Aug 7-27, 2018
Peoplescape of Ho Chi Minh City
Hostel Check-in: Sakura Hostel Cholon
Location: District 5, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam
I'd been to HCMC a few times and it's good to be reconnecting with old friends and meeting new ones. The people-adventure continues to paint a vibrant kaleidoscope of interesting lives drifting into my orbit.
Like myself, Mark is a traveler by heart. He has lived in HCMC for so many years, you would be hard-pressed to find another expat who knows the city better than him. He took me to HCMC's ambitious real estate development, explaining trends and current local on-goings. We are both Vipassana meditators and see reality along parallel lines. I'm glad he could join me on a few yoga classes before his departure for Australia.
Guy is committed to a spiritual path after walking away from a life of comfort and privilege. Having found a Zen master he resonates with, he spends up to 2 weeks at a time meditating inside a cave transcending gross reality into a realm of emptiness and stillness. We exchanged narratives about our journey in the most abstract terms that made a lot of sense to us both.
I used to be Vien's English teacher back when I met him at Cafetram. Upwardly mobile with multiple projects on the horizon, there is no stopping Vien. As a film director, he now takes on new challenges in exploring a new film medium, taking the role of executive producer and training young people in film directing as he oversees construction of a new and more ambitious studio. Optimism is high as he rides his high horse breaking new ground.
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A karmic constant, I met Uyen back in Koh Rong Island, Cambodia in Oct 2014, and again in Ho Chi Minh City (Apr 2015). We met the third time in Apr 2016 in Chiang Mai, Thailand. Now, no longer a student and working in a shipping company, we met at My Life Coffee and picked-up where we left off. She's full of possibilities where career could take her. Pursue a design direction? Go back to the family business? I am reminded what it was like when I graduated from university not knowing much about the world. There were more questions than answers. It can be confusing making sense of the uncertainties. I'm sure we'll meet again.
Salem is a swimming instructor for an Australian company whom I met with the whole team during my last visit. Reconnecting, he took me to Trung Nguyen Coffee to taste their fabulous Cafe Sua Da (iced coffee with milk). This was followed by getting the best Banh Mi at Huynh Hoa. At a later date, I joined him for his swimming class and went out with the club members for dinner and coffee.
Now an expectant Dad, we talked about the challenges of a growing family, unique ways he can offer his swimming know-how (teaching people who are afraid of water and teaching disabled kids) and his career horizon. I have a feeling we will meet again as he realizes all the above.
Private swim lessons? Contact Salem Le.
Mark and I were at the Tao Dan Park looking for a suitable spot to practice our yoga when we came upon Desiree who was likewise out to do her yoga. I invited her to join my class instead. Later, the 3 of us went to a cafe and shared narratives. It was a good connection as we talked about yoga, race, spirituality and life in HCMC - it's not everyday in HCMC you just come across like-minded people. We could have talked longer but she had to catch her bus for Da Lat.
Pham Thanh Huong
Petite and cute, Huong will be spending the next 2 years in HCMC getting her Phd as an EENT doctor. Coming from Hanoi, she just arrived in town...and I didn't know anyone at the hostel. It was a good fit that took us talking and exploring the Pho scene in the neighborhood. After that, she was off to her newfound home. Another short and fleeting episode...but so sweet.
I have long been corresponding with Alice but never got to meet her until this visit. Hailing from Bao Loc, it was fortunate she had business here in HCMC while I was here. I was hoping I could swing a few deals by the time I meet her (AO Show, D'Art Chocolate, moon cake) but it didn't happen. All went well anyway as we met up for a Banh Canh Cua dinner with her friends followed by coffee conversation at The.1985.
With good food, good ca phe (coffee) and awesome peoplescape, I can't be wanting for more. Ho Chi Minh City is doing it for me.
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Next stop: In Search of the best Banh Mi in Ho Chi Minh City
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- 20 Days in Ho Chi Minh City Aug 7-27, 2018
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- In Search of the best Banh Mi in Ho Chi Minh City Aug 7-27, 2018
- Peoplescape of Ho Chi Minh City Aug 7-27, 2018
- Rediscovering Ho Chi Minh City Aug 7, 2018
- AO Show, Ho Chi Minh City Apr 10, 2015
- Free English Apr 1, 2015
- Teaching English to Vietnamese Apr 1, 2015
- 20 Days in Ho Chi Minh City Mar 22 - Apr 12, 2015
- Discovering Ho Chi Minh City's Cafe Culture Nov 9 - Dec 17, 2014
- Ho Chi Minh City's Fascinating Motorbike Culture Nov 18, 2014
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Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam
Ben Xe Mien Dong
Mien Tay Bus Station
Saigon Railway Station
Tan Son Nhat International Airport
Queen Ann Hotel - luxurious and modern, District 1 location, 10-minute walk to Ben Thanh Market
Sakura Hostel Cholon - 9.0 Stars (out of 10) from 24 reviews on Booking.com based on cleanliness, comfort, facilities, staff, value for money, free wifi and location!
