Way back in early November, Scott and I embarked on a trip across continents to the tropical paradise that is Vietnam. We started out in Paris, before making the achingly long journey across sunny skies to the largest of the Vietnamese cities, Ho Chi Minh City.
Our visit to Ho Chi Minh was a fleeting one. We had a meager two days to explore the sights and sounds of the vibrant, bustling streets before we had to pack up and make the 7 hour drive to our final destination in Phan Thiet.
Stepping out of the airport, we were overwhelmed by the chaos that greeted us. Locating a taxi wasn't difficult; however trying to communicate with a driver was infinitely more so. In hindsight, we wished we'd pre-booked our transport. Once we'd figured out what we were doing and where we needed to be, we hit the road... which was an entire experience in itself!
We booked a stay in the Hotel Nikko Saigon, a drop of luxury given the surroundings. Scott and I were both thrilled with our choice. Our room was stunning and we were in a great, central location for exploring. We dumped our belongings and squeezed in a short nap, (we had been flying for what felt like an eternity) before heading out to soak up the scenery.
The streets were lined with food stalls and small vendors frying all sorts of animal parts under the baking sun. I'd heard plenty of positive reviews concerning Vietnamese street food and yet looking at what was on offer, there was no chance I was going to be brave enough to try it out for myself. It was fun to watch them do their thing though.
By mid-afternoon, we were hit with a torrential downpour - The monsoon season was drawing to a close and most certainly going out with a bang. We made the most of being stuck indoors by hitting the hotel lounge for free beer and cake. An odd but welcome combination. Our evening meal experience however; was one that was definitely destined to leave a lasting impression. We opted to dine at the hotel's Chinese restaurant - Ming Court. The empty surroundings should have been our first clue. As soon as we walked through the door, we were pounced on by several waiting staff and shown to our seats - we had the pick of the entire restaurant and at this point, we were too polite to up and leave. We ordered a chicken dish that was far too spicy for my tastes and were given a sample of a new dish that they were trying out. Scott misheard the server and swore blind it was mushroom-based...
It turns out it was pig feet. Heave. But worse was still yet to come. For some mind-boggling reason, we thought ordering pigeon would be a good idea. Both Scott and I love wood pigeon; although having this placed in front of us about sent me over the edge:
I begged Scott to hide its face with a spoon and nibbled my rice furiously in hope that we could pay up and make a swift exit. In all, not our finest dining experience!
We made a clean break and followed our ears to another area of the hotel which was showcasing a live band. I clapped eyes on the cocktail menu and the rest is history.
We had intended to visit the Ben Thanh market as well as the cathedral and some of the local temples but the bad weather thwarted our plans, so we decided to keep dry, taxiing between the various shopping malls. In the evening we made our way to the 27 Grill restaurant, a sky-high steakhouse with breathtaking views of the city. The food wasn't bad either.
After dinner, we stumbled the few steps to Chill Sky Bar. The music was blaring and we drank enough cocktails to sink a small ship. Compared to the more humble surroundings, the place stood out a mile and reminded me more of the types of bars Scott and I visited when we lived in the Middle East. We had an early rise the next morning, ready to embark on our 7 hour drive across Southern Vietnam, but rather than calling it a night like sensible adults, we hoped in the back of a cab and begged the driver to take us to the best street bar in town.
We ended up ordering 50p beers for everyone, eating melon and becoming best friends with the bar owners - so just a typical night. At some time around 4am, we dragged ourselves home and closed our eyes on a hazy Ho Chi Minh City.
Keep your eyes peeled for the second part of our Vietnamese trip, coming soon.