Time For A New Adventure

We flew from Danang to Ho Chi Minh/Saigon today. The hotel in Hoi An arranged our transfer from the hotel to the airport. The driver arrived on time and got us to the airport in plenty of time for our departure.

The last time we flew, we had to check Jim’s carry-on bag because it weighed too much. We carefully packed this time, and his bag was just under the weight limit. The check-in process was fast and efficient, and we moved quickly through the security checkpoint.

Boarding The Aircraft

When our group was called, we boarded the Vietnam Airlines plane and headed south. It was a short flight, so they passed out water bottles without snacks or meals.

We Have Arrived

Once we arrived in Ho Chi Minh, we reviewed our notes on where to pick up a Grab ride. After a few missteps, we found our ride and were whisked away to our hotel.

The Eden Star Saigon Hotel

According to our research, the Eden Star Saigon Hotel is located in District 1, where many tourists stay. Upon arrival, the hotel staff helped us with our luggage, collected our passports for check-in, and told us to sit by the beautiful waterfall wall. Another employee stopped by with a welcome drink and snacks for us while we waited for our room to be ready.

Jim waiting for our room to be ready at the Eden Star Saigon   hotel.
Lobby chairs and waterfall at the Eden Star Saigon hotel.
Chandelier in lobby of the Eden Star Saigon hotel.

In almost no time at all, our room was ready. The front desk representative told us that we had been upgraded to a suite, handed us our keys, and showed us where the elevators were. The room was nice and large with most of one wall being windows. The view outside the window is that of another building, but it’s a big window all the same. As big and spacious as the room was, it was also quite warm. We turned the thermostat down as much as possible, unpacked, and left a keycard in the power slot so the air conditioning would continue to run while we were at dinner.

Bedroom at the Eden Star Saigon hotel.
Room at the Eden Star Saigon hotel in Ho Chi Minh City
Bathroom at the Eden Star Saigon hotel.

Dinner Time

Jim had found a Mexican restaurant about a 15-minute walk from our hotel, so we headed in that direction, being careful when crossing the street. The streets are just as crazy with scooters and cars, just like in Hanoi. I’m a little proud of us for being about to cross the streets; it is an adventure every time.

The Mexican restaurant, La Siesta, only had one other customer when we arrived; however, we were outside the usual lunch hour. They had several menus, some with pictures, one only listing drinks, and finally, one with food. There were several vegetarian options, and the food was great.

La Siesta Mexican restaurant in Ho Chi Minh.
Jims lunch at La Siesta Mexican restaurant in ho Chi Mihn.
Meal at La Siesta Mexican restaurant in Ho Chi Minh City.

Trip To The Pharmacy

Jim had shared his cold with me, and I’d had it for several weeks. We had noticed a pharmacy at the end of the block, so we stopped in to see if they had any over-the-counter medicine. I had woken up several times with coughing spells the previous night and wanted a good night’s sleep.

We stepped inside and asked an employee if they had any over-the-counter medication for a cold. She sent me to the pharmacist, who asked me several questions about my symptoms. After a few minutes of discussion, she said she thought I needed an antibiotic. She gathered a few things, explained how many times a day to take them, and processed my payment. I ended up with an antibiotic, a steroid pack, and a sore throat spray. The total cost was $22 USD. You can’t visit a doctor and get prescription meds in the US for that amount.

Cold medicine

It’s Still Warm In Here

Once back at the hotel, we noticed our room was still quite warm, although we thought it may have cooled slightly. By morning, the temperature in the room had not changed, so I went down to the front desk to ask if there was a trick I did not know about how to operate the thermostat. The desk clerk called the maintenance team, who arrived quickly at our room. After looking the situation over, he called another person who, after working on the system for about 15 minutes, was able to get the air conditioning running. We were very grateful. The highs in Ho Chi Minh run close to 100 degrees Fahrenheit, so it gets toasty fast.

Scooter Food Tour

Our adventure today was a food tour via scooter with a local guide. I was a little nervous about riding the scooter, but our guide seemed competent, so we loaded up and headed out.

