Our final stop in Vietnam was set to be Ho Chi Minh City or Saigon. Originally, we had planned to travel further south and into the Mekong delta, but literally every traveller we encountered told us to avoid it. The main reasons being that it is scam central, dirty and not very scenic. We guessed we would have to go further than the average tourist to really see the delta but after almost 4 weeks in Vietnam we were feeling like we needed a change of scenery.
Arriving into Ho Chi Minh city at 5 am, was a blessing in disguise. We hadn’t quite expected the wall of heat that hit us as we disembarked. It was probably around 25 degrees celcius but the humidity is high, somewhere between 60-80% even in the dry season. The cool morning temperature made our walk to our accommodation a little less sweaty. When we arrived a little early for check in at 6am we were told that there was no beds for us. Shocked and tired we felt very unwelcome, despite the fact we had made a reservation on booking.com because new year might be busy in the city. We walked away leaving our luggage so that the manager could decide our fate. Just around the corner we had a coffee and waffles before returning 2 hours later. The manager was friendly and asked us to wait a moment. Fifteen minutes later we were still waiting. We weren’t sure if we were waiting for someone to miraculously check out or what, but the manager was just smoking on his doorstep. We decided to leave and go to another hostel. We had made a booking whilst in the cafe and the welcome at our new hostel was much better, it even turned out breakfast was included.
With accommodation sorted, we had a chance to wander around the metropolis of Ho Chi Minh city. We weren’t expecting much as most travellers don’t enjoy this city. It’s far too big, super busy and like being in a riot. Walking can be tricky as the pavement is full of scooters, restaurant chairs and other objects. While the road is easier there’s a higher risk of being run over. The people on scooters just seem to pull away without looking or are daydreaming. You need to keep your wits about you and hope for some good luck. We walked through some of the parks and green spaces, which was a relief to escape the traffic and have some fun trying out the machines at an outdoor gym. We didn’t really have a plan but ended up shopping for some clothes and supplies which we needed. The main tourist attractions are the war remnants museum in the city and the Chu Chi war tunnels outside the city. We have to admit we visited neither. Arriving on new years eve meant planning to go out for the evening and after arriving at 5am we needed a break for most of the afternoon if we were going to stay up for the fireworks.
Ho Chi Minh hosts a large fireworks display for new years eve, eventhough the Vietnamese actually celebrate Tet (vietnamese new year) in February. We decided to go to the river to watch the fireworks and left early as we wanted to walk there. The walk was a real struggle. Everyone was on the move, mainly on scooters and all heading in one direction: the river. It was traffic chaos with every scooter carrying 1-6 people. Traffic police were clueless and we watched gobsmacked as a man in a car ignored instructions of the traffic policeman and continued to advance forward towards him. It really was each for their own in the battle to make it to the fireworks, even two hours before midnight. We were faster on foot than the scooters, but it was a horrible walk full of petrol fumes and obstacle avoidance. Finally, we reached the barricade which was preceded by a giant scooter park. We were in.
The riverside was cordoned off for pedestrians so it was actually nice to walk around. We found a spot and some water (no alcohol on sale) and sat down to wait. Around 11:55 everyone stood up and turned to face the river. It seemed everyone had been expecting fireworks from the Bitexo tower (as it was announced online), but actually they were planned for the river. There was no countdown or music. All of a sudden fireworks started going off. We didn’t hear any happy new years or see anyone wishing eachother well in the new year. The Vietnamese were just watching the show and making wow noises at the largest fireworks. A quarter of an hour later, it was all over and the mass exodus began. Our description of the walk home would be enough to make you never want to visit Vietnam ever, and honestly we would never come back to Ho Chi Minh city for new year. It’s much better to go anywhere else or just stay at home and watch the telly. We made it safely and fell into comfy beds to sleep the stress away.
If you fancy a challenge of chaos, traffic, pollution, hassle and unfriendliness go to Ho Chi Minh city, if not go somewhere safe and friendly.