When? Summer 2015
How long? 4 days, part of a larger South-East Asia Journey
So, you’ve landed in Ho Chi Minh – let me give you some advice before we start. We had no idea what was too much or little to pay in Vietnam, it led to a couple of occasions where we got completed ripped off, unfortunately this can be common in Vietnam so be prepared. Our friend who moved to teach in Ho Chi Minh passed on the same advice I’m going to give you now , Use Vinasun Taxis, these are generally trustworthy and you pay by the meter. If the rate goes up by 3000 VD every 10 seconds, pay the man and get out, as this is not a legitimate Vinasun! There will always be another taxi so don’t be overcharged.
5) Bui Vien Street
Bui Vien is the kind of street where you will have several adventures during your stay, each day brings a new level to your Vietnam journey. There are, unsurprisingly, loads of bars selling cheap beer and playing loud music. In the morning, you can catch a full English if you’re craving the delights of home, and you can also find several establishments serving the incredibly tasting Vietnamese coffee. I implore you to seek it out, you need to try it with the condensed milk, honestly a life changer this one.
Bui Vien is the Kho Sahn road of Ho Chi Minh. Very central, very easy to get back to as every taxi driver has heard of it. I would recommend staying on this street or near it for this reason. It’s also backpacker central so there is an excellent vibe in the evening.
4) Bến Thành Market
One of the best things we did in Ho Chi Minh was to take a trip to the “Ben Ten” Market. This place was absolutely huge; it sold fast food, fresh ingredients, trinkets, clothes…everything. This is a great place to practise your haggling skills, it was so much fun and I’d like to believe the locals enjoyed the battle over price. A top victory of mine was getting the price of a fan down from 300, 000 VD to 40, 000 VD, I then became my friend’s professional haggler for the day. The locals are genuinely friendly and enjoy talking to you, there are so many characters in there that I’d say it was a must to experience city life in Ho Chi Minh.
3) War Remnants Museum
You must do some history tours whilst you’re in old Saigon. The easiest way to start is to go to the War Remnants Museum, be aware that the Museum closes at 12 midday for an hour. We arrived pretty much at 12 and then had to find something to do for an hour (there’s not much around, we ended up paying to go on a tuk tuk tour…this also cost us a lot of money so maybe avoid this altogether).
The museum is from a Vietnamese perspective of a war that destroyed families, and a war that continues to have implications for its survivors. It’s so interesting to see it from this viewpoint compared to hearing about it from Western Film or American accounts. The museum mainly shows photographs from western photographers, the original of Napalm Girl is also on show here. Each photograph has the history attached to it and as you walk up the floors you walk through the different stages of the war. The final floor is very dark and hard to look at, as it shows the impact of the chemical warfare on families even now.
2) Cu Chi
If museums aren’t your thing, I have one final Historical trip you can do which is outdoors, in the sun, and requires you to climb through tunnels. We booked this tour though our hostel and we got picked up quite early in the morning, the drive takes about an hour.
When you’re there, you are given a tour guide who takes you round the Vietcong tunnels, pretty cool when you think how these tunnels were the reason why guerrilla warfare became so successful and why America could never really crack the VC. You get a look at the traps that were made, you can walk through the tunnels and stand in them for photo opportunities – it was actually a lot of fun and probably the least depressing way to learn about the Vietnam War.
This last recommendation might seem like a bit of a cop out, but really, just wander around. Get a little bit lost. Find random food stalls – get yourself a Bánh mì – one of the greatest drunken discoveries of my life. I remember my friend Annie losing a contact lens, so one of my greatest memories is trawling the streets looking for a shop that sold her prescription. Finally, enjoy the challenge of crossing the roads! We were lucky that old ladies in rice paddy hats physically stopped traffic for us to walk us across the manic, moped infested roads. Leaving Ho Chi Minh and being able to confidently cross the roads without fear of death – that’s the ultimate thing to conquer.
With thanks to Jess Johnson, History teacher and ‘Teachers that travel’s’ first official guest blogger, hopefully many more to come!
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