Whether you have a broken heart, an insatiable wanderlust, or a love affair with pho or bánh mi, consider Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam as your next travel destination.
After seeing a snowy photo of my ex with his new girlfriend, I bought my Saigon roundtrip ticket in a heartbeat. There is no use wallowing in self pity. And what better way to bask in singlehood bliss than to go backpacking solo in Vietnam? Why be in the depressing snow when you know that “The Heat is on in Saigon”?
I have traveled alone in the past, but this is the first time for me to rough it up in a party hostel. Anything to get as far away as possible from my comfort zone. Working in the hospitality industry, I am usually spoiled silly with luxurious accommodations. Once, I even won a stay in Mandarin Oriental, Prague in our company raffle. Staying in a five-star hotel in the Czech Republic near Charles Bridge was ultimately one for the books.
Inspired by the very informative blog of my friend Cammy from university, I decided to book the HOSCAR-award-winning hostel The Hideout in Saigon. I was pleasantly surprised when my total bill in Booking.com for my four nights in The Hideout was around PHP1,800. I initially thought that was the rate per night, but it covered my entire five-day stay — truly a bang for the buck! Just expect that you’ll get what you pay for — definitely use flip flops while showering, and don’t go ballistic when you notice that the AC is a goner from 11am to 5pm.
PARTYING IN HCMC
Despite these little hiccups, nothing compares to the amazing vibe of the hostel. Aside from free breakfast (a choice of bread and egg or fruit salad), it also comes with two free beers every night from 7pm to 8pm. What made the place a winner for me was the Buy 1 Take 1 cocktails from 8pm to 9pm, which included BUCKETS of Coke rum or Fanta vodka. Yes, I drank straight out of a blue or red bucket every night, sipping from three straws at a time. What more can you ask for for only VND 220,000 (approx. PHP500)? Naturally, the hostel guests gravitate towards the Hideout bar next door around this time. So even when you travel alone, you’re sure to meet a whole lot of fellow backpackers with exciting travel stories up their sleeves.
Another highlight of The Hideout Hostel is its awesome pub crawls. Located in Pham Ngu Lao Street, the hostel is parallel to Buy Vien Street, also known as beer street, one of the most happening places for backpackers in Ho Chi Minh. It’s chaotic, dirty, and makes for a night of debauchery (if you remember it), but maybe that’s why I love it so much. It’s a beautiful mess.
Chloe, Emily, and Josh were the best hosts for the first pub crawl I ever joined in my life. For only VND 30,000, we hopped from one club to another, taking free shots and dancing to unexpected 90’s hits, including Oasis’ “She’s Electric” and even a dose of Backstreet Boys. I was euphoric, elated, but definitely not manic. Vietnam gave me a natural high.
ON BEING STREET SMART
Just when I thought I have it worse in my country, the motorcyclists in the Philippines seem like angels compared to the crazy daredevils in Vietnam who don’t stop their car even when pedestrians are in plain sight. Not once did I cross the street without other people next to me as my “shield”. I was that scared (yes, even when inebriated)! But thankfully I made it home in one piece. I am still writing on my blog after all.
And to make things more exciting, I had my first motorcycle ride with my new French friend who backpacks around Vietnam in two wheels. If my mom was here she’d kill me, but you only live once, right? And ooh la la, who can say no to a handsome French guy?!
The street food in Vietnam is another story. Forget about hygiene (they touch your bread and money at the same time), and simply enjoy the burst of fresh flavors and cilantro in practically every meal. I absolutely loved all the street food I tried, especially the xoi man, which is basically like a banh mi with fragrant sticky rice, minus the bread.
For heartier meals, do try to sit in the low tables and chairs on the street for a truly authentic experience. You’ll get a taste of local Vietnamese favorites such as thit heo nuong xa (lemongrass pork chops) and goi cuon (fresh spring rolls).
On my last night, I splurged on seafood near the corner of Buy Vien Street, in Mimosa Restaurant. The fresh oysters were bigger than my palm and I had a whole plate of steamed crab claws. I was sitting on a chair facing the street, Parisian style. Simply divine.
A LOCAL TASTE AT MEKONG DELTA
My favorite experience in Vietnam is my whole day excursion in Mekong Delta, with our very fun Vietnamese tour guide Jimmy. I only trust the hostel for tours so I spent about VND 230,000 (around PHP 530) which came with aircon transportation and a light lunch — still not bad for an eventful day!
After a night of crazy partying, I miraculously woke up for the 8am call time. After about two hours of nursing a hangover while in the bus, we finally got on a boat going to the first island, where there is a coconut candy factory. The sweet treats melt in your mouth and tastes like the Filipino latik, especially the pandan-flavored ones. Since I was just backpacking, this is the closest I could get to a pasalubong that would fit in my bag, so I bought three packs to bring back home.
After a light lunch in another lovely island, we visited the bee farm and had a taste of honey tea, with a dash of calamansi juice. We also had an assortment of tropical fruits. Yum!
Here’s the not-so-yummy part…touching a snake! But I did it for the gram.
The best part was the relaxing ride in a paddle boat through a lovely mangrove. This is me with my girlfriends!
THE WAR REMNANTS MUSEUM
Perhaps the most heartbreaking moment for me during the trip was when I had a chance to catch a glimpse of Vietnam’s harrowing history from the war. I couldn’t spend more than an hour in the War Remnants Museum, because I was crying so much looking at all the somber photos of the Agent Orange victims. The fact that some of them still had a reason to smile despite their physical deformities made me question my place in the world.
To cheer myself up, I rode the non-motorized “tricycle” with a local guide on the way back to the hostel. I was scared for my life being overtaken by buses and taxis without a helmet on but he promised me “no accidents” so I held on for dear life. Life is one big adventure!
As soon as I arrived Manila from my red eye flight, I slept a few hours and went straight to my new psychiatrist and psychologist, to adjust my medications and for my dose of cognitive behavioral therapy (more on this in a future blog entry). While Vietnam was loads of fun, it also made me look inwards and realize that there is so much to live for.
As a fellow backpacker from England told me, I am “too blessed to be stressed”. He said I have travel, freedom, and life. What’s not to love about that?
I suppose he’s right. And I am secretly in love with him. Who would’ve thought I’d have a Miss Saigon moment?!
I hate to say this cliche line but what happens in Vietnam, stays in Vietnam.
*Shoutout to my Dutch girlfriend Kim and Canadian “little brother” Daniel for making me feel truly welcome from day one! See you guys in Manila!