Good morning Vietnam! Vacationing in one of the remaining communist countries left in the world.. but they have a pink church so it’s all good…

One of the many goals I’ve set for myself in 2018 was to travel to more Asian countries.  I currently live in South Korea and for the last year and a half, I didn’t go to not one asian country; and it was about 40% of the reason to move out here in the first place.  I had a lot of reasons to travel elsewhere I wasn’t mad about, but I wanted to make a point for 2018 to be different.  What better way than to ring in the new year than in a country I’d never been to.  I was pondering between 4 locations and obviously money was a factor, distance, and weather were all my top elements in the final decision.

It’s been super chilly in Korea (pipes literally froze the other day) and for Christmas we went to Colorado and Wyoming to spend the holidays.  All this cold weather had me dreaming of 80 degree heat and fresh cut coconuts.  This was going to be the first trip we take that didn’t have another reason attached to it since making the move to the Far East (wedding, birthday, etc.).  In the end, Vietnam was the winner and I got some beach time!

 

 

{first things first – logistics of traveling to Vietnam}

All you need to know if traveling to Vietnam.  If you are an American, you NEED a visa.  Luckily, they are pretty quick to get and you can apply either in person at your local Vietnamese embassy (if you live near one) or online and pick up your visa upon arrival to the airport.  We chose the latter since we were running out of time to do it in person.  We used My Vietnam Visa and they turned our order around in about 2 business days for a 30 day visa.  From what I understand there’s a lot of illegitimate companies that do this, but this one worked for us and came from the recommendation of a friend of mine who has been using it for awhile.  You fill out the application (cheaper when you do it for multiple people) and for 2 people cost about $40.  This service is only good for the following entries into Vietnam: Hanoi with Noi Bai Airport, Da Nang with Da Nang International airport, Ho Chi Minh City or Saigon with Tan Son Nhat airport.  Bring your printed approval letter that is sent via email, passport, and 2 passport photo(s) upon arrival to the airport.

Airport Protip A: Fill out ONE application PER PERSON.  Everyone needs their own application, photo, and approval letter.  We got our application sent to us via email from the people who did our visa, but they also give it to you on the plane.

Airport Protip B: Grab a sim card to stick in your phone.. our international plans didn’t work great and even if it did, it was going to be expensive unless you’re on wifi.  Sim cards had unlimited data for $10 a day.

We arrived at the Tan Son Nhat airport in Ho Chi Minh City.. Once at the airport, go to the area that says airport visa pickup (or something like that), get in line and provide your paperwork, pay the $25 (cash and bring exact change if you can – my Dad got jipped because they gave him half USD and half Vietnamese Dong in return and it wasn’t the best exchange rate).  This process took about 45-60 minutes – I don’t think the wait is usually that long but we traveled during a peak time – days before New Year’s Eve.  Once they give you back your passport with visa attached, head to immigration for clearance, from here you’re now officially a tourist in Vietnam!

 

 

 

We grabbed our bags and called for an Uber.. I highly recommend downloading the app if you don’t already have it.  I can’t tell you how many times this saved us from not being able to speak the language and having the ability to put the address in ahead of time and be cashless.  We used Uber SUV because we were 5 people with 5 luggages and fit perfectly.  It’s very inexpensive as well even with the SUV option.  You can even do uber as a motorcycle – um, yes, so cool.. but my luggage won’t fit, sooooo… This is NOT sponsored by Uber in any way, it was just a mega lifesaver..  Also, the airport is about 15 minutes from District 1, but depending on traffic, this could take 45 minutes..

Protip: use my code brigittep9 for $5 off each of your first 4 rides with Uber!

