Day 1; November 4th, 2016
After being in the air for about 20 hours, layovers and all, we landed at Tan Son Nhat International airport in Ho Chi Minh City at 12:40am.
Danton and I had a visa on arrival, so the visa counter was our first stop before lining up for immigration. Here we present them our form with photo attached, approval letter, and the visa stamping fee. I get bored when waiting so I resort to people watching. It was incredible how unprepared many people were and I was glad we avoided a lot of problems by reading everything carefully and planning accordingly. Some people didn’t have their photo taken, many didn’t know about the visa stamp fees or which visa they applied for, and some didn’t have any cash at all in addition to the aforementioned!
PLEASE! For those planning a trip to Vietnam, be prepared so you can at least get to the other side of immigration! You have two options:
Visa on Arrival
**The fee you pay online is for the approval letter ONLY. You still need to bring your 25 USD for a 30-day visa. The cost will vary if you are staying past 30 days or planning to leave and reenter Vietnam**
- Look up the nearest Embassy of Vietnam to you! Typically it will take 2-3 business days to get a stamp, but fees vary. It may cost you less or more than applying for a letter online.
We were fortunate enough to be picked up by family so we didn’t need to worry about getting to our Airbnb.We also had the option to arrange a driver to pick us up through our Airbnb for 17 USD.
Transportation alternatives you can use are:
You should be able to arrange a ride with the first two using the airport’s free WiFi (keep in mind that Grab is paid for with cash). For taxi’s there should be some waiting outside. We liked using Vinasun taxis.
Rise and Shine
Our Airbnb was a bookstore located at the end of a small alley. It’s a cozy and quiet nook in an otherwise busy city. Bookstore and cafe on the ground floor and rooms on the next 2 floors above. It was pretty nice, and you can enjoy coffee in the morning with the other guests! At the moment, all the books are in Vietnamese but it could make for a nice souvenir of your stay.
We had a decent nap and woke up some time after 5am. We were showered and ready to start our adventure by 7am! We’d have to meet with family later in the afternoon so we took this time to explore a bit on our own. We took an Uber ride to Station 3A but nothing would be open for a couple more hours so we decided to meander around until we could visit the shops there.
We hadn’t eaten yet so finding food was our first priority. We had Pho Bo (beef noodle soup) at a food stall on the corner of some street. The little plastic stools were low to the ground and our knees couldn’t fit under the table. It was awkward, but you just gotta learn to love it! For only 30,000 VND (Under $2 CAD), can you really complain? The pho at this stall and some of the better-known pho restaurants in Vancouver are comparable in taste, but what really makes the street version so much better to me are the herbs! I don’t know what it is but some ingredients just don’t taste the same. It’s like when my mother cooks Thai food in Canada- it’s never as good as when it’s made in the village!
More walking after eating. We had a chance to practice crossing the street a few times on some not so busy streets. The trick is to just go for it! Walk slowly, but at a consistent speed, and the vehicles will go around you. Easy!
We found ourselves in the area where the Vincom Center Shopping Mall is. Unfortunately, the mall wasn’t going to be open for a while so we continued our walk to nowhere. The area is very interesting. In the heart of the city there are buildings with French architectural influence that when juxtaposed with the surrounding Vietnamese buildings, it’s just really odd.
When the shops were beginning to open, we headed back to Station 3A. Now this place is not a station at all. It is a contemporary art space housed in a 19th-century building and is the spot to be for young people!
We strolled down a small quiet alley and were greeted by several graffiti murals. The place is like one big canvas shared by different artists. In addition, there are a few shops that sell handmade crafts, and fashion boutiques catering to the fashionably inclined.
I wish we had a chance to visit on the weekend when there might have been pop-up shops or street performances.
After perusing the shops and picking up some handmade stationary we sat at Kujuz 3son for some preserved citrus drink. What caught our eye about this place were the vintage windows on the walls.
We watched a small group getting ready to do a photoshoot. It reminded me of Vancouver where you’ll see a few people in Gastown on a weekend with cameras and reflectors attempting to capture the perfect image.
Before arriving in Vietnam, I wanted to eat snake. I also want to do a shooter of the heart and have the full snake experience! We met up with Danton’s family and 7 of us arrive at the restaurant where we will have our reptilian experience.
The brought out the snake, and it was enclosed in a black bag. It was coiled and its head was peeping out slightly. I thought its dark eyes were cute. Danton told me not to say that because then I’d give it a name and feel bad about eating it….
Well, Snakey the cobra, gave up its life and we proceeded to have a course meal with dishes prepared in several ways. ='(
Things were kick-started with two bottles of vodka that we mixed with the snake’s blood. Danton took a shot with the still beating heart, and I had the gall bladder ( I think). I can’t say the beverage was bad, but it wasn’t good.
I forgot to take a photo of a few side dishes, but the main protein is featured above. The snake was a bit chewy. If you’ve ever eaten intestines before, it had a very similar texture to that. Flavor wasn’t very remarkable or distinct.
The meal was so filling, even with 7 people to help. The total cost of the meal was 2,600,000 VND (Approx $150 CAD). While I enjoyed the meal and toasting the strong drink with Danton’s family, I don’t think it will be high on my list of foods to have again. The price was reasonable for splitting with our group, but if you’re just wanting to try it on your own, or with another person, I think there are cheaper alternatives.
The meal was the last thing we had done that day. Being up since 5am was starting to wear on us so we started making our way back to our room. On the way back we stopped at a really small market by the side of the road. Small markets are one of the things I missed most about Asia, so I was happy to stop by one. We grabbed a bag of jackfruit from a woman peeling some. I was delighted by how fragrant and sweet the fruit tasted! It was better than any I’ve had back home. Even though I was full from our snake course, I couldn’t help but munch on some pieces on the drive back to our place.
We called it an early night. With full bellies, we listened to the rain pour and drifted off into sleep. The next day we travel to a small town early in the morning to visit Danton’s family.
Stay tuned for Day 2!
** All watermarked images taken by Danton! Visit his Instagram for more =) **