Jim, Rosie and Honey getting ready for our scooter food tour.
Helen our tour guide.
Tour guide helper, Honey.

Our guide’s nickname was Helen, and she had Honey, also a nickname, along with us—Jim rode with Honey, and I rode with Helen. Our stops alternated from a food stop to a cultural/historic stop so the food could settle a little before we moved on. After the first stop, we asked Helen to get us only one serving of each dish as there was no way we were going to be able to eat it all, and we did not want to waste any food.

Jim with food from our first stop.
Banana rice yumminess!
Banh Mi in Ho Chi Minh

We tried many new dishes that we would not have tried without Helen encouraging us.

Helen and the massive pancake.
Flower market in Ho Chi Minh City Vietnam.
Rosie on the road with Helen leading the way.

The historic stop was an interesting story, and we visited a local neighborhood and flower market. It was a great day.

Statue in Ho Chi Minh
Flower at historic site in Ho Chi Minh City
Memorial park in Ho Chi Minh City

Exhausted and sweaty, we returned to the hotel for a shower and a nap.

Local market shops in Ho Chi Minh City.
Apartment complex in Ho Chi Minh City.
Riding on scooters in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam.

Time To Eat...Again

Dinner that night was at a local Thai place we found while wandering down an alley called Mama Thai. It’s a busy place, but they were able to seat us quickly. After an initial mix-up with our order, our food was delivered, and we dug in. The food was fine, but not the best we’ve had here, and the serving size was a bit pricey.

Mama Thai in Ho Chi Minh City.
Spicy salad from Mama Thai
Dinner at Mama Thai

A Walk In The Park

Because this trip is so long, I scheduled several “rest” days between the tours and plans. Today was a rest day.

We slept in a little, had breakfast at the hotel, and decided to take a walk in a park we had noticed at the end of the block. It is hot and humid here, so we decided to walk in the morning to beat the heat. After leaving the hotel’s front door, we discovered it was already hot and humid. We went to the park anyway, thinking there would be trees for shade.

Park in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam.
Water feature at the park in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam.
Lotus flower in a park in Ho Chi Minh City Vietnam.

The park was stunning! It was huge, covered with trees and many types of flowers and shrubs. There were walking paths that led us to exercise stations, currently being used by some of the more mature members of the town. There were statues sprinkled around the park and several water features. We saw groups of people doing Thai chi, some ballroom dancing in a pagoda, and others playing some game (it reminded me of a hacky sack, but they used a different object to kick, and they had teams); we even saw people meditating. There was even a temple located in the middle of the park.

Thai Chi in the park in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam.
Park art in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam.
Water fountain in the park in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam.

After a lovely time at the park, we returned to our hotel to escape the heat.

A Trip To The Mekong Delta

The Mekong Wheels & Water tour was scheduled for today. According to the description this would be a small group tour. We’re pretty much over the big bus tours, so we were really looking forward to this one.

The organizer sent a message letting us know a driver would pick us up at our hotel at 7:00 AM. It is a 2.5-hour ride to Ben Tre, so we waited in front of the hotel at the appointed time. We expected a small bus or van, but a luxury SUV arrived instead. We traveled the entire distance in silence as the driver spoke no English. Once we arrived in Ben Tre, we met up with our tour guide, Sei.

Cutting down a coconut in the Mekong Delta
Jim drinking coconut water right from the coconut.
Jim and tour guide Sei on motorcycle.

The Tour

Sei introduced us to Mr. Hi, who would be driving the second motorbike. I hopped on the bike with Mr. Hi, and Jim rode with Sei.

Sei took us to a plot of land where he cut two coconuts down from a tree; he cut a hole in the top and popped in a straw so we could drink the water. We discussed which coconuts had water and which had milk, and how long they took to grow.

Sei cutting open fruit for us.
Citrus fruit in Vietnam.
Information about the fruit we were eating.

What Is A Pomelo?

