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

by smithstandard
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

Sidenote: if you haven’t already, please sign up to my newsletter here 🙂

I started writing this post explaining every hour in detail.

That’s probably one of the reasons it’s taken so long to get this done. I don’t want to miss out on telling you guys about any of it. I took so many videos, photos and notes on my trip that it’s so easy for me to mentally jump straight back into that holiday, and I want to take other people along for the ride with me.

However, I soon realised that giving an exact play by play would be boring AF to someone who wasn’t there. It’s the equivalent of someone making you sit down and look through every single one of their holiday photos (yes, please note: ain’t nobody got time for that). So rather than giving you every single detail of every single hour, I’ve tried to break it down into categories of what I think are the most important things to talk about.

Now, even though I’ve broken it down into sections, it’s still long as shit. So long that you could potentially get arthritis in your thumb/fingers from scrolling on your phone/mouse for too long. So I’ve decided to post this chronicle in two parts. I thought that might be a better thing to do than giving you something you have to scroll through until you’re dead.

I’ve also included handy links so you can jump down to sections you might want to read over another. I’m giving you options. So don’t complain when you realise you’re only a quarter of the way through.

Alright, you’ve had fair warning – now strap in. First things first:

ARRIVALS

When we arrived in Ho Chi Minh City it was around 8.30 in the evening. We were tired, and felt a bit sick (actually that was probably just me being an anxious baby), but we were happy to have arrived. Thankfully, my other half has OCD and was all over every detail of our trip from the get go. He had sorted our visas, knew where to go once we left the terminal and had organised transfers to collect us. And thank Christ, cos I was not in the mood to wait in a room filled with dirty travellers, fill out paperwork to enter the country or haggle for a taxi with people whose language I couldn’t speak (grumpy Hannah ain’t fun to be around, as you can tell/probably already know).

This brings me to recommendation #1: book transfers. When you’re tired and the humidity outside is 1000% (seriously – I nearly choked on the air when the airport doors opened), the last thing you want is to battle it out with 352 taxi drivers shouting at you to take a ride with them. The best way to go is to just look for your name on a piece of paper and get straight into your air-conditioned vehicle.

You’ll be glad to know that the distance from Tan Son Nhat International Airport to the middle of the city really isn’t that far, but it doesn’t matter anyway. The drive from the airport to the city is pretty magical. Well it was for me. I remember it so clearly. Even though I felt exhausted, I became alert and excited the minute we started driving the streets.

It’s a place of beautiful chaos. It’s noisy AF and yet somehow I felt so at peace when I got there, even with all the beeping and shouting and the near misses with other cars. A lot of that feeling was probably pure joy at not having to go to, or worry about, work for almost a month (although it took me awhile to switch off from that I’ll admit). I just remember smiling with my face basically pressed against the window (except not actually because – germs). If you find yourself in the same position one day, just sit back in whatever your mode of transport is and enjoy the bright lights and loud noises as you head on in.

ACCOMMODATION

Central Palace Hotel

Our hotel in Ho Chi Minh City

Now before I get going on this, it’s important to understand the prerequisites we had set for ourselves when it came to accommodation. It’s also important to understand that it turns out, I am somewhat of an accommodation snob ¯_(ツ)_/¯.  When I go on holiday, I want to stay in nice places. I mean, I like the five-star shit. I will pay the extra money for the little perks because I want to enjoy every minute I am in that hotel. Yes, I am one of those assholes. And all you people saying things like “I’d rather spend my money on doing things” or “you’re only going to sleep in the room” or “you don’t need it to be fancy-“ yeah Imma stop you right there mate. Just knock if off with your bullshit.

I am fully aware that staying in a five-star hotel is not realistic when you’re travelling through Europe for a month, nor when you’re paying for yourself, your partner and three children to traipse around the world – that shit is hella expensive. But when I do have the opportunity and means to live lavishly, I will do it. I want a ginormous king bed and a room that is ridiculously big for two people; I want welcome champagne and towels folded into swans  (unnecessary, but cool all the same). I want a place where the breakfast buffet makes your eyes bulge out of your head and staff that actually smile when you approach them.

