We arrived in Ho Chi Minh (previously known as Saigon) at around 7am by night bus from Sihanoukville, Cambodia and I was immediately struck by the culture shock of this large South East Asian city in comparison to the beach town we had just come from. If there’s 9 million bicycles in Beijing, then it looks like there could be 10 million mopeds and scooters in Vietnam.
We were dropped off on a main street and decided to have a little wander around, looking for somewhere to stay while taking in our new surroundings. After stumbling upon a small yet bustling alley, we found a cheap and family run hotel where we dropped our bags and had a quick change.
We then headed to a currency exchange to change our money into what has to be my favourite currency ever – the Vietnamese Dong. There are 32,000 dong to the Pound which with my budget of £32 a day meant I would be living on 1 million Dong a day – Vietnamillionaire!
I would definitely recommend having a currency card as all that cash can be pretty hard to keep track of and it’s much easier to be able to withdraw your daily budget without worrying about the commission.
We then headed out to explore Ho Chi Minh and I was immediately struck by how much French influence there has been in the architecture of this beautiful city. What I didn’t realise before this trip was that France actually occupied Vietnam until 1954 and so you can actually buy delicious french baguettes everywhere. There’s even a Notre Dame cathedral – such a cultural mash up!
We headed to the Ho Chi Minh Historical museum to learn more about the origins of the city and I recommend this visit to anyone who wants to learn more about the culture and history of Ho Chi Minh. The exhibition is interesting and in a beautiful building – more info here.
My time in Ho Chi Minh was a huge eye-opener for me as I’d also never learned much about the Vietnam war, only knowing that it had been a much protested war in the 1970s between the US and Vietnam.
The War Remnants museum was therefore a must visit for us and I actually had to sit down and have a little cry when I saw how much the effects of napalm had devastated the people in this beautiful country.
It is a deeply moving exhibition that will make you appreciate the kindness of the people in Vietnam and gain huge respect for the hardships this country has been through. It’s also quite harrowing to see the helicopters and tanks that were used in the wars of Vietnam although they are very impressive and will definitely appeal to your male travel buddies.
Coffee shops and street food are a huge part of Vietnamese culture and the great news is they are unbelievably cheap! A bowl of Phở – a traditional Vietnamese noodle soup is usually only 12,000 dong from a street vendor – which equates to only 30p! It’s also ridiculously delicious.
We then went for a drink on the 20th floor bar of the Grand Hotel which has spectacular views of the city and its buildings. It was a shock to be paying hotel prices for a coffee though when i’d been used to backpacker budget menus!
Ho Chi Minh really is a beautiful city and was the perfect vantage point for us to start out Vietnamese adventure.
Read my next post for our trip to the Cu Chi Tunnels, just outside Ho Chi Minh.