lời chào hỏi!
I’m into my third week traveling through Vietnam. It has been such an experience – one that I am so glad I decided to undertake – I’ve learned so much about myself during this trip.
I’ve learned to push myself outside of my comfort zone by:
1) traveling solo for the first time in my life: I knew I would be alright, I wasn’t at all apprehensive about the solo travel. In fact, once there I kind of relished it. I could do what I wanted, when I wanted, at my own pace without having to worry about someone else’s schedule or if they’d like the things I had planned. But, this was a first for me – I had never traveled solo. Up to a couple of years ago, I wouldn’t even eat dinner at a restaurant by myself.
2) meeting and getting to know new people as I travel: this was the best part. I purposely chose to stay in a hostel when I arrived in Ha Noi, not to save $ but rather to meet new people, new friends who’d been traveling – to get to hear of there adventures – to go out and about with them and explore the city.
I’ve enjoyed my time with the new travel friends I’ve made, but, I also very much enjoying my me time, solitude. This leg of the trip, I get to spend with my eldest daughter, whose been living here since last August 💛
This week we’re in Vũng Tàu and Hồ Chí Minh City …..
We wanted a beach getaway – so the morning after I landed in HCMC, we hopped on a two hour bus ride from HCMC to Vũng Tàu – which cost 100,000 VND each one way. From the bus station we walked and checked into our hotel – which I booked via Booking.com (via Ebates.com to earn reward dollars – gotta be smart with the savings folks!).
Vũng Tàu is the largest city and former capital of Bà Rịa–Vũng Tàu Province.
Bãi Sau Vũng Tàu – Back Beach
We spent the afternoon at Back Beach. This busy swimming beach offers a long strip of sand for sunbathing & sandcastle making or digging holes to burry your friends. The South China Sea was warm – it made for the perfect beach day. Lots of people playing in the sand and water. Nice walkways to get around. There are plenty of chairs and inner tubes for rent.
Some minor trash noted on the beach, but I did notice ladies cleaning up the beach while we were there.
Sea Memory Hotel
Located in Front Beach district, Sea Memory Hotel offers free parking and only comprises of 12 rooms. We booked a standard room at $17 CDN per night. The room came with climate control, flat-screen TV (it did have English channels). Every room is fitted with a bath, a shower and toiletries. They also offer scooter rentals at 100,00 VDN for a whole day ($5.70 CDN).
The staff were courteous and helpful. They offer “slippers” when you arrive (they are actually flip flops) – you don’t wear your shoes into the hotel or lobby (you leave them at the front door). The bar is stacked for a fee – not certain of the pricing – but we paid 10,000 VDN for a small bottle of water – but only paid 9,000 at VinMart for 1.5L.
There is a short walk to the beach. But, for the $17.00 CDN price tag it was well worth it. Plus, I don’t mind walking – I need to get my 10,000 FitBit steps in lol.
Vũng Tàu Lighthouse
We decided to rent a scooter from our hotel for 1/2 day for the mere cost of 50,000 VDN – about $2.85 CDN. Cassandra has been driving in Vietnam for the last few months, so I opted to let her drive – the traffic and every day driving here is nuts to say the least.
We made our way from the hotel to Vũng Tàu Lighthouse which is perched at the top of the Nui Nho Mountain, the French-built Vũng Tàu Lighthouse is still operational and gives visitors a 360-degree vista of the city and sea. The views were beautiful!
Vũng Tàu Lighthouse is considered the oldest among 79 lighthouses in Vietnam. France built this site in 1862 to signal and instruct ships to cross. Great place for photo ops and to take in the city scapes.
Christ the King of Vũng Tàu
After spending time at the Vũng Tàu Lighthouse, we made our way to the Statue of Jesus, standing on Mount Nhỏ. The Vietnam Catholic Association built the statue in 1974, it was completed in 1993.
There are a total of 811 exhausting steps to get to the top of the statue. Which for me, is difficult enough, add in 33º stifling heat and humidity – I embarrassingly have to admit that I had to stop on a few occasions for rest and water breaks!
The statue is 105 ft high, standing on a 13 ft platform, for a 118 ft total monument height with two outstretched arms spanning 60 ft. There is a 133-step staircase inside the statue – which we did not climb as we were not wearing the appropriate clothing (we had knees and shoulders which were not covered).
Pineapple Beach Bar
At the recommendation of my daughter, who had previously been with some friends – we ate dinner at Pineapple Beach Bar – she claimed the sunsets were to die for. Although we missed the “sun setting” we did catch the sun set – and it was magnificent as you can see by the photos!
The menu is short, but quality. I had the falafel burger on a charcoal bun and Cassandra had the pulled pork burger, we both also enjoyed a rum and coke for 40,000 (about $2.30 CDN).
Hồ Chí Minh City (Sài Gòn)
I had some initial misgivings about HCMC – that it was going to be too big (population of 8.4 million, 13 million in the metropolitan area), too many people and too much chaos …. and I was right, it’s all of those things and more.
