Travel Memories: Ho Chi Minh City

Throwback Thursdays: Travel Memories: A photo essay of my visit to Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon), Vietnam in December 2009.

My First Trip Overseas

In December 2009, inspired by a certain adventurous spirit I had met earlier that year (now my boyfriend), I decided to go on my first trip overseas – a solo trip to Vietnam and Thailand, including a 2 week Contiki. Being a rookie at this travelling thing, I booked my flights and the tour through a travel agent and thought nothing of the 12 hour connection in Doha on my itinerary.

The photo below was taken as we set off from Doha to Ho Chi Minh City. I remember so vividly the completely overwhelming confusion that struck me as I took this photo. I felt so relieved to finally be able to get some sleep after spending 12 hours leaning against my luggage in a busy airport. And yet I felt so panicked at the thought that there was no turning back and the realisation that once I landed in Vietnam this would only be the beginning.

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Heading towards Vietnam – no turning back

 My First Attempt at Crossing the Street

Oh the irony! Arriving in Ho Chi Minh City to a massive city-wide celebration – Vietnam had made it into the semi-finals of some football tournament – apparently the first time in 20 years (something like that). Celebrations involved all 10 million (my guess) of the city’s scooters driving around, passengers banging pots and pans, waving flags and going nuts.

Look, crossing the street in Vietnam is not an easy task on a good day. I had read all about it in preparation for my travels: do not look left and/ or right, walk into the road at a constant pace, look ahead of you and do not stop – the scooters will go around you. But faced with the sight (in the photo below) just outside my hotel, I enlisted the services of the hotel doorman.

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After circling the block, I finally asked for the doorman’s help to cross the road.

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Luckily the next day the road below my hotel room looked like this.

The Touristy Sights

My first day exploring the city involved jumping on the back of a random tour guide’s scooter after meeting him outside my hotel and spending all of a minute reading through his little hand-written guest book. The “tour” comprised racing around the city to see the sights – covering almost all the major sights in an hour! Needless to say, some of the stops were less photogenic (and not included below). But experiencing the organised chaos of the city’s roads on the back of a scooter, was all the touristy fix I needed.

The next day I joined up with my Contiki group and saw most of the sights again, this time a bit less rushed. Vietnam is filled with unexpected surprises. The neoclassical architecture of the Central Post Office and the Saigon Notre-Dame Basilica reminds one that Vietnam has a strong French influence. Whereas a visit to the Cu Chi Tunnels or the Vietnam War Remnants Museum reminds you of a much sadder past.

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Saigon Notre-Dame Basilica

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Saigon Central Post Office

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Vietnam War Remnants Museum

Scooters, scooters, scooters

Everywhere. With anything and everything strapped to them.

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Ho-Chi-Minh-scooters-countryside

Shopping

South East Asia (SEA) is known for its cheap shopping. Ben Thanh Market was my first taste of the SEA market – a sensory overload. Smelling of dried fish (amongst other things) and filled to the brim, the narrow corridors allow the eager sellers the opportunity to lure you in with a friendly “Ma’am”. And then the haggling game begins. One of the Ozzies on the Contiki with me managed to buy a “Rolex” for $20 – it obviously stopped working 2 days later, but no one can take the joy of owning a Rolex away from him.

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Ben Thanh Market

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Dried Fish

We had to laugh when we came across what seemed like the world’s biggest case of “fallen-off-the-back-of-a-truck” – containers full of flat screen televisions being sold at what must have been a bargain (considering some scooters left with two).

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Street Food

No trip to SEA is complete without trying the street food. From the wide variety of fruits I had never see or heard of before, to stealing a moment of solace with my Contiki roomie outside the Ben Thanh Market, sipping on ice-cold coconut water straight from the coconut – so rustic.

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