We didn’t notice the heat until Ho Chi Minh City because it was raining all the time in Siem Reap, which helped modulate the relentless sun. In Ho Chi Minh, it didn’t rain. It was the kind of hot that made me want to peel off my skin in the hope that the albedo of my bones might provide some kind of relief.
Saturday, July 6
We arrived late in the evening on Friday and headed straight to bed. The next morning, we had a late morning and woke up around 7:30 to plan our time in Ho Chi Minh. After breakfast at the hotel, we decided to check out some of the local sights and then book a food tour in the evening. On a map, all of the major tourist destinations only looked two or three blocks away—easily walkable. We did not know that we’d be drenched in sweat by the time we reached each destination.
We started off by going to the War Museum. While the museum definitely did contain much propaganda, the atrocities of the war were depicted in massive gruesome detail. I had heard about Agent Orange and its victims previously, and one of the victims, a renowned blind pianist, was playing in the same exhibit.
Next, we headed to the Independence Palace. Due to the war, much of Ho Chi Minh was newly built, including the Palace. It was actually not too large and contained mostly meeting rooms. The next landmark was a small copy of the Notre Dame Cathedral, which was actually closed. The façade was quite nice. Notre Dame was right next to the Saigon Post Office. Although you could still mail letters, hawkers selling tourist memorabilia took up the majority of the floor.
By this time, we were sweaty and tired and so headed to a local hipster poke bowl joint, Poke Saigon, for lunch. Although I’m usually wary of raw foods on vacation, the many reviews supported the safety of this venture. My mom was not a huge fan of poke, but I thought it was quite good. Also, I missed raw vegetables. Feeling a bit better after lunch, we headed to Ben Thanh Market to look around before heading back to wait out the heat until dinner.
I’d booked some Airbnb experiences before—massages and bike rides and things, but this was my first street food tour. A local student came to pick us up from our hotel for a walking tour. The tour lasted around 3 and a half hours and by the time we were done, I was stuffed. We had six courses of spring rolls, pizza, pancakes, juice, seafood, banh mi, and ice cream. It was really cool seeing the city at night though and walking around local markets. My mom and I also bought some longans and lychee. By the time we finished, I was in a food coma and went to bed.
Sunday, July 7
Our second day in Ho Chi Minh City, we booked a Mekong Delta tour with Deluxe Tours. Our day started off by meeting the rest of our group, which included a family from Frankfurt and a Dutch couple who worked for an international peace organization. We then began the multi-hour drive to the Delta, making a pit stop at a dragon-fruit packaging plant.
Two ferry rides later, we finally arrived at the island. Our main form of transport on the island would be on the backs of locals’ motorbikes. Our first three stops were at different local facilities: a coconut shucking plant, a broom weaving shop, and a roof weaving shop. Each of these shops used parts of the coconut plant in different ways and the latter two were in people’s houses.
After some coconut water to rehydrate and the distribution of some Vietnamese hats, we were ready to take a canoe ride down the Delta to our lunch. Our lunch was set outside at a local’s house and the food was fresh and delicious. After lunch, I took a nap on a hammock before we began the long trek back to the city.
For dinner, my mom and I headed to Chopsticks, a fancier place in the city. The courtyard was lit with multicolored lanterns. I thought my charbroiled chicken was amazing and the wait staff cooked my mom’s prawns tableside. Full, we headed back to the hotel to bed.
Monday, July 8
After breakfast in the morning, I had booked another Airbnb motorbike tour of the city with some local students. They took us to some local monuments, including the statue of the monk who burned himself in the Vietnam War, the oldest apartment building complex originally built for US soldiers, the Flower Market, and the 1000 Buddhas pagoda. While we had seen some of the sights previously, it was fun to explore the city on the back of a bike.
Also, we made a pit stop at a local coffeeshop. Vietnam is well known for their coffee, but it’s also quite potent. My mom and I decided to settle for tea and an avocado smoothie respectively. It was really fun talking to the students about their different home lives and studies. One of them was also a computer science major and told us that many students tend to go to Japan for work.
After the tour, we went to check out at our hotel. For the wait until our flight till Hanoi, my mom and I got massages and then vegetarian Pho nearby at Pho Chay Nhu. The diner looked a bit run down but the Pho was cheap and delicious. We paid around $3.50 for both of us.
After our late lunch, we headed to the airport for our 5 pm flight. Due to maintenance difficulties, we were delayed for two hours. We were notified after we took a bus to the plane and boarded, so we all had to disembark and then reboard a different plane. By the time we made it to Hanoi, it was around 10 pm.