The cheapest flight from Manila lands at 0:20 am in Ho Chi Minh City. Usually, we always take care to arrive in a new city before 7pm, but Ho Chi Minh city is an exception (1) because I am Vietnamese, and (2) because Ho Chi Minh city is a city that doesn’t sleep.
Why is the city (formerly Saigon) named Ho Chi Minh City? There are several cities that can bear his name: the capital Ha Noi, his birthplace (Nghe An) and Saigon.
But it was Saigon that was chosen (40 years ago – 1976, one year after the liberation of the South), to bear his name, for several reasons (1) Ho Chi Minh (or “Uncle Ho” for the Vietnamese) couldn’t live long enough to see the North and South of Vietnam reunited. Naming this city after his name has a symbolic value (2) He went abroad to seek the solution to liberate Vietnam from the port Bach Dang (Saigon).
Part 1: Travel Diary
Part 2: Practical Tips
Part 1: Travel Diary
This isn’t the first time we come to Ho Chi Minh City, so we only use it as a transportation hub. Arrived at 0:20 am, we leave the next day at 8 am. During these 32 hours, we simply took advantage of the best of the city: its inhabitants.
The first meal since our return to Vietnam takes place, obviously at the restaurant “Quan An Ngon”. It’s a chain that I particularly like because there are a lot of dishes. In Ha Noi, it is also one of my favorite restaurants. Several kitchens surround this restaurant, each responsible for 2 or 3 dishes. The waiters run in all directions to get the dishes and serve the customers.
I don’t particularly like the South Vietnamese cuisine, it’s full of oil and sugar. We see here the South Vietnamese spring rolls, rolled in rice cakes with holes in them, which are supposed to boost the crispness of the spring rolls. The disadvantage is that it’s more oily too.
However the dish on the side (banh trang …) (I forgot the name) is very good. The ingredients you see are used to roll yourself spring rolls with pork and vegetables.
We then spend the whole afternoon at my favorite beautician’s, whom I met in Hanoi but who moved to Saigon. She isn’t the first or the last to do so. The salaries are more attractive, sometimes up to 2x more than in the North. With its 270 days of sun/year (Vietnamese don’t particularly like the sun, but children are less sick when the weather is stable like that), and the biggest companies installed in HCM City, the South attracts a lot of talent.
Do I need to talk about the quality of facial care in Vietnam? It’s just the best in Southeast Asia, and much better than in France. The Vietnamese are very well equipped, machines are imported from all over the world to solve any skin problem. And while the mask is being put on, the beautician doesn’t leave you alone, she massages your arms and head so that time passes faster. Another very famous place for facial treatments is South Korea (but I’ve never been there, one day I hope).
While going there by cab, I notice a store with the very marketing name “Phan nu Hoang Cung” (royal powder). Obviously, it awakened my consumerist side. It seems that it is a secret product, reserved for the queens and concubines of the king. The more they use it, the more beautiful their skin is. At first, I thought it would be nice to export this kind of 100% natural product to France and make it known. But after reading the instructions for use, I gave up, too complicated, even I mix my brushes.
In the evening, we walk in the streets close to our hotel and I notice that JB reserved a hotel in “khu phố Tây” (corner of the foreigners). This corner concerns 3 streets: Bùi Viện, Đề Thám, Phạm Ngũ Lão. Might as well tell you that we see very few locals, and the massages (every 5m) certainly not qualis.
Ah yes, we saw a “local” 😀 While we are desperate to find a restaurant that is more or less Vietnamese (i.e. no pizza/burgers), a guy calls us “ah the French, good evening, come here, beer is cheap” before philosophizing “us here in Vietnam, François Hollande was not very well known, until his visit here to sell Airbus.. and the fact that he isn’t married, the Vietnamese aren’t used to it”. Wooow, too impressed that a local speaks French so well, isn’t it ? But you won’t be that impressed if you see his face : he’s white, and French 😀 it made us laugh : the guy is drinking a beer in the most touristy and least local part of Vietnam, and talks like he’s Vietnamese and I’m the foreigner in this story lol (he asked me where I came from).
As we are too lazy to change neighborhood, I make do with a portion of “banh trang tron” (rice cake salad) and “xoai lac” (shaken mangoes, yes yes that’s the real name) bought from a street vendor (note: stomach aches the next day).
And JB is content to eat a “bun cha” Hanoi style. When the instructions for the dish are provided in English, you know that you are in a TOO touristy neighborhood
Fortunately, there are still a few street vendors with untranslated signs. See the writing on the wall behind? Since the street vendor has no physical store, he must have written the schedule on the wall, saying that he sells only in the evening and not during the day.
There is always a deal between the stores and these vendors. If they take part of the sidewalk from the stores, in exchange, they keep an eye on the customers’ motorcycles and warn them when the police are there. The police regularly stop by to fine motorcycles parked on the street.
Kem xoi dua = Coconut ice cream with sticky rice and peanuts. JB loves it!
Too eager to leave this polluted city, direction Mui Ne.
Part 2: Practical Tips
How to get there
Ho Chi Minh City is an important air hub in Vietnam. The airport is located only 10km from the 1st district (the most touristic district of the city). Prepaid cabs exist but cost more than metered cabs parked in front of the airport.
- The city is super big (much bigger than Hanoi) and polluted (the density of motorcycles per m2 is impressive) so walking isn’t an option. Prefer hotels in the 1st district to make visits easier (all the museums / interesting places are in the 1st district).
- Transport Options :
- Cab with meter (Mai Linh is a good option)
- Uber (motorcycle or car): cheap and secure
- If you don’t have it yet, buy a SIM card, it’s cheap and 3G is excellent
- If you aren’t yet immune to Vietnamese bacteria, choose only restaurants or street vendors with lots of Vietnamese people eating. Food poisoning is a big problem in Vietnam, be careful!
- Don’t buy bus tickets online (sleeperbus thing), it’s twice as expensive as in an agency or hotel. The known bus companies are : Sinh Cafe, Viet Nhat or for the locals : Phuong Trang