Ho Chi Min & Phan Thiet, Vietnam
I arrived to the Ho Chi Min (Saigon) airport around 7pm and was hungry and as soon as I walked outside to order a Grab, I saw Burger King and immediately went to order something quickly (hadn't had BK for like 10 years) - I was desperate. Then I was off to the hostel I booked while eating my Burger King in the Grab (about 30 mins away). Once I arrived, I had to go through a coffee shop to get to the hostel section which was this tiny little office area with an elevator and refrigerator and a younger Asian girl working (as well as backpacks everywhere along the floor taking up space in this tiny area-quite the show). I checked in and asked about the tour I had been messaging about via Booking.com to the Cu Chi Tunnels (Vietnamese war tunnels). She hadn’t a clue what I was talking about but she called the tour operator and said they were full so I asked about other options and she finally mentioned the Luxury option which was a little more expensive but had less people and the only option really so I just went for it and had to be ready by 8am. So I went up to shower and unpack and finally wind down and get a good night sleep since I had the biggest migraine. It was the type of migraine that lasted all day and night and never went away (maybe because I was on my phone too much. So I went to bed around 10am and turned off the lights, happy to be in a nice air-conditioned room all to myself with a bathroom. The hostel had 5 floors with dorms and rooms and a kitchen on the rooftop which I ate breakfast in the next morning. I had to choose between scrambled eggs or Vietnamese noodle soup so I chose scrambled eggs because it was hot already and I wasn’t in the mood for soup in the morning. Thankfully my migraine had gone away but I was still tired surprisingly. The tour operator was ready right on time and I was the first one to be picked up in the shuttle bus so we chatted for a while about the history of Vietnam and the differences between the South and North (he explained that the South call it the American war and more capitalist and migrate, while the North call it the Vietnam war and more communist and show-offish. It was interesting hearing the many facts he was saying like 8.5 million mopeds and 12 million people in this tiny country and then we started to gather up all the couples and we were on our way to the Cu Chi Tunnels. It was a nice drive looking at all the locals driving by on their mopeds and markets on the streets with hanging ducks and various meats. We arrived to this hand craft/ceramic making place for handicapped workers that I didn’t know was included in the tour but it was interesting to see the way they hand crafted these beautiful paintings made of egg shells (of duck not chicken) and ceramic them. We showed up to the Cu Chi Tunnels and it was all touristy, but interesting nonetheless to see the tunnels and actually go through one of them (very dark and scary at first but had some small lights). Then I was able to shoot an AK49er which was the first time I had shot a rifle gun, and I had been wanting to for some time so was very exciting, but somewhat ironic that it was in Vietnam. I also met this couple from Colombia that was sweet and we chatted for a while and they gave me recommendations on where to go as they traveled to the places I was going to after them.
We arrived back to the city around 3pm and I got dropped off at the bus station so I could get my bus ticket for the following morning. It was fairly simple and then walked 10 minutes back to my hostel in the dirty streets filled with honking mopeds and it was so scary crossing the streets because there weren’t any crosswalks and the lights weren’t straight forward. Thankfully at one of the major intersections, this threesome Brit group walked ahead of me as I was waiting and they lead the way and I followed. It was eye-opening to see the many locals in the streets just doing their thing, on their phones, people watching, making food, or selling things. There were things burning, smell of seafood, and just mopeds after mopeds. I was pooped so I went up to regroup and then decided to walk to this market to get some pho even though I wasn’t that hungry. I stopped to get a Tiger beer before since I was thirsty and hadn’t tried one yet and just sat and people watched before heading into the market. It was underground and filled with popup restaurants and I didn’t understand a word so I just walked around at first and then asked one of the guys at the pho places which one was best and he said seafood so I got seafood. It was a bit much with the spice and I had to eat it slowly, there were octopus squid shrimp and this egg that I didn’t know what it was so looked it up and found out it was a quail egg and didn’t eat it. I then grabbed to the Skydeck to see the city from above and it wasn’t as crowded at first and then after sunset it got crowded. Glad I went as it was a beautiful scene from the top watching the lights turn on and all the streets blow up with lights as well as see the river going through the city. Afterwards as it was getting dark, I headed to Independence Palace and stumbled upon the restaurant that the Colombians had gone to earlier that day and it was packed with foreigners of course but it was a cool place and called Secret Garden for a reason since it was somewhat of a speakeasy, hidden in an alleyway. Afterwards I just strolled around admiring the Christmas decorations (first time seeing a glimpse of the holidays) and made a couple stops in a market before going back to grab a beer for happy hour. I was disturbed by all the trash on the streets and wasn't sure if I should buy a mask for pollution so bought a pack just in case (which I ended up using for COVID-19 upon returning home - wouldn't have imagined that). Turns out they cancelled happy hour but thankfully still got a free beer by liking the hostel on Facebook (most hotels do this type of happy hour deal). There were two girls chatting about their travels up on the rooftop but were seemingly young and one had a boyfriend and said “I just hope he makes money so don’t have to” so I chugged my beer as fast I could then went back to shower since I hadn’t the night before and went to bed to be up in time for the early 7am bus.
