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ho chi minh (saigon), vietnam
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exploring ho chi minh city (saigon),Vietnam
Santa hats are very popular in December!
I was in Ho Chi Minh City, aka Saigon, in 1995 (for my honeymoon!), not long after the embargo was lifted, finally allowing American's to visit Vietnam. Contrary to the expectations of most Americans, we received an enthusiastic welcome, and that has not changed - the people are as friendly as they were back in 1995.
Streets of Ho Chi Minh City
I have fond memories of the packs of school girls in their flowing "ao dais" gliding down the streets on bicycles. Needless to say, this has changed. Today, ao dais are only seen occasionally, and motorbikes have replaced bicycles on the wide, crowded, tree lined boulevards of HCMC.
The traffic has become a tourist attraction in itself
Crossing the street is an "adventurous activity", but we never saw a single accident - amazingly, the chaos seems to flow pretty well.
View from the Reunification Palace, a must-see sight in HCMC
Still there - plenty of good French restaurants, and lovely colonial buildings!
Our very comfy room at the Equatorial Hotel, Ho Chi Minh City
A welcome change is the selection of hotels. In '95, the lack of choices (competition) made prices fairly high for what you got. Today, you can get a luxury at reasonable prices in Ho Chi Minh City.
We chose the Equatorial Hotel, which is located away from the main tourist area. I was apprehensive about this location, but it turned out to be a benefit - we saw much more of the real city, by not stepping out the door into a tourist zone, and cabs to the thick of things are really cheap ($2.) The more I travel, the more I enjoy avoiding the primary tourist hotels and areas. We are finding that some of the more business oriented hotels offer much better service and amenities for your money.
Our friends at the Equatorial!
We miss you!
For the price of a regular room at a popular tourist hotel in the Dong Khoi area, you can get a room on the Club Floor of the Equatorial.
We were totally spoiled by the wonderful staff!
The b'fast buffet included pho, pastries, eggs, cereal, fruit, and Asian dishes - YUM!
The Club Floor offers complimentary evening cocktails and snacks (a meal!), a huge breakfast buffet (including lattes!), 2 items of laundry done each day, and free, in-room WiFi.
Ahhhh, clean and PRESSED clothes - a true luxury for me!
If you don't care to spend the extra money for the "Club" treatment, the standard rooms at the Equatorial are very comfy, and the whole staff is extremely helpful and friendly. I would stay here again in a heartbeat!
There is only one annoyance that bears mentioning in HCMC - crooked cab drivers, (not all, just some) and those exist all over the world. To help put them out of biz, use only the legit cab companies - we always let the doormen at the Equatorial get a cab for us, and they told us which companies to look for on the street. When you are in town flagging a cab, know what the fare SHOULD be from point A to B, have the correct amount so you don't need change, and if you arrive and are sure the guy is trying to rip you off (the bad guys are pretty obvious - they inflate the fare 100-200%!) just get out, hand over what you think is the correct amount, and refuse to pay the inflated amount showing on the fake meter, and don't let them drop you off around the corner from your hotel entrance - the bad guys find some excuse ("traffic", "road closed") to do this to avoid the hotel doormen, who will write down their cab number and report them! And always a good idea to have a card from your hotel, with the name in Vietnamese, to show cab drivers that rarely speak or read English.
Endless smiles in Vietnam!
And, lastly, I have to address the most common questions I get about travel in Vietnam - "is it safe?", and "don't they hate us?". The Vietnamese people moved beyond the war many, many years ago, and I have never experienced any negative feelings for Americans. We had people run after us to give back money we left as tip (they do not tip in much of Vietnam), I constantly had people correct me when I got confused and tried to overpay them, it is safer than any U.S. city. You will have a wonderful experience getting to know the country and the people, my final advice... GO!