During my birthday in October of 2018, I made the decision to take a week-long tropical vacation to Vietnam—baby’s first trip to a Communist country. It has taken me nearly 2 years to find time the proper time to write about it, but take my word that this next article series will be worth the wait. We will be exploring some of the craziest places and seeing how Communism shaped the culture here. Going to Vietnam changed my life and is yet another adventure I’ll never forget. In fact, people don’t talk about this country nearly enough!!
It all started during my first week Tokyo when I went clubbing in Roppongi (when it was still good) and met one of my best friends who is half Japanese and half Vietnamese. She likes drinking and dancing as much as I do so naturally we hit it off. One night while we were having dinner she couldn’t stop talking about how beautiful the beaches in Vietnam were. Since I had already been to Okinawa (I still need to write about this) and Yakushima for my previous birthdays which are considered some of the most beautiful getaways in Japan, I decided it was time to get out of the country and see these renowned beaches for myself.
I researched and found that Phu Quoc is known as the most beautiful island in Vietnam. Ho Chi Minh is the cheapest place to fly to from Tokyo likely because it is a large international business hub. I paid around $400 USD through Vietnam Airlines for a roundtrip flight. I decided that I wanted to see Hanoi too because that is where my friend is from, so I came up with an itinerary that looked like this:
Tokyo ⇒ Ho Chi Minh ⇒ Hanoi ⇒ Phu Quoc ⇒ Pineapple Island ⇒ Ho Chi Minh ↻ Tokyo
Though this only hits the major areas, I booked some private tours to remote temples that I will mentioning in this series.
Getting a Visa in Vietnam
Since Vietnam is a Communist country, tourists will need to apply for a visa BEFORE they arrive. Unlike other countries, applying for a visa upon arrival is usually not permitted. I chose to purchase one online through Vietnam e-Visa, which is a legitimate and trustworthy service that you can safely submit your documents to. Your visa will last 1-3 months and usually costs around $25 (there is sadly no way to avoid this fee). You can also apply directly at the Vietnamese Embassy in your country. For my lifestyle, it was much easier to apply online and I received approval within 3 days. Easy.
After arriving at Ho Chi Minh Airport and successfully passing through customs with my e-Visa (fortunately it was an easy process that didn’t require much time), I hired a taxi and drove to the very first destination on my list: ICE Coffee. This is one of the most unique coffee shops in Vietnam that has a deep-frozen room full of furniture and sculptures made of ice plus an adorable Husky you can pet! I was lucky because I came in the afternoon when no one else was there. I ordered a simple strawberry milk drink and began my journey through the frozen lands of Ho Chi Minh (fortunately winter jackets can be borrowed at the entrance with no extra cost). To my surprise there was a bed that you could take a nap in too. Exactly what I needed after my long flight!
I loved the design of this place because it had an avant-garde ice cave feeling to it. The neon lights that reflected off the ice ornaments added a really cool city pop (cave pop?) aesthetic:
I had previously thought about staying in an ice hotel in either China or Hokkaido, but now that I’ve been here and taken plenty of pictures I really don’t feel the need. This is the perfect place to chill with your friends and plan your trip around the city (or by yourself like me). The temperature is quite cold, but the blankets on top of the ice furniture will keep you warm. The hot drinks definitely help too!
262 Bùi Viện, Phường Phạm Ngũ Lão, Quận 1, Hồ Chí Minh, Vietnam
When I exited Winters and headed back towards Summers (pardon the Earthbound joke), it started downpouring rain. That’s when I saw a familiar character’s face just up ahead—it was none other than Donkey Kong! Not wanting to get drenched in the rain or awkwardly re-enter the coffee shop I just left, I ran towards the mysterious DK shop. Whatever this place was, it had to be good. Unbeknownst to me, it was another tea and coffee shop called Aroma Tea! While I waited for the rain to subside, I decided to order the weirdest drink on the menu: Cream Cheese Tea. The best part was that DK was smiling proudly on my cup:
It was surprisingly sweet and easy to drink. Obviously a lot of sugar and milk was added to create a satisfactory flavor. Exactly what I needed after my strawberry milk, right?
