Ever since solo backpacking Australia (and then deciding to move here), I have been itching for another chance to explore by myself. I had planned to spend a few summer months in southeast Asia with two uni friends, but they had been remarkably non-committal when it came to actually booking their tickets and I was not going to let this summer slip by. So, after an inspired 4am conversation with another bartender at work, I went home and booked my tickets, determined to go with or without my friends. Unsurprisingly, they couldn’t commit until it was too late, but, as luck would have it, I started dating my coworker and he bought a ticket only a week later.
All the details: Ho Chi Minh
Getting there: Fly into Ho Chi Minh’s hectic Tan Son Nhat International Airport.
Where to stay: For just $12/night, check into a room at Hotel Nguyet Van in Saigon’s District 1.
What to do: Explore the lively markets and sample some of the local food; check out the Reunification Palace to learn about the war through Vietnamese eyes; and make a day trip out to the Cu Chi Tunnels to continue the history lesson.
Top tips: If you do rent a motorbike in HCM, maybe do a few back-street runs before pulling out on the main road— the traffic here is like nothing you’ve ever seen and uninitiated travellers are prone to crash.
Excited to be setting off on another adventure, this time somewhere even more exotic, I now have an equally eager travel companion. Despite a miserable flight to Singapore, Aristo and I are in high spirits. The positivity quickly slips away when I come down with a stomach bug and we are locked out of the airport for our flight until the next morning. It is a below average night that ends with us sleeping in a 24-hour Burger King.
After the nightmare evening in Singapore, we are both ecstatic to arrive in Vietnam. We are staying in a dingy hotel, but the view from the roof over Ho Chi Minh is beautiful and the city is enchanting enough to ignore the dirty floor. We eat our first bowl of street pho and munch handfuls of lychee from the fruit market for desert.
The next morning, we enjoy a quick breakfast before meeting our friend, Oanh, who contacted us on Counchsurfing to offer a tour of her city! We rent a motorbike and tail Oanh and her friend around the city, visiting her favourite spot for lunch and the Reunification Palace for a bit of a history lesson. The traffic is crazier than anything I’ve ever seen; thankfully for everyone involved, Aristo is driving.
At the end of the evening, Oanh takes us to an End of Year party at a friend’s house, where we sit cross-legged around piles of food and frequently click glasses of wine to celebrate Vietnemese New Year, Tet. Out of all our new friends, only a young boy speaks English, but he sits excitedly next to Aristo and leaps at any opportunity to interrogate us about our curious Western Ways. He takes great interest in comparing our life to Finding Nemo, after learning that we live near Sydney.
It’s amazing that after only 2 days in Vietnam, it feels oddly familiar. We’ve been welcomed into someone’s home, shared meals with the locals, learned about their lives, and shared details from our own. We’ve experienced some of their traditions and already Ho Chi Minh has stolen a bit of our hearts. Our friends pass us around the circle for hugs and wishes of luck in the new year. Admittedly tipsy after several glasses of wine, I wipe away some happy tears on the back of our motorbike as we cruise back to our hotel. Our expectations have been so far surpassed, it feels as if this trip could not get any better.
Two days down, fifty-some to go.