Culture shock on entering Ho Chi Minh (Saigon)

By Yeswanth on Oct. 19th, 2023
Last Leg of Thailand: Koh Lanta & Phuket
Koh Lanta & Phuket
Thumbnail of Astro arcs.

Vietnam was on our list for a really long time. We started our journey to Vietnam by flying from Phuket, Thailand. There were hardly any Indians on the flight. This was surprising to us, as we saw a lot of Indians in the airport in Phuket. We hadn’t planned much of our Vietnam and we were gonna figure things out as we go. We arrived in the capital city of Ho Chi Minh (also known as Saigon) to start our Vietnam journey.

The first thing we noticed after reaching Ho Chi Minh city was that the city was very crowded. Cars and bikes were zooming across the city. The city was jam-packed with people bustling all around.
We booked our stay through Airbnb without a lot of planning. Little did we know that this stay was located in a non-touristy area of the city. Cab took us from the busy bustling main roads to the tiny narrow streets. Once we entered the stay, we were treated to a cozy and spacious living room, filled with colorful decor, aesthetic lighting and a balcony overlooking the streets. We were pleasantly surprised to see such a beautiful stay. Infact, it was one of our best stays in Vietnam.

By now, we were starving and wanted to find some food for us and we stepped out.

As we walked through the local streets, we observed this beautiful culture where locals hangout together, setting up tiny tables infront of their houses. You would find a cooking pot in the center of the table and food and beers being served to their friends and family. It looked like a celebration with the entire family gathering for dinner. Imagine this happening on a daily basis!

Our adventures in a restaurant

We finally reached a restaurant to order food. We found the menu quite difficult as we did not know the Vietnamese names. We ordered some food after enquiring with the waiter and after translating the menu in Google. The waiter did not understand English. This was surprising to us as this was a relatively high-end restaurant. When we asked for cutlery, none of the staff understood what we were asking for. It took us a few attempts to make them understand. The default option for serving is chopsticks. Fascinating day in a new country!

Unlike Thailand, we could easily find vegetarian food in this county. We tried a few restaurants during our visit, but most of the food tasted bland to our Indian palate. Among all the food we tried, Banh Mi was our favourite.

Vietnam War

We went to War Remnants Museum and learnt about Vietnam War. Little did we know that it would be an emotional experience for us. There was an exhibit on Agent Orange and it contained some really graphical pictures from the war. It even talked about the after effects of Agent Orange being felt by the family of the people affected, including their children and grandchildren. Kids in Vietnam are taught to treat their fellow kids (who have faced adverse effects due to Agent Orange affecting their parents) with respect and not to ridicule them. These kids were born with deformalities like single leg/hand/ bulged ankles/bloated necks/physically challenged. The trip to the museum made us view Vietnam in a different light.

We also went on a tour to Cu Chi tunnels near Ho Chi Minh city. Cu-chi tunnels were built during the Vietnam war by Viet Cong soldiers (who supported North Vietnam). These underground tunnels connected multiple villages together and some of them stretch nearly 250kms. The soldiers used to live in the tunnels during the war for months together. As part of the tour, we were made to crawl into the narrow and claustrophobic tunnels. It was quite unnerving and at many points of the tunnel, crawling forward was the only way. How the soldiers survived months together living in these tunnels without coming out of it, is beyond imagination!

Read more about the Vietnam War

Vietnam - A brief history
Learn about the Vietnam War

Skyscraper city

Ho Chi Minh is also a financial capital of Vietnam and filled with a lot of skyscrapers. We went to Bitexco financial tower and had a skydeck, overlooking the entire city from the 49th floor. While walking back from the business district, we had a funny incident. There were a lot of pubs along the way and Suneela and I randomly walked into one. It turned out that the food and drinks there were overpriced and the pretty waitresses lean on you and talk to you. Ah, that kind of a pub! We didn’t realise it till we ordered a drink and then we were a little embarrassed. The manager even apologised for the overpriced drink and told us not to come to such pubs as we looked decent and not interested in flirting with pretty waitresses 😉

Ho Chi Minh gave us a glimpse of Vietnam’s historical past and the rapidly developing future. It is becoming overcrowded really fast. And a local told us that many of the companies are looking to move to less crowded developed cities like Danang. While Ho Chi Minh city was a good introduction to Vietnam, we were really excited to go to Hoi An, the cultural capital of Vietnam. Read more about this in our next blog.