The Chronicles of JosHan: Ho Chi Minh City (Part II)

by smithstandard
Independence Palace Vietnam

Foreword: The Chronicles of JosHan (pronounced josh-in, as in “I’m just joshin”, combination of Josh and Han, clever play on words by all accounts. Zero fucks given on your opinion on this word fusion, unless it’s a positive one in which case “thank you, and yes, I am a legend for stealing this from Josh”) will entail an honest and over-sharing account of my and my partner’s recent time spent in Vietnam and Cambodia. Thanks for reading, enjoy x

As promised, here is the second part to the Ho Chi Minh City chronicle.

You can find Part I here. In this blog I talk a lot more about where we visited and what we did each day. I imagine there are hundreds of things you could do, but in our limited time, we decided on the following:

THINGS TO DO

War Remnants Museum

On our first day of our trip, we had the War Remnants Museum at the top of our list. We’d heard good things about it and we were positively buzzing to finally be kick-starting our holiday (as mentioned in Part I, we were also buzzing due to necking too many Vietnamese coffees).

coconut Vietnam

Coconut man sneaky bastard and me.

On the way to the museum (which was an approximate 12 minute walk from our conveniently positioned hotel) we were stung by a man we affectionately labelled “coconut man sneaky bastard”. Didn’t this man see some right suckers coming?! He nailed an Aussie accent and made us feel special by placing his bamboo carrier on our shoulders as a joke. Oh how we laughed and laughed … look at us, pretending to be local Vietnamese people carting coconuts around on our shoulders … ten metres down the road and suddenly the fun was over and we needed to pay. As the man walked away and we sipped out of our coconuts, Josh was doing the maths in his head. “I think we just paid him ten dollars Australian each …”

To be honest we weren’t even mad. I was on holidays, it made me laugh and we got some Instagram-worthy pics out of it. And the coconut water was refreshing AF. Just be mindful that unless you’re willing to pay whatever they decide is appropriate, don’t let them put that bloody thing on your shoulder. Towards the end of our trip we were yelling at people to get the coconut/bamboo apparatus away from us and on our last night, the locals had stopped harrassing us altogether. They can tell who’s new and who’s not.

The helicopter’s not that big. Josh is REALLY short.

Right where was I? Oh that’s right, the War Remnants Museum.

This is a must do. What started out with us taking a bajillion touristy photos in front of giant warplanes and helicopters, ended almost three hours later with us both feeling sick and a little bit depressed. But I swear it’s worth it!

It’s absolutely mind-blowing to see and feel where prisoners were actually kept; to try and wrap your head around what people must have gone through during the Vietnam War. Yes, it’s emotionally draining. The deeper you go inside the museum, the more fucked up the displays get (just being honest). Not only are the displays confronting, they make you wonder was the actual fuck people are thinking during warfare. Josh and I called it quits before we’d even finished the entire tour – we’d seen enough horror for the day. Despite how heavy it is, I highly recommend it. If anything, it’ll make you appreciate how bloody lucky you are.

The Independence Palace

Independence Palace Ho Chi Minh City

I’m definitely smiling cos I’m on holiday. Definitely not thinking about chafe. At all.

After another coffee outside of the museum, we headed off to our next stop: the Independence Palace. Holy moly – that place is impressive. It’s a ridiculously over-sized building filled with awesome historical stories. But if I’m being honest (again, I always try to be when I can), my appreciation probably wasn’t at its peak due to the fact that it was so humid. I am deadset serious when I say I was dealing with actual chafe and not one part of that bloody building had aircon. I legitimately thought I was going to pass out at one point. My recommendation with this one is to take a bloody fan and three litres of water with you for God’s sake.

The Central Post Office and Notre Dame Cathedral

saigon post office

Always trying to get the good pics for mum/Insta.

Other must-see places in Ho Chi Minh City. They’re right across from each other so you’re knocking over two touristy destinations in one hit (you don’t go all that way not to do the touristy things mate). However, I’ll be honest again. They’re nice to see for their historical importance, but by the time we’d got to them we were exhausted and felt a bit off from something we’d eaten/our malaria tablets/too much Vietnamese coffee and were just keen for a massage and a nap by that point.

Note: be careful of the green taxis you see driving around. One picked us up from the post office and to our hotel around the corner (because it was bucketing down) and somehow several extra zeros were added onto our fee. Cheeky bastard. Not bloody happy mate.

However, I am happy to report that our first day wrapped up with us in our robes, lying by the infinity pool and drinking beers at sunset. Bloody magical.

The Mekong Delta

On our second day we visited the Mekong Delta. We had every intention of visiting the part of the Mekong Delta where you can row boats by houses on stilts. You know, like the ones you’ve seen on the Discovery Channel. However the times for that tour didn’t work out for us, so we went with the hotel’s recommendation of the next best thing.

The drive out to the Mekong I quite enjoyed because we got to see a lot more of the city and countryside as we headed out of Ho Chi Minh. We had a tour guide who made us laugh, but also told us a lot about the history of Ho Chi Minh. Even though I graduated from high school over 11 eleven years ago (lord help me), my year 11 and 12 studies of modern history and the Vietnam War came back in bits and pieces during the trip. Our tour guide refreshed my brain about how the North Vietnamese government changed the city’s name after they deposed the South Vietnamese government in 1975. The change wasn’t voluntary and many of the locals still refer to it as “Saigon.” Our tour guide in particular refused to acknowledge the city as Ho Chi Minh. He also explained to us why there were gravestones and crypt-looking things in a lot of the crop fields – because they were gravestones and crypts. The Vietnamese often bury their family members on their properties, near water, facing a certain way in line with feng shui (I can’t remember which direction though).

