January 9-17, 2019
Ho Chi Minh City
Getting to Vietnam is easy – if you are not totally dumb. Indeed, our trip to HCMC did not start well. There are two ways how to get a visa. Either upon arrival or electronic visa in advance that can be used at the main borders. Getting electronic ones seemed to be a better and cheaper choice. Only if we did not applied and pay for them on Saturday and having the flight on Tuesday evening. And the processing time was three working days! All we could do was to fill a special form and ask if it can be processed quickly and then wait.
On Monday evening, we still had no visa. Our other option was to get a visa on arrival; however, for some reason, you need to get invitation letter first. There are multiple online agencies where you can get it the same day, but the price can be easily 26 USD (pp) in such case. Plus you have to pay for the visa itself on arrival, and we had already paid for an electronic one. So we aspired for the most expensive entry visa to Vietnam ever. Since the Philippines stay was a maximum of 30 days, we even could not stay longer and buy new flight tickets to Vietnam. Fortunately (how many time already?) On Tuesday morning we got the visa and could pack our bags.
But even arrival to HCMC was not so smooth. It was around midnight when we landed, connected to wi-fi and found a message from our accommodation that the place we’d booked is busy and we need to go to a guesthouse in another location. We grab a Grab and stayed only one night because instead of a room with bathroom and balcony we got a room without any window and bathroom in a corridor. And not so great location on top of that. Contrary to that, our new place Mosi Hostel was fantastic.
During the day we were enjoying the city. Finally, we were in a country and town where finding good coffee, and a dessert is a piece of cake 🙂 And food, of course, I was shocked how delicious, well looking and cheap everything is. For coffee, we twice went to ABC Bakery & Café, not a place with a charm, but it was around the corner, and we enjoyed their terrace upstairs. For one lunch we found a lovely place Bunh Bo Ganh just cross the Vietnam remnants museum in a colonial building. The museum is definitely must go there. It is depressing but educative (40,000 VND). But remember, Vietnam is still a communist country. Despite that, I did not have any feeling the museum is propaganda. However, only one side of the story is being told, which is a shame. I am pretty sure bad things happened on both sides. Anyway, serves very well as an expression of how pointless and cruel the conflict was and who could be blamed for starting it.
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I was very much surprised by how the city, or at least the centre is full of tourists. I thought that Vietnam is still not so popular destination, but it was probably based on a few years old information. Popularity within tourists is obvious mainly during the night when HCMC shows its dark side. It is a perfect showcase of how tourism can have a devastating effect if the footprint is too big and is missing the right regulation. The Bui Vien street and all area around were full of “expensive” bars and “cheap” girls, loud music and super annoying hunters to catch a soul for their venue. But it is fair to say that overall, it was a surprising mix between westerners and locals.
When we start with our stupidity at the beginning of this article… another stupid thing happened to us there. We left the city to Mekong Delta. And after 3 hours drive on a bus to Vinh Long we found out that I left our passports and some money in the hotel. What could we do, we had to return to the city. Luckily I was able to reach the hotel manager. They found it in our room and gave both passport and money back to us. The big thank goes to the Mosi Hostel hotel and all the staff. We somehow got tired by such an incident and decided to skip the Mekong entirely and go directly to the north after one more night in HCMC. We booked a night in The White House hotel and went to beds with a feeling that Vietnam is inevitably cursed for us. And nothing changed for another couple of days….
Our Vietnamese tragicomedy continues as we go north from HCMC by a sleeping bus (70,000 VND pp). Not because we want to sleep at 11 am. Moreover, the journey is relatively short – just a few hours, but it seems that the majority of buses in Vietnam are sleeping ones.
This place used to be just a sleepy fishing village a few years back. Now is loved by Russian tourists, not sure why maybe just because there are signs and menus in Cyrillic. To be honest, there is nothing idyllic. One street was full of bad or average tourist restaurants. The beach that is a mostly concrete carpet instead that was supposed to keep sand there. Two popular spots, sand dunes and little stream valley were overcrowded. Police officers happy to collect fines or maybe bribes if you don’t have an International driving permit – we had it but probably as one of the very few exceptions. Yes, the law requires it – but honestly, as I mentioned in another article – nobody in Vietnam follows even the basic traffic rules. Then insisting on useless paper has only one clear reason… The funny part of the story is that I showed him Mirek’s international driving permit since I did not have mine. Tho policeman did not realise it is different from my licence 🙂 Moreover, it was based on the Geneva convention while by law it should be based on the Vienna convention.
But not everything was bad. If you want something easy, speak Russian, like the sun, cheap accommodation and cheap food it is probably a fine place to be. We got a nice room atcMũi NéNhat Phuc Guesthouse just for 226,000 VND per night and scooter just for 120,000 VND.
We chose this city because it has the closest airport and we could use it for our quick escape further north. It was neither splendid nor bad. Just an ordinary, relatively big city with plenty of new hotels and other new hotels under construction. Beach was wide and nice, and we did not have a bit of luck for weather and sea was not inviting for swimming. Even there, we could encounter plenty of Russian tourists and services were mostly tailored for them.
We found a nice Vitamin Sea hostel (344,000 VND) and again enjoyed Vietnamese coffee culture. The first plan was to go to the Rainforest Café. It looks great quality is maybe good also. However prices they were asking for anything from their menu were ridiculous for Vietnamese standards (even still quite cheap for European level). Therefore we quit our plan – I don’t like to support tourist traps in any form. AN Café 2 was almost the same nice but at least ⅓ less pricey.
Once again, we encounter the country controversy – and our stupidity. While in tourist places you’ll have a feeling (justified) that many people want to cheat you, you will face candour of ordinary people that leaves you speechless. We went to an ATM and tried to get 5,000,000 VND. For some reason, we thought that the transaction did not happen and left. After 50 meters a lady called and run to us to give us the money we left at the ATM. Tháp Bà PoNagar (Ponagar Towers) historical sight is just in the city and pretty cool. On top of that, it can be conveniently reached by bus. There are bigger sites like this in the country, but if you are Nha Trang, it would be a shame not to visit and relax for a while. After two days we onboarded Vietnamese Airlines plane that brought us to Danang. Much more convenient than the bus and not much more expensive (620,000 VND pp including check-in baggage).