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Mr Saigon: Good Evening, Vietnam

Mr Saigon: Good Evening, Vietnam

December 2019 · 7 min read · Ho Chi Minh City

So, on to Vietnam and the first of a 2-parter. We left off in Cambodia last time… how did I fare here? Well, let's just say it was a game of 2 halves!


I arrived in Ho Chi Minh City (largest city in Vietnam) following a fairly straightforward bus journey and border crossing from Cambodia.

Straight away I could feel the difference. In energy, vibrancy, life… a whole new ball game to the previous segment. Still on the bus I could see a hive of activity, a modern city going about its early evening. And as soon as I stepped off the bus I could sense that this is a little more like it. Colours, music, buzz. Civilisation.

On this occasion we weren’t surrounded by hawks, taxi drivers and fiends to get us to use their service. Just one woman politely asking if we had a hotel as she had one on offer. Fair enough.

A motorbike taxi guy asked where I was going with a big genuine smile. He told me where it was and said that I could walk but would be easier for him to take me as he could take me right to the door. No lies with this guy, and he was right. Just around the corner but down a small road/alley that I probably wouldn’t have spotted easily. And off he sped with a beaming smile…

Then the woman in the hostel was ridiculously friendly asking me genuinely how I was before checking me in. Very welcoming. 2 out of 2. Good start. Already Vietnam has much Cambodia doesn’t and has the potential to beat Thailand as the best place in the region and vie for top spot in the world.

A Culinary Adventure

The food. Good lord. Wow. The first proper meal I had there was like nothing else I’d ever had.


It was from a local Pho place which was kind of half street stall/half restaurant type thing. This bowl of noodles and beef was given to me and I set to work on it. I added all accompaniments for the full flavour bursting experience. In addition to what was in the bowl, there was a small plate of chillies, jar of garlic cloves and leaves of some herb or another. Chucked some of each in. I think there were limes too, didn’t bother with those.

The fusion of flavours was all over the place. Each mouthful was slightly different, a new adventure… like a party on my tongue. Steady on. Ok.

It had a few spices in already and on reflection I should have taken it easy on what I added as after one particular mouthful of delight my throat appeared to close up and I couldn’t really breathe temporarily. I downed some ice tea and returned to my meal.

I have a feeling someone told me the Vietnamese food wasn’t spicy. Rubbish! It’s as spicy or bland as you would like. Some dishes have more than others, it just depends on the ingredients used, and you can also add you own bits as it always comes with optional condiments so the world is your oyster.

For the next half hour I walked around basking in the glory of how good that food was and that I’ll be going back there for dinner. I also somehow seemed to have burnt my nose and lips - excessive rogue chilli perhaps.

Coffee & Beer

These 2 fine beverages are well catered for and cheap.

Vietnam is the world’s second largest coffee producer after Brazil. Coffee is also Vietnam’s second highest value agricultural export after rice. You get the good stuff and it can knock your socks off. Giddy up!

My favoured method to drink it is as an ice coffee, black. I like it black and strong to get the full flavour plus I’m not so sure about milk these days over here. It often costs slightly more too. You can get fresh milk or that strange gloopy stuff I first discovered in Cambo. And I thought the milk in Spain was bad (who doesn’t keep milk in a fridge… what does that say about the product?).

I would usually have 2 with breakfast and sometimes I’d get a strange look as if to question ordering another, “you just keep ’em coming” would be my response. Then you’re good to go, especially if you’ve had a night on the session.

Beer is also cheap. It can obviously vary like anywhere but not uncommon to get it for 50 cents. Bia hoi (draft beer) can be cheaper some places but where I was in the backpacker region I usually payed about 12000 dong, around 40p.

The ‘little plastic chair culture’ is amazing. People gathered around eating and/or drinking hunched on plastic chairs and occasional tables.


In this backpacker area there were a load of these chairs sat outside facing in to the road. Not only is it cheap and cheerful but great for socialising. If you go there alone you will invariably end up chatting to whoever’s around you… in fact it would be weird not to.

So there’s somewhat of a carnival atmosphere as groups are forming, new people entering the fray, others leaving and a buzz of chatter about travel antics past, present and future.

This is what travel is all about.

One night after talking to various people of different nationalities I end up mainly hanging out with the 2 Spanish girls who happened to be from Madrid. One even lives around the corner from where I used to work.

Coincidence? Doubtful and perhaps a sign.

Anyway, they were quite keen on the rum… so I joined them. We made half plans to watch a football match the next night but with a 2.45am kick off, it didn’t happen. Not for me anyway… wouldn’t surprise me if las chicas were there, rummed up to the eyeballs having the time of their lives.

Old Friends, New Friends

As I’m trundling along following a strange omelette and 2 ice coffees I see a couple of familiar faces walking up the other way. It’s only the 2 girls from the plane and who I spent the first couple of nights with in Bangkok! Small world on ye olde travel trail.

Also, staying on the theme of meeting a few folks on the ‘digital nomad’ scene, I met up with a few characters who run their own online businesses and either live there or were passing through. Had a coffee and went about our days.

The idea was to try and make this trip a mixture of regular travel, work, along with meet a few people who have made this a sustainable lifestyle and are a little further along the road than I am.

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Ho Chi Minh City (formerly known and still currently known sometimes as Saigon) is still an up and coming place for location independent entrepreneurs, so worth keeping an eye on as may well fit the bill for some people.

I did a couple of touristy things too. Visited the Cu Chi Tunnels (part of a tunnel network used by the Viet Cong in the Vietnam war for various operations) along with the war museum which was interesting. A conversation for another day perhaps… although not a great advert for the good ol’ US of A 😉

A girl disappearing down one of the Cu Chi Tunnels!
A girl disappearing down one of the Cu Chi Tunnels!

Tank at the war museum
Tank at the war museum

Off to a great start but what about the rest of the experience? Second part to follow shortly, but let's just say things head south… and not in the geographical sense!

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~ Adam

* Images my own or otherwise linked to source. Featured image.


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Travel Resources for your trip to Vietnam

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Flights: We recommend checking to find the best and cheapest flights to Vietnam.

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Transportation: Use 12go and Omio to find detailed bus and train schedules, making travel planning easier.

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Internet: Got an eSIM compatible phone? Airalo is perfect for reliable internet access during your trip. Just install it before you go, and you're set!

Day Trips & Tours: We recommend GetYourGuide for a variety of well-organized and enjoyable activities.

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