On our way back to the motorcycles, Jim noticed a large fruit-looking object hanging from a tree and asked Sei about it. Sei cut one down, peeled it, and explained what it was. The fruit is called Pomelo and is from the citrus family. It looked like a large grapefruit but the taste was nothing we could relate to. It was not sweet or sour, although if you squeezed the peel, you did get a citrus scent. Sei was amazed that we had never seen or heard of it.

Riding on narrow pathways in the Mekong Delta.
Riding on a motorcycle in the Mekong Delta
Riding the back roads in the Mekong Delta, Vietnam.

Touring the Villages

Back on the bikes, we went off to explore the surrounding village. Up to this point, many of the small villages we had visited had small, older homes. Many without modern-day convenience. On this tour, however, we saw many homes that would be considered luxury in any country. They were surrounded by iron fencing with beautiful ornate gates.

Tea time, Mekong Delta, Vietnam.
Dining area at the Ba Danh Homestay in the Mekong Delta, Vietnam.
Ba Danh Homestay in the Mekong Delta, Vietnam.

The Homestay

Next up, we were taken to Sei’s Homestay. Homestays are common in Europe and Asia; they are similar to Airbnb’s but generally include meals. Some have common bath areas; others have private bath areas.

Ba Danh Homestay

Sei’s Homestay is called the Ba Danh Homestay & Kitchen. It was a lovely area spread out on quite a bit of land with small streams running through it. He gave us some tea, and his partner, Zen, stopped by to visit. We learned Zen had a smaller homestay, and we would see it later.

They made coconut candy, which they encouraged us to try, and then they took us over to the candy-making kitchen to watch the staff make the cadies. The process was explained to us, and we watched how quick and precise they were in cutting and wrapping the final product.

It was then time for lunch. Sei showed us to a table in the beautiful outdoor dining room where food had been delivered. He knew we were vegetarians, and all the dishes reflected this. The food was fabulous.

Coconut candy making in the Mekong Delta.
Lunch at the Homestay.
Jim relaxing in a hammock after lunch.

Once lunch was over, we were encouraged to rest as the day had gotten very hot. Sei guided us to two hammocks and suggested we take a break. Jim fell asleep.

InnerZen Riverside Homestay

We climbed back on the bikes and headed to Zen’s homestay, where the boat was parked. While Sei prepared the boat, Zen’s wife took me on a tour of one of the rooms at the homestay. InnerZen only has three rooms at this time, but they are a top-notch luxury facility. Whereas the Ba Danh homestay had more land but shared restrooms and was more rustic.

InnerZenn Homestay apartment.
InnerZenn Homestay bedroom.
InnerZenn Homestay bathroom

We headed down the dock to the flat-topped boat and plopped ourselves into beanbag chairs. We were asked to move the chairs just a bit to level out the boat. Sei fired up the motor, and off we went. He answered a lot of questions we had about the tributaries that we cruised through. The boat motor quit several times, and I wondered if it would make it back to the homestay.

Boat ride on a Mekong river tributary.
Palm trees lining the Mekong River tributary.
Mekong boat ride.

River Trash

Although the area was beautiful, seeing so much garbage in the water was sad. Some of it was limbs and palms from trees, but lots of bottles, cans, wrappers, and even bags of garbage floated by. Sei explained that the water flows down from Laos and Cambodia and brings with it whatever they throw in it.

Earlier in the trip, when we were on the Royal Caribbean Cruise, we noticed trash in the water in many ports and out in wide open ocean spaces. It is truly a problem that needs to be addressed.

Returning To The Dock

After over an hour of sailing, we headed back to the dock. Mercifully, the boat engine got us back to our departure point, only stalling once on the way back. We were surprised to see that the dock was now totally submerged in the water. Sei explained that the tide had come in (from the ocean), and the water level had risen. He pulled the boat up close to the homestay decking, and we were able to climb up to disembark.

