We crossed the border into Vietnam leaving Cambodia behind after 3 weeks, we entered at the Moc Bavet border with the Giant Ibis company. Just a couple of more hours and we were in Ho Chi Minh city the main city in the south of Vietnam.
We were dropped off on the backpackers street, first task was to find some money, we needed to exchange our dollars for Vietnamese Dong. Vietnam was the first country where the currency was way more confusing because £1 was about 30,000VND suddenly we were talking in the millions, so many 0000000 made the first few days confusing when paying for things.
We jumped into a taxi afterwards we needed to get to the airbnb apartment quickly as Sassi had a lesson, so what we didn’t realise is that some taxi drivers have dodgy meters. Usually the general rule is metered taxi is going to be safe, turns out this 20 minute journey ended up costing around £14, after checking uber once we had a sim card we found this to be SOOO overpriced. We were ripped off by the dodgy meter taxi scam, basically the driver will have a button that he presses which will make the price go up a lot more than the normal set rate. As it was our first day and the first thing we paid for it didn’t click that the amount we were charged was that much. So we learnt you need to take uber or grab or extra safety or at least a very well known taxi company. From this point on we just took uber and grab. In comparison the same journey with uber would have been about £1.50…
Not a great start to our trip; this gave us that distrust feeling towards people again, which put us on edge and weary of how much we would be charged for things. Luckily we found a super cheap sim card £5 for 19GB best deal yet. The airbnb apartment was in a large condo building, a studio apartment with a rooftop pool with great views of the city. We do enjoy a nice view from up high.
So what did we do in Ho Chi Minh City?
Mainly the reason was to post something, but like Phnom Penh the building was also a tourist attraction because it was built during the French empire when they occupied Vietnam. The old building was beautiful, with a very European style to it, it makes sending post seem a little more interesting. Sending post abroad is quite expensive though but better prices than Cambodia.
Wait the Notre Dam but we aren’t in France?? Well it seems like the French brought a smaller version of the Notre Dam over to Ho Chi Minh City during their rule. It is not as impressive but it is still amazing to see this European style architecture in Asia. This was right next to the post office so it really did give this feeling off being in Europe with the two beside each other. Although it is very humid for November, that is how you know you are in Asia.
The river runs through the city, and makes for a nice place to walk along to see all the high rises along the banks of the river and all the new buildings popping up.
We saw the palace from outside the gates, it did not look very palace like, as it seems to be a more modern building compared to other palaces from around the world. We did not bother going in and just took some photos from the outside and left.
Ben Thanh Market
This was one of the main markets in the city, it was all inside and quite huge, with market stalls filling up the interior space. There is no haggling section where all the prices are fixed, which is great if you hate haggling, but not so great if you want to keep costs down. Although this gave us an idea of how much things cost so once we noted down what we liked and how much it cost in fixed price area we went into the haggling area. Haggling in VND was confusing at first and took a little extra time to calculate costs in our heads but we managed to get some good stuff for a good price. This area was more catering for tourists at the time we arrived, souvenir shops, clothes and food. The market sellers seemed to be a lot more pushy here and gave off a negative vibe in their facial expression if you didn’t accept their opening price. The food was really cheap and we had a meal for two for around £2.
So on our last day we had a late flight and needed to leave our room earlier this meant we needed to entertain ourselves for a few hours, so we chose the cinema as it has been quite a long time since we last went to one and luckily the city was full of cinemas and comparing it to the price in the UK it was a lot cheaper, but not super cheaper. The cinema we went to did not have many seats so they seem to be smaller but very clean. We watched the DC movie Justice League.
Ho Chi Minh City seemed like a very modern vibrant city, full of motorbikes, it was a nice place to visit and easy to get around with Uber and Grab both available throughout the area.
We took a flight to Hanoi in the evening, our original plan was to take the train and stop along all the main areas as you make your way north to Hanoi. As we were using British passports we were allowed 15 days visa free so we decided to just stay for that amount of time which meant doing the train journey would have been too hectic and it would have been going back to one and two night stays which we did not want to do.
We landed late, and jumped into an uber heading for the capital city, it was quiet and not very busy, and after a little googlemaps research we found the hotel as it was down a small road with no lights. We were located near the old quarter which seems to be main tourist area in the city.
The next morning it was quite noisy outside, and after eating breakfast in the lobby area, I stepped out into the road out front and it was full of people selling meat, vegetables and all other types of food, with motorcycles everywhere, now to remind you this was a small one lane size road, it was a challenge to walk around.
What did we get up to in Hanoi?
Ho Hoan Kiem Lake
Situated in the old quarter it is surrounded by many cafes, restaurants and anything touristy so expect lots of shops selling tours. We spent time around the lake which has a temple on a little island which you can access via a bridge. The area is an easy place to spend lunch or dinner as there are lots of options but expect to pay a little more. We visited the lake during the day and night, at night it is full of people, the whole area is a pedestrian zone except for the little kids driving around in toy cars. The lake has some nice lights that make for an enjoyable walk with an ice cream at night.
Rooftop bar at Pan Pacific Hotel
This is one of the highest roof top bars in the city, the city doesn’t have as many sky scrapers as other capitals so there aren’t many options for roof top bars but we found a great one with a view of the large lake Ho Tay and the city. At night it is nicely lit up in areas, the drinks were fairly reasonable and they even gave us some bar snacks and as it was Christmas we even got some gingerbread Christmas trees.
Just like Ho Chi Minh City there are many markets to get your shopping fix although if you plan on buying some underwear expect to buy a pack of 10, they seem very strict to not selling one piece on its own. Markets tend to really make use of every space so having trouble walking around between each stall can be a challenge.
Christmas Market at Intercontinental Hotel
Christmas time usually means lots of markets and all kinds of Christmas related activities, well in the UK and Europe at least, so when we saw an advert for a christmas market in Hanoi we jumped at the chance of going. It was set in a hotel at the sunset lounge which looks over the lovely large lake. It was quite small but it had all the things you would expect in a Christmas market, so we were happy to have some tasty treats, although no mince pies here.
Love Hanoi Festival
Sassi also stumbled across a festival that is run by the churches together in Hanoi, the idea behind it was LOVE HANOI. So we went along to the location which was a stadium, a very large area, no entrance fee, just security checks. The stadium was full so we had to watch the festival on the screen outside it was very well organised. They were not shying away from the Christian side of the festival, it was very obvious that it was a big Christian festival. Worship songs in Vietnamese and English, Christmas songs, and they had a guest preacher from the US it happened to be Billy Grahams son Franklin Graham. He was very clear in his message to the mostly Vietnamese crowd, and welcomed people to come to the front if they felt they were ready to make a decision to accept Jesus and there were thousands who went forward. Considering we were in a communist country that monitored religious organisations it all seemed very open and accepting towards this festival. One of the most surprising and exciting days of our travels.
Something we did not take into account was the weather, Ho Chi Minh city was hot and humid so very much like what we have been travelling in for the last 3 months so this was not an issue, but when we arrived in Hanoi the temperature dropped suddenly we were in need of wearing our jumpers and trousers which have been hiding at the bottom of the suitcase for most of the trip. Now it wasn’t like Europe, it was still warm outside in the day, it was just a little colder and not humid at all, it was a nice change from the humid weather but we didn’t have enough clothes for it.