Why I think Ho Chi Minh City is not for me

Back in fall 2011, I found an online promo for Air Asia which gave very good deal. Without thinking carefully, I bought one return plane ticket from Jakarta to Ho Chi Minh City for Spring 2012, simply because that destination was the cheapest I could find for that time frame. If I’m not mistaken, it cost me IDR 800,000 for that ticket. Not bad, right? I was scheduled to spend a 5 days 4 nights vacation there. Time passed and on earlyΒ 2012 I realized that I was scheduled to go soon.

I started to do some research about the city. Where to stay, what to see, and whether it’s safe for female solo traveler. Based on my research I found that it’s sort of Β a waste of time to spend 5 days just in Ho Chi Minh. It’s very advisable to use the time I had to travel to other cities. However, as it was going to be my first time traveling solo in Asia, I was kind of afraid to travel to other cities and after some considerations I decided to travel to Bangkok instead. The plan was to stay in Ho Chi Minh for 2 nights and Bangkok for the remaining 2 nights. I had to spend an extra IDR 2,00,000 for Ho Chi Minh – Bangkok round trip airplane ticket so the trip was not that cheap anymore, but in total was still within my budget. Lucky I have some good friends from the university living in Bangkok and one of them offered me a place to stay so that helped my budget πŸ™‚

Then came the time to go. I was excited! I did travel solo several times while I was in the UK, but never too far (mostly day trips). Plus, it’s the first time in Asia and first time in a non-English speaking country. I booked a hostel in Pham Ngu Lao street – a popular tourist area. The hostel is called Saigon Backpackers Hostel and it has 8.0 ratings on Agoda.com.

The hostel's lobby
The hostel’s lobby

Just because I was trying to be careful, I opted for a female only dorm and surprisingly stayed in the same room with another Indonesian female solo traveler! She lives in Australia though, and she seems like a very pro backpacker compared to me πŸ™‚ We got along well and went for a meal together, had nice conversations and happened to leave our hostel at the same time – she was continuing her journey to north of Vietnam while I was departing for Bangkok.

So what else did I do in Ho Chi Minh? Why I think it’s not for me?

Well.. the reason is simple. I think the city is just like a much older version of Jakarta. It’s crowded (but not as crowded), it got traffic here and there (but not as much), and humid as well. Let me elaborate further…

I spent my first night exploring Pham Ngu Lao street with a local I knew from Couchsurfing. He was very nice and polite, Β and based on my request took me to eat Phở. The restaurant’s atmosphere and service was questionable, but definitely not the food. It was the bestΒ Phở I had in my life! No joke.

Enjoying the best Pho I've ever had!
Enjoying the best Pho I’ve ever had!

However, that night I began to realize Ho Chi Minh’s similarities to Jakarta. Because it’s Friday night, many youngsters were seen hanging out and there were many tourists as well, mostly Caucasian. They travel in groups and seemed to be having fun.

The next day, I went for a day tour. It’s easy to book one – most hostels would be able to arrange it but I remember that it’s cheaper (forgot how much it cost me though, oops!) if you use the local travel agents found mushrooming on Pham Ngu Lao street. My travel agent had two day trip options – one was to explore the Mekong river and one was to go to Cu Chi Tunnel. Without knowing much of the latter, I chose it because I thought was more interesting than seeing just a river.

It turned out to be a mistake. It was a war memorial, and I’m not much of a war history person. Our funny and lovely tour guide explained about the war and despite his sense of humor I was feeling sort of depressed when imagining the war. Really.

Cu Chi Tunnel
Cu Chi Tunnel

Lucky me the tour only took me half day and I got time to explore more parts of Ho Chi Minh after I came back to the hotel. I spent my last night with another local I met from Couchsurfing and she took me to see other tourist attractions like Notre Dame CathedralΒ and Saigon Opera House. I think they were pretty but not new for me as the sort of architecture can also be found in Jakarta.

Notre Dame Cathedral
Notre Dame Cathedral

The next day I managed to go to Ben Thanh Market in the morning and had brunch with my Indonesian friend mentioned previously before leaving for Bangkok. Again, the market is interesting but not something new. It looks like Indonesia’s traditional market although I agree that the products sold can be very cheap if you master the art of bargaining!

Ben Than Market
Ben Than Market

To end my story, I understand that Ho Chi Minh can be very interesting to those from Western countries as it’s cheap and exotic – something that can’t be found in where they came from. But to me, it failed to offer me something new. Yes it’s safe, yes it’s cheap, yes the food were delicious and the people I met were nice, but it did not give me enough reasons to come back again.

Motorcycles everywhere!
Motorcycles everywhere! Just like Jakarta :p

Have you been to Ho Chi Minh? what did you think?

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25 thoughts on “Why I think Ho Chi Minh City is not for me”

  1. Aku kesana 2012. Pengen banget makan Pho, tapi banyakan babi. Aku juga ga makan daging dan ayam, akhirnya makan selalu di restoran vegetarian india dan Malaysia (duhh, jauh2 kesana), kesusahan cari tempat sholat (sampai pernah numpang sholat di Vihara heheh), Motornya ugal2an, mengingatkanku sama Medan.Tapi aku suka banget lihat wanita2nya, selalu dandan modis. Oh iya, San Dunes di Mui Ne bagus lho. Kalo ada kesempatan, pengen ke Ha Long Bay dan Hoi An πŸ™‚

    1. Iyaa motor2 nya bikin stresss hehehe. Denger2 emang kota lain di Vietnam terutama di bagian utara bagus2 ya.. Harusnya aku kesana aja kali waktu itu hehe, maybe next time πŸ™‚

  2. Thanks for the story Christa. Then it will be looong way before we decided to visit vietnam. Hahaha. I had a friend that said ho chi minh is very interesting but he didnt say why. πŸ™‚

  3. Tahun lalu aku ke sana… setuju sih suasana & *aroma*nya mirip Jakarta, but I definitely felt HCM is more pedestrian-friendly then Jakarta… I love how I was able to stroll along the city centre *almost* care-free! πŸ˜€

      1. Lain kali kalo coba ke Hoi An deh πŸ™‚ Old-town nya cantik banget, Siang-siang jalanan bebas kendaraan bermotor, so no beep-beep-beeps!

  4. aku kesanaaa 3 tahun laluu, dan bener banget itu kaya jakarta versi lama. kalau aku waktu itu milih ke sungai mekong, dan itu juga ngebosenin, kaya cuma ngelilingin kali, udah gitu mikirnya kayanya sungai kita jauh lebih bagus, cuma kurang didukung aja sama pemerintah setempat. huhuu. aku lebih prefer bangkok sih drpd ho chi minh.

    1. tuh kaan bukan aku doang yg merasa gitu yaa.. setuju, suka bangeeet bangkok! murah murahhh hahaha. masa makan cantik ala ala di senopati gitu waktu taun 2012 cuma 50rb seorang πŸ˜€

  5. iya Chi, gw ngerasa hal yang sama waktu kesana 3 tahun yang lalu. Bahkan gw ga dapet foto bagus, kaya ga dapet feel-nya gitu. Ga terlalu enjoy juga jadinya.

  6. Sy k HCM sktr taun 2008 brg tmn tmn kuliah.. Untungnya ada tmn org hcm jg jd slama dsna dia jd tour guide kita. Ga pergi liat sungai n cu chi tunnel. Tp wlpun suasana jadul tp cukup berkesan krn dbw makan yg enak2.. Slain pho ada vietnam style breakfast ky di warung kecil gt, seafood, spring roll sm kopi.. Trs diajak k satu jalan penuh toko2 trnyata mereka yg produksi brg utk merek2 terkenal ky topshop zara dll dan djual dgn hrga super murah πŸ˜€ prgi k museum perangnya jg.. Emg sedih n stress deh liat foto2 jaman perang gt.. Oh trakhir ntn water puppet show juga.. Lmyn menarik never seen that kind of puppet before πŸ™‚

    1. Emang kalo jalan sama locals tuh biasanya lebih enak ya.. dapet tempat2 yang seru hehehe. Oiya kopi Vietnam enak banget ya, aku suka banget! Di jakarta susah carinya..

  7. I like the people in Indonesia and Vietnam. I kind of agree with you in that Jakarta has far more modern high rises and malls. However I found HCM far more vibrant on a street level. Lots of cafes and easier to walk around. Also the colonial architecture is better preserved there. Maaf ya. Maybe I’ve just been living in Jakarta for too long now πŸ™‚

  8. Wah..menurut aku harusnya kamu lamaan dikit di HCM. Terus terang pertama kali kesana aku juga gak suka, bagusan Jakarta jauhhh. Tapi hari ketiga, nah mulai asik. Makan dipinggir jalan dengan kursi rendah. Trus jangan hanya muter di district 1 aja, tp venture out ke district2 yang jauhan. Naik taksi aja, murah kok. Aku udah 2 kali kesana, tiap kali dateng stay seminggu. HCM grows on you. It takes time. hahaha Btw lain kali coba dtg bareng temen, jgn sendirian, mungkin jadi lebih asik.

    1. Oyaa? Aduh aku ngga kebayang balik lagi kesana. Kalaupun ke Vietnam lagi, pengennya rada ke utara, hehehe. Kalau disana seminggu kemana aja? Ada apa sih di district yg jauhan? Iya kemarin emang cuma rada sebentar waktunya karena pake ke Bangkok jg πŸ™‚

      1. Waktu itu aku ada tugas kantor jadi sambil kerja. Adanya malah ketemu kolega di kantor mereka yg jauh2 kaya district 15. Mungkin krn hang out brg locals jd terasa asik ya. πŸ˜€ Iya km coba aja ke Hanoi. Itu bagus. Lbh banyak memang yg diliat dan makanannya enak2 nyaaam!! πŸ˜‹

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