If it is your first time outside of your homeland, you expect a lot from a foreign country for sure. Vietnam, Ho Chi Minh City to be specific, is a Southeast Asian country, and what went inside my head at that time when my friends and I planned this trip was ‘Okay, it will just be like the Philippines, maybe just the same.’ The same equals – tropical weather, the humidity, pollution, but that was not the case in the Pearl of the Far East or the city formerly known as Saigon.
Hanoi was the target, but due to instant gratification to seat sales and a lack of in depth research, Vietnam was Vietnam, and that was all that mattered. The main things I learned after this trip was-
One. If you are into history and culture with old buildings and UNESCO world heritage sites, book a flight to Hanoi, Vietnam. Not Ho Chi Minh City.
Two. You can tour Ho Chi Minh in a day, or maybe two, so if you want to save up money and tour Southeast Asia for a week, plan a Tri-city in three countries. Some start with Thailand, then fly to Siem Reap Cambodia, then to Hanoi.
Three. Big thanks to my friend Mariel who had a cousin who toured us in Vung Tau City, Vietnam. If you have a day to spare in HCMC, do a side trip in Vung Tau. It was such a cute place!
Four. Don’t miss out on Banh Mi, Vietnamese-Oh-So-Heavenly-Sweet Coffee, Pho and Spring rolls!!!
Five. Don’t Overplan, as I always say. Because!!! Though super unplanned, the dates we booked our flights to Vietnam were actually their Mooncake Festival celebration (last week of September). This was one thought wherein I felt like we were blessed enough because to travel to a different city is good enough, but to experience the excitement and the flavor of its culture is a super plus! It was a perfect time to party at the 51st floor of the Bitexco Building and enjoy a great view! The city was super laid back atmosphere where you can see reclining chairs sprawled in the busy streets of downtown and the people just enjoying themselves “eating, drinking and being merry”.
Six. Feel like a local by renting a scooter and wander around. That’s one thing we did not do. Due to a prominence in bike riders in the city, it is a signature thing of HCMC in my opinion, that even grannies travel using motorcycles.
Seven. If you want to be a millionaire, even just for a day, go to Vietnam! You’ll know why.
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The Heat is on in Saigon.
Arriving in the city gave us many impressions. The blinking LED-almost neon lights and the fresh air even in a busy city are the factors that made me realize that I am no longer in the PH. We started the walking tour the next day. We had this map with us and we literally walked the city.
I’m a late bloomer millennial which explains how I had mobile internet, but did not really have the “travel goals” in a country itinerary. It is just recently that I do my research for travel. What I really enjoyed was walking around the city with friends and just have fun taking pictures without any rigid schedule. From time to time, after a historic site, we would stop at very quaint and artsy cafés and shops.
Here comes the late bloomer in me when I finally did my research a week before our trip. What does a millennial do? Search what-to-do’s and where-to-go’s and check out OOTD’s and Instagram feed goals! So I did that, and I think the negative side of it is if you have that type of personality that can’t easily let go of those plans in your head and you let those researched stuff take over your trip, it sucks out the fun.
The usual itinerary was a day tour in historic sites, do a Mekong River tour, and the Cu Chi tunnels. So my friends wanted to go to Vung Tau city which I had no idea where or what it would offer and I was stuck in my envisioned plan in Cu Chi. Things happen for a reason, indeed! Vung Tau was the best idea for this adventure. Not only did we have a unique itinerary, but we conquered two cities in Vietnam and not just one.
Vung Tau is a rich but very rural in pace. Its sidewalks along the highway are even made of marble.
The highlight of our Vung Tau trip is going to a pilgrimage to this Christ the Redeemer replica. It was cool to know that Vietnam has a Catholic character.
I will always remember our sweet Cafe Sua Da on top of a hill in Vung Tau, our long walks under the heat, Vietnamese people being so hospitable and giving us free jasmine tea wherever we dine, being complemented how good-looking Filipinos are, and Filipino telenovelas airing on their local channels.
I find myself comparing Philippines to Vietnam as it is my first time, the journal write ups in my head ablaze in thought – how the Philippines could be much better than it is. Though PH is ahead commercially and boom in tourism and communications, it cannot stack up to Vietnam’s unique identity and simplicity. Ironically, I pictured Vietnam not to be as advanced, but imho, it is better when it comes to culture preservation and cleanliness. It is not as clean as Singapore but cleaner than the PH that even their central market bathroom has a bidet spray.
One takeaway is to plan but give 70% room for changes. There are uncontrollable forces like weather, your energy level, money, and most of all time! You can have all the planned stuff from research, but there’s Reality to wipe off expectation.
I just have a lot to say because this was my first time abroad, but Vietnam exceeded my expectations. Truly one for the books!