I did a ton of research on hotels and it just wasn’t accommodating to a family of 3.  The husband and I were traveling with my Dad, stepmom, and little sister.  I spent hours looking at hotels and having a third person was a nightmare.  They would give you one bed and no option for a rollaway but would say it was enough room for 3 people.  Then charge you almost double if not three times the amount for the third person.  These weren’t even nice places.  I headed over to airbnb and found an amazing three bedroom apartment in the Icon 56 building.  It seems like a lot of airbnb’s operate out of this place and I recommend staying at one of the apartments if you’re headed to Ho Chi Minh City.  It’s in District 4, and within 5-10 minute walking distance to District 1 where all the main action is.  Plus the bridge that connects the districts is great for photo ops for the Bitexco Financial Building that is famous for being the design inspo for Stark Tower from the Avengers.. I kind of had a moment when I saw it.. it’s so futuristic and has a helipad attached to the SIDE of the building.

 

{outfit details}

Dress: Lulu’s

{cash is king in Vietnam – and so is playing frogger}

We quickly found out places DO NOT TAKE CREDIT CARDS.  I advise you take out cash from the ATM at the airport before leaving, but if you forget, there are plenty of ATMs around the city (some were tricky and didn’t like our cards, but eventually we would find ones that would work), or money exchanges if you already have dollars.  Either way works better than the exchanges in the airport – the worst exchange rates btw, but I’m sure you already know that.  It’s a major cash society, so being able to use Uber and Airbnb was huge for me since this is automatically billed to your card.  This guy especially didn’t take cards.. His price went from 150K Vietnamese Dong ($6.50 USD) total for 5 coconuts to “each”.. Let’s just say it was our good deed for the day when my Dad asked if the price was for “total” versus “each”.. I think we paid his rent for the month with that single transaction alone.  It’s a good idea to ask how much something is first.. lesson learned.. real quick..

 

 

Be extremely careful when crossing the streets.. everyone there basically owns a moped of some sort and not all the crosswalks have pedestrian lights.  Find a gap in the road and just start walking.. if a moped starts coming, keep your same pace and just keep walking, they’ll go around you.  You play real life frogger.. it kind of gets fun to play actually.. just don’t start running – this throws off your speed to the drivers!

{the lowdown on Ho Chi Minh City – the former Saigon}

So up until the 1950’s, Vietnam was under French colonization.  I couldn’t wrap my head around the fact I was in Asia, but everything looked like I was in Europe.  Not everything, but a lot of the major touristy areas and even back alleys looked like French ones.  Yes, I want a baguette with my noodles, thanks for asking.. But seriously, it was truly a unique place to be.  I wasn’t sure what to expect from Vietnam, I didn’t really know a lot about it.  It’s still currently a communist country and only one of five left in the world, alongside China, Cuba, Laos and my current neighbors, North Korea, so the sickle and hammer flags fly high around the country.  It was mind blowing to be there roaming the streets.. I felt safe, but I definitely thought twice about doing something out of the ordinary that would not be kosher in a place like that.  Not trying to create some international incident!!

 

 

 

              

 

 

{outfit details}

Jumpsuit: For Love and Lemons (sold-out similar here)

Hat: Local market

 

I know why most people are here.. you want the deets on the food.  Was it delicious? Yes.  Was it all that I expected?  Um, not really actually.  I had some good pho while we were there, but it was just different.  I’m thinking Vietnamese Americans or just America in general changes food to fit our palettes and you aren’t going to get the same flavors as you do in the origin country.  Our first pho meal was at Pho 2000 – apparently President Bill Clinton ate his first pho meal here as well, so it’s “famous”.  I do recommend it because it was delicious and they also had spring rolls (fried) and fresh coconuts to drink.  Pretty much every restaurant had fresh coconut, so I had one practically at every meal.. I mean it hydrates more than water and it cost about $1.25 each so it made sense to take advantage!  I do recommend eating as much street food as possible.. I think that was the best tasting meal we had!

 

 

 

We stumbled upon a night market that sprawled a couple of blocks.  Great for grabbing souvenirs, cheap knock offs, food and fresh fruit.  We did this a couple nights while there and it was super fun!  Definitely don’t be afraid to haggle and get used to the word “lucky”.

 

 

 

Bring comfy shoes because we did some serious walking.  In December/January, the heat was around mid 80’s and humid, but honestly it wasn’t unbearable.  I wore light clothing and slippers and was totally fine (although there was one day my back was a disgusting mess because I just sweat a lot).

