“You are sunlight and I moon, joined by the gods of fortune, midnight and high noon. Sharing the sky. We have been blessed, you and I”
~ Kim, Miss Saigon
We decided to explore Vietnam on a 3-day trip, escaping the mid-summer heat of Singapore. The sweltering weather was just the same but jumping on-board to a wild weekend adventure this time. As my love affair with airports never ends, my hyped-up heart lusts another city which offers a fresh breath of life, another urban jungle to serve as sanctuary to a beaten soul that needs recuperation in sandy shores with salty air. Mind you, the excitement never ends at the airport.
Our journey kicks off at Changi Airport flying to Ho Chi Minh City, commonly known as Saigon in Vietnam. The vibrant city brimming with rich culture, intriguing history and chaotic everyday life.
Window seat perks: As seen above, a bird’s eye view of Saigon
We reached Tan Son Nhat International Airport in Ho Chih Minh City in late afternoon. With map on hand, itinerary and notes carried out, we were confident that our Vietnam backpacking trip will bring us no trouble.
Download the map below for easy reference on the steets of Ho Chih Minh City.
Starting off our adventure by hopping on-board the public Airport bus going to the city. The 6,000 dong per person entitles you to a ride with the locals, experience firsthand problems in communications and a front-row seat to a glimpse of the bustling streets of Saigon.
Public Airport bus No. 152 to the city
We weren’t exactly sure where to alight, so we ended up going with the majority of the locals and get off at the final terminal of Ben Thanh Market station, which is around the city area. So from there, it’s a go-figure out by ourselves and followed the map to our next destination. While I’m more than happy to get lost (so we can walk further and sightsee) and awful with directions, my husband is of the opposite. He gets worried at unfamiliar places, I guessed rattled with the idea of protecting both of us in a foreign land if anything unlikely happens. Like the usual love and hate relationships, we sometimes have petty fights but settling our feelings away and enjoying our stay is a top priority. And he’s the better one with directions, so we complement each other with our shortcomings. You can never really know a person unless you get married or travel with them. I say, go travel with them first, at least, if you find out you totally can’t tolerate each other, fly out to your next destination.
Pham Ngu Lao, Saigon District 1
Took us about 30 minutes of walking to find Pham Ngu Lao, known as the backpackers district, this is where you haggle for your budget travel needs. Reminiscent to Kuta in Bali and Khao San Road in Bangkok, this street is crammed with cheap accommodations, ticketing offices, money exchange, cafes and nightlife.
This street being located at the center of Saigon District is conveniently accessible to everything, from parks, historical sites to shopping markets. Significant amount of tourists flocked this area all year round, which are also the ones vulnerable to scams and thieves. While it’s generally safe, travellers should take caution and common sense all the time.
Our first stop is The Sinh Tourist to book a night-rider sleeping bus to Mui Ne for less than $10 each, success. They offer luggage deposit too, so we can wander freely before our bus leaves at 9pm.
Now, we only have about 3 hours to explore the city, so we headed back to the market to satisfy our Vietnamese cravings and scour some stuff for our Mui Ne getaway.
Welcome to the Motorbike capital of the World
I find it so amazing that it’s not easy to get lost here. All roads lead to the market. The locals are friendly. Smile and they will be more than happy to help you. The motorbikes on the roads, as much as we hate it in Manila, there’s no escaping here. But we were able to navigate quickly than earlier.
Ben Thanh Market
Local souvenirs available inside Ben Thanh Market
Right across the street is Pho 2000 where former US President Bill Clinton stopped by for an authentic bowl of Pho. Ordered fresh coconut juice, Vietnamese Ice coffee, a bowl of Pho and spring rolls– just like that, our gastronomic cravings satisfied.
We wandered around the market for a while and at the backpacking district too. Too short a time for a beer though.
The sleeping bus is one amazing discoveries in this trip. It was really comfortable and not to mention, cheap way to travel for 5 hours to the town of Mui Ne. With legs stretched out and roomy space, you have the luxury to sleep, catch up on a book or make friends with someone next to you.
The driver takes note of resorts/hotels where the passengers will be staying, because everyone is dropped off accordingly. Found out it works that way, because when you’ve been dizzy along the way, your half conscious self left you with sleepy state of mind, someone will shout your hotel name, and you have to cram, search for your belongings and when your senses finally kicked within you, you find out that you already reached your destination at 2 in the morning.
Checked it at Nam Hai Hotel which is located at the forefront of Mui Ne, Binh Thuan Province. The coastal resort town in Southeast Vietnam. A mixed selection of budget and upscale resorts, bars, restaurants and souvenir shops stretch along the beach coast.
Rooftop view at Nam Hai Hotel swimming pool offers a panoramic ocean view
Our hotel was clean and affordable, but not really digging the location. Being located in the gateway of the town, there were only a few restaurants and shops nearby. Found out later that the further middle to end stretch is more convenient to everything.
We were so ready for a tan and this sunny place is gifted with an automatic tanning machine once you stepped out of your hotel room. When the sun rises, it’s time to play.
to the ocean and beyond
Soaking on almost mid-day sun, the scorching heat is unforgiving. But our eyes feast on what seems to be an endless stretch of sandy beach dotted with colourful kites and windsurfers.
For tropical babies like us, this is our playground. But too much sun knocks down our reserve energy. We decided to find somewhere to cool down for lunch. And plan for our next mission of the day, find a motorbike to bring us to our next stop.
The sun, the sands and the sea rolled into one in this all-year round destination.