The customs process entering Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, was weird and a little complicated. First you had to apply online and pay. Next, you had to show up at the airport on the exact day as your visa approval letter. At the gate you had to pay again for a stamping fee and submit passport photos, along with another form. You drop all of this with your passport with the agent, who takes about 20 minutes to file the papers and stick the visa into your passport. Then you walk to the actual customs gate where they inspect the visa and stamp your passport, taking up an obnoxious 1.5 pages. But this was the cost to enter, and we were happy to pay it. This would be our second visit to a Communist stronghold country and we expected to jump through hoops.
Upon exiting the Ho Chi Minh City airport we were barraged with taxi drivers all offering different prices to the Saigon city center. All the taxis were supposed to be metered but no one offered us a metered rate. The lowest we found was 200,000 Dong (23,000 Dong to $1 US) which our Airbnb said was an OK price so we went with it. After leaving the airport the driver said that it was 200,000 plus a 150,000 airport tax. We had a big argument where he told us to get out and still pay 200,000. I said “No, you’re trying to cheat us.” But eventually we settled on 300,000, as I didn’t really want to get out. The driver was happy and we arrived already annoyed. For the record, the airport tax is 15,000 Dong and the trip on meter costs less than 150,000. Taxi drivers can really suck sometimes. They are the first impression travelers sometimes get in a new place and a bad one can start your trip in a bad way. We got over it; you live and learn.
Our first stop was for “bahn mi”, the classic Vietnamese sandwich. It was so nice to get good bread finally and the toppings were amazing. We walked around the city for awhile, hitting the sites. The hardest part was avoiding death by motorbike, as they drive very crazily and all over the sidewalks.
In 1976 Saigon’s name was officially changed to Ho Chi Minh City, but many people still call it Saigon today. We hit many of the attractions including the War Remnants Museum, Saint Paul’s Cathedral, and the Central Post Office which was designed by Gustave Eiffel and built between 1886 and 1891. We have seen many of Eiffel’s works throughout the world, this one being very similar to the main bus terminal in Santa Cruz, Bolivia.
The Ho Chi Minh City Ben Thanh Market was definitely a must see. There are hundreds of vendors selling all types of food and souvenirs. We had our first pho, the classic Vietnamese noodle dish with amazing broth.
Once the sun went down it was fun to go to Bui Vien Street. This is backpacker central for Ho Chi Minh with cheap hostels and many bars on the street. It reminded us a lot of Khao San Road in Bangkok, but a little less wild. It’s nice to get a 15,000 Dong beer and sit on the street in a plastic chair watching the madness stroll by.
Our friend Flora has a cousin who was a very popular DJ around Saigon called D-Roc. We went to watch him spin at a fancy nightclub called Qui. This place was the worst– weird service and an annoying management. However, the music was great and we hung out for most of the night. After David’s set was over we went to another club called Lush. They had several rooms with different types of music. Their light shows were also very impressive. They were open until 4 but we headed out before 2 cause we’re not as young as we used to be. Clubbing is not really our scene but it’s fun once in a while with good friends!
Before leaving Ho Chi Minh City we went on an epic food tour with Flora and David (“D-Roc”). We tried squid beaks, salt water snails, spice soup with chicken blood, and many other dishes.
It was sad to say goodbye to them after such an epic few days, but we were full and our curiosity for Vietnam had increased greatly. We couldn’t wait to come back and explore more of the county.