30 Days in Ho Chi Minh City – January 2015

After 7 months of steady travel going from hotel to hotel, we decided to relax and find an apartment to settle down in for the next month.  This was surprisingly more difficult than we expected.  Many places don’t want to rent for 1 month and they were asking us to renew our visa and stay for 3-6 months.  We eventually had a realtor find us a place in the area we wanted for about 40% more money than we wanted to pay.  Had we been willing to spend more time searching, or been willing to go out of the center area where we would need a motorbike, we would have been able to find something for less.  You can also negotiate with landlords.  We did none of this and overpaid for what we got in the end.  That’s the reality of things when you go in to things unprepared.  At the end of the day, our apartment was quite nice in a good area so we were content.  We didn’t save any money, which was part of the plan of getting something for a month but we did get a kitchen and the opportunity to go grocery shopping.  We eat a lot of meals in when we’re home as it gives us control over what we eat so it was great to get to do some cooking. 

Across the street from our apartment was a park.  Around 4pm the park would fill up with locals out for their nightly walk or run.  The center of the park fills up with people rollerblading, dancing or playing badminton.  On one side of the park is a bunch of gym equipment where people work out and they also have carnival rides, go karts and a bouncy castle for kids.  This was a great place for us to go for a walk after dinner. 

As far as doing stuff… we didn’t really.  It was a super lazy month and some much needed relaxation and we really enjoyed ourselves and met some great people.  We also didn’t take many pics because bike thieves are pretty good at snatching things right out of your hands and they’re gone.  Other than that, we felt very safe in HCMC.  Here’s a brief summary of a rather inactive month:
 
War Remnants Museum

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We spent one day going to see the war remnants museum.  This is quite well done and only 15,000vnd to enter.  The hard part about this museum is how gruesome it is.  Many graphic photos covering side effects from Agent Orange that was dropped over the land.  They also go into grotesque detail about the torture that happened to the POWs here.  I would recommend starting upstairs with the graphic stuff and ending by heading outside to check out the old fighter jets and tanks.  Leave on a high note. 

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Cu Chi Tunnels

If you know me, you’ll know that I’m interested in history.  Anything to do with war and strategy is right up my alley. 

You can go to any tourism company near Bui Vien St and find a half day tour to the Cu Chi Tunnels for 80,000-120,000vnd.  These tours don’t include your ticket at the entrance for 90,000vnd.  We opted to take the local bus which was an adventure.  First you find the #13 Bus on Le Lai St near 29/9 Park.  You pay 7,000vnd to go to Cu Chi.  Once you arrive at the Cu Chi bust station, you hop on the #79 bus.  Tell the ticket guy you’re going to the Tunnels, he’ll make a tunnel hand motion and charge you 6,000vnd.  The trip there takes about 2.5 hours.  We were warned by a local to watch our belongings… just like any public bus anywhere else in the world. 
There’s a few things to do around the tunnels but most of it looks like it’s under construction.  We went straight for the tunnels. First they make you watch a 20 minute video on the war.  It’s mostly original footage and very poorly edited.  Then a guide comes over and gives us a breakdown of how the tunnels were made and used.  We walk down the path and come across a rock… not a rock.  It’s an air vent so they can get fresh air deep in the tunnels.  This is actually brilliant.  It looks like a termite mound. 
We walk a bit further and our guide wipes some leaves out of the way and lifts up a tiny hatch.  An original entrance.  Super tiny.  I was able to fit… barely.

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They’ve opened up the entrances with stairs for tourists now but the tunnels are all original.  We get to walk through them seeing a meeting room, hospital room and a few small fruit bats along the way.  This tunnel system is brilliant.  They even have trap doors in the tunnels in case enemies found their way in.  Some spots get so small and narrow, they would have to stretch out and crawl.  Someone my size would get stuck.
They also showed us what their traps would look like… they were terrible. 

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The tour lasted about an hour and then we were on our way back.  So you can take a tour bus for 80,000-120,000vnd + 90,000vnd for ticket entrance or you can have an adventure and take the public bus for 26,000vnd + 90,000vnd.  If I were to do it again… I’d take the public bus over and over.  This is something worth doing in Ho Chi Minh City.  The history and the brilliance that goes into the strategic placement of these tunnels shows why you would never stand a chance versus the Vietcong on their own land.   