{bloggers paradise – a pink church}

I almost didn’t find this church.. we went on our last day.. It’s not near all the main areas of interest, so we went off the beaten path a little, but it’s pretty easy to find so long as you have the address and Google maps.. I wasn’t sure if it was still in existence because it seemed too good to be true.  When we pulled up, my heart leap a bit.  The Nha Tho Tan Dinh Catholic Church was built in the 1800’s and the second largest in HCMC after the Notre Dame.  What a nice gem to find.. talk about major plants on pink.. a must stop to grab some OOTD snaps!  This place is still low key till some major blogger finds it… so you saw it here first babes!

 

 

          

 

 

Ho Chi Minh city sites to see for quick reference:

  • Bitexco Financial Center
  • Reunification Palace (we didn’t go inside)
  • Central Post Office
  • Notre Dame Cathedral (yes, they have one too – remember, colonized by the French?)
  • Ho Chi Minh City Hall
  • Nha Tho Tan Dinh Catholic Church (the pink church)
  • Saigon Opera House
  • All the various markets – too many to name, you’ll just find them all, believe me

 

{southern Vietnam beach scene – 2 nights in Vung Tau}

My main goal for New Year’s was being near the beach.. I did some research for top beaches in Vietnam and Vung Tau was at the top of the list and within a reasonable driving distance from HCMC.  We took an uber to the beach town and with traffic about a 2 hour drive, there were a few tolls and after everything cost about $50-55 one way.  This was cheaper for a family of 5 than taking the hydrofoil (which I would have done if I were alone or in a 2-person group).  The hydrofoil is a boat that takes you to Vung Tau in about 45 minutes for about $13/person.  You have to book at least a day ahead of time to guarantee a seat, which we did not do.. so ubering was our best option – worked out because the driver takes you directly to your hotel – and the drive was an experience to see ‘real’ Vietnam.. the rice fields, small towns and things you would picture about the country.

 

 

We booked a no frills hotel online but what we didn’t realize is the hotel also expected cash upon check out.  Um what?  Luckily, we had enough cash that this wasn’t an issue, but do note that unless it is a major company (which there aren’t many) or you’re staying in a 5-star hotel in Vietnam, you will need to pay in cash… I can’t stress this enough.  Oh and they also kept our passports during our stay.  So. Not. Cool. With. That. But the front desk lady said something about it’s what they show to police.  I’m not really sure about it all, but we complied and it worked out just fine.  Before booking, just be aware of this and if you are unsure if they will do this, call ahead – I think this might be standard practice.

I don’t really know how to describe Vung Tau.. it’s kind of this weird beach town that is a mix of Vietnam, France, and Brazil thrown into one.  Again, a lot of French looking buildings that randomly would pop up and they have a ginormous Jesus statue like one in Rio de Janeiro.  I rolled with it..

 

 

{outfit details}

Tank: courtesy of Workshop 28

Shorts: One Teaspoon (similar)

 

We found this super cute teahouse called Partea English Tearoom, that was massive.. the decor made you feel like you weren’t in asia (not shocking) and they had macarons and donuts and a ton of tea to choose from.  If you did the tea service, you could choose which cups you wanted to sip out of.  We had breakfast here (read: pho) and then went to their tea side.. really recommend stopping here if you’re visiting!

 

 

       

 

 

 

A ton of Australian expats live here.  We found a few Ozzie bars and restaurants so getting a proper breakfast was possible.  Although I still had pho for breakfast on our last morning.  If you have the extra time to leave the city and want to venture, I do recommend Vung Tau, but I wouldn’t go out of my way if I were short on time.

{beach etiquette – or lack there of}

We went to both Back Beach and Front Beach and I prefer Front Beach because it’s more eclectic, seems like it’s more for tourists because there’s tons of restaurants and iconic fishing boats that park in the harbor.  Back Beach seemed more for the locals and honestly I didn’t think the beach itself was as “pretty” but it could have been because it was kind of gloomy while we were there.  Vung Tau is small enough that you can see the whole area in a couple of days which is how long we spent there.

