Ho Chi Minh City – 01/22
Our one day in Vietnam began early morning in Cambodia. We tried booking a taxi at our hostel to the airport only to find out that there were none available at the moment, so we decided to ride a tuk tuk rickshaw all the way to the airport. It was actually pretty fun, since the trip was open air and the driver took a route that led through the countryside surrounding our small town.
Our plane landed in Ho Chi Minh City on schedule and we arrived at another hip hostel located in an alleyway in the middle of the city. Called Townhouse and offering private rooms for $15/night, this place combined the accommodations of a hotel with the fun social atmosphere of a hostel.
A quick breakfast brought us into contact with something I’d been looking forward to my entire trip – Vietnamese iced coffee. The glorious icy refreshment was perfect in the warm Vietnamese winter weather, and after a very tasty noodle soup brunch, we started our exploration of the city.
If I could describe my one day in Vietnam, I’d choose the words trees and traffic. One of the first things I noticed while walking around was the sheer number of trees growing out of the sidewalks. These weren’t your typical mini-trees – they were giant old-growth trees that looked like they’ve been there hundreds of years.
The huge trees were a strange juxtaposition to the tangled power lines and cement buildings and made Ho Chi Minh City a very unique place. I’d soon realize that these trees would be very useful in helping with pollution from all the traffic. Which leads me to my second word describing the city.
I’ve traveled to many places in my life, and I’ve seen some bad city traffic and some crazy city traffic. But nothing could compare to the absolutely chaotic traffic I experienced in Ho Chi Minh City. It really was something else. Traffic was everywhere. Not just cars, but the swarms of motor scooters and mopeds constantly zipped through every available space on the roads. This was a real-life Frogger, and if there weren’t traffic signals at a crosswalk, we had to step out into oncoming traffic and pray that cars and mopeds would be able to dodge us, because they never really stopped. Thinking back now, it was like every pedestrian had a surrounding force field as traffic found ways to continue onward.
Scooters lined the streets next to a local school as parents waited for their kids. We wondered how kids would find the right parent in such a massive and seemingly random crowd of vehicles and people. The best part of the traffic was that nothing was off limits. Many mopeds would ride on sidewalks during bad traffic, as a sort of makeshift carpool lane. So even when we were walking on sidewalks, we had to keep an eye out for a whole line of motor scooters zipping several inches away from us.
Despite the craziness of the traffic, I couldn’t help but admire the order behind the chaos. There were unspoken rules to every move, and I didn’t see a single accident during our stay, so something must be working right. In a way, I started to picture the moped traffic as thousands of individual trains of a giant street subway.
During our walk, we passed by the famous Tao Dan Park before reaching our first point of interest, War Remnants Museum, which highlighted the war crimes committed against Communist soldiers before and during the Vietnam War. While it was clearly coming from the point of view of the winning side, the exhibits were still a very real and stark reminder of the horrors of war and to me drove home the fact that the innocent are the ones hurt the most.
We caught a glimpse of Independence Palace, the one-time South Vietnamese stronghold, just as the guard was closing the same gates that a North Vietnamese tank had crashed through at the end of the war. Nearby with traffic still swirling the streets, the Saigon Notre-Dame Basilica rose out of the concrete. Taking on a reddish hue in the setting sun, the cathedral shared the same French Gothic architecture as the original, and we snapped some photos before stumbling upon a Ferry Building-like former train station.
That evening, we spent our time at Ben Thanh Night Market, a lively street market filled with souvenir stalls, food stands, and restaurants. We enjoyed our fair share of authentic Vietnamese food and beers while seated outdoors in the pleasantly warm evening and walked around the area, talking in all the sights and sounds.
Before heading out for Bangkok the following morning, we made sure to stop by Trung Nguyen, Vietnam’s equivalent of Starbucks, to enjoy more delicious Vietnamese iced coffee brewed with the traditional phin coffee filter. Coffee cravings fully satisfied, we embarked for the final leg of our trip – returning to Bangkok for half a day before our flight home.
Bangkok, Thailand – 01/23
Our second visit to Bangkok was less activity-packed since we had roughly half a day before our flight. We had booked a four-star hotel suite room for $30 per person and spent the afternoon relaxing. That evening, we decided to check out the well-known Sukhumvit Soi 11, a legendary street filled with restaurants, bars, and nightclubs. We got our final $10 Thai message before enjoying dinner outdoors.
The area was lively and filled with tourists, locals, and expats. There was even a sizable assortment of Indian restaurants that formed a mini Little India. After walking around a bit after dinner, we decided to check out Q Up, which was offering a $20 open bar and live band. We had a blast and made it back to the hotel just in time to grab our stuff to catch our early-morning flight. After two flights and another Tokyo layover and United lounge visit, we made it back to San Francisco Sunday morning.
And that marked the end of our 11 days on the road in Southeast Asia. It was an incredible journey and even now I’m still processing everything that I’d experienced over the week-and-a-half. One thing’s for certain, I’m definitely planning to return in the future – there’s just so many more places to see and things to do! Stay tuned for my summary post on this trip!