Time To Go Back To The Hotel

Sei was ready to take us to a local market and some of the best street food spots in the area. However, we were exhausted from the heat and all the exploration, so we asked to start our trek back to the hotel. It was already 4:00 PM, and we still had a 2.5-hour car ride ahead of us. Although he wanted to take us to the market, we headed back to Saigon. Back on the motorcycles, we went to meet up with the driver. We rode much faster than we had for most of the day and moved in and out of heavy traffic on the main roads, which was also something we had yet to do all day.

The drive back to Ho Chi Minh/Saigon was long, and the traffic in the city area was terrible. We felt sorry for the driver who handled it all like a pro.

Wonderful Experience

We had a great time with team Mekong ZigZag. By the end of the day, we felt more like family than tourists.

A Day of Rest

Today was a rest day; we had no tours scheduled but did have a list of places to see if we felt like going out. After breakfast, we looked at the list and decided to take a walk and check out a few places on the list.

Saigon traffic
Rosie on the streets of Saigon
Ben Thanh market in Ho Chi Minh City Vietnam

The largest market in Ho Chi Minh City is called Binh Tay Market (there are actually several versions of the name). We have heard that although it’s the largest, it’s not necessarily the best. Our research indicated that because so many tourists visit Binh Tay, prices are generally higher, and pickpockets are rampant there. We decided to start a little smaller at the Central Market.

Buildings in Ho Chi Minh City
Traffic in Saigon
Shop in market in Saigon

Central Market

We followed Google’s directions to get to the market and wound up in a paved area with some flowers on it. There were two people doing yoga on the pavement. After finding some shade, we double-checked Google Maps, and it said we had arrived. So then we thought that the market was only open on the weekends. We saw a parking garage that indicated it was for the Central Market, so we were confident we were in the right area. I scrolled down to the reviews, and one mentioned that it was in a basement. We went in search of stairs and finally found an entrance!

It took us all of 5 minutes in the market to remember why we usually don’t do markets. They are big and crowded, and people constantly put items in front of your face to entice you into their stall. We found the exit and left the store.

Saigon Centre Mall

The next stop on our list was the Saigon Centre Mall. It sounded like malls we have in the US, which are airconditioned. We were hot and sweaty by this time as the temperature was closing in on 100 degrees F. We passed the Binh Tay Market on the way to the Saigon Center Mall but did not stop to investigate it. Super-sized tour buses were dumping tourists at its door one after the other.

We’re Being Followed

We finally arrived at the Saigon Center Mall and escaped the heat into its air-conditioned walls. I’ll admit, we have looked better, and I’m not sure how it appeared we were the only ones sweating, but each store we went into to browse sent an employee to follow us around. It was early, and we were the only customers in most stores. They didn’t even ask if we needed help; they just followed us around.

Thinking it was a one-off and not finding clothes in our fluffy sizes, we went into a Levi’s store. The same thing happened: noting our size and an employee hot on our tail. Slightly annoyed at the lack of personal space, we headed up to the top floor, where we noticed a Reebok store. As we exited the escalator, there was a department store, a name we didn’t recognize) but we did see a sign advertising reasonable prices and larger sizes.

Cafe apartment building in Saigon
Dragon face
Dragon tail

Traveling with only a carry-on and a backpack does not allow for many extra sets of clothes, but we discovered that when it is really hot, like in Vietnam, we need a couple of extra shirts to make it to the next laundry day.

We found a couple of shirts we thought would work but had questions about them. Unlike the other stores, no one followed us around, so I went in search of an employee. The young lady I found spoke enough English to answer our questions and was a lovely girl. We took our selections to the checkout counter and were on our way.

Welcome sign
Dragon head
Dragon tail

McDonald's

On our way back to the hotel, we passed by McDonalds. It was past lunch time and although McDonalds doesn’t have food we can eat in the US, we have found veggie burgers there in Europe. They don’t have them in Vietnam, but they did have big cups of iced tea, which were very welcome.

Jim had found a vegetarian restaurant near the hotel that he wanted to try, so we went in search of it. Once again, google said we had arrived, but nothing looked remotely like the photos online. We were hot, sweaty, and tired at this point, so we grabbed a couple of vegan Bon Mi’s and headed to the hotel.

