Vietnam – Ho Chi Minh (Saigon)

We left Phu Quoc on a rainy July morning. After a pretty disappointing trip on the island, we were really looking forward to getting back to the mainland and the possibility of sunnier days. Our hotel organized a taxi for us to the harbor. The day prior we had booked our tickets for the Superdong Ferry departing from Phu Quoc and arriving in Rach Gia. When we arrived at the harbor, it was an absolutely chaotic mess.

Our boat had arrived and the passengers were exiting. However, it was raining. This meant that the passengers, rather than exiting the boarding area, huddled around the entrance of the boat terrified to find transport in the rain. Meanwhile, the people who needed to now board the boat (i.e. us) were left with no other option than to push and shove our way through. And since we were not the only ones who needed to board this ferry, we were also pushed and shoved forward, side to side, and out of the way. We finally made it onto the boat disheveled, irritated, and soaked. The only thing going through our mind at this point was ‘get us off this damn island’!

The ferry to Rach Gia took about 2.5 hours. It was a smooth ferry and they handed out waters and towelettes for the journey.

We arrived in Rach Gia at around 12:30. Now the fun began trying to find a taxi that would take us into town. Mind you, the town was not very far from the harbor, but far enough to not want to walk there through the rain with heavy backpacks.

We will call this the taxi game. It consists of us showing various taxi drivers where we want to go on Google Maps and them pretending they do not know where that location is. We then find a guy who is eager to take the job but wants to give us a ride on the back of his motorbike. Mind you, had it not been pouring out, we would have been more than keen. But since we were not interested in getting soaked any more than we had to, we politely declined. So now, when we try to show the taxi drivers where we want to go, we have this random motorbike guy interjecting and trying to tell those drivers not to give us a ride in hopes that we get declined even more and just hop on his bike. This is an incredibly exhausting game, but eventually, we win and find a taxi that will take us the 7-minute journey into town.

By the time we got into town, the rain had stopped and we were feeling a lot more optimistic. We found this pretty incredible restaurant called ‘Bun Ca Ut Oi’ which served some pretty amazing fish noodle soup. It was exactly what we needed to boost our spirits and warm our bellies.

Fish and noodle soup at Ut Oi
Ut Oi seating area

We then made our way to the park area of Rach Gia. This area is actually pretty cute! If you find yourself in Rach Gia this is where you want to be; loads of coffee shops, trees, and atmosphere. We decided to plant ourselves at Boulevard Café for some strong and delicious Vietnamese coffees before boarding our bus to Ho Chi Minh.

We thought our bus was going to be picking us up at 2:45pm, but at around 2:15 they called and announced they were on their way. So we gulped down our coffees, paid our bill, and ran across the street to the hotel parking lot which we designated as our pick-up point (Dai Luong Hotel).

🚌Bus Booking Tip: When in Vietnam, this website is going to be your best friend for booking transportation – Vexere. How it works? Go online and find your route. Select the bus transport company you want to use and select your seats. For this route, we chose the bus company Thien Thanh and honestly could not have been happier! Arrange a pickup location with the Vexere representative. We nominated the Dai Luong Hotel as our pickup point in Rach Gia. Now, if you, like us, preferred drawing and paying in local currency, you can select to pay at one of their partner stores. We usually ended up paying at FPT stores or 7/11s.

The Thien Thanh bus was super nice and comfortable. They provided complimentary water, blankets, and wifi. The 6-hour bus ride was extremely smooth and they made a couple mid-point stops for snacks and restroom. We got into Ho Chi Minh, and the bus company split us up into two different buses depending on what part of Ho Chi Minh we were staying in and then drove us to the doorstep of our hotel.

We stayed at the Bui Vien Miss Home in Ben Thanh. We had booked a double room for 20 USD per night, but were upgraded to a double room with a balcony when we arrived; which actually had its pros and cons. It was great because it was bigger and had a balcony. But it was worse because it was directly below the rooftop where breakfast was hosted. So every morning we were woken at around 7am with chairs scraping the ground, footsteps, and loads of talking.

That night, we showered off and headed to the rooftop for some beers and small talk with other travelers.

