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Vietnam Travel Diary #03: Ho Chi Minh City – Delicious Pho and Breathtaking Views

I woke up with some seriously low energy after being very sleep deprived. The jet lag still had me fully and firmly in it’s grasp. But then… it was time for breakfast. All of a sudden, it was like I had been gifted a bowl of pure joy to cure all of my woes.

I’m talking about Pho…

Pho

Pho is a delicious mixture of broth, rice noodles, herbs and usually either beef or chicken. In our hotel they put a little Vietnamese meatball in there too! You can add beansprouts, lemon juice, and also red chillies if you’re up for a bit of spice! There are slight regional variants to the taste of Pho, and in the South of Vietnam the broth usually has a sweeter flavour.

After being far too cautious and eating mostly from the buffet the morning before, I decided to venture into new territory and went up to the Pho counter. As an incredibly socially awkward human being, I got very flustered when I saw all of the extra ingredients that were placed by the station. Just to put how confused I was into context… I put my lemon wedge into my broth WHOLE. I didn’t even squeeze it… I just dropped it in there like a berocca tablet in a glass of water. But the chef at the station was so lovely. She used tongs to take it out for me, and then got a new lemon and squeezed the juice into my broth. Within 10 seconds, and without speaking, she had properly instructed me on how to properly garnish a bowl of Pho.

It was so delicious. A beautiful blend of flavours and textures… With every spoonful of broth that I had, I felt better and better. You know how Popeye needs spinach to get all strong and brave? That day I needed Pho, and Pho worked. It warmed my soul and reminded me that travel is a wonderful and unpredictable experience that creates something truly priceless memories. I thanked the lady again when I left and she nodded and gave me a warm smile. She’ll never know how much she cheered me up that day.

We’d already seen the majority of the things we had wanted to see in the city the day before, so we decided to spend the afternoon chilling out at our hotel’s amazing rooftop pool.

Rooftop Pool

We set up two sunbeds by the pool and had a relaxing swim. It was so refreshing up there and the views weren’t half bad either!

Rooftop ViewRooftop view 2

After we got out we sat on the sunbeds drying off and feeling the gorgeous breeze that drifted past us. We watched the occasional dragon fly come and explore the pool area. I listened to an audio book and watched the clouds roll by.

In the early evening we headed to Bitexco Financial Tower. Until January 2011 this was the tallest building in Vietnam, and you really can’t miss it! We headed up in an elevator that whisked us all the way up to the observation deck. Once you’re up there, you can see panoramic views of the entire city.

Daylight View from Bitexco Financial TowerInside Bitexco Financial Tower

We had aimed to get there about 30 minutes – 1 hour before sunset, and luckily we made it in time to see Ho Chi Minh City both in the daylight, during the sunset, and also after dark.

Night view from Bitexco Financial TowerNight View from Bitexco Financial Tower 2

This was such a wonderful way to spend our last night in the city. As I sat there, I just kept thinking about how much this skyline has changed throughout history, and how different it may look in the future.

To see my previous post all about the history and culture in Ho Chi Minh City click here

 

 

 

 

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Vietnam Travel Diary #02: Ho Chi Minh City – Heat, History and Culture

I have to say that, no matter how much preparation, research and planning we had done for this trip, nothing had quite prepared me for the HEAT. I knew it was going to be very hot, but I didn’t fully realise that Ho Chi Minh City would have heat and humidity more intense than anything I had ever experienced before. We decided to take it slow, and started the morning with a stroll through Tao Dan Park.

Tao Dan Park

As we walked through the park we noticed groups of people doing Tai Chi. It looked so graceful and elegant. We also saw people doing fan dancing, and others doing their own individual exercise routines. Another group of people were playing badminton and instead of using rackets they were kicking the shuttlecock to each other over the net.

We then headed to the Reunification Palace. This was a really grand piece of architecture. I will admit that I took every possible opportunity to casually stop and stand under the cool air vents inside the building for as long as I could without looking too much like a tourist way out of her temperature comfort zone.

Reunification Palace

It was so interesting to take a glimpse inside the state rooms. The building was very open, and light poured through each room. It was surrounded by greenery and as we walked past the windows in the hallways, we could hear the sound of birds chirping and the distant whirl of the traffic.