As I was waiting for the bus to arrive (of course it was late and we had to take a mini van to get to the big bus which was outside the main area), there was this drunk/drugged out American guy making a scene, probably in his early 20s..barely walking and with 2 women looking strippers...I was surprised but then again not really. It just made me feel embarrassed for him, what a mess and disturbance he was so early in the morning like that. Anyway, the bus company I had been reading all these bad reviews about was actually not so bad. I booked the front seat and it was on the first floor (there were two floors of these sleeper seats - so bad for your posture) it was quite a scene, never seen a sleeper bus like this in my life. Everyone fell asleep while I was up and enjoying the view (took a few bathroom stops) and we were there within 5 hours so I arrived to my hostel around 12:30pm, an hour to spare before my tour to the sand dunes and fairy stream (I had a friend suggest this to me in Panama and ever since I made sure to go). The hostel was this cute little family house that I later found out ran an English school with two puppies, birds, fish and a 4-month old baby. The hostess gave me lunch thankfully as I hadn’t eaten and didn’t have time to go anywhere which was this yummy cucumber soup, steamed rice and meat with peppers like a stir-fry. I changed and tried getting a grab to get to the tour but none were available to thankfully the husband drove me which was very sweet of him. The town of Phan Thiet is this fishing town next to a beach that I didn't realize my hostel was 20 minutes outside of but thankfully it worked out. I hopped in the jeep with these two older Polish women and we drove into town which had all these resorts and restaurants (I obviously didn’t know I booked somewhere out of town but it was like 20-30 mins away) but also so glad I did in the end because it was cheap and cute. Then we picked up this lady from South Korea who had on this fancy red dress with a Vietnamese hat and were off to the fairy streams. It was a pretty red clay and a flowing creek with amazing contrasting colors and the South Korean lady and I took pictures for one another. There was a group of Scottish/British guys that were drinking and one holding a snake around his neck that the local had given him and the rest of the day we kept running into this group of drinkers partying it up (I was obviously in the wrong jeep haha). Then we were off to this fishing village with tons of boats and seafood and then the sand dunes. First to the white sands, which we had to pay to get a 4-wheeler to the actually scene and the guys working were rude but it was fun and a beautiful place. Then to the red sand dunes for sunset which was beautiful and I’m glad I took pictures when I did because the sun was buried behind clouds so didn’t get to see the full on sunset but it was gorgeous to watch with the red sand dune and water right by. Then our jeep broke down for a second before the driver got it to work and we were off back to the town and I got dropped off at the last restaurant in town closest to the place he picked me up. As I walked up I saw two menus - one in Russian and another in Vietnamese. I then realized I was sitting next to all these Russians and not sure why but I ordered this seafood dish and wanted to get home quickly since I was filled with sand all over and in my body. I tried my first Saigon beer and then called a taxi to my hostel. As I walked up a storm of kids were walking down the steps from the hostel area to the kitchen and the hostess explained they were just finishing English school and they tried talking to me for a bit and then left. I went to go shower and the English teacher, Russian approached me and we chatted a bit about traveling and why there were so many Russians in Vietnam, especially that part. He said to escape the cold, many Russians vacation there and buy property or start companies...had no idea. I showered as these two groups were still practicing English (in their teens) and in a shower in the same room as the toilet mind you, I couldn’t get the shower to work so I asked the Indian girl I had seen that morning if she could help and she did. I got reorganized and then went to bed to be up for another early bus ride. I got picked up right on time and had 30 minutes to spare before the big bus came. So I put my big bag down and walked across the street to this coffee stand and ordered a coffee and the cutest puppy came up to the girl working so I played with it and asked if there was food and she pointed across the street. I didn’t see any food so I started walking back towards her and she came running over and told the lady working to make whatever she said in Vietnamese and we used Google translate to figure out the rest (bread, scrambled eggs) and to my surprise it came with cucumbers and this yummy orange juice. There were these older men sitting around chatting on the tiny chairs enjoying their coffee in the morning and the lady was super nice and helpful. I loved every second of being apart of their culture here and then it was perfect timing for when the bus came, I had another bottom row sleeper second in and it was perfect.
I arrived back in Saigon early to the stop where the big bus drops you off and was tired and not sure what to do so I just called a Grab to go to the airport. The guys were hassling me and telling me Grabs didn’t work there and it wasn’t actually working at first but then it finally did and I got one for half the price of a taxi was going to be (which thankfully I called off just in time because he had called one a second before cancelling). I arrived to the airport 4 hours early, a little mad at myself for not going back in town to get food or something for lunch but I actually found this pho place outside the airport and had my first bihn ny sandwich that I was craving as well as the best milk bubble tea, I was happy. But then tired and tried to go to the ATM but it wasn’t working and then just decided to check in early and hang out in the airport so I did and then got my scissors taken from me and then walked by a spa which sounded so appealing to me after that happened so I decided to get a full body one hour massage since I had so much time to spare, at least 3 hours. It was not in a room it was in a curtain room and you could hear everyone talking so I was a little annoyed to begin with. I got my headphones and tried to relax but then she started climbing on my back and I could tell this was going to be a different type of massage. Then it got worse because she kept sniffling which meant that she was probably sick and I didn’t want her germs on me so I was really annoyed at that point but tried to let it go since I had already paid and was stuck anyway (lesson learned - check out the space before purchasing). The only good part was the foot massage. I was out of there and went to get a passionfruit coffee and journal before boarding my flight. In order to board the plane, we had to take a shuttle bus and I was so tired and ready to get on but had to wait like 20 minutes on this bus to fill up. I was done and ready to get to the capital, Hanoi.