Ho Chi Minh City

Ho Chi Minh City banner

On Monday, we left for the third country in 10 days time, so things are going pretty fast. We knew in advance that we wouldn’t see all too much of Cambodia, but we will definitely come revisit Thailand later on. For Vietnam we planned an adequate 14 days, however we heard typhoon Sarika’s on its way, so we’re hoping we won’t have to cancel our plans. Anyway, we’re flexible so when the weather does get bad, we simply move on.

Belgians can’t buy a visa at Vietnam’s national border, not even in airports. Your visa really has to stick into your passport in advance. If you like to do that in Belgium before you leave, you’ll have to go the Vietnamese embassy in Brussels during office hours. There, you can apply for a visa and one week later you can go collect your passport again — now with the visa sticker. It will cost you more than 100 euro per person — and probably 2 days leave and a lot of traffic-jams-and-finding-parking-space stress. Because we weren’t so sure whether we would visit Vietnam or not, we didn’t apply for a visa while we were still in Belgium. Also because you can request a visa abroad if you want to, for example in Bangkok.

This seems annoying when you’re planning your trip — but once on the road, problems seem to solve themselves. Our guesthouse in Siem Reap offered visas for many different countries, one of them being Vietnam. Now that’s the chill way to do it — handing in your passport at your guesthouse’s reception in the morning and simply pick it up again in the evening — and all that for just 45 dollars! Yep, we saved more than 100 euro by deciding not to request our visas in Brussels.

We booked our bus tickets for Vietnam online and the pick up service came to collect us in front of our guesthouse on Monday morning. The bus leaves at 8:00 a.m. and drives from Phnom Penh to Ho Chi Minh City. The bus is a real luxurious autocar with all the comfort you can imagine — WiFi included, which worked surprisingly well! However don’t expect to bingewatch Netflix to pass away time.

When you get on the bus, you’ll be asked to hand in your passport to the bus attendants. They check everyone’s visa before the bus actually leaves to make sure that the bus won’t be held up at the border with Vietnam because someone doesn’t have a valid visa.

The busride was said to take 6 hours and that was quite on point. It’s about a 4-hour drive to the border with Vietnam. There everybody is asked to get off the bus and walk through the exit checkpoint with their passports — which already got back before we’d arrive here. Here you receive a stamp that allows you to leave Cambodia. Leaving a country is usually a no-fuss process. It took everyone under 20 minutes to get their stamp. After we got back on the bus, we drove for 15 more minutes until we arrived at the real border. While the border between Vietnam and Cambodia was one big chaos, we now arrived at a place that looked a lot like a deserted industrial area.

The bus then stopped at a restaurant where everyone could get lunch, while the bus attendants took care of the stamps to enter Vietnam. Handy! At the restaurant there’s a tax-free shop with a wide variety of super cheap alcohol, but unfortunately it wouldn’t fit in our backpacks. After everybody had lunch, we had to take our luggage out of the bus and walk through the border check and luggage scanner. Because our passports had already been stamped, this didn’t take us very long. The ride to HCMC from there took us about two more hours. By chance, the final bus stop was located only 300m from our hostel. No more taxi necessary and straight to the hostel check-in!

HCMC is a big city, but differs greatly from Phnom Penh. HCMC is much cleaner and more pleasant to walk around. Traffic is one big chaos though, with thousands of scooters making their way through the cars. Crossing the street as a pedestrian is an adventure by itself. You can’t just wait until someone will let you cross the street — you could be waiting all day. The trick is to cross at a constant pace, not too fast but not too slow either. Stopping, going back, increasing your pace or slowing down are out of the question. When you cross at a constant pace, drivers can estimate whether they’ll cross you in front of you or rather behind you. It really works, although it’s quite exciting to throw yourself in this traffic chaos.

Upon arrival, we decided to stay a third night. We liked the city’s atmosphere and we didn’t have an idea yet of how we wanted to spend the rest of the week.

On Tuesday, we walked through the city and visited the war museum. What the Americans call the ‘Vietnam war’ is called the ‘American War’ here. The museum’s quite visual and shows many war remnants like tanks, airplanes, helicopters and weapons. The museum’s doesn’t have a chronological display, but showcases by subject. One theme was for example ‘The Effect of Agent Orange’. It’s helpful if you have some historical knowledge before entering the museum, so you can understand it all. We recommend you read a little history in advance so you can enjoy your visit to the most.

The food in Vietnam is amazing and cheap. Because of the French influence here they also have baguettes, almost exactly the same as the original French version! Vietnam has a deep-rooted street food culture, which makes that you can eat delicious food almost anywhere for really cheap prices.

Wednesday morning we took a moment to plan out the week ahead. We decided to visit the Mekong delta until Sunday and fly to Hội An from there on. Flying is much cheaper and much faster than traveling by train. Our plans are set until next Wednesday.

– Ho Chi Minh City = Saigon. After becoming independant from France in 1954, Saigon became Ho Chi Minh City. The two names are used alternatively. We drove to HCMC with the Giant Ibis bus for 19 dollar p.p. This was a big bus with lots of leg space and comfort. Our hotel in HCMC was called the Pink Tulip. Basic room without a window, great location, friendly staff.