To be fair, five star places in Vietnam and Cambodia would be the equivalent of 10 star places in Australia if they existed. The quality of service is neck-level amazing and nothing is ever a problem for the staff working there. They greet you at the door with a smile and ask how they can make your stay easier with genuine intentions (some places even tried taking our shoes off as we walked in the door). Most of my experiences in Australia have involved being greeted by some scowling millennial behind the check-in counter who’s hungover and has the attitude of a 14-year-old girl.

Anyway, on this holiday, our hotels had to meet the following criteria:

  • buffet breakfast (essential)
  • room service (essential)
  • rooftop pool (where possible – beautiful outdoor pools also sufficed)
  • in-house massage services (preferred)

Central Palace Hotel in Ho Chi Minh City met all of these requirements. It’s not an overly fancy place per say, but it’s clean and pleasant and the staff don’t appear to judge you when you get drunk in your bathrobe on the roof of the building. We stayed there at the beginning and again at the very end of our trip, and I’d recommend it to anyone visiting Ho Chi Minh City for the first time. It’s in walking distance to plenty of attractions such as the War Remnants Museum, the Independence PalaceSaigon Central Post Office, the Notre Dame Cathedral and these amazeballs food markets which I go into in part 2 of this chronicle.

The minibar

We were never allowed to drink or eat anything out of the minbar as kids. EVER. And for good reason. Those things are fucking extortionate. So even into my adult life, I have been weary of minibars. For years, when I stayed at hotels for festivals or went on weekend getaways, I would tread carefully around the peanuts and mini bottles of wine; sometimes I wouldn’t even touch the stuff for fear of getting charged.

Enter Joshua Marques.

He has no such rule, and he made that abundantly clear when he opened every single fridge we crossed paths with, usually within five minutes of checking into the room. To be fair, the prices of items in the minibar in Asia are definitely not as inflated as those in Westernised countries. I think Josh took that to mean he should drink every alcohol beverage in every mini-fridge. Because he did.

The pool

Woman and man eating dinner at rooftop restaurant

Having dinner and drinks in our robes of course

Central Palace Hotel is also the shit because it has an infinity pool on the roof and a view of Ho Chi Minh City that gives you goosebumps. GET AROUND IT.

I remember checking out the rooftop area on the night that we arrived and again, my face lit up. If you’re anything like me, looking around at city lights will give you all the feels. Our hotel was right in the middle of it all (ergo the ‘Central’ part of its name) and being on that rooftop was absolutely magical. We spent a hell of a lot of time up on that roof in the days that followed: sun-baking, eating, drinking beers, napping … a good hotel is half the fun on holiday.

Room service

Another aspect of hotel living that is usually extortionate AF. We never got room service as kids either – because it’s a god damn rip-off and usually cold by the time you get it anyway.

Not in Vietnam.

The food is as fresh as it would be in the restaurant or on the street and relatively inexpensive. It’s delivered promptly by someone who seems geuinely happy to be bringing your meals to your door. Either that or they’re faking their asses off to get a tip – which we often gave. Being a lazy slob on holidays is one of my favourite things to do.

The in-house massage facilities

As I mentioned this was not an essential criterion for our hotels of choice, however it was preferred, especially at the start. We didn’t know the area and we’d heard horror stories about how massage therapists can rob you because you’re forced to put your bag down somewhere and they go through your things while you’re on the table. This might be completely libellous, but seeing as we didn’t know any better, we stuck to our hotel in the beginning. A bit more pricey yes, but damn it was awesome walking to our appointments in our robes.

FOOD AND DRINK

It’s hard to know where to start with this one. The food in Vietnam is FUCKING AMAZING. It’s flavoursome, fresh, and you can eat bucketloads of it and never feel gross. Below are some of the things that I think are worth mentioning:

Vietnamese coffee

Man with Vietnamese coffee

Our very first morning in Ho Chi Minh City with alllllll the coffee.

Now I’m not much of a coffee drinker. I only started drinking straight black coffee when I started at F45 nearly two years ago. One of the boys bought one for me one day and because it was early days of working there, I was too polite to say I didn’t like coffee. So I drank it whilst shuddering. However since then, I’ve acquired the taste for it. Recently (as in last week) I had my first flat white. Bad idea: that shit is bloody delicious and addictive AF.