Poker

At a Bar in downtown HCMC you can find a poker game almost any night of the week.  I spent every Tuesday night heading out here to play in a small tournament where the calibre of play was much better than I expected.  Due to some unlucky scenarios I only cashed in 1 of the 4 tournaments I played in but that’s poker.  I’ll save you the bad beat stories.  If you’re looking for a game, you can usually find one at Boston Bar on Hem 28 Bui Vien.  Tournament on Tuesdays at 8pm is 300,000vnd with re-buys for the first two hours.  Cash game runs best on the weekends and is 500,000vnd to buy in.  Good luck and run good.

Dodgeball

As many of you know, I started playing dodgeball last year in a league run out of my home town in Surrey.  Well HCMC also offers dodgeball.  It’s twice a week and you get a great mix of locals and expats all joining in to the joyous game of throwing big rubber balls at each others faces.  This was my goto activity for the month of January.  I met so many great people and am glad I was able to do something that reminded me of home.  The court is bigger, the balls are different and the rules are different but this was the most fun I had and it’s a great work out.
They play on Mondays and Wednesdays at 75 Nguyen Dinh Chieu st in District 3.  They start around 8pm and play until 10:30pm in the basketball/volleyball court across from the rock climbing wall.  Cost is 30,000vnd. 
It’s a great group of people that invites and welcomes new faces every night.
Just look up Dodgeball for Vietnam or Saigon Dodgeball on Facebook for more info. 

Movies

We are keeping up with going to see a movie in as many countries as we can.  Vietnam, like other countries allows you to pick your own seats.  They have a few different theatres to choose from in HCMC and prices vary depending on where you go.  We chose the Lotte Cinema at the Diamond Plaza.  It was 70,000vnd each.  The movie was supposed to start at 3pm but in typical Vietnamese fashion, they didn’t release the movie before us until 3pm.  Then they have people go in and clean up…. and then we get to go in.  Add another 15 minutes for trailers and we started our movie at 3:30pm.  This cinema was small and didn’t really match up to our experiences in Thailand or Malaysia, but we don’t need anything fancy.  I’m sure there are some awesome theaters in HCMC… we just didn’t look for them.  What movie did we see? Into the Woods.  All we did was look at the cast and decided we should see it… had no idea it was a musical where they never stop singing.  Glad we saw it, won’t see it again.  At home I would have asked for my money back… I can make peace with the $3.50us for this one. 

Food

Lets get to the good stuff.  Food.  We actually spent most of our time cooking.  HCMC has a huge variety of restaurants and we ate at next to none of them.  However, when we did eat out, we found some gems. 
3consoc – Sushi restaurant north of district 1 in the Thanh Binh District.  Best sushi we have had in Southeast Asia and was cheap.  We ate more than enough happily for about 200,000vnd
Blackout – A dining in the dark experience.  We lucked out and won a Facebook contest that gave us 500,000vnd towards this place.  You eat in total darkness. I chose the mystery meal and was fed things like lotus flower and mustard leaves.  I was also fed frog legs (not bad) and blood pudding (not good).  In the dark, they say your sense of flavor is hightened… I don’t know how true that was but my sense of texture certainly was. Overall, it was a good meal that included delicious desserts and a drink before and after your meal.  Not for those on a tight budget, the average bill is around 1,500,000vnd.  We were going to pass but Kristi’s grandma insisted we have a nice meal on her and transfered some money to us.  Thank you grandma! Our blind waitress took a picture of us enjoying our meal:

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Chicken Place… One of the guys from dodgeball invited us out for roast chicken.  I don’t know the name or the street, I just know it’s in the Go Vap area and they have amazing roast chicken with a sauce similar to Thai chili for dipping.  Guess you’ll have to go to dodgeball and ask around to see who knows about this place.  Taxi was around 100,000vnd to get there from Le Lai st. 

There were more places but I’ll save some of the searching for you to find your own gems. 

That’s it.  That sums up our Ho Chi Minh City experience.  There are not a ton of things to do for tourists but there’s something every night for locals and expats.  Just depends on what you want to do.  I was also told about hockey and ultimate Frisbee so my possibilities seemed endless.  We have booked a bus to Cambodia (6ish hours) so we’re back to the road. New country, new language, new adventures. 
    

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