When you go traveling like we are (i.e. living out of a backpack with a seriously small budget), it’s very easy to forget about the normal things you get so used to in your previous life. You quickly forget about simple things like having your own shower, getting washing done, being able to cook your own meal, drive yourself around, and even just watching a bit of TV or using a Laptop are all the things that are so normal back home and missed whilst on the road. That’s not been an issue at all so far to be fair, but when you return to this kind of lifestyle you quickly remember what you’ve been missing!
On our final leg in Vietnam, we finished up in Saigon (now known as Ho Chi Minh). We were very fortunate to be staying with some old family friends from the UK, the Kelly’s. The family (Charlie and Janette, Blair and Cameron) moved here around 4 years ago when Charlie got a new job with a Vietnamese firm as their Director for the Vietnam office . They live in a wonderful compound in District 2; about 20 mins on a scooter from the famous backpacker area in the central District 1 of Saigon. Blair and Cameron are both still at school/college, but have been a joy to hang around with at the house in the evenings. They also have two awesome little dogs, Frankie and Pickle who managed to fill our doggy quotas very nicely!
Being at the Kelly’s and living with a familiar family has been the reboot we both needed! Having those creature comforts like a kitchen, a pool, and our own bathroom has been SUCH a nice treat, and company has been fantastic! We’ve been out for dinner with Janette (known by the Easties as JK) and Charlie a couple of times, as well as a family BBQ by the pool one evening: what a fab way to recharge after the non stop madness of Vietnam for a month. The Kelly’s were very kind and lent us their scooter for the time there as well, so we had free reign of the city when we needed. Honestly, if you guys are reading this, we can’t thank you enough for your amazing hospitality and making us feel so at home! We owe you BIG TIME!!!!
We stayed here for about 5 days, and head onto Cambodia next. On our first day here, Charlie drove me around his district to see the sights around the local district. This place is really cool, there’s a very strong arty feel around the whole area, mixed nicely with some very trendy restaurants and bars dotted along the river. D2 is clearly more geared for the more Western audience, with craft beer bars, artisan deli’s and a flood of shops selling American/British produce dotted all over the place, some very snazzy restaurants alongside the more traditional street food vendors you see all over the country.
D2 is TOTALLY different to anywhere else we’ve stayed in Vietnam. The Kelly’s live on a compound that is actually quiet at night to start with! The area is lovely and has everything you’d need surrounding you within 500metres at the most. I’ve also seen more 4×4 cars around here than in all of Vietnam for sure. Whilst it’s not a traditional backpacker spot, it’s been great to see stuff beyond the status quo for backpackers, there is actually so much to see here! We were able to eat at some quality restaurants, including a Thai street food place that needs a special mention. This was easily the best thai food i’ve ever eaten, the restaurant was hidden down a small alleyway and as you can see, it’s designed to look like a street food market (it reminded me quite a lot of the Street Feast pop ups in London to be honest). If you haven’t been to one of those, I wrote a blog about that too!
When venturing into D1 for a couple of days to do the sights, we also discovered the Bến Thành Market and the new addition of the street food market. If you are in Saigon, you HAVE to stop over at both of these. Seriously, the market itself is crazy, and the new street food market adjacent to the old market is absolutely fantastic, with a great array of goodies to sample. HIGHLY recommended for some cheap grub and even cheaper clothes (if you’re good at haggling).
I also need to give a shout out to Pasteur Street Brewery. I discovered this craft beer in Hanoi at the start of the trip, but it was sadly rather expensive in relation to our budget so didn’t get to enjoy it too many times on the trip. Kelly agreed that I should go and have a wee sample though whilst in it’s hometown, so we went to it’s bar. I can honestly say that some of their beers rival some of my favourites from around the world. I would HIGHLY recommend the coconut porter, the nitro porter, and the jasmine IPA, all of which were top class! There bar is again hidden down a tiny alleyway and can’t really be seen from the road, but it’s worth finding if you’re into craft beer, and Western food.
A lot of the activity in Saigon that’s a ‘must see’ is kind of based around the wars the country has endured. Over 2 days we visited the American War Museum and the Cu Chi Tunnels. Needless to say, after the war museum, a beer or two was needed! It’s quite amazing how little we are taught about the atrocities that took place during the war. I knew it was pretty brutal, but had no idea about the level of chemical warfare that took place. If you don’t either, just have a Google about Agent Orange, an awful herbicide the Americans peppered all across the place, causing huge devastation at the time, but also continues to cause a number of genetic mutations in newborns. You can really see the impact around the country of Agent Orange, it really was a horrific thing to unleash on the country. I appreciate the museum is clearly one sided and somewhat propaganda fuelled, but the atrocities that occurred from both sides were truly appalling. I can’t imagine anything worse than what went on in the war. Unsurprisingly, I didn’t take any pictures there; it was bloody horrific and out of respect I didn’t think taking photos was the done thing.
We also spent a day at the Cu Chi Tunnels. Whilst this has been jazzed up for tourists, it’s a very good way to get a feel for the way things were during the war, and how the Viet Kong outsmarted the American Army. The Viet Kong basically built tunnels across the whole area, covering over 200km of underground tunnels. These tunnels were used to transport people and goods, but also keep people hidden during the war. The fact that people lived in these tiny tunnels up to 3 floors down is actually incredible. We both had a go clambering through the ‘touristy’ tunnels (slightly expanded for the slightly larger Western tourists). We endured the 60m route underground, that went down 3 floors underground. Now, i’m not someone who gets freaked out by small spaces, but this was something else. Firstly, it was BLOODY hot and humid, it was absolutely tiny (especially with a bag on my back), and super dark. Someone in front of Kel starting freaking out, which didn’t help things. Needless to say, the thought of getting stuck down there, not being able to turn or move past anyone isn’t that appealing!!! Whilst this was a bit touristy and at points felt a bit fake, it’s definitely something I’m glad I saw. I can’t understand though after seeing everything we did, people had the urge to shoot the bloody great guns that are there as more as an attraction; definitely not my cup of tea!
On our final day in Saigon, we took the scooter and rode across to the Mekong, as we didn’t have time to do a proper tour around the area. After a 30minute drive to the river, we boarded the boat to cross over. Unfortunately at this point, Kelly managed to burn herself really badly on a neighbouring motorbike that certainly put a dampener on things. We spent the next 2 hours riding into the delta, but didn’t get very far as we attempted to find something to cover and clean her leg with. We fortunately found a local doctor from the help of a lovely local lady, so decided to ride back to central Saigon along the back roads; again an experience in itself!
Whilst our trip to Saigon was made super special by the Kelly’s, the city itself is pretty awesome. I could definitely see myself living somewhere like this; it’s all so chilled and generally a nice place to be. The roads are f****** crazy though, you honestly can’t fathom how mental they are until you see them!
I think it’s safe to say, this will not be the last time we will be in Vietnam. I know I said i’d fallen in love with India previously, but this is another level. Vietnam has been such a nice (and EASY) change to the total madness we had in India! The people have been fantastic from start to finish, and so helpful at every occasion, the food has been out of this world, and the things we’ve seen I will never forget. I WILL be back one day for sure, and now definitely have the urge to buy a bike and ride from Hanoi to Saigion (Gary, Bub, and Sam, take note. I’m not letting this one go)!
Next stop, CAMBODIA! We start in Phnom Penh before moving South to Kampot and Kep and Sihanoukville. We’re going to spend a couple of nights on one of the Koh Rong islands to have a touch of beachy life again, before heading up to Siam Reap to experience Ankor Wat (well that’s the plan so far anyway). Now I just need to source some dollars!