I arrived in Ho Chi Minh city after what should have been a short flight from Jakarta via Singapore. Instead, my hostel in Jakarta had advised it would take 1h30 to get to the airport, so I had left obscenely early, arriving 4.5h before my flight and thus extending the journey beyond belief (it actually took 30mins but it was 5:30am)!
I hadn’t done much research on the city and felt like I was winning the game as I hopped into a metered taxi outside the airport and set off for the hostel with my friendly driver – this was refreshingly easy! Hahahaha…yes I was completely naive and my lack of research had me walking directly into a common HCM scam… The taxi’s metre was running at triple speed and I pulled up at the hostel with a price reading over VND500,000 (almost £20), when I knew the journey should be less than 200,000. I confronted the driver who still wore his nicer than nice front and offered me a discount to 450,000 – I had lost at his game and I kicked myself for being so gullible so early – I thought I was a seasoned traveller?!
I checked into the hostel and took some time to get my bearings, reading a couple of blogs about the common scam and understanding that I wasn’t the first, and wouldn’t be the last. Somewhat pacified, it was time to move on and get stuck into the Vietnamese chapter of my adventure. I strolled around and found somewhere to grab some spring rolls and a Bia Saigon, relaxing and letting the hassles of the day wash away.
HCM city is big and somewhat crazy, a step up from anywhere else I have been in SE Asia, I began to understand what they mean about the motorbikes that ride 8 fold across two lanes and down the pavements if they need to. Crossing the street is an art form in Vietnam and one I was going to have to perfect pronto. Back at the hostel I made arrangements to travel on a tour to the Cu Chi tunnels the next day.
Located a couple of hours drive outside of the city, it seems that the organised tours are indeed the best and cheapest way to get there unless you’re with a few friends who want to share a cab (beware of the scammers!!). The tour was very regimented and not to my taste but the experience was great all the same. It was so interesting to see how the war had impacted these people and how they had banded together for their country. I went into the tunnels but only through one 20 metre stretch – that was enough and I was dripping with sweat from the confines of it even in such a short space – kudos to those who went the full 140m, and even more so to the villagers who lived down there during the war.
Back in the city I enjoyed walking around, checking out the architecture, dodging motorbikes and sampling amazing street food. The Bahn Mi – Vietnamese Baguette was something I had heard about and I became instantly hooked – who knew a sandwich could taste so good. My Mum’s still convinced the greying meat is some kind of rat or dog and has a good laugh at my expense about the mystery meat I eat considering a few weeks ago in Indonesia I declared myself veggie. That only lasted until I reached Java and was unable to communicate it, so, hello Chicken noodles!
I decided to head out of the city the next day, more intrigued by the smaller offerings further north and unsure how long I could really last without getting annihilated by a scooter. I booked a ticked on Phoung Trang (Futa) bus to Dalat and spent the morning leading up to it at the war museum. Not big into museums I was sceptical but learned a lot – albeit very much from the Vietnamese perspective.
With that, I was out, 36h in HCM, done.