Aug 7, 2018
Rediscovering Ho Chi Minh City
Hostel Check-in: Sakura Hostel Cholon
Location: District 5, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam
Ho Chi Minh City
After Thailand, I didn't really know where to go. But the $60 budget fare with VietJet made it academic for me to choose Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. Besides, I love Ho Chi Minh City and I have a few friends I'd like to see again. Upon landing, the energy felt right. I knew it was a good start.
Welcome Home Hostel
My first booking through Agoda was at The Nineties Hostel, but despite a confirmed booking, they gave my slot to someone else. That left me scrambling for another booking. Luckily, and a blessing in disguise, I got a 2-night stay at Welcome Home Hostel. It's practically a typical Vietnamese home that has been opened up for transients. Yes, the whole family lives there and you're the extra member of the family. Nice people and very helpful. Vy had good English which made life a little better. Coffee is self-service.
Sakura Hostel Cholon
My next hostel wasn't too far away. Sakura Hostel was clean, spacious and had full amenities of a proper hostel. For a promotional price of $5/2 nights, I got a comfortable air-conditioned room with a bunk bed + a table I could work on. Wifi was reliable and fast. Owner, Mitra, was hands-on and helpful. I only have praises for the value I was getting.
This would be my home for the next 2 weeks. I would use their kitchen, use their washing machine, hang my clothes on their roof deck and use the lobby for my office. Yes, this was home to me.
On My Own
During all my previous visits, I was always traveling with a local friend who took care of me. I didn't have to do any research or make an itinerary. I would just hop on the back of her motorcycle and off we go to the next eating destination or next attraction. That is not the case anymore. Even though HCMC is familiar to me, I have no bearings and had to start from square one. This is also a good thing because I could go anywhere I want, navigate the bus routes on my own and connect with old friends on my own time. This gives HCMC a whole new flavor from my last visits.
Unlike Bangkok when I got down to my last Baht 80 ($2.50) before I made a little money (I was 2 meals away from starving!!!), I have a little buffer now thanks to a logo job and web conversion project. I have about a month's elbow-room - still frighteningly close to the edge for most people, but to me, it's ample elbow room to relieve the money-pressure. Timing is always uncanny - a day before I default on my credit card payment, money from the web conversion came in...whew! Close call again. I'm just glad the little miracles keep happening. Despite the very tight cliff-hangers, I've never run out of money. My universe makes its presence felt by doing that.
Intention in Sickness and Health
I pride myself in not getting sick, but perhaps due to the exhaust pollution in HCMC, I started getting allergy-like symptoms - runny nose, sneezy, scratchty throat and some coughing. I did something different. Being mindful of the power of intention, I took awareness on a whole new level to heal me. Before I drink water, I make it clear that my intention in drinking water is to use its healing properties to make me whole again. Same thing to the air I breath, the food I eat, etc. The intention to restore me is always there. I give it my gratitude in advance. Surprisingly, in 2 days, my symptoms were gone. Normally, this develops into a weeks of discomfort. Yes, intention is key. By invoking it, I make it clear to the universe what I would like to happen. Additionally, I added the Tibetan Yantra pranayama - it's powerful and it works!
District 1 is HCMC's answer to Khao San Road of Bangkok and Pub Street in Siem Reap. This is the party hub of expats, travelers, backpackers and locals alike. If you're looking for booze, women and getting hammered, this is the strip where it all happens. I tried walking its streets at night and during the daytime. It's very touristy and more pricey but that's expected. Still, even if it's not your thing, you still have to stop by and check it out - a must-experience in HCMC.
Random Bus Ride
Instead of always defaulting to District 1, I took a random bus ride, #68 bus, and regarded it as a tourist bus tour for VND8! I had my Maps.Me app to give me my bearings. I passed by Sunrise Mall (I didn't know where the malls are) and ended up in District 7 where I helped myself to another Banh Mi (baguette sandwich) and Che (iced dessert). From there, I asked around for the bus to Ben Thanh Market. Nowhere to go, I would keep doing that random bus ride.
I'm just halfway through my stay in HCMC and things look bright and optimistic. I'm not meeting new people but I'm reconnecting with old friends. I am swamped by web work that's coming to a close. My indulgence? Food! Cafes! and just walking around the neighborhood.
YOGA by Gigit | Learn English | Travel like a Nomad | Donation Bank
Reader Comments:Ley De
(Aug 17, 2018) sayang u were not there when i was there. hehe. enjoy HCMC Git!
(Aug 17, 2018) I love the food
(Aug 17, 2018) Me too ^^
(Aug 17, 2018) Vietnam is really a dream destination
(Aug 17, 2018) Me, too, G!
(Aug 17, 2018) Omg that food tho! My favorites!
