After an early alarm, we took a Grab on the hour long journey to the airport. We arrived in plenty time, got checked in, through security and found ourselves a spot to sit until our gate opened. Our flight was fairly uneventful and less than 2 hours later we arrived into Ho Chi Minh City. We breezed through immigration, the beauty of eVisas, and our bags were some of the first off the plane. Even more convenient was when the company who sold us a SIM card did taxi's as well!
Arriving at our hotel, Giang Son 3, we were greeted with a fairly dark and dingy room. We dumped our bags and headed out for some food and found ourselves a table at Maya Bar & Lounge. Embracing the fact we were now in Vietnam, Craig tried the Pho Bo (beef noodle soup) and Katy had the Vietnamese beef steak. Both were delicious!
After lunch we headed back to the room to plan out the next few days and get a couple of tours booked for our time here. After an afternoon of planning we ventured back out for some dinner and the street we were staying on had transformed. We felt like we had been transported to the strip in Malia. Turns out we had inadvertently booked ourselves onto "Backpacker Street" - oops! Embracing it, we headed for dinner and a few drinks, hoping that the alcohol would put us to sleep so that the ridiculously loud music didn't keep us awake! (Are we getting old?!)
Having slept fitfully through the night, we had a little bit of a long lie before setting off to the War Remnants Museum and spent the rest of the morning and early afternoon exploring the different floors. It was extremely interesting to see the Vietnam War from the Vietnamese prospective and the exhibitions on the affects of Agent Orange were truly harrowing, even today. We left ultimately feeling like the 17 years of the war had occurred for nothing.
After the museum, we wandered over to the Tan Dinh church, otherwise known as the pink church. Built during the French Colonial period in the 1870s, it is a very beautiful Roman Catholic Church and is the second largest church in the city. Sadly, it is currently under renovation so we didn't get to see inside so after getting some photos we took a Grab back to the hotel so we could get some lunch.
For lunch we decided it was time to find out if the hype behind a Banh Mi was worth it! Banh Mi's are a sandwich consisting of a baguette filled with meat, pickled vegetables and chilli peppers. Having read about them they really just sounded like sandwiches however we ventured to Banh Mi 362, ordered one each and took them back to the hotel to eat and they were delicious. Definitely worth the hype!
After lunch, not wanting to spend too long in our dingy room, we headed out for a coffee where we made the decision to change accommodation for the latter part of our time in HCMC. We had plenty planned for the first few days however not so much for the last day or so, so using the coffee shops wifi, we booked an Airbnb for us to move too on Sunday.
After showering and changing we ventured back out to "Backpacker Street" for dinner and popped into Donkey. We should have known things weren't going to be great when the girls taking our order were pretty much sat on our knees, pointing at the things they thought we should have from the menu. Feeling under pressure Katy ordered a beef stir fry and Craig went for the Pho Bo again. The food arrived quickly from somewhere down the street, we weren't really sure where, and so began the theatrics of the evening. Having been in SE Asia for 2.5 months we thought we had pretty much perfected our chopstick use, this is clearly not the case, as the waitress interrupted Craig no less than 6 times during dinner to show him what he was doing wrong. To begin with we all chuckled, however after the 3rd or 4th time Craig was beginning to get visibly irritated as I quote "I just want to eat my dinner, Katy." We finished as quickly as we could and scarpered before we could be told off any more!
The next morning we were supposed to be heading out on a walking tour with a local student, however she had to cancel last minute as she had been in for eye surgery and it wasn't healing as well as she had hoped. She popped round to our hotel to refund us the money, and gift us a bar of handmade soap and a Vietnamese coffee filter for being so understanding. So far the Vietnamese have been some of the loveliest people we have come across!
Because she had had to cancel so last minute we missed out on being able to book a tour with anyone else so, armed with Google Maps, we set off on our own walking tour, sans guide. First stop was the Saigon Opera House, built in 1897 by a French architect, we both agreed it wouldn't look out of place in Paris. Unfortunately A O Show, the Vietnamese answer to Cirque du Soliel, is currently showing so we were unable to get inside for a look and the price of tickets to actually see the show in reasonable seats were waaaaaaay out of our budget.
Next stop on our tour was the Notre Dame Cathedral of Saigon. Constructed between 1863 and 1880, it was originally named L'eglise de Saigon however, it was renamed to Notre Dame in 1959. Unfortunately, much like the Pink church, it was under renovation so we weren't able to get inside. Craig did remark that perhaps the Vietnamese were giving up going to church for lent.
