Most times, traveling to a new place is fun. Excitement kicks in just as you arrived to the destination; eager to explore, and ready to embark on an adventure. Woohoo!
Unfortunately, there are times when the excitement quickly fades away, due to various reasons. Things may not be as you think they would be, when you were planning your trip; your expectation of a destination may be higher than the reality.
It was the first day of Chinese New Year and we did not have a lot of things left to do in our itinerary. We decided to relax, enjoying the hotel while packing our stuffs. At around 10 we left the hotel for a last minute walk around George Town. We wanted to visit The Blue Mansion but well, it was closed for the New Year celebration.
Our day started early, despite staying up late the previous day. We were just too excited to explore Penang! We had complimentary breakfast at the hotel then walked to our first destination: Pinang Peranakan Mansion. It took us around 10 minutes to get there, very convenient.
We arrived in Penang Saturday afternoon, after a mere 2.5 hours flight from Jakarta. Upon arrival, we took Uber straight to George Town, where our hotel – Ren i Tang is located (I will review the hotel in a separate post!). George Town is one of UNESCO world heritage sites and a popular tourist spot. Since it was our first time in Penang and we only had 2 nights.. staying in George Town was perfect.
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 early 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 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 🙂
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.
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 🙂 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, 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 best Phở I had in my life! No joke.
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.
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 Cathedral 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.
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!
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.