We’ve spent the last month in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. In comparison to the other major cities we’ve visited, HCMC has definitely been our favourite so far. From the friendly atmosphere and crazy roads to the impressive variety and deliciousness of food, we have loved every minute of it.
For the first two and a half weeks, Derek and I taught English at a school in District 10, about 20 minutes out from District 1. We really enjoyed teaching, meeting like-minded travellers and the location. We shared an apartment with a number of other volunteers from all over the world, including Germany, France, Holland, England, Singapore and Spain. Apart from the other volunteers, we were basically the only foreigners in the district.
This workaway was fantastic as it allowed us to really experience what it was like to be a local as well as make some really good friends. The locals were always super friendly and enjoyed practicising their English on us just as much as we liked practising our Vietnamese on them.
In Asia I have usually been getting the attention because people think I’m Thai, Cambodian or Vietnamese, but in District 10 it was finally Derek’s turn. The security guards around the corner from our school were mesmerised and obsessed with Derek’s beard and big muscles. They stopped him everyday just to stroke his beard and squeeze his muscles. I found it hilarious and Derek loved the attention at first, but by the end of it he was over it. This was definitely his karma for setting me up with all the massage and bracelet ladies in Cambodia!
Even though our stay was relatively short, it really felt like a home away from home. It was so hard to leave our cute, morning cà phê đá (ice coffee) lady, Hueng, and our regular breakfast and dinner ladies, Yam, Tam, Hanh and Hueng. They really made us feel like part of the community.
One evening I decided to go on my own dinner adventure and ended up eating hu tieu (pork noodle soup) with the lady who served me and one of the locals, Diamond. I could not believe how much chilli these ladies could eat! We made conversation through broken Vietnamese, English and mime. I had so much fun and the soup was delicious!
Derek and I also ventured out to a popular street food area where we had a number of tasty delicacies including DIY rice paper rolls and ban xeo (crispy pork and shrimp pancackes). The highlight of the night was definitely dessert. We found a busy street vendor selling a variety of desserts and of course, she did not speak a word of english. Not knowing what any of the dishes were, we saw a couple with a tray of different types of desserts and decided to go for that. We took a seat and waited for our order to arrive, however while we were waiting we saw that the couple was now a party of four. It was then we realised that we ordered a dessert tray meant for four to six people! Our tray arrived and all the locals were smiling at us. We taste-tested all the desserts but hardly made a dent. Luckily it cost us only 2.50AUD each.
Part of living like a local is also shopping like a local. In District 10, the local supermarket is Big C. I love grocery shopping (I know, I’m weird) and this place was a whole new level of shopping. They sold everything from fresh fruit and household products to live fish and bugs!
During our stay in District 10 we also visited Ky Dong, the local swimming pool, the Hello Weekend Market, where I had the biggest ice tea imaginable, Ben Thanh Market, Binh Tay Market and Station 3a, a cool little street art hub. We also visited the War Reminants Museum which was another sombre yet eye-opening experience. In amongst all the exploring, Derek managed to incorporate at least one banh mi (pork roll) into his daily diet. In his quest for the ultimate banh mi, he found what many agreed to be the best in HCMC from an unsuspecting vendor on Bui Vien in the backpacker district.
We stayed in District 1 for the remainder of our time as the Berryman and Hambrett clans were coming to town for Mic and Petes’s wedding. The joint hens and bucks was certainly a night to remember, but the wedding was truly the highlight of the week. Mic and Pete both looked absolutely stunning and it was so lovely catching up with so many familiar faces. I even got to catch up with my Uncle Barry who was travelling through HCMC for business at the time.
We’ve had an absolute blast in HCMC and now that it is just the two of us again, it’s time to see what the rest of Vietnam has to offer!