On the Road is a weekday feature spotlighting reader photo submissions.
From the exotic to the familiar, whether you’re traveling or in your own backyard, we would love to see the world through your eyes.
The first full day in VN we woke up surprisingly refreshed, grabbed some yummy breakfast, took a quick swim and then hopped on the resort’s dedicated water-taxi to get down to HCMC/Saigon. The following day was gonna be jam packed with a guided tour and cooking lesson (part of our prize) so this was really our main chance to do whatever we wanted. Our priorities were to seek out some good food, explore some of the legendary SE Asian markets (for some reason I was obsessed with finding a cheap pair of Ray Ban sunglasses) and checking out some of the alleyways of the city.
Here is our ride to downtown Saigon/HCMC. It went twice a day and was a fairly dull ride aside from the other boats and an occasional bridge. Probably the most interesting part was when we got stuck in a flotilla of plants and the driver had to spend ten minutes or so chopping at the vegetation and reversing the rotors to get us free.
We made it to the landing in the city and started walking around. It was REALLY hot. Temp readings from that day say it was only 90 degrees 40% humidity, but I swear it felt much worse than that. Anyways, the city is full of great colonial architecture. I know, I know, Colonialism = Bad, but they did have some pretty killer style.
Motorbikes are the vehicle of choice for most people in Saigon. We saw entire families balanced on small bikes weaving in and out of traffic. Here a bunch of parents are picking up their kids from school.
Saigon is filled with mazes of alleyways where you can get away from the cacophony of the city. We learned about these from a great blog called VietnamCoracle (link will be in the comments). Here’s a rather charming little street/alley.
Random temples (I think this a temple) pop up around every corner in Vietnam. And they always feature some really neat gates and architecture. The colors of buildings in VN was definitely one of the aspects that we enjoyed the most. Lots of vibrant colors and pastels etc., rather than dull gray that we so often see in many US cities.
Another charming VN street.
The heat was absolutely merciless. After having some lunch (some mediocre bun at a place we later found out was a chain restaurant :( ) we walked to Tao Dan Park. The park is rather lovely and features some interesting sculptures.
Cool sculpture in Tao Dan Park. Unfortunately I couldn’t find any info on the artist.
Finally, the heat got the best of us. I was also hobbling on a foot injury from the pool, so we decided to head back to the resort, knowing we had a very full day tomorrow. This was one of the only places we could wait for our boat-shuttle that gave us any shade. It was lovely until we looked across the river and saw a man squatting with a newspaper and dropping his mid-afternoon deuce…
Uneventful trip back to the resort, but I did manage to snap a pic of a neat train that was passing overhead on a bridge as our boat crossed under it. Once back at the hotel all we did was loaf by the pool with cocktails/beers. It was a fun first day in Vietnam.
J R in WV
Pretty wonderful photo set, will no doubt bring many jackals memories of their past in Vietnam. Great job! Thanks for sharing this with us.
I’ve become more sensitive to heat, and so plain to avoid tropical places, so photo sets will be what I know about Vietnam…
@raven: Do you have any desire to return, but as a tourist this time?
@JPL: Yea we’ve talked about it. I’d like to see Korea as well. Both places were so primitive 50+ years ago and I assume it’s is still that was in the countryside but the progress is stunning.
Mark Wiens has a lot of Asian walking/eating tours on Youtube. Watch his eyeballs pop out every time he bites into something he likes, and he likes everything.
That gate is stunningly beautiful.
The engineer in me couldn’t help but marvel at the cantilevered helipad (I assume that’s what it was).
Thanks for the visit to some alleys I doubt I’ll ever see.
Vibrant and colorful — that’s the feeling I get from the pictures. The heat would defeat me, so like J R in WV I’m not likely to put Vietnam on my ever-shortening travel list. But that just makes it extra nice to get a taste here.
