Leaving Mui Ne, we took a single tier sleeper bus (not something I’d previously seen) to Ho Chi Minh and it was one of the nicer buses we’d been on. The journey only took 3 hours but it was still enough to cause one poor Vietnamese lady with a young baby to throw up into a plastic bag the entire way. I wonder if because they mainly get around on mopeds perhaps they’re simply not used to the motion of a larger vehicle.
Arriving in Ho Chi Minh city it began to rain slightly so we took a Grab taxi to our hostel in the bustling centre, Prei Nokor, and oh my word – what a gorgeous hostel! At the front there was a cool little coffee shop going through to the hostel reception area which was taken up with a huge fish pond with a bridge leading up to the dorm rooms. Climbing the tiled stairs past cute little seating areas, the middle section of the building was open air but the walkways were covered from the elements with little roofs jutting out.
Our dorm room was nice and modern with 12 big bunk beds, each complete with a storage cabinet down the side of the bed, a big locker, bed lamp, plug socket and hooks. Through the door at the end of the room was a massive balcony which is where the toilets, showers and sinks were located. We both thought this was a really cool layout and it was nice to shower outside listening to the noise of the street below (although we came to realise the translucent glass they’d used on the cubicles didn’t leave much to the imagination!). We stood on the balcony and watched the heaviest downpour of rain we’d ever seen – one minute you could see the skyscrapers of the city and the next they’d disappeared beneath black rain clouds.
Once the rain had calmed down we grabbed lunch at Journeys Sandwich Bistro, an American style diner serving the most incredible sandwiches. We shared a traditional pork banh mi, a grilled cheese BLT, potato wedges and parsnip crisps – so yummy!
Once we’d stuffed our faces, we walked to the War Remnants Museum where for £1.30 you can explore 4 floors of no-holds-barred imagery and information about the Vietnam wars as well as an outdoor area full of planes, tanks, guns and flame throwers. It was harrowing; an emotional roller coaster from start to finish. The images and stories evoked feelings of nausea, anger and heartbreak. I already knew a little bit about the Vietnam wars but finding out more about the chemical attacks, massacres and other atrocities that happened only 40 years ago was shocking.
Leaving the museum in stunned silence, we made our way to the Central Post Office where I posted post cards to my parents and nan, then on to the Independence Palace, past a statue of Ho Chi Minh himself, and down the main walking street of the city with illuminated buildings, fountains and coffee shops. For dinner we went to a cool street food market similar to ones you’d find in London and I had BBQ ribs and a draught beer.
The next morning we were up early and had a simple egg and bread breakfast at our hostel before being collected by our guide to take us to the Cu Chi Tunnels. Our enthusiastic guide led us around the Cu Chi museum area, telling us about the incredible 75 mile expanse of the tunnel systems, how they were built and the clever tactics used by the Viet Cong to evade the Americans during the war. From zig-zagging tunnels to avoid being shot at directly, air vents made to look like termite mounds, undetectable tunnel entrances, vicious traps to maim American troops, to digging tunnels right beneath American bases to avoid being bombed.
Whilst there I had the opportunity to lower myself into one of the tunnel entrances, closing it by placing the ‘lid’ back on over my head. The hole was so tiny the only way to get in was with your arms above your head. To ensure the entrance wasn’t visible, the Viet Cong placed leaves on the wooden lid and once on, the entrance was completely undetectable. A few people from our group had a go until an American lady on the larger side built up the courage to get in… only to get stuck. It was so so awkward and she began to panic and 4 men had to pull her out by her arms. Evidently the Viet Cong were on the skinny side!
As we went through the complex we saw huge bomb craters, various different guerrilla traps, Viet Cong living quarters and we even got to have a go on a shooting range. It was quite bizarre to walk around the complex to the sound of gun shots – it made it all seem a bit more real. For £20 we blew our budget and bought 10 bullets for the M16 rifle and had 5 shots each. I went first and the range attendant pushed my shoulder into the gun to stop it from recoiling. It was so powerful and loud. Terrifying to imagine being shot at by one. Tom was up next but didn’t actually realise he was meant to be shooting at a target so was surprised when he was told he was a bit off.
At the end of the tour we were able to crawl through a 100 metre stretch of tunnel. The guide reiterated that nobody with blood pressure issues or fear of tight spaces should venture inside. Back home with my anxiety I struggle with confinement on public transport so I was nervous about going in, but I didn’t want to pass up the opportunity. So I waited for others to go ahead so I had a big gap in front of me and down I went. The start of the tunnel was illuminated but after a few metres it was pitch black and I had to use my phone torch to see where I was going. The tunnel was so shallow and narrow that my rucksack scraped along the tunnel walls. Thankfully there were exits at every 20 metre section and after the first 20 that was enough for me so I made my way out. 5 others from the group made it the whole way but said they were pulling themselves along on their tummies by the end. Surprisingly, these tunnels have been made bigger to allow tourists in. I dread to think what the originals were like and to think the Viet Cong managed to live down there for 10 years is astounding.
Back out our hostel we chatted to a few British travellers in our dorm and then had dinner at a cute restaurant tucked down a side alley – we had crispy pork served in bamboo, beef stew and yummy coconut rice.
The next morning we checked out and had an early lunch before exploring the Ben Thanh Market opposite our hostel. With my birthday approaching Tom kept asking what I wanted as a gift but I didn’t really want/need anything, and I barely had any room in my rucksack anyway. However… I saw a knock off Chloe bag that I fell in love with… and the haggling began. Thankfully our hostel armed us with the information that the market was renowned for charging astronomical prices and to offer 75% of anything requested. So, on first enquiry we were told a price of 1.3million dong (around £45). Laughing at the stall holder we walked away and got quotes from a few others and the prices immediately plummeted. We ended up getting it for 350k dong, so roughly £11. Happy birthday to me!
Collecting our bags from our hostel, we walked 5 minutes to a local bus stop and caught the bus to the coach station for 30p each. We’d asked at the hostel about local buses and they shook their heads and said there weren’t any and that we’d need to pay £10 for a taxi. A little bit of research goes a long way here – everyone is getting commission from someone. Pulling over at the side of a road an hour later, the bus attendant shouted at us to get off and, struggling to haul our bags behind us, we jumped off as the bus was moving away. At the coach station we purchased two tickets to our next destination.
Next stop… Can Tho!
See ya later, Sophie x