We chose to visit Vietnam due completely to airplane ticket prices. It was simply cheaper to travel to HCMC than anywhere else and, since this was our first international trip since relocating to Taiwan, we really had no constraints except that it be somewhere we've never been before. And that list is short; Hong Kong and Manila.
We flew on VietJet Air, one of a number of discount airlines found in this region. Nothing like RyanAir or EasyJet in Europe though. Much closer to JetBlue or Southwest Airlines in the States. Meaning, prices aren't ridiculously cheap. Prices can be inexpensive, however, but nothing only a weekend could justify. One needs, at a minimum, four days to justify the cost of air travel over here. In this case, because we had specific dates we wanted to travel, our tickets were reasonable. We paid US$725.88 for two, including seat reservation costs (US$3.96) and mandatory booking fee (US$20.00) but excluding any baggage costs since we travel light (read: carry-on luggage only).
Though we found the preponderance of closed shops frustrating at times, we were thrilled with our overall experience. Additionally, we had memorable experiences we wouldn't have had otherwise had we visited at any other time of year. And, because we visited at such a special time of year, visiting again at any other time of year should elicit a very different experience, which is just another reason to return.
HCMC or Saigon (both are used, though I'm not sure when to use one and not the other) is a lovely city. I read Graham Greene's The Quiet American before traveling, providing me with a little background to the city which I found extremely helpful and fun. Walking the former Rue Catinat was one of the highlights of my visit and one I'm not sure I would've experienced had I not read the book prior to visiting.
|Bến Thành market|
It's true what they say about Vietnamese food; it's amazing. We ate a lot, and at a lot of super dodgy places, but didn't have one bad meal. At one spot there were so many chicken bones on the floor, Husband ate the entirety of his delicious meal with a drumstick perched on his toe (he was wearing flipflops) and didn't even care. Because the food was that good.
|Our first meal|
Upon returning to our hotel after midnight on new year's morning (Feb 19) the owner and staff were celebrating with ceremonial offerings plus a delicious and generous meal for their guests. Not expecting to be invited to a celebratory late night dinner, we had already eaten and weren't terribly hungry. But we ate anyway. Because the food was, per usual, delicious.
On new year's day we found ourselves at the Saigon Zoo. We had ventured out expecting complete solitude, which proved nearly accurate, so we had just intended on wandering the city aimlessly. The map had a large park area near the river marked as a botanical garden, which sounded lovely, so we headed in that general direction. Upon reaching what we thought were the botanical gardens we were greeted by a zoo instead. And it was having a party. So we ventured forth and spent the better part of the day visiting with the animals.
|gibbon at the Saigon Zoo|
|elephants at the Saigon Zoo|
I'm usually quite wary of hotel tour booking services. The only other time I tried it was in Costa Rica in 2006 and the whole thing just felt like a dirty tourist trap. I resolved to never do that again. But, because we were traveling lazy this time, and I knew exactly what I wanted and had researched prices, we asked our hotel for help. The whole process turned out to be so simple and convenient and stress-free that I may begin utilizing these types of services more often.
Our hotel in HCMC helped us arrange bus travel to Cần Thơ in the Mekong Delta. We just wanted the normal public bus, which should have only cost us US$6 but, due to the holiday, wound up costing twice that. Whatever. The bus was air conditioned with reserved seats and even came with a pickup from our hotel and a free bottle of water and moist towelette. We felt like kings.
|Saigon bus station|
In Cần Thơ we stayed at the Kim Long Hotel. This was also a great experience. The location was perfect; right on the waterfront and only a few blocks away from all the action. Additionally, on our last night in Cần Thơ we were treated to hospitality similar to that of our HCMC hotel, a staff / family dinner. Such a great experience!
As soon as we arrived in Cần Thơ, knowing our return trip to HCMC on a Sunday night would be popular for those returning home after the holiday, we asked the hotel to book our return travel. Additionally, we knew we wanted to visit the nearby floating market and asked about that too. Unfortunately, due to the holiday, the floating market was closed. But, we really wanted to get out on the river anyway, so we booked a 3.5 hour tour for Sunday morning, hoping the market might be open that day. The tour was only US$9 per person.
We spent our days wandering the streets, grabbing the occasional beer and Vietnamese coffee, and stopping for the plethora of cultural diversions. In both cities, perhaps due to the holiday, we were surrounded by events. There were stages with performances (dance, singing, music, comedy), there were fairs and festivals, there were fireworks. It really was a wonderful time to visit such a lovely country.
We were picked up for our tour at the ungodly hour of 5:30am but it was nice to see the area come to life. It's something I've noticed in Taiwan too; there is an entire early morning economy that I am absolutely oblivious to. Perhaps it's due to the heat but I have observed that most activity happens when the sun is down, both in the morning as well as in the evening. For instance, when the market is up and running, it is usually over by 9am. I don't typically wake up before 10am. That means an entire business day has passed before I even open my eyes. Astounding.
I really enjoyed our trip to Vietnam. I loved everything about it; the people, the food, and the culture. I look forward to returning often.
For more pictures, please visit here.