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Vietnam: Ho Chi Minh City

By on December 8, 2017 in Vietnam with 2 Comments

South Korean“You will never understand the true meaning of your life, until you travel and experience how others are living theirs.” – Unknown 

After a crazy night at LAX and a stopover in South Korea, we arrived in Vietnam. Let the adventure begin!

Note: I had never thought about visiting South Korea. After tasting their flavorful spices and observing their scenic views, my interest was piqued. 

We took our transfer from the airport to the hotel, which was part of our package through Gate 1 Travel. Our first day in Ho Chi Minh City, formerly Saigon, was on our own. The travel agency offered a guided tour of the city and an optional tour of the Cu Chi Tunnels on the second day. However, thanks to Erin’s extensive research, we learned there was a lot more to explore by winging it.

Ho Chi Minh City Hall, Vietnam   Bikers, Ho Chi Minh City

Prior to leaving the States, we had researched tours for the Mekong Delta and Cu Chi Tunnels. We never heard back from any of the places we contacted. We knew what our hearts desired, but we did not have a plan. We inquired at the concierge desk, and they hooked us up with a combo tour for the following day. We also spontaneously purchased tickets for a cultural show at the Saigon Opera House. After taking care of business, we were able to run wild and free in the city.

Travel tip: Leave space in your schedule to experience the unexpected. 

Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam   Planes, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam

We decided to bypass the museums to enjoy the architecture and culture around us. We referred to the travel lists we compiled, the points of interest highlighted by the hotel, and the landmarks Gate 1 would be showing the following day. We went with the flow, which is the best way to immerse oneself in a foreign land.

Ho Chi Minh City Hall, Vietnam   Ho Chi Minh Statue, Vietnam

We found the Saigon Opera House, then wandered off to City Hall, an example of French colonial architecture. Our stomachs rumbled, causing us to seek a cute, little place to grab a Vietnamese lunch. Food was dirt cheap in Vietnam. We could get appetizers, meals, and drinks for three people and spend about $21 U.S. dollars. When our bellies were full, we wandered to the park by City Hall. The city was safe with a slew of tourist cops lingering around.

Notre Dame Cathedral, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam   Notre Dame Cathedral, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam

Next up? The Notre Dame Cathedral, a neo-Romanesque church, followed by the Central Post Office. As we searched for these famous landmarks, we realized how crazy the drivers are. We saw a multitude of motorbikes carrying several family members with babies practically hanging off. We took turns counting the number of people who fit on one bike, with our mouths agape. The rules of the road were… Well, to be honest, what rules? We saw folks driving face into traffic to navigate the congested streets. I do not recommend jay walking in Vietnam. You will end up in the hospital.

Central Post Office, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam   Vietnamese People, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam

The church was closed for the day. We checked out the inside of the post office and admired its beautiful, French-style architecture. The post office was bustling with activity – inside and out.  We stumbled upon several photo shoots and fish massage tanks. I sampled a fish massage, where you stick your hands in a tank full of fish. The fish nibble on you, removing your dead skin. I am sure my face contorted into a myriad of grotesque, funny, and peaceful expressions throughout the one-minute experience. The end result is having super soft hands, but wondering how sanitized the water really was. How much would you risk to experience culture in its rawness?

Streets of Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam   Vietnamese Girls, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam

Travel Tip: Be bold, be spontaneous, but be safe. Find a reputable place to try a fish massage, just as you would be careful about what you consume or drink. I was lucky.

Saigon Opera House, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam   Vietnamese Woman, Saigon Opera House, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam

We trekked back to the historic Opera House to catch the A O Show/Teh Dar Show, which portrayed Vietnamese culture. Once we arrived, we sampled their tasty, complimentary teas before heading to our seats. The performance was a mix of acrobats and contemporary circus acts, which reminded me of Cirque Du Soleil shows.

I loved watching the Vietnamese culture unfold before my eyes. The essence of the Vietnamese people was portrayed through the performers, whose smiles shone through their eyes and lit up the stage. The props, bamboo and basket boats, captured the Vietnamese spirit and heritage. I was happy we stumbled upon this opportunity. The show was my highlight of the day.

After the show, we searched out a seafood restaurant we had seen on our way to the Notre Dame Cathedral. The place was large and hopping, and there were huge fish tanks at the entrance. I ordered squid, which is one of my favorite Vietnamese dishes.

Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam   Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam

Our eyes were heavy, but we still had one more place to explore. The inexpensive, Vietnamese massages we had contemplated earlier would have to wait. We headed straight to the famous Ben Thanh Market. There were tons of souvenirs to shop for, but we were out of steam. Erin and I tried a sugar cane drink that looked intriguing. As we ventured back to our hotel, I wondered if I would regret my decision to drink something with ice. Lucky us, we did not experience any stomach issues. Then, we crashed. We had an early morning ahead of us.

Travel tip: When traveling abroad, be careful of the water. This includes tap water, bottled water, and ice. Make sure your bottled water has not been tampered with.

Running around Ho Chi Minh City was a great way to kick off our Vietnam adventure!

Ben Thanh Market, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam   Ben Thanh Market, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam

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  1. Vietnam: The Airport : Gina Pacelli | December 8, 2017
  2. Vietnam: Cu Chi Tunnels : Gina Pacelli | December 10, 2017

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