In mid-October 2015 we were getting a little stir crazy in Hong Kong, so decided it was time to get out an explore another country. By coincidence, our favorite SE Asia travelers, Jax and Adam, happened to be traveling through Vietnam at that time, so booked last minute flights to Ho Chi Minh City. We got pretty cheap flights on United, but unfortunately had to fly at inopportune times; we landed in HCMC around 1 AM Thursday morning. We had enough hotel points from previous work trips to get a room Sheraton Hotel which happened to be in a great location in District 1, right down the road from the iconic opera house and post office. Other than booking flights and hotels, we had done very little research or planning about the places we visit until we got on-site- so we dove into the city no expectations, and were not disappointed! The city was just as hectic as many of the other SE Asia countries visiting with traffic and motorbikes everywhere, but we were also pleasantly surprised with how built up and modern the city was.
We had to work during the day on Thursday and Friday, so we saved most of our “going out” and “sightseeing” for the evening/night but still made sure to hit the must see spots. Thursday evening we visited the Independence/Reunification Palace which is where the President of South Vietnam used to live before the fall of Saigon to the North Vietnamese. The palace has been mostly left unchanged for the last 50-ish years, and it was interesting to read the information placards and the spin that current government has put on some of the events that occurred before, during, and after the war. We had seen some political propaganda in the streets, but this was our first glimpse at how different the North Vietnamese’s perspective is on the war. It was also very surprising to see the amount of effort that the current government still puts into controlling the perspective of the people in the South, today. Our next stop was the War Remnants Museum; the highlight of the museum was the collection the old US military equipment that was captured by the Vietnamese during the war. However, the museum itself was extremely disheartening and depressing, especially the section on Agent Orange. We left museum with hopes of raising our spirits so went home got ready and went out with the intentions of exploring some of the more upbeat places of HCMC.
We had a great (and pretty cheap, which we found out was a trend in HCMC) 4 course steak dinner at Corso steakhouse in District 1. After dinner we explored the night markets a bit and then found our way to a place called Vespa Bar. The owners had taken an old VW bus and turned it into a bar with a scooter theme- this became one of the best parts of the trip. Vespa didn’t have any DJ system, so they hooked a laptop up to a TV and let the patrons pick songs from YouTube. We knew once we met up with Adam and Jax on Saturday we would have to take them there. After a day of work and nice workout we did more of the same on Friday night. We went to Ichiban Sushi where Sarah did her first Saki-bomb and had another delicious and cheap (by comparison to Hong Kong) meal. After words we decided that we needed to visit one of the many rooftop bars. It was a rainy night so we didn’t spend too much time at Chill Sky Bar, but we stayed long enough to appreciate the view that comes with its overpriced drinks. We headed back to our hotel took a quick stroll through the smoke filled 70’s style casino and ended at the Sheraton rooftop bar which also had a surprisingly great night time view.
While we waited for Adam and Jax to arrive we took them up on a recommendation from their earlier trip to HCMC and grabbed brunch at D’Luisine right across the street from our hotel. Once Adam and Jax showed up and booked their hotel right across the street from us we all decided to explore a little bit together. We checked out a massive roundabout that once again looked like organized chaos without a single accident as we headed to the “backpackers” part of town. Mostly this was an area with hostels near the main market. At the market we negotiated with 6-7 different stalls to get the best prices on dried fruits and nuts and then headed over back to Vespa as promised.
We spent a solid 3 hours or so catching up, playing darts and games, trying shots of “cobra wine”, and even helping the manager with a PowerPoint Presentation for their Scooter Tour business which earned us some free Saigon Beers. If we go back we would definitely check out one of their scooter food/bar tours. We headed back to our hotels, freshened up a bit and then went to the Sheraton rooftop bar for a couple pre-dinner drinks before heading out to dinner. We finished our trip to HCMC with another great and relatively in-expensive dinner at Chanh Bistro Rooftop before calling it a night (as we had a 5 am flight home and Adam and Jax had a 8 hour bus ride home).
All in all, HCMC was great short trip- it surprised us with the blend of modern and historic, introduced us to some interesting perspectives, and gave us a chance to catch up with some great friends. We’d probably go back if we didn’t have so many other places we want to check out first!