State Dining RoomState Meeting Room

The next place we visited was incredibly sobering. We travelled to the War remnants museum; a building dedicated to preserving photographs and artefacts from the Vietnam war and the first Indochina War. As you enter the area, you are given a sticker that depicts a white dove in front of three falling bombs. For me this was a reminder that we should always continue to strive for tranquillity, kindness and peace. The symbol can be seen on the building in the image below:

The War Remnants Museum

Inside the building there were a variety of exhibitions on both the Vietnam war and the First Indochina War. In Vietnam, they often refer to the Vietnam War as the ‘Resistance War Against America’ or ‘The American War’. The exhibitions were harrowing, and the photographs were graphic, raw and uncensored. Inside that building I saw photographs that shocked me to my core.

One of the most poignant exhibitions was one dedicated to those who photographed the Vietnam War. This was so informative as it showed the transition from black and white to colour photography, and how these photographs were used to bring awareness to the realities of the war. Photojournalism helped to raise a huge amount of awareness surrounding the Vietnam war, and many photographers gave their lives in the quest to document it’s brutal realities. A plaque in the middle of the exhibition had a list of photographers who had died or had gone missing during the war.

Photographers In the War

We took a moment in the museum to just sit and digest what we had seen. We just sat silently for a while. Visiting the War Remnants Museum was so important, and I’m really glad that it was one of the first things we’ve did. I think this was a really important stop to make.

We then took a long walk to the pink church, more formally known as Tan Dinh Church. On the way to the pink church a few guys said ‘Hello!’ and held up peace signs.  The pink church was actually closed when we got there, but the outside was a marvel in itself.

The Pink Church

As you can see, it’s a very pink church. Can you spot a very small human? That’s me. The clouds above us began to get a little grey, so we anticipated that it might rain soon. After seeing the church we headed towards the post office, and on our way we stumbled across the aptly nicknamed Book Street. It was amazing! There were umbrellas hung above the street and a sudden rain started to drizzle onto them just as we got under the canopy.

Book Street

The street had lots of independent book shops and quaint coffee shops. There was also a lush sunshade of trees above us. We sat on a bench for a little while taking in the sounds of rain splashing, people chatting and coffee cups clinking. One of my favourite things to do is just sit, observe and take in the atmosphere. This was the perfect place to do it. I’d found my own personal Eden in Ho Chi Minh City.

We got to the post office and looked around the shops for a bundle of postcards to send to friends and family. The building was another brilliant piece of architecture.

The Post Office

Whilst we were searching for postcards and stamps I had a bit of a funny turn and had to sit down for a while. I sat in the post office looking at the old fashioned phone booths, and eventually felt alright after a nice rest.

We then headed to the opera house. I’m a massive opera nerd so, when I can, I always make an effort to see the opera house in each city I visit.

The Opera House

After that we stumbled upon the town hall which was a welcome surprise, and the last item on our list of things to see on that day. We strolled to the waterfront where we sat and watched the water.

We then headed back to the hotel to have a rest. In the evening we went to dinner at Pizza 4P’s which is a Japanese Italian Pizza Restaurant based in Vietnam (quite a mouthful!). The pizza didn’t disappoint and we had a lovely evening just relaxing, eating, and talking about what else we might want to do in HMC. We walked home late, and on the way to the hotel I saw three lizards scuttling around on the size of a movie poster.

When I got back to the hotel, I felt… exhausted. As wonderful as Ho Chi Minh City had been so far, it was also proving to be quite overwhelming at times. I vowed that most of the extra anxiety was coming from jet lag, and that tomorrow would be a new day full of even more adventure!

Thank you for reading! You can see my previous travel diary all about my first impressions of the city here.

 

 

 

 

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Vietnam Travel Diary #01: Ho Chi Minh City – First Impressions

We hadn’t got much sleep on the red eye flight from Doha, despite there only being about 30 of us on the plane and having ample room to spread out (I’m serious – it was bliss). I spent the majority of the flight surfing the entertainment system; this included ‘The Sisterhood of the Travelling Pants‘, which made me very happy.

The flight to Tan Son Nhat International Airport

When we stepped out of the airport and into Ho Chi Minh City it was an instant sensory overload. The humidity hit us and we were met with a whirl of noises and smells. There were people sleeping, eating and reading on their parked motorbikes, motorbikes zooming and weaving in and out of each other, the smell of petrol and heat and the constant sound of horns. It was a bustling symphony of metropolitan sounds. As we travelled into district 1 of Ho Chi Minh City in our taxi we saw motorbikes that were piled with pallets, gallons of water, piles of straw, all sorts! One man had a few tall ladders stacked on the back of his bike. The road’s were chaos, but it just… worked! It was fascinating to see the way the city flows.