As big and populated as is it, I didn’t find it as overwhelming as I thought I would. It’s technically bigger than Toronto, but does not feel as large or congested even with 8 million motorbikes. Maybe, it’s the ‘feel’ of the city? It’s not stuffy or pretentious. Although there’s a lot of traffic, yet you seem to be able to manoeuvre around the city a lot faster (I could get from District 1 to Tân Phú district way quicker than I could make the same jaunt in Tdot). Maybe it’s also that the people here aren’t preoccupied with themselves, or which meeting they need to get to next or maintaining some high level status quo? I don’t exactly know what it is, but, I was pleasantly surprised.
It is also really good to reconnect with my daughter, whom I haven’t seen since last August when she moved to HCMC to teach English. She would be my personal guide to all things Hồ Chí Minh (she even planned us/me an itinerary for the days she works and doesn’t work).
Ok let’s get started on HCMC and some of the key things I did here — I’ve been a busy visitor.
Củ Chi Tunnels
The tunnels of Củ Chi are an immense network of connecting tunnels located in the Củ Chi District and are part of a much larger network of tunnels that underlie much of the country. The Củ Chi tunnels were the location of several military campaigns during the Vietnam War. The tunnels were used by Viet Cong soldiers as hiding spots during combat, as well as serving as communication and supply routes, hospitals, food and weapon caches and living quarters. The tunnel systems were of great importance to the Viet Cong in their resistance to American forces, and helped to counter the growing American military effort.
The 121 km long complex of tunnels at Củ Chi has been preserved by the government of Vietnam, and turned into a war memorial park with two different tunnel display sites at Ben Dinh and Ben Duoc.
To combat these guerrilla tactics, U.S. forces trained Korean/Chinese soldiers (because they were smaller in stature) known as “tunnel rats” to navigate the tunnels in order to detect booby traps and enemy troop presence.
In heavily bombed areas (a lot of craters are still visible from the intense bombing), people spent much of their life underground, and the Cu Chi tunnels grew to house entire underground villages, with living quarters, kitchens, ordnance factories, hospitals, surgical wards and bomb shelters.
What I found interesting is that our guide shared with us some of the ingenious ideas they came up with. For example – they created a specially designed sandals – with the same specifications at the front and back so that the enemy had no idea in which direction they were walking (in the wet season when the ground was muddy). They also created ventilation hatches in the design of rocks so they were not visible to the enemy and when the US troops used dogs in an attempt to locate them – they used American clothing in the vents to simulate a “friendliness” scent to the dogs and they would pass them by. They also designed ventilation in the form of rocks for their kitchen and so they were located – cooked at 3-4 AM so that they smoke coming from the vent would blend in with the mist and not be visible to the enemy.
(I don’t have as many photos, I took more videos)
The Ho Chi Minh City Post Office
The Central Post Office in Ho Chi Minh is a beautifully preserved remnant of French colonial times and perhaps the grandest post office in all of Southeast Asia.
This is a quick visit, for a few photo ops, visit the inside of the post office, mail a postcard back home.
Notre-Dame Cathedral Basilica of Saigon
Following the French conquest of Cochinchina and Saigon, the Roman Catholic Church established a community and religious services for French colonialists, who initially named it Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Saïgon, the cathedral was constructed between 1863 and 1880.
Also a quick visit and conveniently located directly across from the post office.
War Remnants Museum
I love museums, I try to go to as many museums as I can, especially ones on history. The War Remnants Museum was probably one of the saddest things I’ve ever seen – there were times I teared up and other times I gasped. The museum contains exhibits relating to the Vietnam War and the first Indochina War involving the French colonialists.
Exhibits include graphic photography accompanied by a short text covering the effects of Agent Orange and other chemical defoliant sprays, the use of napalm and phosphorus bombs, as well as war other atrocities.
I won’t go on about this attraction – although I do believe that everyone should see it if they are able. The pictures speak for themselves.
*caution – some photos contain graphic nature*
Bến Thành Market
Ben Thanh Market is located in Ho Chi Minh City’s District 1 and is a great place to buy local handicrafts, branded goods, art and other souvenirs. You’ll find eating stalls inside the market where you can get a taste Vietnamese cuisine or simply cool off with a cold drink when the bargaining becomes a bit too much. The market is BIG and can be difficult to navigate.
I found the market to be a bit overwhelming at times, being pulled in all different directions – each stall owner asking to visit “their” shop — “bag for you madame?”, “come look in my stall miss?”. And if you are interested in something – you need to be a keen negotiator or you will definitely overpay. I was looking at this one bag – we started off at 900,000 VDN and by the time I left her stall she was down to 350,000 VDN (I didn’t end up buying the bag – now I regret not buying it).
I went to have some lunch and cool down with a drink – all at once I had 4 food stall operators surrounding me vying for me to sit that their booth. Thankfully, a brother and sister combo from Los Angeles saw the commotion and saved me 😂 – they are Vietnamese and were home visiting family in Huế before heading back to L.A. They helped me order my bún riêu and fresh lemon drink and we chatted for a bit. They even extended an offer to try sweet snail with lemongrass – being someone who likes to try new things – I did. Not what I expected – more chewy. I’ve had escargot back home but it usually comes in a cup shape smothered in garlic cheese. These were just cooked – in the shell as is, and served. You had to use a mini fork to dig them out.