We had our first experience of Vietnamese coffee at the buffet breakfast on our first morning. An Aussie tourist we’d met insisted we try them and brought them over to our table. Vietnamese coffee is just brewed coffee and condensed milk, poured over ice. And it tastes like heaven in a glass. At our hotel you had to go to a separate area to ask for it, but unlike Australian hotels, you could have as many barista-made coffees as you liked – for free. This is one of the reasons I gained so much weight in such a short space of time and also why I was buzzed AF for the majority of the trip. Yo to the lo.

Banh mi

Banh Mi

Banh Mi’s are life.

Originating on the streets of Saigon, the Banh Mi sandwich is a French-Vietnamese hybrid consisting of an airy baguette, sour pickled daikon and carrot, crisp cilantro, spicy chilis, and a cool sliver of cucumber surrounding any number of protein options, from sweet minced pork to fatty pate to sardines. Our first Banh Mi was had in a random cafe we found after we’d been to the Mekong Delta for the day (it actually makes me sad that we went almost 48 hours in the country of Vietnam before we tried it). We ordered two tiger beers (of course) and two banh mis with pork (no sardines or pate – yuckkkkk) and waited all of five minutes before being served. When I bit into that baguette – sweet Jesus. I died and went to heaven. It is an orgasmic explosion of flavours and sensations; the crunchy pastry; the succulent pork; the freshness of the salad. I’m salivating now just thinking about it. It was so good that we ordered another two to-go. My insides were screaming at me to stop, but did I listen? I DID NOT! I unfortunately don’t have a photo of our first experience, but I did take a video of me eating it. I don’t think anyone needs to see that though. Just take it from me, they are amazing and needless to say it became a part of our staple diet for the remainder of the trip. Another thing that greatly assisted in the weight gain.

Pho bo

Ironically our first experience of Pho Bo (a traditional Vietnamese beef and noodle soup), was in Siem Reap, Cambodia (our next stop). However as my Cambodia entry will be talking about a hell of a lot more than food, I thought I best mention it here. IT’S THE GREATEST CREATION IN THE ENTIRE WORLD. It’s a soup made up of broth, thinly sliced beef, rice noodles, herbs and spices and lime and a heap of other delicious ingredients. By the end of our trip we were having it for breakfast, including on our final morning in Ho Chi Minh City, at the same breakfast buffet where we started. Do yourself a favour and get around these whenever you can. Absolutely amazing. And don’t shy away from adding in the chilli. Yes you might be crying into your food, but it’s so worth it.

Beer

For the majority of our trip, we stuck with Tiger beer. It did change slightly as we ventured into different cities, but that ended up being our old faithful for the majority of the three weeks. We had beer every single day. And why? Not only is it delicious, but it is SO CHEAP and SO CONVENIENT. I’m talking 30 cent cans on every single corner. And that is why there was not ONE day I did not have a beer. Not one. And I’m okay with it. #anotherweightgaincontributor

A quick re-cap

Obviously this stuff isn’t just limited to Ho Chi Minh City, but the majority of our expectations were set in this amazing city. Yes, it’s dirty in parts and it’s loud and at any given moment you are centimetres away from getting mowed down by 100 cyclists. But it’s all part of the experience and honestly, I wouldn’t have it any other way. Carry hand sanitiser with you and remember to look both ways multiple times before crossing the road. Simple pimple.

In summary, I highly recommend you remember the following when it comes to arrivals, accommodation and food:

  • Organise your visas prior to entering the country
  • Book airport/hotel transfers
  • It pays to stay in nice places – nothing worse than returning to a shitty hotel at the end of a massive day
  • Don’t be afraid of trying new things
  • Remember you’re on holiday, so the usual rules of day drinking and carb-loading don’t count
  • Use hand sanitiser regularly
  • Oh, and if you’re taking malaria tablets because you’re visiting rural Cambodia in the coming days – REMEMBER TO TAKE THEM FFS

Alright, I’m going to stop here for now. The second part to this chronicle will be up later this week, where I’ll talk in more depth about the things we did and saw in Ho Chi Minh City. For anyone going to this amazing city – you’re going to BLOODY LOVE IT.

Han x

P.S. In case you missed it, please sign up to my newsletter here 🙂

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: