I’ll start with coming into Saigon, or Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC).
At the end of June we took the Mekong Express bus from Pnomh Penh to Saigon. It was about a 5 hour ride and $12/ticket. The Mekong Express seems like the best bus line to take around Cambodia and inter-country as well. It was air conditioned, gave us a bottle of water and a snack, and “handled” the border crossing bureaucracy for us. Here is a helpful article about the overland bus crossing into Vietnam.
This was a bit nerve wracking as it entails giving your passport to the bus company (everyone on the bus must do this), whilst they furiously scribble your information onto the paperwork and sort out whatever documents are needed. I should note that you MUST have your visa for Vietnam before entering the country this way, so we had already arranged that in Bangkok (??$?? per visa-one month stay).
When you arrive at the border crossing, they deal with the Cambodian border guards for your exit. This means, they give them whatever paperwork they’ve filled out, everyone has to tramp off the bus, they call out your name, verify that it’s the real you using your passport, they give your passport back to the “leader/guide” on the bus (not you because they still need it for the Vietnam border), and you all tramp back on the bus. You go about 1 1/2 minutes on the bus to the Vietnam border (less than 100 yards away), and you all tramp off the bus again.
We were shuffled into a big building that has several kiosks for the border guards to check passports etc. However, instead of using these kiosks and moving forward with it in orderly lines, everyone waits in a big mob while the border guards call out your name. I mean, 80 people crowded around 4 kiosks. Now, let’s face it, your name sounds just like everyone elses’ name at this point, so you have to sort of pay attention to the fact if people from your bus are getting called. Once they call your name, they hand you back your passport (phew!), and you do a little bag security check, they check you passport one last time (seriously) and then you’re off again now in Vietnam! Now, we were under the impression that all of this was to be “handled” for us from the article I read, but it wasn’t quite that way. I’m sure it was certainly easier than if we had had to navigate this all ourselves (like if we had taken the cheaper public bus), and it took a relatively short time.
Saigon is about 1 hour past the border crossing, so very soon we were dropped off in the travelers neighborhood about a half a block from our guest house. This made life very very easy. We stayed at the Diep Anh Guesthouse, in …. area. Diep and his lovely wife Anh, own and run the guest house and they couldn’t be sweeter. I would highly recommend staying at this guesthouse if you find yourself in Saigon, and we certainly will if we ever go back. I’ve posted a mini review here.
We ended up extending our stay by one day just so we could take in a bit of the city, and because we were impressed with the accommodations. Saigon was a nice town to just have a walk around, and there are sites to visit and explore if you’re interested. We ended up just strolling around and seeing what there was to see, rather than visiting any sites and buying tickets, etc. There are some really lovely sections with french colonial architecture and some beautiful old-world monuments.
This was the only Post Office I ever saw. I only saw 1 letter drop box and that was in Hanoi.
Inside the Post Office; skeletons of telephone boxes still remain underneath a large hand painted map of Vietnam.
There was a little walkway up to the Opera House I called Lovers Lane. Lot’s of shadowy benches to sit with your sweetheart.
Night Walk in Saigon
We took a lovely night walk through the city and ended up seeing some parts we wouldn’t have normally seen. We never felt unsafe anywhere we went (except for the drivers of course!) These are some snaps of details of the city.
These posters were scattered every where throughout Vietnam -not just in Saigon-a reminder that you are currently in a Socialist Republic, and they still utilize the power of propaganda. I actually like the visual style of these posters, but even without being able to read the writing, you know what they’re saying.
The next day we took a stroll around Saigon before heading out on the train. I enjoyed being in Saigon because it didn’t feel like a tourist-trap town. People actually live, work and eat here. Of course people were trying to sell us trinkets and things, but we also could go to a local stationary store and not be treated any differently. No one batted an eye as we walked by. We enjoyed this change of pace and peeking in at the real life in Vietnam.
Later that day we boarded a train to Nha Trang. About a quarter way up the coast of Vietnam, it sounded like a nice beach town to stop at on our way to Hoi An. In my next post, I’ll talk about our stay in “the most visited town in Vietnam” that somehow seemed to be baffled by western tourists.