He Found It!

Jim went to pick up the laundry we had dropped off at a shop and looked for the elusive vegetarian restaurant we could not locate the day before. He found it! He had to go into what looked like a parking garage and take the two-person elevator up a flight, then turn left into a small hall once he got off the elevator. We ended up having lunch there today. There were just a few tables in the dining room, but the takeout window was full of Grab delivery drivers. That’s always a good sign. Lunch was great and reasonably priced.

We found some of the most excellent places going down back alleys. Some were a little dicey for sure, but others look like this.

Home entry found in obscure ally in Ho Chi Minh City
Plants outside a home in obscure ally in Ho Chi Minh City

Hotel Process

We checked out of the hotel today and noticed something we had observed at our previous hotels in Vietnam but hadn’t thought about. When you go to the reception desk to check out, they call someone (on a radio) and have that person check the room to make sure there is no damage or that you didn’t take anything before they complete the checkout paperwork. It’s a pretty efficient system; I wonder why US hotels don’t do the same thing.

The Ho Chi Minh Airport

We headed to the airport after calling a Grab (Asia Uber). Once we were dropped off and walked inside, we found the place busy. The Vietnam Airlines representative we were assigned appeared to be having a bad day. She made us check our carry-on bags and sent us on our way. As we approached the Immigration checkpoint, we were overwhelmed with the number of people in line. We joined the line and went back and forth with everyone else for a long time.

Once we were just a few positions back from the immigration officer stand, we watched a younger couple in front of us. The immigration officer did not like something on the female’s passport and appeared to ask for her visa. He kept pointing at something on the paper. He then called the male to the counter and, after a short discussion, told them both to step aside. He called another officer, who escorted the couple away.

Line at the airport

Brunch

It took us about an hour and a half to make it through immigration and security checkpoints. We had arrived at the airport with plenty of time to spare, so we had plenty of time to have “brunch” and head to our gate. Internally, we had been flying Vietnam Airlines and found that on some flights, they served meals, like from Singapore to Hanoi. They just handed out water bottles on other flights (like Hanoi to Danang). The flight we were getting ready to take was just over an hour long, so we assumed we would get a bottle of water. Bangkok is a new destination for us, and research indicated that there could be long wait times in customs/immigration. Hoping to keep the “hangry” away, we opted to have brunch in Ho Chi Minh.

Gate Change

Terminal 2 at the Ho Chi Minh airport is long and narrow. Our assigned gate, 22, was near the end of the terminal on one side. After locating the gate, we settled in to wait for our flight. It appeared we would be loading onto buses from the gate, which generally means they start the process a little earlier than the normal boarding time. Forty minutes before our flight was scheduled to board, I received a notice from TripCase on my phone that there was a gate change. The new gate was 9, at the terminal’s other end. Jim checked the board at our gate, and our flight no longer showed; however, there was no gate change announcement.

Gathering our things, we headed all the way to the other end of the terminal in search of gate 9. We did check the departure board on the way but it still showed our flight at gate 22. It’s about a 15-minute walk from one end of the terminal when walking at a good clip. When we arrived at gate 9, we checked the board for the gate, and our flight was not listed. The Vietnam Airlines app could use some serious work; it does not show gates or any time adjustments. There was no airline representative at the gate, so we trekked back to gate 22, checking the departure board as we passed. It still said gate 22 was where we needed to be.

Back at gate 22, we found seats with everyone else waiting for the flight. We had not been sitting more than 5 minutes when a very quiet announcement came over the PA system that there had been a gate change. Back to gate 9, we went.

The Flight

It took a while to get everyone from one gate to the next, so the start of the boarding process was slightly delayed. Again, with no announcement made, the airline reps just started letting people board the plane. We got in line and boarded the plane.

Once airborne, a lunch of tuna sandwiches and fruit was served. Since we don’t eat meat, we just ate the fruit and were grateful we had eaten brunch. The flight was uneventful, and we landed in Bangkok ten minutes early.