@J R in WV: You know, I’m not terrible with heat. I teach tennis lessons in SoCal so I spend a lot of time in heat. And I lived in Philly/Delaware, Boston, Cincinnati etc., so I’ve done my fair share of hot/muggy but I swear this was a whole other level. Just totally exhausting. Fortunately we always had a hotel with a swimming pool to go back to (and A/C).
@HinTN: The little details of the architecture are really cool. My wife has a great eye for them so we have tons of pix of stuff like that.
@JanieM: There are times of the year when the heat isn’t too bad and the rain isn’t too bad either. But it’s a small window. For example, Hanoi in the fall (roughly the same time as our fall) is supposed to be lovely.
These are so wonderful! I can almost hear the sounds of all those people. It is my dream to travel there someday. We have a friend that came over at 6 and still has land and relatives there. We hope to go with him as it would be most awesome to have a native language interpreter. Plus he is the life of the party.
@Laura Too: In Saigon, Siem Reap, Da Nang, and Hoi An (all the places we went) you can easily get by on English. There was only one District of HCMC way out away from the touristy areas, where almost nobody spoke English (that will be it’s own post). But generally speaking, it was very easy to manage with just English and maybe a handful of words/phrases of Vietnamese. Also, when it comes to dealing with taxis and such (drivers may not know much English) a lot of times your hotel staff will help make arrangements and translate for you. That said, when you DO have somebody fluent and from there (as with our tour guides) it is really great because you get such a better look into the cultures, history, people etc.
The other time that we felt totally alien/lost was when our flight arrived in Hong Kong and we had to rush to get from one end of the gigantic airport terminal to the other, to catch our connecting flight to Saigon. It was a mad dash and we woulda been totally screwed if there hadn’t been a lady from the airport there helping everyone quickly navigate the airport to make that flight. Most signs were NOT in English and it was a very confusing airport. She also helped us jump the security lines etc. It was tense…
@UncleEbeneezer: I know what you mean. The first time I went to Hong Kong, I knew heat and humidity would be in the 90’s, so I thought, No biggie, just like August in New York.
But I was so so wrong. It was just on a different level. I had to duck into stores or hotels to cool off after just walking a few blocks. I think my days of tropical destinations are over.
@arrieve: We did a bike tour of Angkor Wat (which will be it’s own post) and the heat/humidity was just unreal. I think the thing is that Vietnam is so much closer to the equator. The latitude is the same as Colombia, Brazil etc. It’s about 1,000 miles closer to the equator than Los Angeles. Makes a BIG difference.
@HinTN: Was wondering what that side ‘spike’ was. I’d be terrified to land there—then have to walk across the platform to get inside. Eeesh.
@UncleEbeneezer: When I arrived in Bali the first time, my bag had stalled in Hong Kong, and I had only the travel clothes I was wearing on the plane—a long-sleeve black shirt & long pants. First thing I did was walk down the street from my lodging & buy a couple Balinese dresses. No A/C or pool, but cool showers. Lots of cool showers… Would love to visit Viet Nam—so have added it to my list. Thanks for the intro.
@UncleEbeneezer: I am so happy to hear there are more posts! I don’t always get time to comment but I live for all of the travel pics and amazing stories that come out from everyone. We plan on touring the cities and some smaller towns, that is where having a native guide will be most helpful. Plus I will have a ton of questions and he will be able to answer. Thanks so much for giving me more to look forward to!
@way2blue: My wife wisely bought me a couple pairs of linen shirts/shorts for our trip. Linen is the way to go, in that kind of weather. My regular cotton tee shirts would have been constantly DRENCHED, as I sweat a lot.
@Laura Too: Glad you’re enjoying them. There are still several more parts to go. I’m the same way. I enjoy most of the OTR posts even if I only rarely comment on them.
@raven: I went back 50 years after. Even in the countryside the mud walls and thatched roofs have been replaced with concrete and tile, an altogether different country. Cambodia, on the other hand is just like VN was 50 years ago.