After a tear-filled goodbye to my study abroad mates and the city of Hong Kong itself, my girlfriends from Nebraska and I headed to Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam.
Ho Chi Minh City, or Saigon, as the locals prefer, is the most modern city in Vietnam. Despite this, my friends and I were very nervous to travel here by ourselves. We set up many tours and hired guides to help us along the way.
Overall, I found the city fairly safe. We walked around when it was dark by ourselves and met people who were traveling by themselves. However, stories of safety are never fun.
Let me set the scene – deep in the jungle near the Mekong River Delta. Squad and I were marching through the densely forested jungle. All of a sudden, our trusty guide, Hau, said, “it’s time to rally ladies…” But before Hau could even finish her sentence (and my friend Izzy could pull out her flask), we heard a massive clap of thunder.
A typhoon was upon us! You could see the clouds begin to roll in. The once sunny day turned to a dreary grey. Hau summoned us to our boats. We had to paddle out of the backwaters in canoes into the main port. Then we had to board our larger vessel to make it safely back to the tour van.
My friends and I boarded the canoe separate from our guide. Before leaving, Hau gave us a farewell gift of rice hats. “Put these on for good luck,” she said.
Canoeing was really hard…I mean…I’m sure it was very hard for our captain…
We made it to the port with our larger vessel. However, Hau was nowhere in sight. We were beginning to worry we wouldn’t make it out alive. Then, like a glorious angel, Hau appeared!
She ushered us onto the bigger boat. But just when we thought we had made it to safety, we come face to face with the typhoon.
The heavy slanted rain quickly defeated our polka dot ponchos and we became thoroughly soaked. While everyone else on the boat was reaming surprisingly calm, we took finding a lifeboat and preparing the life jackets.
After the five longest minutes of my life, we safely made it to shore. The strength and courage we all showed during this tumulus typhoon should warrant us all national heroes. However, it didn’t.
It pains me to say this, but some of this story may be a little over dramatized. Maybe there wasn’t really a typhoon, just a rain shower. And maybe rice hats aren’t for good luck, just a touristy photo op.
We are very fortunate to be able to say this “typhoon” was the most unsafe thing that happened to us in Vietnam. Nonetheless, our overall safety in Vietnam was not by accident. There were certain precautions my friends and I took while travelling that I think helped us have a safe and fun time! Check out my major keys for Ho Chi Minh City to learn more.
Hannah’s Major Keys for Ho Chi Minh City:
1. Use Urban Adventures for all your touring needs. We did a Mekong Delta tour, Cu Chi Tunnels tour, and street food tour through them. Fabulous guides made each tour amazing! We wouldn’t have been able to experience as much of Ho Chi Minh as we did without this tour service.
2. Keep a close eye on your belongings! Each time we left our hotel, the doorman would remind us to put away our phones and hold onto our bags. I never saw anyone attempting to pickpocket us, but better safe than sorry (especially after my experience at Bungalow in Hong Kong). I was also told by my mother to not wear any jewelry. Apparently some people will literally pull necklaces off your neck!
3. Word of caution on street food – we did a street food tour with Urban Adventures and it was fabulous! None of us had any stomach problems after. I would highly recommend doing this tour if the street food interests you. But I would NOT recommend trying the street food by yourself.
4. As young girls traveling by ourselves, we were unsure of what locals considered as proper dress code. So, we all pack a pair of loose, long pants and tops that covered our shoulders. In reality, we really didn’t need any of this! On all the tours we went on, athletic shorts and tank tops were most comfortable. And when we went out to eat or walked around the city, shorts and a t-shirt or a sundress was just fine!
5. Everything is super cheap in Vietnam! That being said, you should still bargain at the markets. At Ben Thai Market, start by offering 20% of the original price. Remember, your biggest asset is walking away. If they can work with your price, shopkeepers won’t let you leave! Also, make sure to bargain in Vietnam Dong, not dollars. One of my friends got burned bad when the shopkeeper switched over to USD.