My introduction to Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam was the perfect storm. I had just blown a ton of money on my move to London so it was a priority to find free or nearly free things to do in Ho Chi Minh. To make matters worse, not only was a broke out of my mind, but I arrived to Ho Chin Minh cold, sleep-deprived, and at 4:30am. I took a tricycle, to a boat, to a bus, to a cab, to a plane only to show up at immigration WITHOUT my cash in-hand to pay immigration at 3:30am when I was CLEARLY told that I need cash at the border because there were ZERO ATMs at immigration. First of all, who the hell thought this was a good idea? Second, no. At the end of it all, I manage to convince immigration to let me through the exit WITHOUT A VISA and all of my stuff; but I ended up feeling so guilty that I headed to the nearest ATM, withdraw money, and then heading backwards through immigration to pay my fee?… without anyone stopping me or questioning what the hell I was doing.
That sure made me feel safe.
While Vietnam basically let me walk right through immigration, to this day, I am constantly stopped by Heathrow for my “suspicious” behavior and excessive passport stamps even though I have my university details with me. Even though I was broke and literally fell asleep while I was walking, I did manage to see quite a few things before I took off the next day to Cambodia. If you’re tight on time and money, here’s a cheatsheet for Ho Chin Minh!
1) Go window shopping
Take an opportunity to just walk around and appreciate the unique nature of Ho Chin Minh. There are a ton of tiny allies and hidden gems to explore if you ditch the formal agenda and walk around without a map. I was able to haggle for a few pairs of “elephant pants” (aka the traditional uniform of broke backpackers) for only 5 USD and I found this beauty as well. Yes, that is a snake in a jar of alcohol.
2) Play “Leapfrog” with passing scooters
Ho Chin Minh is in DESPERATE need of underground public transportation because there is simply just no way they can support ANY more scooters on the streets. I know you don’t technically “go to Ho Chin Minh” to dodge moving vehicles for fun, but it’s nearly unavoidable so why not have fun with it!
3) Walk around Cho Ben Thanh Market
While walking around and trying not to get hit by a scooter, I stumbled upon Cho Ben Thanh Market. It’s filled fill ANYTHING you could possibly need in Vietnam, from Vietnamese coffee to your dream wedding dress. I would I would suggest that you grab some Vietnamese coffee and dried fruit while you’re in town as it’s some of the best in the WORLD. Coffee will run you anywhere from $2-$4 USD.
4) Grab a bowl of Pho
It’s pronounced “FUH” not “f-oh.” Trust me. I grew up in a 60% Vietnamese and Chinese community as a child, so basically, I’m an authority. Pho is a warm bowl of rice noodles that you add hoisin sauce, sriracha, and veggies to and it feels like someone is giving you a warm hug from the inside. It’s also one of the only types of noodles I can eat since rice is Gluten-free. You’ll probably end up paying less than $1! If you don’t want Pho, try some delicious frog legs like my picture below!
5) Hangout in the lobby of your hostel and meet strangers
I got locked out of my website for DAYS after WordPress thought it was weird that I was logging-in in from two different countries in 24 hours, but I spent the first 4 hours of my day trying to get past their security details anyways. During this time, I manage to meet 3 or 4 other traveling females and small talk about our adventures/ where they were heading next! It was a great way to meet cool, normal girls that I naturally had a ton in common with.