It started with an earthquake and then it only got better. Well, not literally with an earthquake, but “Southern Vietnam” chapter started with a bang.
Our trip to the South started at Hanoi Airport, were we met a couple from Poland. People with whom it simply clicks. Especially when you discover that the guy took his friend and a swan-shaped pedal boat and pedaled the Vistula river from Cracow to Gdansk. It’s about 1000 km. We met them and we knew that upcoming 2 days simply couldn’t be ordinary. Few hours later we landed in Ho Chi Minh City and while waiting for our backpacks, we discovered that in a city with almost 9mln inhabitants we booked the same hotel.
At 11pm we took an Airport-City Center bus and ended up somewhere in the center of HCMC. According to the map, we had to go right, left and left. There were bars, restaurants, nightlife, it was great! One hour, several liters of sweat and way too many dark alleys later, we found our hotel. After signing an agreement saying that we wouldn’t bring guns to the hotel and after buying several cans of Bia Saigon from the owner (no way we would go to the store through these dark alleys again), we ended up on the rooftop, staring into darkness and having fun till 3am.
In the daylight dark alleys weren’t as dark, streets didn’t have that many turns and our hotel wasn’t as hidden as in the night. We were ready to face Ho Chi Minh City, apparently a boring city were you can’t do anything interesting. We didn’t have a plan in our heads, but we did have a map from our hotel. That’s how we ended up in the Reunification Palace which was a presidential palace until 1975. Home and office of presidents of South Vietnam. We didn’t have any expectations at all and we had a great time! Everything was interesting – architecture, interior design (hello 60s), rooftop club, underground bunker, presidential bathroom where EVERYTHING was in a scrambled eggs inspired yellow and two tanks in the garden which crashed the gate of the palace in 1975 and at the same time ended the history of South Vietnam and Vietnamese War. Btw, in 1976 communists from the North changed the name of the city from Saigon to Ho Chi Minh City to emphasize that they had the power.
We left the Palace and communism behind and went straight into French colonialism. Notre Dame Cathedral, which was built from materials imported from France, looks impressive, but the Post Office next to it looks even better. Promise me you’ll go inside.
The City Hall and Nguyen Hue street are amazing as well. It all looks very French. And it’s all well kept. The cherry on top of this architectural mix of 60s, tanks and France is Bitexo Financial Tower – the 2nd tallest building in Vietnam, 258m. It wouldn’t be fair to say that Ho Chi Minh City is boring.
Only District 1 where our hotel is located, doesn’t look very appealing to us. In the night it get loud and lively and at the same time creepy if you’re not in main streets. Especially because all 3 maps we had showed alleys differently.
We left Ho Chi Minh City after whole day of walking and we came back for one more night and amazing dinner at Bun Cha 145. We didn’t stay in District 1, so it was a bit better. Probably now would be a good moment to write about Cu Chi tunnels and Mekong Delta, but I won’t. Why? Based on opinions of our friends, we decided to skip both things. Do we regret? No. Do I think you should go there? Read about it on blogs and decide. Is one day in HCMH enough? In my opinion: yes.
There’s a bus 109 from the Airport to District 1.
Where to stay: Saigon Inn – a great hotel if not for these dark alleys. The biggest and most amazing breakfast in the world. Great owners (especially the Mother). You can buy bus tickets and book trips there like in every hotel in Vietnam.
Boss 3 Hotel – not in the District 1, but within a walking distance. Situated by a noisy street, which makes it almost impossible to sleep at night. Despite that it was ok, but I don’t think I’d go there again.
Where to eat: there are thousands of places, so check Trip Advisor for recommendations. That’s how we found Bun Cha 145 and it was amazing.
Shopping: DON’T go to Ben Thanh Market. You can buy the same stuff in little stores in District 1 and prices are better. Without haggling.