I spent some time here planning out the rest of my day. Fortunately the rain was only expected to last for 3 hours and I could still go out at night. Because the traffic was starting to get heavy, I kindly asked the staff to assist me with calling a taxi because I couldn’t flag one down. I severely underestimated the craziness rush hour here. The majority of people in Vietnam ride motorbikes and it’s extremely hard to cross the road until you get the hang of it. Most drivers will slow down when you start to walk across, but some remain driving at full speed until they’re right beside you!
Another thing to watch out for is the exhaust from all of the bikes. I noticed it in my lungs immediately when I went for a run the next day. Though I don’t have asthma, it was harder for me to breathe than usual. Luckily I had planned various excursions outside of the city so I wasn’t breathing it in all the time.
When the taxi arrived, I had them drop me off at my hotel so I could check in and put my suitcase away. After that, it was time to get changed into fancy clothes and party!
Dining in Ho Chi Minh (Nha Hang Ngon)
Even after sipping on all of those sugary drinks, my hunger was still unsatisfied. I hadn’t eaten anything all day so I decided to dine at a beautiful restaurant called Nha Hang Ngon. This place has all sorts of Vietnamese cuisine you can try with a gorgeous interior decor. The menu is in English and has pictures of the dishes so it’s the perfect place to try things so you know what you like. I ordered coconut shrimp, chili crab, and coconut ice cream while dining in the garden area. The food and service was amazing! Plus the rain had subsided so I was in a happy mood. Who wouldn’t be when they’re eating here?
Even upscale restaurants in Vietnam are extremely affordable. I only paid around $30 USD for all of this and it was very fulfilling. Next it was time to hit the clubs!
Clubbing at Apocalypse Now
I had a list of clubs written down, and Apocalypse Now was at the top of the list because of its iconic name… In no time was drunk and ready to take on the apocalypse. The club had no entrance fee and I immediately made friends with several Vietnamese girls who invited me to their table (probably due to my extremely blonde hair at the time). They spoke simple English and we danced to better-than-what-you’d-expect remixes of popular EDM songs. The club’s interior was very beautiful and had red lanterns. I wish I would have taken more pictures, but I was too focused on having a good time and sipping on Coronas.
Though my time here was short because I had a huge itinerary, I still stay in touch with the girls I met through social media. I enjoy seeing them travel around Vietnam because it inspires me to come back!
Clubbing in Ho Chi Minh is safe because there are always officers in uniform around keeping watch. However, they don’t act like bouncers do. They simply observe and ensure that no suspicious people try to sell drugs or anything. Drugs are quite rare in this country so you shouldn’t have to worry about getting your drink spiked. It is always a good idea to keep your eye on it, however.
I stayed at a private room in Blue River Hotel for $20 per night. It was quiet, clean, and located near most of the attractions that I wanted to see so it was perfect for me. With a little more money, you could likely stay in an upscale hotel with a spa and more luxurious amenities! I was on a budget so I wasn’t able to stay in the nicer hotels, but I plan on checking them out in my next trip!
As far as transportation goes, I recommend using Grab app so you don’t get scammed. The price is automatically calculated by distance so you don’t have to worry about dodgy people. I’d like to believe that most people are honest, but I was scammed by an old taxi driver who hid the meter with a piece of cloth. I can’t remember how much I lost, but it was likely the equivalent of $50 USD and I had no way to determine the correct amount. I reluctantly paid and got out. Vietnamese people are not rude or dangerous, but they will try to take advantage of tourists. Please be careful while traveling here.
In my next series of articles, I will be writing about the rest of my adventures around Ho Chi Minh, Hanoi, and Phu Quoc Island. Please stay tuned for more!