Next stop: Peoplescape of Ho Chi Minh City
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Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam
Ben Xe Mien Dong
Mien Tay Bus Station
Saigon Railway Station
Tan Son Nhat International Airport
Queen Ann Hotel - luxurious and modern, District 1 location, 10-minute walk to Ben Thanh Market
Sakura Hostel Cholon - 9.0 Stars (out of 10) from 24 reviews on Booking.com based on cleanliness, comfort, facilities, staff, value for money, free wifi and location!
How to Get to District 1 (HCMC) from the Airport (Tan Son Nhat International Airport)
- take the #109 Airport Bus (5:30am to 1:00am, departs every 15-20 minutes, 45 mins, 20k Dong or $1.00) Route: International Terminal - Domestic Terminal (Tan Son Nhat International Airport) - Truong Son - Tran Quoc Hoan - Hoang Van Thu - Nguyen Van Troi - Nam Ky Khoi Nghia - Ham Nghi - Le Lai - Ben Thanh Bus Station - Pham Ngu Lao - 23/9 Park
- get off at 23/9 Park to get to the cluster of backpacker hostels
Ho Chi Minh City Travel Tips
- best money changer rates in District 1 is Ha Tam Jewelry near Ben Thanh (refer to map for location)
- unlike most destinations in Thailand, Cambodia or Vietnam, Ho Chi Minh City is too big for the major bus companies to provide a drop-off service with their shuttle minivans. If you are coming by bus, you get off either at the Western Bus Station or Eastern Bus Station depending on where you are coming from. From there, you can take the cheap local bus, the Xe Buyt to get you closer to your destination.
- you can get around the city by moto-taxi or rent a motorbike - but be warned that motorbike riding in Ho Chi Minh City is unlike riding anywhere else in Asia!
Ho Chi Minh City Cost Index
Budget price in budget places (US$1 = Vietnam Dong VND 23,255 = Php 53.20 as of Aug 1, 2016)
- VND 10-15,000 baguette sandwich (banh mi)
- VND 25-30,000 noodle soup (pho)
- VND 10-15,000 black filtered coffee
- VND 5,000 sugar cane juice (nuoc mia)
- VND 8-10,000 fresh coconut
- VND 10,000 one beer bottle
- VND 10,000 1.5 liter drinking water
- VND 80,000 bicycle rental, 24 hours
- VND 80,000 cheap lodging
- VND 10,000/kg laundry
- VND 8-10,000/km but flag-down starts at 20,000 motorcycle ride
- VND 20-35,000 rice meals (com tam)
- VND 100-140,000/day motorbike rental
Vietnam FYI / Tips / Dos and Don'ts
- Hanoi Grapevine HCMC Update - for the latest events in Vietnam
- Vietnam establishments will not accept US dollars, unlike Cambodia. You have to use Vietnam Dong (US$1 = Vietnam Dong VND 23,255 = Php 53.20 as of Aug 1, 2016)
- Vietnamese smokers will smoke in air-conditioned establishments, air-conditioned buses packed with people including women, children and babies. They also smoke inside hospitals with no smoking signs.
- Vietnam ranks almost the same as Thailand and Cambodia for cheap price. Laos, Myanmar and Malaysia cost more
- internet speed is generally fast and reliable but during important events like Tet holiday, election, etc., it slows down
- Vietnamese generally do not speak or understand much English. It will be a challenge.
- best to dress appropriately, not revealing too much skin (Saigon is an exception - the ladies there set the trend in very short shorts)
- remove your shoes when entering a home or place of worship
- ask first before taking someone's picture. If they say no, don't persist or offer money
- best to carry your hotel's business card with you when going out. You can just show it to the cab driver or XeOm driver if they don't understand English
- leave your valuables, passport, travel tickets, etc. with the hotel's safety deposit box
- when lying down, don't point your feet or the soles of your shoes to anyone or to a family altar
- carry only enough cash for your needs that day
- don't lose your temper in public - Vietnamese people are warm, generous and polite. They look down on people who lose their composure
- don't take pictures of military installations - you can go to jail
- refrain from taking videos of minority people until permitted to do so
Lesser-Known Vietnam Destinations
- Phu Yen Province - by the beach
- Hoa Binh Lake - locals' alternative to Halong Bay
- Ninh Binh - Trang An Grottoes, Tam Coc, Mua Caves, Bai Dinh Pagoda, Van Long Nature Reserve
General Travel Tips
- avoiding scams - as a general rule, I ignore the touts or anyone I don't know who call out to me. The calling comes in many forms - "Hi! Where are you from?", "Excuse me! Excuse me!", "Where are you going?". I don't look them in the eye and I remain non-verbal with them. If you reply to them, you just gave them an 'in' to hound you. In order not to look rude, I smile and wave the 'not interested' hand to them, without looking at them.
- power bank - hand-carry your power bank. Do not check it in. You can be called in when you are already inside the plane to go all the way to the loading dock so you can personally remove the power bank...and chances are, you'll have to surrender it to them. And you might delay the plane departure!
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