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We got to our hotel and had to wait a while for the room to be done, so we dropped our bags off and went to explore some of the city. One of the first things I noticed was that we were getting a lot of looks from the locals. Not nasty or sinister stares, just a few interested looks and smiles. After just one short stroll down the pavement we had seen street vendors cooking corn and rice, Luke had been offered a shoe shine, and I had seen about six different types of fruit being pushed along the pavement in bike baskets. We popped into a 7-eleven to look for some snacks and the staff gave us a very enthusiastic ‘Xin Chào!’. There was so much to see. It was slightly overwhelming at first, but it was the best way to become acquainted with Vietnam.

Then is was time to cross the road…

If you aren’t familiar with the roads in Vietnam, you should know that there isn’t much of a strict pedestrian system in place. There are traffic lights and pedestrian crossings, but many motorists don’t stop at them. The general rule for crossing the road in Vietnam is to look left and right, and then walk at a steady and confident pace across the road. This is to allow the riders to anticipate where you are walking and let them weave around you. It’s kind of like playing frogger! It’s a trust exercise with a bunch of strangers you’ve never met and it sounds insane, but it’s weirdly exhilarating! If you’re worried about crossing, a good tip is to follow someone who looks like they know what they’re doing! Ho Chi Minh City probably had the most chaotic roads of all of the places we visited, motorbikes even mounted the pavement, so we had to be constantly alert. But it was a real rush!

In the evening we thought we would take it easy and just stroll through the city to find some dinner. Ho Chi Minh City was gorgeous at night and the culture shock that I had initially felt was slowly wearing off at this point. We headed to the ‘Saigon Centre’ which was a huge modern mall filled with all kinds of shops and restaurants.

The Saigon Centre

We walked out onto a rooftop garden in the centre and had a great view of the city. It was so alive, and watching the bustle of the city from the tranquillity of that garden was such a wonderful experience.

The Roof Garden

Ho Chi Minh City at night

Tomorrow, we thought, it’s time to explore!

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Dear Late Bloomer

 

At the age of 23, I was suddenly hit with a perpetual degree of self-induced pressure to succeed as soon as possible. I moved away from home to a very large, very loud and (for a time) very lonely city. I ventured into the unknown with a head full of anxieties and a heart full of appreciation and determination. I had been propelled into a course in London with the help of an incredible group of friends and family, and everything I had ever dreamt of doing was suddenly a reality.

I instantly put pressure on myself, not just because of how many people were rooting for me, but also because I already felt like I was so behind in life. Despite the many chats I had with friends and family, I had convinced myself that I needed to take this chance and succeed as fast as possible, and as young as possible.

When you look at the way the media glorifies young achievers, it’s no wonder  many of us feel a crippling amount of pressure to become one. As a society, for some reason, we place so much value and prestige on child prodigies and being the youngest person to achieve a certain accolade. The issue with this logic though, is that it assumes that someone reaching certain milestones in their life at a young age is more impressive than if they were in their 30s, 40s, heck even their 80s or 90s and beyond.

I have often felt like I’m so far behind other people my age because I’m reaching certain milestones later than they did, or later than I feel I am ‘expected’ to. This is a deceitful and deep-rooted thought process that it has taken me years to unpick. Expecting people to reach certain milestones by a certain age refuses to see the struggles, challenges and ups and downs of each individual. Thinking that someone is running late or growing too slow neglects to acknowledge that our paths are all wonderfully different, and we tread them with a unique stride.

Within my first year living in London I had convinced myself that there was an end point and that I needed to reach it as soon as possible. The reality was that my experience would turn out to be completely different and more wonderful than I had ever expected.

We each have a beautifully unique journey ahead of us, and life is about enjoying that ride. It’s just like Billy Joel says, “Vienna waits for you”. Life is all about change and growth, it’s about embracing what COULD be and not striving for what you think MUST be.

For me, success is measured in things like; growth, laughter, memories, travel, awareness, experiences, learning, kindness and empathy. And not one of those has an expiry date. So from one late bloomer to another, know this…

Uncertainty is scary but its okay.

Your journey is unique, nobody knows what it’s like to be you.

Don’t compare yourself to other people.

Don’t forget how far you’ve come.

It’s okay to be you, just as you are.

It’s okay to slow down.

It’s okay to not know what you’re doing yet.

It’s okay to never know what you’re true calling is.

It’s okay to reach milestones later in life.

It’s okay.

Take your time.