Eventually the tour brought us out to an enormous stretch of hectic, dirty water and our day was spent on and off boats, visiting random places like where the locals collect honey and where they kill crocodiles/alligators to make those fancy purses we all know and love (that was a fun time #notreally).

It was nice to be all touristy and to support the locals working so hard to make a living, but I wouldn’t do that particular tour again. Horses carried us on a cart for part of the tour which I didn’t realise was going to happen and I hated it. I wanted to set all of them free and throw rocks at the men ordering the horses around. I also don’t love being on boats where it’s highly possible to accidentally lean too far one side and fall into highly contaminated water. But that’s just me.

The best part of the tour was when we got to lunch (of course) and got to order beer. I didn’t really eat the food, and that’s because they served up a fish they may have caught from said highly-contaminated water. But the beer is the same everywhere = always good. Because we got a buzz at lunch, we decided to grab two roadies for the drive home. Rookie error for someone who knows she has a bladder the size of a baby acorn. I legitimately nearly pissed myself on a small bus in front of strangers on the way back to the hotel. Thank god Josh looked over and saw me pretty much crying. He asked if we could pull over and fortunately a very fancy Mazda dealership let me use their facilities. I would’ve peed on that bus if Josh hadn’t asked to stop. I actually would have.

Bui Vien Street

Bui Vien Street

Visit this place with someone who will put up with your mood swings. Like this guy.

Straight up – I wasn’t in a good mood when we visited Bui Vien Street, which was after our massive day out at the Mekong Delta. I was exhausted and we’d already had several beers and a massage, so I was ready for bed. But seeing as holidays in pairs are not just about yourself (eye-roll) I went out with Josh to visit the street we’d heard so much about.

Also known as “the backpackers district” or “beer street”, this area is an awesome place to go at night time. I guess I sort of likened it to Bangalore Road in Phuket, Thailand, except there are way fewer Aussie tourists and it’s just better in general. It’s full of restaurants, bars and clubs and is perfect for people-watching. We tried out a few different places for beer and food, and watched a hell of a lot of characters in the street: a lady who swallowed and breathed fire (I think she legit held gasoline in her mouth #hectic) and people who went up and down the line of restaurants offering baked goods and sparkling bracelets for purchase. From a club balcony we watched Vietnamese teenagers acting as valets; running scooters to and from a carpark we couldn’t see, under the watchful eye of a man who looked like the head of the Vietnamese mafia. Except he had extra sass by pulling his shirt up exposing his massive belly. We learned it was a common practice in Vietnam and Cambodia – when the men get hot, they pull their shirts up exposing their midriffs to cool down. I asked what would happen if I did the same – it’s not so accepted over there. Go figure.

Ben Thanh Night Markets

Ben Thanh Market

Me looking at more food. Again.

Christ I wish we had more time here. We found these markets on the eve we were flying out to Cambodia and thanked our lucky stars we were returning to Ho Chi Minh City at the end of our holiday. It’s FULL of different food stalls:
Vietnamese, Mexican, fresh pork ribs, Indian food with cheesy garlic naan bread the size of my moonface, fresh juices and ice cream, seafood and beers, beers, beers. You grab whatever you’re in the mood for (or all of it, if you’re fatties like Josh and I), grab some beers and sit on one of the many benches amongst all the other locals and tourists.

The vibe is awesome. There’s no one in your face trying to get you to buy anything. In saying that, on our last night there this older Canadian dude would not stop talking about himself and how he regularly visits Vietnam to go to exclusive gentlemen’s clubs and hooks up with ladies … we politely excused ourselves and moved to the other end of the market. But apart from that, it was awesome.

Final things for comment

We obviously didn’t do everything that Ho Chi Minh area has to offer (including the Cu Chi tunnels), however lucky for me I am returning to Vietnam later in the year. THAT’S BLOODY RIGHT! Flights are actually booked. We. Are. Going. The amount of times I have said “I’ll be back next year” whilst on holiday and actually followed-through is zero. Until now.

I highly recommend you remember the following when it comes to some of the things we did and saw:

  • Watch out for coconut scammers
  • Visit the War Remnants Museum. Do it.
  • Don’t drink too much beer if you have a long way to travel without a toilet and don’t have the physical capability of peeing in a bottle/jar.
  • Visit Bui Vien Street when you’re in a good mood.
  • Watch your bag and belongings. As wonderful as the majority of people are in Vietnam, there are still those who target tourists and try to swipe their gear. Keep your handbags to the front, zip up your backpacks etc. especially when walking down places like Bui Vien Street.
  • Visit Ben Thanh Markets every opportunity you get and try every food stall if you can physically make it happen.
  • Walk around and get lost in the streets. That’s how we discovered our first Ban Minh and it was one of the highlights for us in Ho Chi Minh City.

Lots of people told us Ho Chi Minh City was dirty and that we wouldn’t like it. And look, if you’re not into loud, dirty cities then I get it. But I loved the vibe in Ho Chi Minh City. I loved the bright lights; the loud noises; the friendly people. I felt happy there. Don’t take my word for it – get booking those flights boys and girls. #getaroundit

Han x

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