I am no longer backpacking through Southeast Asia (for now), and I have to admit, I’m a little bummed. Not just because i am now without a bum gum, but I got to see some really cool places and hear about other cool places that didn’t make my itinerary. At the moment, I’m missing Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City) the most. I recently left a comment for a fellow traveler about how great it was to backpack through Saigon, so I’m going to keep the love going with this blog post. If you’re considering Vietnam for your Southeast Asia trip, go! Go now! Or at least apply for your visa.
Six Reasons You’ll Fall in Love With Saigon / Ho Chi Minh City!
The Demise Of Your Fear of Crossing the Street!
Ha! Motorbikes are a fun way to get around, but when you’re not on a motorbike or in a car, getting around Saigon is pretty freakin’ terrifying. Traffic is absolutely wild, and there are very few rules to be followed, so just go for it! Most bikes and cars will stop if they see you walking, and you will have to walk in front of cars/bikes at some point because traffic does not clear up, ever. Bless all of the little Vietnamese ladies who saw our fear-stricken faces and stuck their hands out in front of bikes so that we could all cross together.
Lots to Learn!
Hey Americans, are you not sure what happened during the Vietnam War, or the tragically lasting affect we had on the country? That’s fair, because our education is extremely biased and shit, but you’ll learn, very quickly! Saigon is home to the War Remnants Museum, as well as a lot of guided tours that have to do with the Vietnam War. I recommend the War Remnants Museum to everyone, but it needs to be seen by Americans. You will be extremely humbled and absolutely horrified, and more understanding as to why your parents and grandparents raised their eyebrows when you said you were going to Vietnam. Unfortunately, the tour that Andrew and I went on only gave us about an hour at the War Remnants museum, and that wasn’t enough to take everything in. If you also have a rushed tour, be sure to got to the room that explains what Agent Orange is, and the effect that it still has on Vietnamese people today. Let the disgust sink in.
I don’t have a lot of trouble making friends while traveling, but making friends in Saigon pretty much required no effort. Two mornings in a row, I sat down at a coffee shop and had an hour-long conversation with the girls who worked there. I was drinking my coffee and within a few minutes, I got into a great conversation. I was especially interested in having chats with locals because of our countries’ histories; rest assured that as an American, you won’t face as much tension (in the South) as you may think. A big shout out especially to Goc Hanoi, because egg coffee is surprisingly delicious. The friendliness continued throughout the night, and before I knew it, I was dancing on tables with new Vietnamese friends and adding them on Facebook. And if the “just be places” method doesn’t work, there is always Tinder.
The Best Nightlife!
Saigon is a great place to party, no matter how you like to do it. Want a big backpacker street? Hit up Phạm Ngũ Lão Street for dozens of bars, including a rooftop bar. Want Saigon’s best craft beer? Go to Pasteur Street and grab a beer flight. Love live music and spending cover charges? The music at Sax N Art is really dope. Enjoy balloons? (I do not, but I also do not judge.) They’re really popular in Saigon, and you can order them, along with cheap cocktails and hookah, at The Republic. This holds a special place in my heart, only because there is an online review of it somewhere that says something along the lines of, “This is not a family restaurant…it’s a gay club!” The image in my mind of an American family with Hawaiian shirts and young children looking for pho and walking into this dark club filled with young people doing balloons is hilarious. Alcohol is cheap in Vietnam, so drink up.
The Beginning (or End) Of Your Motorbike Route
Saigon is a great place to start your travels, especially if you want to see a lot of Vietnam. Grab a motorbike off Craigslist or through hostel recommendations. I personally did not motorbike through Vietnam, although I want to at some point. So I recommend this post from Paula Through the Looking Glass about what routes to take and tips to follow for the trip.
I hadn’t been on a motorbike before I got to Saigon, so I was more than pleased to see that I could ride one, on demand, with Uber or Grab! Saigon was pretty walkable, but on our last night, we went to a different part of Saigon, had a few rum drinks, and Uber’d home. There is a very cute picture of my beaming face on my motorbike back, but it’s quite blurry, so I’ll refrain.
Tips for Backpacking in Saigon:
Where to Stay?
Andrew and I stayed in a lovely homestay through AirBNB, but there are tons of hostels to stay in as well! A few recommendations from friends include:
Get Your Visa Ahead of Time, And Get It Online
Andrew and I got our visas in New York, and we paid quite a lot. If you are flying into Vietnam (which I recommend anyway,) grab an e-visa. The sooner the better!
What’s With The Saigon/Ho Chi Minh City Thing?
Saigon was the original name of the city, and you’ll see it used all over to this day. Ho Chi Minh is the guy who led North Vietnam when the war broke out. A lot of Vietnamese people prefer to call the city Saigon, as do I, but either one works.
Know Your Coffee
If you are particular about your coffee, be careful in Saigon. If you want to try new ways to sweeten and enjoy coffee, enjoy Saigon! Traditional Vietnamese coffee contains condensed milk, and you may have to specify that you want your coffee dairy-free. Again, egg coffee is surprisingly delicious. It originated in North Vietnam when people were too poor to buy milk or sugar to cool down or sweeten their coffee. Instead, egg whites were used, and it makes the coffee taste like marshmallow fluff. (If you don’t know what marshmallow fluff is, you could probably guess, but add the U.S. to your bucket list and buy some stretchy pants. It comes in tubs.)
If you are a vegetarian, be sure to grab my recommendations for meat-free dishes in Southeast Asia, including Saigon!
Love Saigon / Ho Chi Minh City? Love making comments on blog posts? Leave some below!
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