How to Get to District 1 (HCMC) from the Airport (Tan Son Nhat International Airport)
- take the #109 Airport Bus (5:30am to 1:00am, departs every 15-20 minutes, 45 mins, 20k Dong or $1.00) Route: International Terminal - Domestic Terminal (Tan Son Nhat International Airport) - Truong Son - Tran Quoc Hoan - Hoang Van Thu - Nguyen Van Troi - Nam Ky Khoi Nghia - Ham Nghi - Le Lai - Ben Thanh Bus Station - Pham Ngu Lao - 23/9 Park
- get off at 23/9 Park to get to the cluster of backpacker hostels
Ho Chi Minh City Travel Tips
- best money changer rates in District 1 is Ha Tam Jewelry near Ben Thanh (refer to map for location)
- unlike most destinations in Thailand, Cambodia or Vietnam, Ho Chi Minh City is too big for the major bus companies to provide a drop-off service with their shuttle minivans. If you are coming by bus, you get off either at the Western Bus Station or Eastern Bus Station depending on where you are coming from. From there, you can take the cheap local bus, the Xe Buyt to get you closer to your destination.
- you can get around the city by moto-taxi or rent a motorbike - but be warned that motorbike riding in Ho Chi Minh City is unlike riding anywhere else in Asia!
Ho Chi Minh City Cost Index
Budget price in budget places (US$1 = Vietnam Dong VND 23,255 = Php 53.20 as of Aug 1, 2016)
- VND 10-15,000 baguette sandwich (banh mi)
- VND 25-30,000 noodle soup (pho)
- VND 10-15,000 black filtered coffee
- VND 5,000 sugar cane juice (nuoc mia)
- VND 8-10,000 fresh coconut
- VND 10,000 one beer bottle
- VND 10,000 1.5 liter drinking water
- VND 80,000 bicycle rental, 24 hours
- VND 80,000 cheap lodging
- VND 10,000/kg laundry
- VND 8-10,000/km but flag-down starts at 20,000 motorcycle ride
- VND 20-35,000 rice meals (com tam)
- VND 100-140,000/day motorbike rental
Vietnam FYI / Tips / Dos and Don'ts
- Hanoi Grapevine HCMC Update - for the latest events in Vietnam
- Vietnam establishments will not accept US dollars, unlike Cambodia. You have to use Vietnam Dong (US$1 = Vietnam Dong VND 23,255 = Php 53.20 as of Aug 1, 2016)
- Vietnamese smokers will smoke in air-conditioned establishments, air-conditioned buses packed with people including women, children and babies. They also smoke inside hospitals with no smoking signs.
- Vietnam ranks almost the same as Thailand and Cambodia for cheap price. Laos, Myanmar and Malaysia cost more
- internet speed is generally fast and reliable but during important events like Tet holiday, election, etc., it slows down
- Vietnamese generally do not speak or understand much English. It will be a challenge.
- best to dress appropriately, not revealing too much skin (Saigon is an exception - the ladies there set the trend in very short shorts)
- remove your shoes when entering a home or place of worship
- ask first before taking someone's picture. If they say no, don't persist or offer money
- best to carry your hotel's business card with you when going out. You can just show it to the cab driver or XeOm driver if they don't understand English
- leave your valuables, passport, travel tickets, etc. with the hotel's safety deposit box
- when lying down, don't point your feet or the soles of your shoes to anyone or to a family altar
- carry only enough cash for your needs that day
- don't lose your temper in public - Vietnamese people are warm, generous and polite. They look down on people who lose their composure
- don't take pictures of military installations - you can go to jail
- refrain from taking videos of minority people until permitted to do so
Lesser-Known Vietnam Destinations
- Phu Yen Province - by the beach
- Hoa Binh Lake - locals' alternative to Halong Bay
- Ninh Binh - Trang An Grottoes, Tam Coc, Mua Caves, Bai Dinh Pagoda, Van Long Nature Reserve
General Travel Tips
- avoiding scams - as a general rule, I ignore the touts or anyone I don't know who call out to me. The calling comes in many forms - "Hi! Where are you from?", "Excuse me! Excuse me!", "Where are you going?". I don't look them in the eye and I remain non-verbal with them. If you reply to them, you just gave them an 'in' to hound you. In order not to look rude, I smile and wave the 'not interested' hand to them, without looking at them.
- power bank - hand-carry your power bank. Do not check it in. You can be called in when you are already inside the plane to go all the way to the loading dock so you can personally remove the power bank...and chances are, you'll have to surrender it to them. And you might delay the plane departure!
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