A fantastic place to start our two and a half week holiday covering parts of Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia, Ho Chi Minh City, also known as Saigon, is a bustling, lively city with a great vibe and lots going on…not to mention more mopeds than I’ve ever seen in my life; crossing the road was quite a challenge!
We stayed at the Caravelle Hotel which has the perfect location in the heart of the city. It overlooks the famous Park Hyatt to one side and has views towards the river the other side. We arrived late at night and as we had an early start the next morning we didn’t venture too far and thought it only right to check out the hotel facilities – so we quickly found the fantastic roof top bar Saigon Saigon. It has great views overlooking the city, a buzzing atmosphere with live music and not to mention a fabulous cocktail list that unfortunately we didn’t have nearly enough time to work our way through!
The next morning we were picked up at 8am for a 4 hour drive south to Can Tho where we were to spend the next 24 hours onboard the Bassac Cruise along the Mekong Delta. The drive down to the port was really interesting and it wasn’t long until we were out of the busy city and experiencing our first insight into the more traditional Vietnamese way of life passing local houses, schools, shops and watching everyone go about their every day life. The family transport seems to consist of one moped to accommodate everyone! It appears the correct way to achieve this is to have Dad driving whilst holding the smallest child in front of him, the next child (or sometimes two) sitting behind him with Mum at the back holding the shopping; an acquired skill!
The boat itself was beautiful and having only 10 cabins means it can never feel too busy. The cabins are small but all are en-suite and with windows looking out. However, you won’t spend long in your cabin as the boat has a sundeck at the front and the back of the boat – perfect for relaxing on a sun lounger and watching the world go by! The route that the boat travels is completely off the tourist trail and as it is a working river it makes for fascinating viewing. You also get the opportunity to visit a local village in the afternoon which gives you a real insight into the local community. The meals were superb as well – more like a 5 star restaurant!
We were up in time for sunrise the following morning which was worth the early start! After breakfast we boarded a smaller boat which took us to the local floating markets. I have been to floating markets before but never anywhere like this…there was just so much to see and so much happening. It was also fascinating to see the shanty houses that border either side of the river with so little in. It certainly makes you appreciate the smaller things in life that you can take for granted.
We arrived back in Saigon by lunch time so set about exploring the city. The Caravelle is a great base from which to do this. It is not huge and easy to navigate by foot with a map which the hotel provides. We visited the main attractions of the Notre Dam Cathedral, Reunification Palace, Post Office (more exciting than it sounds) and also wandered down to the busy river front. If you are interested in the war history then you do really need a bit longer than an afternoon to do this city justice; and a trip to the Cu Chi Tunnels is highly recommended.
In the evening we found a great restaurant in a hidden courtyard serving traditional Vietnamese food at a fraction of the cost of the hotel restaurants…and it was fantastic! Ideal for sampling the local cuisine and meeting some of the very friendly locals.