As the cheapest city to fly into, we use HCMC as our gateway to Vietnam. Two nights is all we stay, wanting to have more time in the mountains. The city is chaotic and noisy. I love it immediately, being something of a fan of the cities everyone loves to hate. Shortly after we arrive a storm hits. For about an hour streets are transformed to rivers and people are saturated. It’s perfect.
Arriving by air
Australians can buy a visa on arrival to Vietnam. Buy a letter of introduction from one of the many online vendors before leaving home. Present the letter, an application form (available online or at the airport), a passport photo and $US25 to customs, sit patiently in the waiting area for the visa then show the visa to customs. Do not harass or otherwise annoy the visa officers because you are just a piece of paper to be stamped and plenty can be stamped before your’s. And don’t be like the 20-something British clown who refused to relinquish his passport: without your passport the officials cannot grant you a visa. No visa means back on a plane out of the airport. Simple.
The best way to travel from the airport to the city is on the public bus. The bus stand is to the right of the airport exit not far from Burger King. Show the ticket vendor where you want to go and he’ll help you get the correct bus and tell the driver where to let you off. It costs just 20,000VND (a taxi costs 200,000VND – 500,000VND depending on traffic). Don’t be put off if your bus looks rough, buses in HCMC are efficient and comfortable.
War Remnants Museum
Like all museums dedicated to wars, the War Remnants Museum is a though provoking place. Told from the Vietnamese perspective, the museum does not paint good light on Western involvement in the conflict. We notice some of the backpackers are struggling. One speaks defensively to his Vietnamese guide. A young lady is comforted by her boyfriend. It all happened here just like all other wars: torture, rape, murder. It’s another museum that convinces Paul and I that we are committed pacifists. That war is never the answer. And that it is odd that our society has this incredible discourse around not lowering ourselves to the standards of bullies yet participation in war is seen as normal and heroic.
The French Quarter is an assault on my senses. Tour buses are parked everywhere spewing forth stickered people cameras at the ready and eyes on the sign their tour guide is carrying. It’s bedlam and I can’t get out of there quickly enough. I don’t dislike tourists … I’m one myself. I just find large groups of them obnoxious because they seem to push and shove for the best photo or view as if they own the place. And they bring with them touts. “Sir only one dollar” … “Sir for you good price”. We get out of there fast.
At night we go to the Galaxy Cinema and watch the new Wonder Woman movie. The message is consistent with the war museum visit today – man cannot help but create wars. But there’s also a message of hope – despite our darkness we have inside us the ability to do good.
Rocky Spa is close to our hotel. It offers genuine professional massage services for 250,000VND per hour. The manager speaks excellent English and offers us tea with slices of sweetened ginger. The massage therapists are well-trained and there’s no uncomfortable hint of “extra” services (I hate when I am offered anything happy with my massage). We go to Rocky Spa twice during our two night stay in town, both times escaping the afternoon rains in this relaxing environment.
You can eat almost anything in HCMC. The tourist area caters to Western, Japanese and Korean tastes. But little red stools and tables still pop up on every available spot of footpath selling one-dish wonders. Eat rice with grilled pork for 20,000VND or something more formal for 20 times the price. The choices are endless. One night we eat on the street and the next in a modest contemporary Vietnamese restaurant. Both are delicious choices.
Accommodation: Bich Duyen Guesthouse