Following the overwhelming response to my article on travel blogging, I decided to try my own hand at the craft to see whether I had any potential as a travel blogger. I then set to work documenting my honeymoon last year in Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam and, while whether or not the post is any good is not for me to decide, I had an absolute blast writing it.
As a test of my travel blogging skills, I will be submitting the article to one or more of the paying travel blogs I mentioned in last week’s article. I’ll keep you posted with regards to feedback. Wish me luck!
I’ve also indicated the elements and traits that I believe are crucial for a good travel blog post.
Vietnam: A Budget Paradise for Travelers and ShoppersMy first encounter with the southern Vietnamese capital of Ho Chi Minh City (formerly Saigon), is a full-on assault on the senses; a synaesthesia symphony of sights, smells and sounds that compete for my attention. The high-pitched whining of what seems like a million motor scooters intermingles with the thrumming of street vendors, of which there are many.
The outside air is like a blast furnace, reminding me of the coastal city of Durban back home in South Africa. I’ve only been in the country for around 30 minutes, and already a thick film of sweat has developed on my forehead, my lungs strain to take in sufficient amounts of the heavy, humid air, and I’m loving every minute of it. It is a clear, sunny day in mid-November, and despite my iPhone weather app’s warnings of daily rain, there is not a cloud in the azure sky.
Despite the visible scars of the country’s troubled past – mostly in the form of widespread poverty – Ho Chi Minh is a place of tremendous beauty and civic pride. I make it a part of my daily routine to visit at least one of the many immaculately-kept city parks with their al fresco exercise equipment (yes, really) installed by the government and there for all to use and enjoy.
In the parks, one finds refuge from the stifling humidity (on more than one occasion I was blinded by my own perspiration dripping down into my eyes!) in the shade of the magnificent trees that watch like ancient sentinels. The busy thrumming of the streets melts into oblivion and it is easy to forget, at least from a tourist’s naïve perspective, the troubles of the past.
And yet, signs of desperation are everywhere; from the self-appointed scooter guides eager to take one on a tour of the city, to the many wandering individuals armed with contact adhesive and replacement insoles. When, on one occasion, I relented, I had to fork out 600 thousand dong (around $26) to have my shoes (which were still in perfect condition) “repaired”. I did so somewhat begrudgingly, but still mindful of the fact that the repairperson would probably have to live off that $26 for an indeterminate period. He probably also had a family to support.
When it comes to cuisine, Vietnam offers an eclectic mix of flavors both local and international, with a strong French presence owing to the country’s colonial past. My wife and I sampled frogs’ legs, wild boar, seafood and, of course, the obligatory bowl of pho. Absolutely delicious and remarkably affordable. Towards the end of the holiday when money was getting tight, we were able to procure with great ease some beautiful pork sandwiches for around $2 each.
Saigon nights are like something out of an old-time movie. We drink ice cold beers from sweating bottles while watching the city come alive under neon lights advertising restaurants, hotels and nail salons. In front of one restaurant, a lobster the size of a dachshund languishes as it waits for a tourist to pay the million-dong bounty on its head.
Seafood is huge in Vietnam, and if you ever find yourself gripped by that early morning giant sea-slug craving, you can get your hands on a variety of Lovecraftian critters at the impressive Ben Thanh market. Not for the socially anxious or the squeamish, each narrow passage holds a new aroma that wafts forth from seemingly alien flora and fauna.
If you’re not the assertive type, it’s best to steer clear of the market altogether or at least leave your wallet in your hotel room, for the vendors and stall owners make compelling cases and you are likely to find your luggage a little more difficult to close when the time comes to return home.
If you ever do find yourself in the southern part of this criminally overlooked Southeast Asian gem, here are some highlights not to be missed:
- The war museum. A somber and sobering reminder of Vietnam’s embattled past. Be prepared to shed more than a few tears. We did!
- Ben Thanh market. This immense outdoor market can get a little overwhelming, but it’s definitely worth a visit, especially if you want to get your hands on some name brand items for insanely low prices.
- Water puppet show. An unmissable experience infused with Vietnamese culture and, again, extremely affordable.
- Notre Dame Cathedral. A remnant of French colonization, this piece of architecture in downtown Ho Chi Minh will leave your mouth agape.
- Buddhist temples. Vietnam has a considerable Buddhist population, and the magnificent temples that you will find throughout the city offer an immersive and spiritual experience. Be sure to remove your shoes before entering.
- Vung Tau. This quaint little coastal town, which can be reached via a 90-minute ferry trip, simply stole my heart. Endearing street cafes, amazing seafood and the warm South China Sea make Vung Tau one of my favorite excursions. For around $10, you can rent a scooter for the entire day and really experience this charming former French colony.
Tips to stay safe and healthy:
- Vietnam is a very safe country and we frequently took evening strolls around the city. However, it’s best to play it safe and stick to busy, well-lit areas
- Petty crime such as pickpocketing exists and there are plenty of hucksters out to make a quick buck. If you’ll be carrying cash with you, keep it in a backpack and secure it with a lock.
- Drink only bottled water. Tap water in Vietnam is not considered safe to drink, so even brushing your teeth with bottled water is a good idea. The heat and humidity are extreme, so do keep hydrated. Ask for no ice in your drinks.
- The streets in the city can be hazardous, and traffic lights are not always obeyed. Be very, very careful when crossing the street.