So after a bit of relaxation in the beach town of Mui Ne it was time for the hustle and bustle of big city life in the sprawling Ho Chi Minh City. I hopped on a tourist bus, which nicely puts you right at the tourist district, as opposed to some random bus stop that you have to navigate away from. It just so happened the bus let us out right in front of this large flower market, with people buying bouquets of all sorts for the upcoming Vietnamese New Year, Tet. Well it was dusk at this point and I wanted to wander around and take some photos before the dark set in. I felt kind of silly walking around with both my backpacks on and getting in the way, but oh well.
After that I found the narrow little hostel street and booked for a few nights. One of cool things about Ho Chi Minh City is all of the little mazelike alleyways in between the main streets. They are fun to explore and easy to get lost in, but never too lost. And there are Vietnamese flags everywhere, even more than in America, which is impressive!
I ended up going out with some people at the hostel for the Vietnamese staple: Pho (pronounced fuh). I had been eating pho and other noodle soup varieties (bun bo hue, bun cha) basically every night and never get tired of it. Even now that I’m in Cambodia I’m still getting some mad pho cravings, especially now that I’m writings this! It’s weird, I rarely got in the mood for Asian noodle soups at home, but now I’m hooked. The fresh basil and mint and whatever other herbs they give you on the side really round out the dish so well. Mmm. And it’s so cheap. I’m pretty sure I’ve never spent less on food than I did in Vietnam. Vietnamese street food is the bomb.
We checked out the main tourist street, which runs for a couple blocks. It has about what you’d expect for SE Asia, lots of bars, cheap beer, bbq places, a few clubs, some girly bar, tons of massage places, and motorbikes everywhere. In HCMC you have to be especially careful on the street with phones, cameras, and purses and whatnot because the motorbike snatch and grab is not uncommon, especially later on at night when tourists are drunk and the streets are empty. I’d met two people on this trip who fell prey to this sort of thing, just walking down the street looking on google maps or whatever, and wham, phone ripped out of their hands and the dudes on the bike are long gone. I’d like to think I’m travel savvy enough to not let it happen to me! We ended up settling on bar with some shisha (or hookah, or whatever you want to call it). The flavoured tobacco industry is going strong in Vietnam, and I’m all for it!
So I mentioned Tet before, and now it was only a day away. When walking down the streets, especially outside the tourist area, it was quite strange seeing so many stores closed up, as many people go back to the provinces where they have family for the New Years celebrations. You don’t really want to be traveling around this time, especially South to North, as that’s the direction most of the locals are traveling and all the buses and trains get booked up. I had to do laundry, and the hostel couldn’t do it because their laundry person went home, and it was difficult finding a laundry place that was still open! I did find one though, and thank god, because I put that off for way too long. So anyway, the city was actually kind of quiet compared to normal.
I was originally planning on doing some touristy stuff like the war museum, but that was also closed, so no go. All in all, I was really lazy in Ho Chi Minh City! Mostly just wandering around the alleys and chilling in coffee shops. It was kind of fun walking around near midnight of Tet as people were praying at the temples, lighting off fireworks, and getting drunk. I got invited to drink a few times, but usually nobody knows much English so it gets pretty awkward fast! I appreciate the sentiment though. The next few days it was very common to see people sitting in groups outside drinking and eating all day.
As for me, three days of no activity was making me restless, so I decided it was time to rent another scooter and do some exploring around the Mekong Delta area further south of HCMC.