After bidding Cambodia farewell, I took the bus to travel from Phnom Penh to Vietnam. It was a much anticipated ride because I’ve heard so many stories about crossing the Cambodia-Vietnam border!
Turns out the ride was rather uneventful, though the bus driver overslept and all of us had to wait for an hour before we departed from the bus station. We left at 9am, arrived at the Cambodia border at around 12:30pm, everyone got off the bus and had our passports stamped at a kiosk. Then, we got back on the bus, handed all of our passports over to the bus driver, who then drove us to the Vietnam border, got our passports stamped, gave them back to us, and we walked through the custom and had all of our bags scanned. No one had issues with their visa, no one asked for under-the-table money, no one even announced that we were now in Vietnam.
If you ask me, I was a little bit disappointed, haha!
For some reasons, I relaxed as soon as I stepped on the Vietnamese land. The bus continued driving to our final destination, HCMC, and I was excited. Until I suddenly had to pee but we were still about 30 minutes away. I wasn’t so excited then -_-
Anyway, we arrived at HCMC at 2:30pm, I zoomed into the first toilet I saw, collected my big bag pack and walked to my hostel, Lily’s hostel at Bui Vien Street. I almost didn’t shower (but I did) because I was so excited to explore the street and get me some good ol’ pho.
It was Vietnam’s Reunification and Labor’s Day holiday so most tours were booked out. I managed talk a guy into showing me around on his motorbike for a fee, and it turned out to be an excellent decision. We cruised through Reunification Palace, General Post Office, Ben Thanh Market (my favourite!), and Hinduism Pagoda, Remanent War Museum (a must go) and Fine Arts Museum (another favourite!).
After spending the entire morning hopping around, we sat down at one of the cafes in the Cafe Apartment building, and I told my guide, Thai, to take me to a place in HCMC he likes most next, figuring to myself that an authentic and localised experience would be wonderful, expecting him to show me interesting buildings off the beaten path or perhaps his neighbourhood.
Guess where he took me?
… Diamond Plaza. A departmental store that looks exactly like the ones back home.
He was confused when I laughed. Well, I guess I can’t blame him – the buildings, the traffic and the propaganda everywhere that fascinates me so much, he has seen them all his life, whereas a departmental store like Diamond Plaza is just more… special I guess. It’s just like how KLCC looks so majestic to tourists but to me, it’s just KLCC, nothing special.
In the end, we decided to just get back on his bike and just ride around town – I got to look at the buildings, the traffic and the propaganda, he got to complete his job, win win.
That’s Thai, taking selfie with every single art piece we saw. I loved his company!
Little hiccup aside, I definitely recommend going on the city tour on bikes because it’s always nice to have a local showing you around. There are many companies offering bike tours now so pick whatever floats your boat. It is also possible to do it yourself, as Grab / Uber rides in HCMC are affordable and it’s fun to experience HCMC’s crazy yet organised traffic.
Cheapest: Uber / Grab rides on motorbikes (approximately 5000 Dong / KM)
Best (in my opinion): Personalised city tour on motorbike (approximately 200,000 – 400,000 Dong for a full day tour)
Most comfortable: City tour on private car / minivan / bus – not sure how much it would cost though
Day 3 – Day 4
I went on the Mekong Delta 2D1N tour and unfortunately, it was rather meh. Again, because of the holiday, 80% of the people on tour were locals. The guide decided to just speak in Vietnamese without looking at us, foreigners who did not understand a word. We were whisked around, making quick stops at one island after another to try on random honey tea, coconut candy and rice noodles, followed by everyone trying to sell us something. The lunch that was included was an absolute disaster, all of us had to wash our food down with a can of Pepsi.
After completing our tour for the day, I was told by the guide (who spoke English after all!) to get on a random bus, which then drove to a hotel. Everyone else got off, I was left behind completely confused because I opted for home stay, not a hotel. The driver then made a call, and a random motor cyclist appeared and told me to hop on. I did, and he rode to another random road and told me to get off again. I stood by the road side, still completely confused. After what felt like half an hour, a taxi stopped and told me to get in. I was then sent to my home stay.
-____- It would’ve been nice if someone told me what was going on but okay…
The home stay was wonderful and probably the highlight of the day for me. The room was basic but comfortable, we had great dinner and our hosts were a friendly family who took good care of us. The next morning, we got to cycle around the island for half an hour before breakfast, which was nice, too.
Day 2’s itinerary was slightly better than the first day. We experienced floating market and tried barbecued rat. The guide continued to speak in Vietnamese but we found ways to keep ourselves entertained.
The tour ended with a 7 hour bus ride back to HCMC. It should’ve taken 5 hours but the rain caused a minor flash flood and hence clogged the traffic. Fun times…
It sounded like a terrible tour but somehow I managed to enjoy it anyway. It was funny getting squeezed between locals who gave me sympathised look as they knew that I didn’t understand anything the guide said. The floating market experience was pretty interesting, seeing how people manage a living on a boat. On day 2, I sat beside this local man who chatted with me in Vietnamese. When I used Google Translate to tell him I don’t understand Vietnamese, he said “okay, okay!” and continued chatting with me in Vietnamese. The rest of the foreigners on tour were a fun bunch from Belgium, Germany and Croatia.
Overall, I really enjoyed HCMC. Every corner in this city takes my breath away and I hope that the aggressive property development will attempt to maintain HCMC’s raw beauty. The people, oh the people were SO nice. While language barrier limited our interaction, they never said no when I asked for help. More than once I was held by the hand to be shown the direction to where I wanted to go. The food is simple yet delicious, and when you are sick of pho and spring roll, there’s always hundreds of cafes and western restaurants available for a change.
I am rather claustrophobic so I gave Chu Chi Tunnel a pass, but you should totally go! I am also a boring old lady who goes to bed at 10pm so I did not check out the cool roof top bars that everyone raved about, but you should totally get a drink and enjoy the night view!
A complete, 2 weeks itinerary will be up soon but next post, I shall talk about my 2nd stop in Vietnam, Mui Ne…