Although the biking from Bangkok to HCMC (Ho Chi Minh City) was a wonderful experience, I was looking forward to putting two feet on the ground spending a few days in Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC). HCMC was a great place to regroup and enjoy all the things a “modern” city has to offer as well as take in some of the sights. And dodging the scooters here 24×7 has sharpened our eye-feet coordination immensely.
HCMC has a great mix of Eastern and Western cultures and a bustling vibe of a big city. You definitely need to be vigilant walking around here or else, risk being run over. (We saw four accidents in a 24 hour period, scooters driving while texting on sidewalks and scooters trying to take left or right turns in a sea of traffic weaving in and out and scooters with 3-5 people on board.) Scooters are the main transportation here and outnumber the cars significantly. (Not unlike many large Asian cities) In the morning, it is not unusual to see women and men with a child between their knees dropping the kids off at school before heading to work or infants completely asleep squashed between her parents. Women also have a whole wardrobe for scooter driving which appears to include a wrap to cover clothing, scarves or neck gaiters, masks to cover mouth and nose (it gets dusty), gloves, hats and helmets. I found myself wondering how long it would take me to acclimate to the layers and clothing in 95 degree heat with 95 percent humidity. We have been in Southeast Asia for about four weeks now and find myself sweating about 10 minutes after exiting air con.
Here are a few highlights and must sees in HCMC:
- War Remnants Museum- This was a somber and moving experience. The museum uses mostly pictures from journalists to provide a different perspective (as you can expect, a local perspective) and information on the Vietnam War. The pictures were gruesome given roughly 58,000 US soldiers died, millions of Vietnamese as well as the use and effects of Napalm and Agent Orange. If you find yourself in HCMC, this is a must see.
2. Fine Arts Museum- A beautiful French Colonial building houses some ancient to modern contemporary art from Vietnamese artists. The museum is also very close to the Ben Thanh Market. So if you are at the market, the Fine Arts Museum is another must.
3. Ben Thanh Market- Ben Thanh Market has stalls selling everything from silk scarves to tailor-made suits to typical kitschy wares. Chris was able to get the battery replaced in his watch that had just died. However, be prepared to be approached by every stall owner wanting to sell their wares to you.
4. Central Post Office- A bit touristy but for the architecture alone, this is well worth the visit. Built in 1886-1891, this is a gorgeous French colonial building and a still functioning post office where locals can pay phone bills, mail packages, etc. It has also become a tourist destination for the architecture and mailing of post cards.
In addition to taking in the sights of HCMC, Chris and I were excited to regroup in HCMC after 4 weeks of travel. Here are few places we found to recharge:
- Hair Salon – In need of a hair cut and color, although a bit nervous about turning my hair color over to someone other than my stylist back in the Seattle, I found a fabulous hair salon, YKC Salon. It may be the best hair service I have ever received. The hair service included a 30 minute wash, scalp and shoulder massage.
- F5 Laundry – We called F5 laundry on Sunday. Thirty minutes later, a lovely woman was in the hotel lobby and picked up our laundry at 3 pm. by 7 pm that evening, our freshly cleaned clothes were dropped off in our hotel room.
- Relish & Sons – Chris and I were both craving some western food and quite honestly, something other than rice. Relish & Sons delivered – it is one of many Western spots in the city but with great burgers (add an egg or beet) and beer, it is a winner.
- Pedicure and Foot Massage- The service in Vietnam is top notch. Our hotel in HCMC had Four Seasons’ like service all around. In addition to getting a pedicure, we received foot massage coupons from the front desk of our hotel for our stay. The foot massage included legs up to quads as well as neck and shoulders. This was much-needed after 21 days of biking.
We have really been enjoying Vietnam. The people are great, the food is tasty, and the service is really off the chart. As we write this post, we have been to 4 different cities and they are all booming. Tourists, cranes, development – it is truly a Rising Dragon. Our train rides along the coast have been wonderful – stay tuned for more posts and pictures.