Ho Chi Minh (city) - Holy Sh*t
10.02.2015 - 12.02.2015 32 °C
So it's been awhile since my last post, but we have been on the move pretty good for the last two weeks and I have been writing, just haven't had the time to edit and post. With that being said, you should see a few posts back to back, along with lots of pictures very soon.
On February 10th we spent our final few hours in Thailand as Sherry ran out to try and get us some currency for Vietnam and I continued to pack my bags. Unfortunately the currency didn't work out as the banks or money exchange places didn't seem to carry the Vietnamese Dong. Not sure why, but we where fortunate enough to be able to get some when we arrived at the Chiang Mai airport. To get to Vietnam we needed to take a 1 hr 15 min flight to Bangkok and then connect up with a 1.5 hr flight to Ho Chi Minh City which is in the south of Vietnam and is also known as Saigon. After the Vietnam war and the defeat of the South by the North, Saigon was renamed after the leader of the North who was Ho Chi Minh. Don't thank me for that little history lesson, thank Wikipedia hahaha. Both our flights went fine and we had no issues with the connections. Once we got to Vietnam we would have to go through the Visa approval process which, as I expected, did take some time. Even though we had applied for and received our visa on arrival approvals already we still had to wait in a somewhat disjointed line up to process our Visa's and of course pay the man. After about an hour we finally made some progress getting our forms and passports submitted for stamping and approval which was a welcome victory. Next we just needed to wait in the cue to hear our names called and we where good to go. Now this is when I noticed that almost everyone had out American currency to pay for their approvals and then I realized we did not. I asked a few people if they knew whether or not it was a strict policy on the U.S. currency and was eventually told by a lady working there that they would accept Thai baht. Well she was right...but the exchange rate was not very favourable at all - lesson learned, make sure you are packing the exact amount needed to purchase your visa type when entering Vietnam. After that was dealt with we exited the airport into a crowd that would have made you think we where rock stars. Hundreds of people where crowded around waiting to pick up people and take them to their hotels, but we just worked out way past the masses and headed for the taxi line up. Before we could flag a cab we were waived down by another couple who where from Idaho and who where looking for someone to split a cab with. After a brief chat we grabbed a cab and headed out. The cab driver was being bit coy about the price and we found out why quickly. He refused to give us the rate we where after and the next thing I knew the guy from Idaho had the back door open as moved through traffic and was getting out. The cabby quickly told him he would pull over, which he did and we got out. After a little bit of chatting with some cabs lined up in the street we found a guy that would take us to our destination for half the price of what the other guy quoted us. Now, there is some sort of fee that the drivers have to pay to the airport to be able to pick people up at the gates which I am sure was part of the reason why the first guys price was so high but it didn't account for all of it. It isn't too far to get right out of the airport gates so if you are travelling light you might be able to walk out to the road to grab a cab or just do a better job then we did of confirming price before hopping in.
Ho Chi Minh city is absolutely crazy and is pretty overwhelming at first glance. We had a long travel day, I was getting pretty hungry and a little bit tired too, so masses of scooters, continuous horn honking and insane traffic manoeuvres did not sit too well with me. After checking in and dumping our bags off we headed out to get some food and to tour around a bit. Sherry could tell I was still feeling overwhelmed as my eyes bulged out of my head watching the crazy traffic fly by, along with what looked like near misses all over the place. There where bright lights everywhere in district 1 which is where we stayed and I couldn't make heads or tails of what I was looking at for quite a while. After walking around for about an hour, it was 9:00pm and we finally found a place to eat. The prices where a bit higher then what we expected but we just needed something in our stomachs. After our meal we noticed the same couple we shared the cab with rolling by in the streets so we flagged them down and they came in for a beer. Chad told us some stories about his travels all over the world and about how he only works 4 months out of the year at a Christmas tree farm then spends the rest travelling and picking up small jobs here and there. This was the first big travel for he and his partner Jen together and they where going to buy a motorbike and head up north with three months to spend in Vietnam. It was really cool getting to hear about their adventures and we enjoyed their company. I was finally starting to calm down a bit and settle into my surroundings but it was still sensory overload for sure.
We only had one full day in HCMC so we decided to pick a couple spots we really wanted to see and not try to jam too much in. For me it was the War Museum and for Sherry it was the women's museum. The War museum was a very real eye opening experience and I would recommend this to anyone. For 15,000 dong, or just under a dollar Cdn you get to see military planes, helicopters, tanks and 3 floors of exhibits depicting the horror that was the Vietnam war. Of course the perspective is one sided so you have to take it with a grain of salt, but that doesn't change how real it made a war that happened over a half a century ago feel. Graphic photo's showing the torture of prisoners and the impacts of the Americans use of agent orange sent chills throughout my body. After 2 hours of touring around the museum I left with a very somber feeling but had no regrets about the time spent there. It was just another reminder of how fortunate I have been to grow up in Canada and to have not been exposed to the tragic effects of war. The women's museum definitely of more interest for Sherry then me, but you have to make sure that when you are travelling with other people, not just your spouse, that you make time for the things that are important to them as well. It is easy to slip into the selfish mode where you only put energy into doing what you want to do, communication is key! A pleasant surprise was that the women's museum was free of charge and there where almost 4 floors of exhibits detailing how the Vietnamese women's way of dressing has been influenced over time, how they where intricately involved in supporting the war efforts, along with how the women's movement has been supported and grown as whole.
Legs tired from all the walking we had done we took a rest back at our hotel then headed out for some dinner and another early night as we had to be up around 5:00 to catch our bus to Mui Ne which is a surf and fishing down located right along the coast of the South China Sea. I am undecided still whether I needed more time in Ho Chi Minh city but I know Sherry really enjoyed her time there and could see going back again. I think once you get over the initial shock of the traffic and congestion and you adjust your pace and movements to match that of city, then things become much easier and enjoyable. For some this may never happen and for others it is an easy transition. Well I am happy to say we made it to our bus on time and landed in Mui Ne and I will have some on our experiences there shortly! One little quick travel tip is to look up the best places for taking our money before going to an ATM. Citibank and Commonwealth of Australia seemed to give the best rates, but if you are not careful you can easily be tossing away up to $8 dollars on a transaction. Some ATM's may appear to have low fees, but they also only allow you to take out small amounts, which forces you To make more transactions, so in the end you really haven't saved anything. A quick google search will help you to find the best ATM's. Also there is places for food and drink to be found and as long as you are willing to walk a few blocks out of the core of district 1, you will find significantly better prices for your meals. Not much different than any other city, you pay for convenience.
Shayne and Sherry