Across the road from Notre Dame was the Saigon Central Post Office. Built between 1886 and 1891, it is another French style building which again wouldn't have looked out of place in Paris. Disappointingly however, the inside very much looked like your usual run of the mill post office, with a poster of 'Uncle' Ho Chi Minh staring down at everyone.
Not far from the post office was Book Street (Đường Nguyễn Văn Bình). A small pedestrianised street lined with cafes and book stores, it was a very peaceful spot in an otherwise bustling city. We wandered through the shops and then sat ourselves down in a cafe with a coffee. We thought our luck was in when we both ordered a 'black coffee with fresh milk,' one hot for Craig and one iced for Katy, as everywhere seems to Serve condensed milk as opposed to fresh milk here. However, something was definitely lost in translation on the menu as we both received yet another sickly sweet coffee!
After finishing our coffees we made a little bit of a detour from our walking tour itinerary and popped to the Hard Rock Cafe for yet another pin for Katy.
The final destination for the walking tour was to the Independence Palace, the site of the end of the Vietnam War during the Fall of Saigon on the 30th of April 1975, when a North Vietnamese army tank crashed through its gates. We were able to explore the many meeting rooms and the accommodation of the former Presidents of South Vietnam and their governments. The highlight for us both was definitely going in to the underground bunker to see the display of communications and old broadcast equipment.
Beginning to get a little peckish we set off in search of some lunch and found Pasteur Street Brewing Company where we had some food then whiled away the afternoon tasting their various different libations on offer.
After a fun afternoon we scooted back to the hotel and got showered before heading back out to the Bitexco Financial Tower. It would cost us £7 each to visit the viewing deck however entry into the bar was free and cocktails were only £5, so that seemed like an absolute no brainer for us! The drinks were excellent and the view was great so we spent a few hours here before crashing into bed for an early night.
The next morning, after a rubbish sleep, we were up early for our tour to the Cu Chi Tunnels. The tunnels were built by the Viet Cong soldiers to be used as hiding spots during combat, they were also used as supply routes, food and weapon caches and, living quarters.
The drive to the tunnels took 1.5 hours with a stop off at Handicap Handicrafts, a workshop for victims of Agent Orange. We had a quick tour round the workshop before being taken to the rather large shop. There was lots of lovely things however most were far too big to come home with us but we did find a lovely set of chopsticks. We had intentions of picking up some at some point and they are definitely small enough to fit in our rucksacks!
We arrived at the tunnels and joined the horde of tour buses. Our guide took us to one of the entrances to the tunnels first, the trap door was as wide as Craig's foot! Our tour guide, Tony (he named himself after Tony Stark), took us to see the many booby traps the Viet Cong used as part of their Guerrilla fighting, a clothes workshop and, a recreation of a weapons workshop. From here we were taken for a 'break' or, in other words, to where the operators could make some extra cash. So, naturally, Craig signed right up to fire an AK-47! There was definitely a moment of surrealism holding the famous rifle sending 10 shots down the range in an area that was bitterly contested during the war. Definitely a different feeling from shooting clay pigeons with a shotgun!
Once Craig had finished, the next stop was to the tunnels themselves. After a peek inside Katy decided it was a bit too claustrophobic for her however Craig opted to take the 30m journey underground. He resurfaced hot and sweaty but certainly enjoyed the experience along with a new found respect for the men and women who had lived, fought and died in them during the war. (For photo context, the figure in the photo was slightly smaller than Craig and definitely not as broad, the dust marks on Craig's shoulder would attest to that!)
After our whistle stop tour we were back on the bus and heading towards the city when Tony asked for us all to hand him our phones so he could connect them to his internet and open the trip advisor page to make sure we would all leave 5* reviews for him. Very awkward and uncomfortable, we made some excuses about not remembering our passwords and managed to get away with not doing so!
The last part of the tour was lunch in the city centre before being dropped back off at our hotel. We got our bags packed back up and made our excuses to check out early and got a Grab to our Airbnb for the next couple nights. A quiet afternoon followed and we enjoyed getting to sleep before 03:00!
The next morning we had an extremely long lie and spent the majority of the day watching the Mandalorian and The Imagineering Story on Disney+. We got our bags packed back up and ready to move on to Mui Né.