I enjoyed my bún riêu – which I have to say is much different than in the North, which I prefer. This one was filled with some chunks of tenderly stewed pork, blood jelly as well as some type of snails or shell fish. It wasn’t bad, just not as good as the one I had Da Nang or especially the one I loved in Ha Noi 😋.
The World of Heineken
Being a beer enthusiast I had to experience the World of Heineken tour where you have the opportunity to understand the beer brewing process, learn how to pour that “perfect” glass of Heineken (which I did not lol – see photo).
You may be wondering … Heineken is big in Vietnam? Yep, sure is, they love Heineken – and they have a large brewing operation here. Apart from the brewery in District 12, Heineken Vietnam Brewery has 100% ownership of breweries in Da Nang, Quang Nam, Tien Giang and Vung Tau. And, currently, Heineken Vietnam Brewery has a broad and impressive portfolio of beers which includes Heineken, Tiger, Tiger Crystal, Desperados, Biere Larue, Biere Larue Export, BGI and Bivina.
The tour atop the Bitexco Financial Tower (58th through 60th floors), also includes an additional 2 free pints, water and a bowl of chips in addition to playing interactive games (I chose to play DJ for the whole floor). I enjoyed my two pints, served at the highest bar in Vietnam and enjoyed the beautiful view of Ho Chi Minh City while I chatted with another solo traveler, Marc from Shanghai, China.
At the end of your experience, you also receive a keepsake bottle of Heineken with your name on it. Well worth the 250,000 VDN!
My last day in Hồ Chí Minh City
Obama Bún Chả – Cassandra and I went down to District 1 for lunch. She wanted to try out Obama Bún Chả. Decked out in all things Obama and Bourdain – their claim to fame, right? Wrong, we were disappointed to find out that the one we ate at was a double of the original one in Ha Noi – I mean it makes sense – bún chả is more of a Ha Noi (Northern) thing.
What is bún chả? It’s a Vietnamese dish which contains grilled pork in a sour slightly spicy soup, rice noodles, and LOTS of herbs and vegetables, originated in Ha Noi. I’ve had it in Ha Noi — but we wanted to try this cute little gimmicky place – I mean both Obama and Bourdain cant be wrong!
We ordered the exact meal that Obama and Bourdain ordered Bún Chả & Nem Vuông Cua Biển. Not gonna lie – it was one of the best things I’ve eaten this whole trip! Definite recommend in either Ha Noi or HCMC. Cost 95K.
Flea Market – Green Edition – we then mozied on over to District 2 (where the majority of ex pats reside) to a Flea Market – Green Edition (I accidentally referred to it as a Bohemian Yard Sale lol). Entry was 20K ($1.15 CND) and included either a beer, water, tea or coffee. It’s actually a cute idea – all geared toward GREEN initiatives – which I love because I’m an environmentalist. Those selling their wares included homemade soaps, perfumes and lip balms as well as reusable bamboo straws, cups and utensils (I loved these and the colours were cute). There was also a clothing swap – GREAT idea – bring clothes and swap for other clothing OR buy 7 items for 100K ($5.65 CDN) – she purchased 2 items and I added a shirt on that tab – so 3 items … the best part — she can go on their online store and pick up 4 other items for FREE. They had the same premise for books as well. We picked up our FREE Saigon Red and sat down to watch people temp the rock climbing wall or skateboard, great way to spend a few hours.
Rice Field – Homecooked Vietnamese Cuisine – located in the heart of Saigon, decorated with traditional Vietnamese style & split into 2 parts – cozy indoors with A/C & a countryside touch with rice field on its rooftop where you can enjoy the view of Bitexco – iconic building of Saigon. The menu is very extensive with a variety of foods from the North to the South of Vietnam. It has 4.5* on Trip Advisor and I can see why – the food and wait staff were excellent. We chose the grilled pork and the bánh xèo – at first glance, you might think that these are omelettes. But, there’s actually no egg in the batter for these pancakes. Rather, it’s turmeric that gives the batter its characteristic yellow hue. The best part is the sauce (which at times I feel I could just drink as is) – nuoc cham is a classic fish sauce-based dipping sauce that creates a beautiful balance between sour, sweet, and salty.
This is my last full day in HCMC – tomorrow Cassandra and I leave for a 2 day, 1 night trip to the Mekong Delta — then, I have to fly back to Canada ….. BUT, I’m having soooo much fun here 😞.
Just a random tidbit, that I find hilarious. When you travel to countries where language is a barrier, you typically use a translation app on your phone to help along the way — we use Google Translate. We had eaten at this restaurant 2 night prior and the food was DELICIOUS! So we decided to go back a second time. That time we had the seasoned chicken wings – they were great – this time we thought, let’s try the chicken legs instead – they’ll have more meat – using the Google Translate app – it said “chicken leg” – PERFECT!
This is what we actually ordered ….
Soooooo …. would you have eaten the chicken feet? LOL