Saturday, August 1, 2015

A short visit to Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam

YAY! Baby and I went for another short getaway during the July long weekend holidays. We purchased our air tickets to Ho Chi Minh (HCMC), Vietnam early in June from Tiger Airways.

My first visit to HCMC was great! I loved the laid back and relaxed vibe, strong aromatic coffee, and of course, the cheap local food which is seriously affordable and tasted extremely delicious!

My 3days 2nights to HCMC was quite an adventure! Entering the city was relatively hassle free but we were pretty skeptical to take a cab at the airport, as we read online that there were some prevalent scams, so in order to be safe, we paid 220,000VND (about SGD13) for private car to our hotel in District 1. This was probably a pretty pricey price to pay, as the cab we took back to the airport on our last day was only about was about 150,000VND, but this was our first time, so we wanted safety first! Actually, we tried to take a cab prior to this, but was quote 330,000VND by another driver! What a rip-off.

We reached our pre-booked hotel, Golden Central Saigon Hotel. Baby booked a premium deluxe room prior to our trip, but the hotel was running at full occupancy, so we were upgraded to a Suite room instead, without additional charges. How lucky!

Our hotel was splendid and spacious. What I loved most was the shower room as it offers a Sauna and Jacuzzi function at the same time. I could enjoy an utmost experience of luxurious bathing with this bathroom!

Our journey from the airport to the hotel took about 30 minutes, and it was jaw-dropping. The city is not just highly populated, but the amount of motorbikes on the road was a real eye opener. I have never seen so many motorbikes congregated in one area at a time, and it was quite an adventure itself to try and cross the road! The number of motorcycles were endless, so in order to successfully beat the heavy traffic and cross the road, you need to just cross the road at a constant speed. The magical thing is that Vietnamese motorists will be the ones avoiding you, as long as you keep a constant pace!

My first meal was the ubiquitous Vietnamese Bahn Mi. This is actually a fusion of French-Vietnamese cuisine, where you have the French Baguette filled with various meats, such as spam, salami, Vietnamese ham, and Vietnamese greens and spices. This particular Banh Mi was from a small stall called Hong Hoa which was recommended and located at District 1, and it was EXTREMELY DELICIOUS!

Before I blog about my full experience in HCMC, I want to share about my unique excursion to the Cu Chi Tunnels which Baby brought me to. This was a half day tour booked from the hotel's tour desk, and we paid about 2 millionVND (about SGD120) for both of us.

Our stay was inclusive of breakfast and we had our brekkie in the hotel before heading to our tour. The hotel's breakfast room is on 17th floor, while our room was on the 15th. The swimming pool was on the 16th level, so we were actually considered a penthouse room! Haha.

The journey to Cu Chi was about an hour's drive away from Ho Chi Minh, and we were very excited to see the place. To give some background on Cu Chi, the tunnels here were actually built by the North Vietnamese to first fight the French during the Indochine war, then later the Americans and South Vietnamese during the Vietnam War. The purpose of these tunnels were to stockpile supplies and to hide from American bombings/search & destroy missions.

Baby and I also made some friends during tour!

Cu Chi Tunnels is one of the attractions you should not miss when visiting HCMC, and they easily one of the most complex man-made underground structures and tunnels ever built. The tunnels that we visited are about 121KM long,but only a small section has been opened to tourists for visiting.

Things on display range from the many traps that were set up to injure their enemies, and to actually enter the tunnel themselves, which I will touch upon shortly.


Before we went into the tunnels, we were brought to a shooting range where you can fire real weapons used during the Vietnam war!. The tour fee does not include this firing session, and therefore we paid about 400,000VND (SGD25) for 10 bullets to fire on an AK47.

The feeling is awesome and I loved the experience of firing a gun so much! I would have done more if I could, but the pricey bullets were a huge deterrent. Baby would have spent USD100 on firing an M60 machine gun but he decided not to, haha.

Now, back to the tour, and we were given a chance to go into the tunnels for our tunnel/trail experience. Although there is a weak light within the tunnels for tourists, it was still mostly pitch black dark, and you could not make out where you were going! To make things worse, the tunnels were pretty hot and humid as well, and were extremely claustrophobic. We were told that the tunnels we were in were actually modified to suit tourists to enter, and the original tunnels were actually much smaller!! Generally, to give you a good idea on the size of the tunnel, the modified ones had us duck-walking in it, but the real original tunnels needed one to leopard crawl to go from point to point. I could not imagine how horrible it must have been for the people using these tunnels.

I was very impressed by the Vietnamese's endurance back then, and how they lived, fought, and survived within the tunnels during the war. Ultimately I had fun at the Cu Chi tunnels and a unique experience firing a real AK47!

 I end my day with a bowl of yummy Chicken Pho which cost us less than SGD2.

At the end of the day, we chilled out in the hotel room with some beers that cost less than SGD1 per can! Baby was very happy for obvious reasons haha. Stay tuned for my next post on other attractions and local food from Vietnam.

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