Apr 23-30, 2019
Ho Chi Minh City on a Visa Run
Location: Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam
Ho Chi Minh City Here I Come!
After staying 90 days in Chiang Mai (60-day Tourist Visa + 30-day extension), I had to leave Thailand and do a visa-run. Where? Ho Chi Minh City was only $50 on skyscanner.net - the cheapest. I'm just too glad that I also love being in this city. After being there Aug 7-27, 2018, I'll be seeing it again for the 4th time.
With only a week's stay in HCMC, I didn't have to bring all my personal belongings with me - just a carry-on which made life a lot easier. From Chiang Mai's Old City, I was able to source a songthao that took me to the airport for only B50 ($1.70)...whoa! Everything else was smooth from checking-in, boarding, the flight and into Vietnam Immigration. I did my homework and got every document ready - flight booking, onward flight booking, hotel booking, financial statement, etc. From HCMC airport, I took the #109 bus for only VND 20k ($1). Yes, I'm not a taxi guy unless I'm sick or carrying bulky luggage. It was a short walk from Ben Thanh park to my hostel in Bui Vien.
Failing to get a hotel deal online, I pre-booked a 2-night lodging at 199x.Nest - the cheapest I could find in Agoda for only $2.50/night. It was located on the 8th floor in the party street of Bui Vien. The lift was just for 2 people and it was slow. The room was cramped, crowded and it smelled. Yes, it was a dump and a dive - but that is nothing new to me. I've slept in 5-star hotels and I've slept on a sidewalk and everything in between. The loud thumping music of Bui Vien carried into our room. It was hard to sleep the whole night. Even with one more night's stay, I decided to knock on the bigger hotels for a possible barter-deal.
Queen Ann Hotel
I've knocked on possibly all the hotels along Bui Thi Suan Street, the hotel row of District 1. Luckily, the GM of Queen Ann Hotel saw value in what I was offering and accepted my barter deal to increase their online booking and increase their ratings on Tripadvisor in exchange for 6 nights + breakfast for 2. This also gave me a chance to invite friends to join me for breakfast. Modesty aside, after delivering what I promised, her remark was, "Lucky for us to welcome you in Queen Ann Hotel Saigon !"
The hotel is one of the biggest and most prestigious along the street. It offered a buffet breakfast, comfortable bed, flat screen tv with lots of English channels, a fridge and even a personal safety deposit box.
Aside from the usual amenities, I liked the interesting touches inside my room - a shower faucet that took me 5 minutes to workout and a touch-screen mirror to light up. They also had an electronic switch for room clean-up, instead of the door knob hang-it sign.
Thai Tourist Visa
First thing the following day was to go to the Thai Embassy to secure my tourist visa. I've done it before in Hanoi so I knew what to bring with me - passport, picture, completed visa form, flight to Thailand, onward flight from Thailand, hotel booking in Thailand and financial statement. No money! It went like clockwork and I got my passport + visa the following day. The Thai embassy personnel were helpful and absolute professionals. With that out of the way, I could free my mind from my 'to-do list'.
Banh Canh Cua
One of the delights of HCMC is the gastronomic offering along the streets. Yes, you don't have to go to classy or expensive restos to eat good. You can get a decent meal for as little as $1! In fact, the freshest ingredients can be had with street food. As a Banh Canh Cua enthusiast, I went the extra distance to sample the city's varied Banh Canh Cua delights.
Exploring by Bus and Grab Bike
I would venture further out to meet friends or explore eating places by way of public bus and Grab bike. It think it's the best way. Sitting on the front of the bus simulates a bus tour of the city. On a Grab bike, I get to experience HCMC's must-do - riding the streets on a motorbike where other bikes go millimeters from you as everyone darts in and out of jammed roadways.
My shoes have been glued, reglued and stitched ten times over, and now it's falling apart. Lo and behold, I stumbled into a Dr. Martens store and saw this green Dante, a low-cut urban walk-about shoe. I just loved it. But at VND 3.5M, it was too rich for me. I sent a barter-deal proposal but received no reply. Oh well, that's just life. You do what you can without expectation of the outcome.
Upon check-in for my departure, my carry-on luggage was about 16k, including my laptop. VietJet would not give me a boarding ticket - either I unload some weight down to 7k or pay $30 for check-in luggage. Most airlines don't consider the laptop as part of the 7k so this blind-sided me. I had to unload 9k! I layered all the shirts I had, donated 1 pack of Durian Banh Pia cake package to a guard and gave the 2 packs of ground coffee I had to the VietJet staff. Yes, I bore no grudge on them - they were just doing their jobs. I even told the staff, "Hey, this is good coffee. For the staff". I would have unloaded the other 3 Banh Pia packages, but she gave me a boarding pass, but with a stern warning that they will check my carry-on again upon boarding. I reserved the 3 packages for dumping just in case. But I went through the boarding with no hitch and got to keep the 3 Banh Pia packages. They were for Mike as he expressly asked me to look for some in HCMC. I'm glad I still had presents to give.
In hindsight though, I should have just hidden the excess baggage somewhere, checked-in for my boarding pass and get my carry-on "approved", and then go back to where I hid the other packages. Oh well, lessons learned for next time.
Ho Chi Minh City this time around was very relaxing. I closed a 6-night deal with the prestigious Queen Ann Hotel and even got to invite some friends to join me for a compli breakfast for 2. I also had a little money in my pocket. I didn't have to keep worrying where I sleep or how to earn my next buck to stay afloat. I've never had this much ease in a long while. I really appreciate the break. Although, I am sure I will miss the rush of being on the abyss where I'm 2 meals away from starving, as was the case in much of my travels. Indeed, 2019 ushered ease for me - not necessarilly prosperity (I'm not looking for prosperity...just ease).
Of course, any destination wouldn't be as meaningful without the beautiful people you can bond with. I'm grateful for all the friends I have in HCMC who took time to join me for coffee and catch-up. I can only wish I had more time to see all of them.
...until the next time, Ho Chi Minh City !!!! Cảm Ơn Bạn (thank you) ❤ 🙂
--- Gigit (TheLoneRider)
YOGA by Gigit | Learn English | Travel like a Nomad | Donation Bank
(May 3, 2019) One of my favorite places in HCMC (Thich Quang Duc memorial). Such a powerful presence there.
(May 3, 2019) indeed....always feels reverential being there and seeing on YouTube the actual event that took place.
Next stop: The Fascinating Peoplescape of Ho Chi Minh City
HO CHI MINH CITY BLOGS
- Hotel Review: Queen Ann Hotel Apr 24-30, 2019
- Banh Canh Cua Obsession Apr 23-30, 2019
- The Fascinating Peoplescape of Ho Chi Minh City Apr 23-30, 2019
- Ho Chi Minh City on a Visa Run Apr 23-30, 2019
- 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
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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