 

 

 

 

I just wanted to get a little beach time in, but don’t be fooled, the beach, although nice, is not clear blue.  The silt in the water from the boats discolors it, but it is warm, so I definitely got in the water and swam around like a fish for a bit.  The photos below are from Front Beach..

 

 

 

 

After posting up in our sand, a whole wolfpack sized family came armed with their karaoke machine (not sure how it worked because it was massive – extra large batteries for sure) and started playing ridiculous games about a foot away from me.. I couldn’t figure out what the f*ck they were doing but at one point they were definitely acting like crabs.  Another thing I want to point out is the girls wore bathing suits but then wore shirts on top of them!  There were some people with normal-ish swimsuits on but then would have shorts or something to cover up.  I couldn’t figure out if it was to be covered to shield from the sun or if this was just normal beach attire.. I on the other hand happened to bring a normal sized bikini (for me) and ran around like I usually do and got a few waves from some old men.  So you do what you feel is comfortable if you go.  You’ve been warned.. leave the brazilian ‘kinis at home.. just don’t even bring them unless you want to feel awkward.

 

 

 

{bikini details}

Top: Target (sorry guys, couldn’t link because in Korea I can’t get to the swimwear section – #koreaproblems)

Bottoms: For Love and Lemons

{new years eve in Vung Tau}

We had dinner at this really good italian restaurant (don’t judge, we needed a break from Vietnamese food) called “Good Morning Vietnam”.. no reservations needed and it was perfect for our last meal of 2017.  We headed to Front Beach and gathered along with the other crowd goers to the outdoor beach concert to celebrate 2018.  I wanted mellow this year and we got it.  Lots of bands played music – most of which I didn’t understand, tons of people wandering around and these really cool lanterns were hung up.  It was really pretty actually.  It was all free and nice because my little sister was able to hang with the adults for the night.  We got the beach, fireworks, and standing on foreign soil in 2018 and I was perfectly happy with that.

 

 

{resume tourist stuff}

Again, uber to the rescue, we took it to the Vung Tau Lighthouse which had some of the best views of the town.. The driver dropped us off about 300 meters away and we trekked uphill to reach the top.  Stunning views.  Selfie sticks galore.. It was free and a total must on your list.. We decided to walk the whole way back down to the city..  This ended up being such a highlight because we took our time going downhill.  There were “rest stops” along the way and most with food, hammocks, and coconuts.  We stopped at one of them for an hour and I think it was a crowd fav..

 

 

 

 

Vung Tau sites to see recap:

  • Front Beach (more appeasing to tourists and where cool fishing boats are)
  • Back Beach (seems like more locals go here and not as “pretty”)
  • Vung Tau Lighthouse
  • Christ of Vung Tau
  • Roam the streets – so many coffee shops, marina restaurants, and fruit stands

 

 

 

All in all, Vietnam is fairly inexpensive if you are a budget traveler.  Every time we went for a meal (for a family of 5), we spent on average $25 total.  This included entree meals, appetizers, beer (Tiger, a Singaporean beer), and a round of coconuts.  Grabbing coffee was about a buck.. even short uber rides were a dollar.  I couldn’t believe how inexpensive the city was, but I wasn’t complaining.  Oh and full body massages were $10 for 60 minutes.  Things got weird for Chris because he said the lady slapped his arse at one point (I was next to him and didn’t realize) but other than that, it was cool.

Since we stuck to southern Vietnam this trip, next time we decide to go, I want to check out northern Vietnam when it gets a bit warmer.  If you have questions about the logistics of traveling to Vietnam, be sure to comment below or send me a message on Instagram.. you can stalk my Vietnam photos there using #BrigittexVietnam

The travel bug hit hard and we have flights booked next month to southern asia!!  Stick around and subscribe to the blog so you don’t miss out on all my travel tips!

tam biet!!

 

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