Hi, I’m Fairlie, an Australian blogger who is excited to be showing all Amy’s readers a glimpse of one of my favourite places in the world – Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam. I blog over at Feet on Foreign Lands where I tell the tales of my travels with my husband and two daughters (11 and 17 years old), as well as sharing travel-related tips, memorable moments and pre-trip reading lists for some of my favourite destinations. Come on over to my blog and say hi! Or join me for some travel-related frivolity on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram too.
Ho Chi Minh City, formerly called Saigon (and still widely referred to by this name), is the largest city in Vietnam, but it is not the capital of the country – that honour belongs to Hanoi in the North. Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC) is a rapidly developing commercial city in the semi-tropical South. It’s a city that literally never sleeps.
It’s a city of many contrasts: from luxury five-star hotels and resorts to the cheapest of backpacker lodgings or guesthouses; restaurants of a quality (and price) you could find in cities like London, Sydney or New York right through to inexpensive street stalls selling tasty morsels prepared fresh as you wait; from exclusive international brands and boutiques to the mass-produced goods available for highly negotiable prices in the theatre of the markets.
Plus, of course, there are echoes of the many past eras this city has stood through – temples, French colonial buildings and grand tree-lined boulevards, war remnants museums, and former-palaces-turned-government-buildings.
There’s something for everyone in Saigon.
We have visited there four times since 2010, the most recent time being earlier this year when we chose to spend a whole two and a half weeks specifically in HCMC. (I wrote this post on my blog about why we chose to do this.)
However, this was the first time that I had visited Ho Chi Minh City since I had an Instagram account. And it is interesting now to reflect back on what I chose to share on Instagram each day we were there. (My account, if you want to look at all the photos in their original glory is @feetonforeignlands.)
Free wi-fi is easy to find in HCMC. In our experience, most hotels offer it without extra charge, plus almost every restaurant and café we went to had wi-fi, and they were more than happy to give us the password. In many cases, the password was written on the menu.
This meant I was able to share a photo or two via iPhone every day.
Many times when I have been researching destinations, I have used an Instagram tag search to find photos and see what people are saying about a place, a sight, an experience or a restaurant etc. When I uploaded these photos, I used some of these hashtags to make my photos searchable for other people doing the same: #vietnam #HCMC #hochiminhcity #saigon #travelvietnam #vietnamtravel as well as specific tags that related to that particular photo.
While we were in HCMC, I was taking hundreds of photos each day! But, I didn’t want to flood my Instagram feed, and I wanted to keep a lot of photos fresh for when I wrote posts about the topic back home. So, when it came to my own Saigon experience, I tended to share the quirky shots, the up-close details, or the ones that told a little story. The collage photos in this post (above) show all the photos I shared over a two and a half week period, and below I have selected five specific ones to tell you the tales behind these particular shots.
On our last morning in HCMC, my daughters and I found a nearby nail bar (Fame Nails) and wandered in to see if we could get nails painted. The girls were keen to get some toenail art, as they had already had fingernail art done at a different nail bar the day before.
The choices were totally overwhelming! Cards and cards of examples to choose from. Nail art started from 140,000 VND for a full set (about USD $6.50). Those ladies certainly earn their money – intricate designs, carefully painted with the utmost care. The lady who was doing my 11 year old daughter’s ‘fruit salad’ designs was laughing at how tiny her nails were to have to paint pineapple and strawberries etc on. It was a lot of fun, and a souvenir of HCMC that lasted for several weeks after we returned home.
There’s a lot of construction work going on in HCMC at any time – it’s a rapidly developing city – but there’s especially a lot at the moment while they construct a new pedestrian precinct in Nguyen Hue Street, and undertake the major development of an underground rail system which dramatically affects the centre of District 1.
We had to walk alongside this construction site to go between our hotel (The Rex Hotel) and Dong Khoi Street, and for the first few days, there were no cones or traffic guidance, we just had to take our chances with the traffic (as you do on most HCMC streets anyway!).
So I was quite amused when this traffic direction system was set up after a few days. The cones were really handy to keep a pathway for pedestrians separate from the traffic, but I wasn’t entirely convinced by the dummy (whose arms waved up and down). It was entertaining, though!
Several years ago, we spent the festive season in the United States (Los Angeles and New York City) and I was blown away by the visual spectacle of the holiday season decorations in both of those places. But if you specifically want festive lights, Saigon leaves both of those places in the dark (pardon the pun).
The street lighting in HCMC really has to be seen to be believed. The grand boulevards, laid out by French colonial town planners in times gone by, are totally aglow with spectacular multi-coloured lighting displays. And as we’ve now been in HCMC for three festive seasons in the past five years, I can attest to the fact that they don’t just drag out last year’s lights and re-hang them. This past year’s lighting displays were themed to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the liberation of the south and national reunification (1945-2015).
Uh-oh…the Internet is broken
If there is one thing a travel blogger does not want to read over her hotel buffet breakfast…it’s that the Internet is broken. But that is exactly what happened while we were staying in HCMC.
The night before, the hotel had slipped a letter under our door, telling us that the Internet was out of action due to a breakage in the AAG submarine cable. The newspaper the next morning confirmed it. The cable in question apparently services about 70 per cent of Vietnam’s Internet traffic…so while it didn’t cut Internet to the country completely, it certainly slowed things down dramatically for a couple of days while they fixed it up.
I’ve since read reports that the cable breakage (which apparently happens reasonably frequently) is caused by sharks chomping through the cable (true story!).
Villa Song Boutique Hotel is a gorgeous river-side oasis of calm in HCMC’s District 2. It has just 24 guest rooms, so almost has the feel of staying in a (grand!) private home…which indeed is what it was built as. It looks as if it is a historic remnant of colonial Saigon, but in fact was built in the 1990s as a home for a wealthy Vietnamese family. Our rooms were compact, but super-luxurious, and the swimming pool area was fabulous. We spent hours reading books by the pool and at times we were the only ones pool-side.
It was the most expensive of our five Saigon hotels, so we only spent two nights there, lapping up the luxury.
Have you ever been to Vietnam? Do you Instagram your travel experiences? Do you like to check out Instagram tags before you visit a place?