A Day In Ho Chi Minh City (Vietnam)
From the moment the first wave of hot, heavy air roils out as the door to the airport opens, it’s clear we’ve entered a different world.
A world of pulsating life and luminous neon lights, and what seems like surely every scooter ever made in the history of Earth. My eyes water from the sheer variety of sights on offer (admittedly, the exhaust fumes aren’t helping).
Despite spending the previous 17 hours in the exquisite purgatory known as Jetstar Economy, Jess and I have our heads half-out the taxi windows like over-excited Labradors. We drink in every second of this madness, from the lush-looking bars full of fairy lights and exotic plants to the family of five sandwiched onto a single scooter. It’s after midnight when we reach our hotel, but despite exhaustion we spend another hour leaning out over our little balcony, just watching.
Walking around in Ho Chi Minh City isn’t exploring so much as adventuring. After figuring out how to cross the road without being run down by an army of scooters (if you can’t wait for a gap, walk slowly and purposefully with your best ‘go-on-I-dare-you’ glare on), we ventured up to the Ben Thanh markets to lighten our pockets a bit.
Scars of Vietnam’s violent past are scattered through the streets, from tanks and planes left as monuments through to the more common (and more painful) human reminders. I gave a few generous notes to the first beggar I saw missing a limb, and the second, until eventually I realised I could give away every cent in my bank account and never make a dent in the suffering of these brave and broken souls. I’ve never been so painfully aware of my privilege, and we walked the rest of the way to Ben Thanh in silence.
Lunch at the markets involved fresh coconut water straight from the nut and several species of fruit I’d never clapped eyes on in my life – rambutan, dragonfruit and jack-fruit, Google helpfully informed me later. I’d lost my previously insatiable appetite for stir-fry after a brief stroll through the meat department.
We picked through stall after stall of jewellery, clothes, lacquer paintings, spices, snacks, trinkets and knick-knacks, marvelling at giant crabs in buckets of water, baby cobras in bottles, and the speed at which it’s possible to dismember a whole chicken with a cleaver.
Feeling brave (and lucky) after lunch, we took a cyclo tour of the city. Our guides lead us over to a group of bicycle-like contraptions, each with a seat on the front. We plopped our laden bags and weary muscles into the chairs, while the guides pedalled us around the streets – motorcycles and scooters weaving artfully around our little group. In addition to possessing remarkable fitness levels for men in their 40s, our guides were unfailingly helpful – offering ongoing commentary in broken English and pointing out the best value shopping spots. As poor weather threatened out came the rain hoods, and a friendly face peering in to check on me with a thumbs-up at every intersection.
The most remarkable spot we stopped at was a Chinese temple, resplendent in red and gold and musky with incense. In the dying light of day, dozens of candles were aflame inside, giving the smoke a surreal glow. I stood in silence, taking a moment to breathe and recover from the relentless intensity of the streets.
Full-on-night followed full-on day, as Jess and I toasted our escapades with $3 cocktails amongst strings of coloured lights. Below us, the streets are full to bursting – families, old couples, groups of friends, teenagers holding hands, children shrieking excitedly.
Where have they been, and where are they all going at this hour of night? Who knows, but in a city with so much to see and do I’m not at all surprised.
Would you recommend this destination: Yes
Overall rating destination: 5 out of 5
By: Leah Royden