The next day, we headed up to the roof for our included breakfast. It was at this point we met a couple from the Cayman Islands. Unbeknownst to us they would soon become our travel buddies for the duration of our time in Vietnam. We spent the morning chatting with them, comparing notes on where we had all been, what we had seen, tips that could be shared, and what we were going to do during our time in Ho Chi Minh.

Our breakfast view from the top deck at Bui Vien Miss Home

Now, we should announce that this was not our first time in Vietnam or Ho Chi Minh. We had been to Vietnam in 2013 (5 years prior). During that time we pretty much ticked off all the touristy spots to visit in Ho Chi Minh. We had already done the Mekong Delta trip, the Cu Chi Tunnels, the Ben Thanh Market, and the incredible street drinking scene. So this time around we were just interested in relaxing, eating, and exploring more of the city.

So during breakfast, we made our plan for the day. We mapped out the sights and the route we would take. We said goodbye to our buddies and headed out.

Discovering new charms of Ho Chi Minh

The first stop would of course be for some Vietnamese coffee. Honestly, how could you even think of starting your day without a strong, sweet caffeine jolt?

Our next few stops were all based on shopping. We pretty much went market and mall hopping. Our first stop was Saigon Square. Here you can find loads of clothing, shoes, and souvenirs. Next, was the Takashimaya mall which, to be honest, we were only really interested in seeing their food market in the basement level. I should probably let you know that I am obsessed with Japanese food markets. I became a big proponent of them during my two trips to Japan. I was hoping the basement of Takashimaya might reflect the food markets that I knew and loved, but it fell pretty flat. The next on our list was Parkson Plaza. We checked out a few clothing shops until our stomachs started to rumble. We then headed over to the Vincom Center. Now if you are looking for a Japanese or Korean BBQ, this is where you want to go. It was almost like Korea and Japan were battling over who could have the most bbq restaurants in Vincom. We settled upon the Gogi House (Korean BBQ). It felt like we were back in Korea, except not as delicious. Nonetheless, it satisfied our yearning for Korean food and for that hour we felt a sense of familiarity and nostalgia. After lunch, we decided we were shopped out and in need of an afternoon siesta. So we headed back to our hotel for a little rest and relaxation.

My oh my have things changed since our last visit!
A day exploring the malls of Ho Chi Minh. Welcome to the Vincom Center

That evening we grabbed a couple cheap kebabs from ‘King Kebab’, headed back to our room, and put on a movie.

The next day we awoke to the rumblings of the rooftop and headed upstairs for some breakfast. We made our plan for the day, got ready, and headed out.

The first order of business was to book a bus on Vexere headed for Da Lat and pay for it at the nearest 7-11. Next, book a hotel for our time in Da Lat. After our tasks for the day were complete we needed a quick stop for coffee before heading over to the Ben Thanh Market. We had been there 5 years ago but decided we should take a peek and see what the vendors have up for offer this time around. After all that walking we were ready for some lunch. We had some delicious Thit Nuong (grilled meat with rice noodles) and then continued our walking journey in the direction of the harbor garden. We found ourselves in a more posh side of town filled with pretty little boutiques and expensive coffee shops.

This building had so much greenery that we couldn’t take our eyes off of it!
Another eye-catching building in the heart of the city
It was wet and slippery but oh so beautiful

After an afternoon of exploring on foot, we were ready to kick our feet up. We headed back to the hotel for a rest before venturing back out for dinner and drinks with our new friends. We spent the evening watching the 2018 World Cup final, drinking beers, and chatting away.

To sum it up, this wasn’t the most action-packed trip to Ho Chi Minh and to be honest it wasn’t as good as the first time around. But is anything as good as the first time around?

I can tell you this though, the most memorable moments of Ho Chi Minh from this trip and the prior are exploring the Mekong Delta and partying in Ben Thanh for New Year’s Eve. So if you find yourself headed to Ho Chi Minh, try to put those two things on your to-do list.

The next day, we grabbed our last rooftop breakfast in Ho Chi Minh, showered off, paid our tab, and waited for our bus to Da Lat to arrive.

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