Aug 7-27, 2018
20 Days in Ho Chi Minh City
Hostel Check-in: Sakura Hostel Cholon
Location: Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam
Sakura Hostel Cholon
I would have preferred to stay the full 30 days in HCMC, but I only got 21 days in my visa. For the last 18 days, I stayed at Sakura Hostel Cholon in District 5, about 2kms walk to Ben Thanh Market - still not too far away. But there are also several local buses (xe buyt) nearby to District 1 if I don't feel like walking. Sakura Hostel was my home for that length of time. I'd wake up in the morning, do my little workout before taking my walk within the neighborhood, looking for anything interesting for breakfast - food is always in abundance. Most of the hostel guests are locals who are not tourist. There wasn't much of a social interaction there - it's not part of their culture to talk to strangers. Fortunately I still met an interesting local from Hanoi - Huong.
Cholon Neighborhood, District 5
This area is close to the edge where District 5 meets District 1 - the tourist capital of HCMC. Every once in a while, I'd go to District 1 to change my currency at Ha Tam, walk around Ben Thanh Market but that's just about it, unless you want to go for the night life - District 1 has a strip for that too. The Cholon area is a commercial area where you have cafes, boutiques, restaurants, clothing stores, massages lining up the streets. You don't find tourists here unless they are exploring the old Chinatown or Binh Tay Market which is also in Cholon.
As a parting treat, Uyen invited me to hang-out at Rogue Saigon - a hidden gem in the city with a nondescript entrance. It had an open roof deck with a great view of the eccentric Bitexco Financial Tower. They offer craft beer starting at VND40 - not bad considering you get live music (or DJ depending on the day). That night, it was a chill 2-man jazz band with a guy on percussion and another on sax. The volume was just enough to complement the ambience without getting in the way. A reassuring presence was Khoa who made an effort to make guests feel at ease - perhaps he is the owner or the general manager.
I missed my fitness training. Some places lend themselves to a fitness lifestyle, but with my hostel, a nearby park was nowhere and there was no space on the grounds. I would do my abdominals while still in bed and do some Yantra Yoga, but the vibe wasn't really there. I hope to make up for lost training wherever I end up after HCMC.
I kept my finances well within tight control. Money was coming in but only enough to make ends meet. A week before my departure, my Vietnamese Dong ran out and I had to look into my wallet for other remaining currencies to exchange - Singapore $, Thai Baht and Indian Rupee. That sustained me until I left. I purposely stopped the wiring of a little web-money from a Hong Kong client so that it can be sent instead to wherever my next destination is. That way I won't be losing money from converting too many times (and have some money waiting for me wherever I go next). But it also meant I had to fit whatever VND I still had until my departure.
Although I'm perfectly ok to be eating street food and not availing of any optional indulgence (tours, massage, etc) to conserve cash, it had a downside. It also means I can't go where the travelers eat or participate in the popular tours. I miss-out plenty. I default to a lone wolf. Honestly, I miss the interaction. True, I've met a few endearing locals, but being with backpackers offer a different kind of energy.
After a 20-day mini-life in HCMC, it was time to pack-up again and move on. Being now familiar with the bus system, I simply took the 2 buses I needed to get to the airport (#11 and #109) - a total of VND26! It was painless and saved me a lot of money. Check-in would have gone smoothly if not for my BKK-MLA ticket marked SGN-MLA! The sharp counter lady at VietJet saw this. Immediately, I took measures to correct it just in time. This is one of those occasions when fast thinking is needed. Needing water after my moon cake, I saw a free whisky tasting at the duty free and I took a little more than I should. I think that single-malt Ardbeg could have been put to better use instead of washing down food. I was mildly tipsy after that.
This was a very different Ho Chi Minh City this time around. I fully came to accept that I'm not a tourist. I travel to find a place to do my work, eat the local food, hang-out in its cafes and meet people. That simplifies many things. This also allowed me to see HCMC not as a tourist destination but as a traveler trying to be local. What's it like to make a life here? What opportunities abound?
- considering how much fun it was for me to roam around Binh Tay Market, I should have allotted one attraction/day to visit while I was there. There was plenty - Cu Chi Tunnel, War Remnants Museum, Saigon Notre-Dame Cathedral, etc.
- it's hard to do business here - the owners are hard to get by, and if I do catch them, they don't speak English
- because of the great demand for good English teachers, I can actually make a living here as an English teacher by night (and yoga teacher by day)
Reader Comments:Pham Thanh Huong
(Aug 29, 2018) I am so happy to be a part of your trip in Vietnam. Best wishes for you
(Aug 29, 2018) I enjoyed our Pho adventure and I miss our talks. Very nice meeting you in HCMC, Huong 🙂
Next stop: Nomad Travel Buddy
HO CHI MINH CITY BLOGS
- Nomad Travel Buddy Aug 27, 2018
- 20 Days in Ho Chi Minh City Aug 7-27, 2018
- Exploring Binh Tay Market, Ho Chi Minh City Aug 26, 2018
- Pho Beef Soup Exploration of Ho Chi Minh City Aug 7-27, 2018
- Rediscovering the Cafe Tradition of Ho Chi Minh City Aug 7-27, 2018
- Where is the Best Banh Canh Cua in HCMC? Aug 7-27, 2018
- In Search of the best Banh Mi in Ho Chi Minh City Aug 7-27, 2018
- Peoplescape of Ho Chi Minh City Aug 7-27, 2018
- Rediscovering Ho Chi Minh City Aug 7, 2018
- AO Show, Ho Chi Minh City Apr 10, 2015
- Free English Apr 1, 2015
- Teaching English to Vietnamese Apr 1, 2015
- 20 Days in Ho Chi Minh City Mar 22 - Apr 12, 2015
- Discovering Ho Chi Minh City's Cafe Culture Nov 9 - Dec 17, 2014
- Ho Chi Minh City's Fascinating Motorbike Culture Nov 18, 2014
- Exploring Ho Chi Minh City (Ho Chi Minh City) Nov 9, 2014
Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam
Ben Xe Mien Dong
Mien Tay Bus Station
Saigon Railway Station
Tan Son Nhat International Airport
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
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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