VIETNAM: Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon)
Arrived in Ho Chi Minh City on Sept 1, 2012 after 18 hours of travel (What a LONG flight, but travelling Cathay Pacific First class cabin makes it SO much easier)! More about that in another post…
Some housekeeping notes:
1) VISA ON ARRIVAL in Vietnam (Cdn Passport holders): was a painless process.
– $25 USD cash
– Visa application completed (if you don’t have one, they will give you a form to complete)
– 4×6 passport style picture
– Visa on arrival letter from tour company you will be touring with (If you do not have this letter, VOA might be much more difficult & we suggest you contact a Vietnamese tour operator to make arrangements)
They take your application and picture, process the Visa on the spot (takes about 10 minutes) call you back up to wicket, you pay your $25USD (make sure you have exact cash required in hand). Make your way to immigration/customs, and pass through customs cheak, pick up luggage and make your way to exit, as per normal (if you have a driver waiting for you, they should be just outside exit doors with your name on sign)
After check-in to hotel (Kimdo Royal Hotel) was located in the new tourist section of hotels and upscale shops. This is where one of my problems with travelling always happens. I truly LOVVEEE being in the guts & glory of ‘real life’ in a new city, where you get to see and enjoy the real vibe of the local scene, and get to see local people interact and run their daily lives. However, (especially in countries with less standard amenities than I’m used to) I LOVVVE being in comfortable properties (Western style to an extent with amenities I am used to at home, so I can have some comforts of home, while travelling).
So here’s the problem: usually these nicer properties are located in areas surrounded by boutique shops and upscale restaurants that cater largely to tourists. Unfortunately in these types of areas, I find all sense of “local life and livelihood” is virtually extinct in the immediate surroundings and replaced by the whitewashed Chanel and Bulgari boutiques. Don’t get me wrong, love these shops and boutiques and LOVE fine dining (100%), but for me, there is a time and place for those, and I will go to seek those shops out, if/when I need.
So this is my travel conundrum. Sometimes I meet my needs half way, by staying in properties in less desirable/comfortable and less touristy areas (so I can get my fix for the destination’s real life ‘feel’ & culture) or instead, in more desirable and touristy locations, (but I lose the ability to walk out of the hotel in walk into the real life culture of my destination). Anyway blah blah blah.
After getting situated at the hotel, we walk out to see what life is all about in Saigon/Ho Chi Minh. The streets don’t let me down: as soon as we turn a few corners, there is shop after shop of people offering “spa services” (massage, starting at $10 dollars!!) I declined (unfortunately) – I can’t get into letting some poor woman or man endure the distress of giving me a rubdown when I am sweaty after walking around in the oppressive heat that is Southeast Asia during rainy season. Call me anal, but I need to feel clean BEFORE I go to a “spa service” as well as after, and in the sticky, sultry heat of Ho Chi Minh city, just 5 minutes of walking gives you the standard warm-weather, sultry, skin sheen. No Massage – Thanks.
Also it’s handy to note that EVERYONE drives a motorbike in Vietnam, well almost, but they have a very orderly chaos that takes place when the lights turn and people are coming from left & right and rarely, does anyone crash!
Dinner after arrival was a funny and somewhat cheesy dinner cruise with many tourists onboard to eat a fixed meal and watch a staged song & dance show. It was enjoyable, mostly for its comedic value as it was so over the top cheesy and campy – imagine your worst cruise line show EVER in terms of ‘typical’ and this was it. Guys dressed in marine/navy style outfits, Asian singers singing “C’mon let’s twist again.” It was quite bad, but so funny. Being extremely tired & jetlagged helps one enjoy this show to a much greater extent I think.
Would I recommend this or pay for it? – if I had a choice, probably not as I would much rather walk around and see the nightlife of Ho Chi Minh’s streets but as a first night event, it was ok. Funniest part was the flame thrower “Britney” dancer with her go-go boots and the “Con-on less tist agin, like vee did lass summah” singer. Sorry, maybe the fatigue made me not enjoy it as I should have. Oh well, there’s something for everyone. This show under the influence of severe jetlag that evening, was not for me.