I sit here thankful that I am currently writing this post. After a couple hectic days in Vietnam I’m thanking my lucky stars. It’s easy to get lost in the chaos of Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) and I found that out firsthand.
Getting Your Visa for Vietnam
Vietnam requires you to have a visa stamp. You can do this directly at the airport but this is NOT recommended as it could cost you time and frustration. The easier way is to buy them online beforehand. A simple Google search for the term ‘Vietnam visitor visa’ will yield you plenty of websites offering you their service. Pick a reputable site and fill out the form. The approval process will take 3-5 days and cost $20-25. After your application is processed you will receive a PDF file with the approval stamp. PRINT this out and bring it with you. When you get to the airport you’ll see a place for visa stamps. Take a number and wait. A Vietnamese government worker will call you up, take your passport, receive a stamp fee of $25 and return your passport with the stamp in it.
Arriving in Ho Chi Minh
As soon as you step out of the airport you’ll realize that you’re in a different place than you’re used to. Chaos is the best way to describe it. You’ll hear horns honking, peddlers peddling and every other person stopping you to offer a massage. We grabbed a taxi and headed into the city. The roads simply have no rules. Sure, there are lines painted on them but they mean nothing. Yes, there are traffic lights but they too mean nothing. There are literally thousands of scooters zipping and zooming around. Everyone is weaving and winding, jockeying for position. It’s madness.
Bui Vien, the Backpackers Street
Bui Vien is highly commercialized and a tourist/backpacker haven. There are bars and restaurants aplenty and no shortage of hustlers there either. With that said, it’s a fun place to grab some beers, meet fellow travelers and make a night out of it if you choose. Whatever your interest there will be a spot for you. We found a bar and played Foosball and pool, met some Australians and Americans and had a great night.
The Most Terrifying Ride of My Life
The following morning my buddy and I went to grab breakfast while the two others slept off their hangovers. As we were walking back to the apartment an older man on a scooter stopped us. He offered to take us on a scooter tour around the city. We had originally discussed renting scooters for the day so we asked him how much. His reply, 200,000 Vietnamese Dong or roughly $9 for the day. On top of that he offered to take us to the Mekong Delta, another place we had discussed seeing. We woke up the two others and set off and thus began one of my most adventurous days.
Above is a video of us riding on the highway. Note that this is a tame video as there was no chance of taking a video when the mayhem was happening.
Let me repeat, there are no rules on the streets of Vietnam. Anything goes, as we would soon learn. As we started on our 2 hour journey to the Mekong Delta we were thrust into the Ho Chi Ming chaos. We did our best to keep up with Sonny (our guide) with bikes flying everywhere, horns blazing, trucks rumbling by at breakneck speeds. After a mere 20 minutes Ho Chi Minh claimed its first victim. One of our buddies got separated and despite our best effort, we couldn’t find him. None of us had cell service so we had to trust he would find his way back and that we would see him later. So we continued on.
The three of us that remained were having a great time. We settled into the chaos of the roads and were clipping along at a good pace along the highway. And then it started raining…
At first, the rain was welcome as the sun had been beating down and the rain was a welcome cool down. But the rain also made the roads extremely slick. As we went around a turnaround on a busy highway intersection, I was forced to slam on the brakes (I was careless and going too fast) and my front wheel locked up and sent me head over heels over the handlebars. Like the idiot American that I can sometimes be, I didn’t have my shirt on. The bike slid along the pavement, as did I, in the middle of the intersection. To say I was in shock was an understatement. It was a ‘life flashing before your eyes’ moment and it was terrifying. As luck would have it, I was the only one involved in the crash and I walked away with a cut on my hand, a banged up elbow, some scrapes on the back and a severely damaged ego. Very fortunate as it could’ve been much worse.
After my near death experience (in retrospect, it wasn’t that bad), we continued on our way. About an hour later we arrived at our destination, the Mekong Delta. A way of life for most in the area, it’s teeming with activity. Fisherman, tour operators, coconut farmers and artisans all rely on the river and its surroundings for their way of life. Our man Sonnie hooked is up with his friend, Mr. Ling, who secured a boat for us to go check out the islands and tributaries in the river. Our first stop was a traditional Vietnamese fish and coconut farmhouse. There we were treated to elephant ear fish, homemade spring rolls and river prawn. By far the best meal we had in Vietnam.
The house itself was a world away. No doors and a clay floor, it makes you realize the comforts of home. They had a massive pet Python and two Cobras that we could’ve ate and drank the blood from if we wanted to. We didn’t want to. We did however try the cobra wine. It’s basically moonshine with a massive dead cobra fermenting in it. It was terrible. We ate so much food here that a short nap was in store.
After our late lunch we visited the remaining islands and were treated to Buddhist temples, a honeybee farm and a couple trips through the estuaries. The sun was setting so we headed back to our bikes.
An Even Scarier Ride Home
It was dark and we had a 2 hour ride home. We already lost 1 person, I crashed and my buddies bike was acting up. Needless to say we weren’t looking forward to this trip.
The ride down was scary enough but add darkness and it’s downright terrifying.
Another rather harmless video of us getting back into Ho Chi Minh. The videos that I took don’t do the craziness justice.
Let me try and describe it. The highway from Mekong to Ho Chi Minh is a two lane highway. The left lane is reserved for cars, trucks and semis. The right lane is reserved for the bikes. If a car, truck, bus or semi needs to pass, they do so using the right lane. In order for them to let you know they are coming over they lay on the horn. So imagine you’re cruising down the highway on your 200cc moped and this semi truck lays on his horn right behind you. It’s startling to say the least. Also, the horn means they are coming, not that they might come, so get out of the way. Now mix in the chaos of the bike rides, the fact that traffic lights aren’t obeyed, people coming down the shoulder on bikes on the wrong side of the road and a torrential downpour. Picture this and you might start to get a sense of what it was like.
Long story short, we made it back safely without major incident and our buddy was safe and sound back at the hotel. All in all it was one hell of an adventure and gave us plenty to talk about over dinner and beers later.
Walking Around Ho Chi Minh
When the next day arrived, it was no surprise that we all wanted a slightly less adventurous day. We grabbed some coffee and breakfast and started walking around the city.
It’s easy to see the French influence in the architecture and some of the colonial buildings still exist. Make sure to check out the famous Saigon Post Office and Notre Dame Cathedral. Both are great examples of Vietnam’s colonial past.
Another must see is the War Remnants Museum which highlights the Vietnam War conflict. It’s filled with anti-American propaganda pieces. The ones that stood out to me were the pictures of the US prisoner of war camps where they displayed American troops enjoying basketball, hardy meals, Christmas parties, volleyball and other activities.
As the day wound down, we walked through a park where a group of guys were playing some game that involved kicking a birdie type object back and forth. It was actually quite impressive.
Ho Chi Minh, In Conclusion
The guys and I had a great weekend in Ho Chi Minh. I would say it’s more of a backpacking destination than it is a vacation spot. It’s affordable and the nightlife is great which caters more so to the backpacking crowd. The Mekong Delta is worth the trip down there to get a feel of what rural life is like in Vietnam. If you are seeking an adventure (or a death wish), rent a scooter and roll the dice.