Seeing Another Side of Saigon
My sincerest apologies for letting a month go by without a post. If you've been following along on my Instagram account lately, you know how busy (and sick) I've been, but now that I'm feeling better and have settled in Bangkok for the next week, it's time to catch up.
We left off on my last night in Penang, Malaysia. From there, I hopped a 90-minute Air Asia flight to Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, where I'd visited briefly during a two-week guided tour back in the Budget Travel days. It had been a whirlwind trip to all the major historical sights in Saigon, Hue, Hoi An, Hanoi and Ha Long Bay, so this time I was eager to spend more time in the places I'd be visiting — Ho Chi Minh City, Nha Trang, Dalat and Mui Ne — and go beyond the touristy stuff whenever possible.
Luckily, one of my friends from high school now lives in Ho Chi Minh City with her husband, so we were able to meet up a few times while I was in town and go exploring. I stayed at The Golf Hotel in District 7 — it's dangerously close to the Anna Sanctuary Wellness Spa, where you can pay about $5 for all-day access to this sweet riverside infinity pool.
My friend also managed to track down this awesome whodunit kind of tour through Chinatown where you have to work together to solve the mystery of who killed Dr. Lam by going on a scavenger hunt for clues all around the neighborhood and meeting up with local actors who stay in character and point you in the right direction. It was kind of like being in the Vietnamese version of The Da Vinci Code and you got to be Robert Langdon for the day, plus it gave us access to parts of the city we probably never would have seen otherwise. And it was really entertaining to be having a conversation with a woman in a tea shop that went like this, with everyone around us wondering what the hell was going on:
Tea shop lady: Have you seen my uncle? He was supposed to pick up this envelope last night.
Me: I'm so sorry but your uncle was MURDERED! But we'll get to the bottom of this. Dr. Lam shall not have died in vain!
If you're looking for an interesting way to explore Saigon, definitely check out Urban Tales (from ~$43 per person; we did the ~$48 per person option, which included lunch). It's a half-day adventure that's technically a two-part mystery, although we never actually made it to the second half. We're not idiots, we just got distracted by what was going on in real life whenever we stopped by one of the Buddhist temples on the itinerary. There was a lot of activity around the Lunar Eclipse that happened later that night, so we saw locals burning incense and leaving offerings, which was really interesting to see.
On my last day, I went on a full-day tour of the Mekong Delta with Les Rives, one of the only companies that lets you set sail from the heart of Ho Chi Minh City. Tours are ~$110 per person and worth every penny, giving you all-day access to a local guide, a scenic ride to several local villages and the famous Cao Dai Church, lunch, and all the bottled water, tea, and tasty Vietnamese fruit — rambutan, dragon fruit and jack fruit — you can eat.
At some point, I spotted a $16 Jetstar flight from Ho Chi Minh City to Nha Trang, so decided to check it out since it wasn't too far away — it's still in Southern Vietnam, which I was hoping to see more of this time around, particularly because of the warm weather — and it had a beach. I'll write about my time there and in nearby Dalat and Mui Ne in other posts, since there's a lot to say about each of those places.
As the end of a lovely three weeks in Vietnam drew to a close, I took a Vietnamese sleeper-style lie-flat bus from Mui Ne back to Ho Chi Minh City, where I spent two more nights before my flight to Bangkok. This time, I chose to stay in gritty, touristy District 1 at Vy Da Backpackers Hostel 2 since it was just a short walk from the vibrant and backpacker filled Bui Vien Walking Street. The capsule-style hostel cost about $5 a night and was surprisingly quiet considering all the street noise I'd heard outside — a sort of DIY karaoke extravaganza that was going on as part of a Tet Chinese New Year celebration that night.
In a strange turn of events, I ended up bumping into a friend I'd made at another hostel in Dalat while I was in Ho Chi Minh City — he was walking out of church just as I was leaving the bus station, what are the odds?! — so we ended up spending the day together sightseeing and going for walks around town, stopping at restaurants and cafes whenever it got too hot out. After checking out Reunification Palace and Notre Dame Cathedral, we parted ways and I stumbled upon Book Street, an adorable little part of the city near the big Post Office that's lined with tiny book shops and cafes. While most of the books on offer were in Vietnamese, I did manage to find a few English titles in the mix as well.
In the immortal words of Forrest Gump, that's all I have to say about that. I'm going to do separate posts for the other places I visited in Vietnam, as well as some special ones about what it was like to celebrate Valentine's Day and Tet Chinese New Year at the biggest party hostel in Mui Ne, what I learned after spending a week among the backpackers at said party hostel and a special shoutout to all the great guys I've met while traveling, which I hope will be a positive reminder in this day and age that there are still decent men out there.
Please note that I paid for all tours/hotels mentioned in this post myself — I just thought they were great enough to mention here in hopes you might enjoy them, too. That said, if you happen to book your next hotel/hostel stay through any of my affiliate links for Airbnb, Agoda or Booking.com I'd be extremely grateful, as the credits will help fund this little adventure.