was awful too- it was filled with sliced dried out pork, one shrimp and a million beansprouts.
After pancakes a few of us went for drinks on the backpacker street, then we went for some salmon sashimi (need my fix.) Later that night Toronto and I went to Chill Sky Bar. We wanted one proper night out at one of the rooftop clubs. The view was incredible and the crowd was Asian.
The next day I took a 7 hour sleeper bus to Dalat. My first sleeper in the daytime. This was the nicest bus I’ve been on. Individual seats for once.