21.0333° N, 105.8500° E
Normally we work to avoid cities, crowds, and the common path. (Ex. Most stay on Ambergis Caye we chose Caye Caulker. The majority like the party atmosphere on Gili T, we preferred chill and laid back Gili Air.)
Like we are always explaining to other backpackers though, we aren’t your typical couple on an ATW trip. Our travel is funded by and therefore dictated by Tom’s ability to log work hours and meet deadlines. With the setbacks we faced in the Philippines I decided to book us through major airports to avoid losing time due to travel. This unfortunately cut out a few must see cities (we’re specifically bummed we missed Hoi An and Sapa but there are always future trips…;)).
That being said the 4 short days we had in Ho Chi Minh definitely left us wanting more.
We entered Vietnam with our guard up. The expat we met (you know the one who loves Mango Square) on the island of Bohol had told us horror stories. He summed up his tales saying, “You know a Vietnamese person is lying if their lips are moving.” That being said not only did our host at PP not rip us off, but we found everything we did through them to be awesome and market value including our laundry service, trip to the Cu Chi Tunnels, ride to the airport, and recommendation to the best local restaurant which was the cheapest and best place we ate! The one thing I will say is we lucked out our first night in town. PP had overbooked and had the hotel across the street host us. I’m not sure what they normally charge, but that hotel was much nicer than the room we had at PP for the rest of our stay.
PP backpackers is right in the heart of district 1. Many call it the backpacker area, but we couldn’t have been happier with the location given the park across the street, colorful street vendors, hipster bars, and local street food right at our doorstep.
We ventured out of our little backpackers corner to visit the Ben Thanh Market, Cu Chi Tunnels, and War Remnant Museum.
The Ben Thanh market didn’t have deals any better than you could find right in the backpacker area, but it’s definitely a must hit. Reminiscent of the markets in Cusco, Vietnam specializes in clothing and I had fun seeking out a sundress and gypsy shorts. 🙂
While I collect colorful bracelets, necklaces, purses, and pants, Tom’s always in the market new chess sets and beanies. He’s yet to find either yet in Vietnam, but given that the temperature has dropped and we’re headed on a cruise in Halong Bay I bet he’ll find one here in Hanoi!
The Cu Chi Tunnels and War Remnant Museum were much less lighthearted but still must sees. Be prepared for a long ride if you head out to Cu Chi. They break up the 2 hour ride by stopping at a souvenir shop where proceeds go towards those handicapped by the effects of agent orange. We didn’t have room for any of the beautiful plates and boxes, but it was super cool to see the layers it takes to make the colorful works of art–specifically the egg shell layer!
The Cu Chi tunnel tour while interesting left it hard to walk away with a sense of accuracy. Tom and I specifically liked the Vietnam propaganda video depicting the violent acts of the Evil Devil American GIs and the bravery of the little Cu Chi girl who killed 16 soldiers. (I’m not trying to make light, I realize this was a very controversial conflict, but nowhere is it mentioned that those same Evil Americans were helping Southern Vietnam’s fight against North Vietnam. When such a large detail is left out it’s hard to believe everything that is told to you.)
Anyways, I got to shoot a M80 machine gun and we crawled through the little tunnels. It reaffirmed to me that war is awful. Every picture and story that was told of the American troops were awful. The traps the Viet Cong made were equally awful. I found it slightly disturbing how excited our guide was in describing how not only would they trap and hurt you, but if you tried to escape many traps would wound you worse and worse until you died.
Despite the intensity I still found both the Cu Chi Tunnels and War Remnant Museum to be good experiences. I feel naive admitting it as my Dad spent 5 years working on John McCain’s POW/MIA campaign, but other than pictures of my Dad’s post war diplomatic experience with Vietnam I really had no knowledge about what this 20 year war was about. Between my history buff husband and the 2 experiences I feel like I learned lot.
The important thing to remember when visiting any museum or memorial is the ask yourself what the other side of the story may be. I’m not saying the United States was justified in all their actions, but it was interesting how many backpackers I talked to at PP, who came just returned from either the Cu Chi Tunnels or War Remnant Museum, were bashing American Soldiers, but were naive to the fact that the Americans were fighting along side the South Vietnamese.–A fact never depicted at either site.
Ho Chi Minh had the energy we were expecting from SE Asia. There is so much going on around you, yet each experience is often very personal and endearing. Some of my favorites include taking selfies with the PP Backpackers Owner’s daughter, eating at kindergarten chairs and seats on the streets of Saigon, and dodging motorbikes as you cross the street.
Based on what you’ve seen of Ho Chi Minh, would you visit?
Comment below and let us know what you think! 🙂