When we are on the road for a couple of months, we like to schedule in a “vacation” from our vacation. Ho Chi Minh City ended up being where we took our break, mainly because we were there during Tet.
During Tet, for at least 3 days, everything shuts down in Vietnam. And, for a few days before and a few days after, businesses shut down so that people can travel to visit their families. So, for about 7-10 days, not much is going on. We scheduled our trip not fully understanding how big a deal this holiday is. We should’ve had a clue when we booked our Mekong River cruise from Ho Chi Minh City to Phnom Penh – we had to move the date of the cruise because the boat would not be running until 4 days past Tet. But, we already had our flights and hotels booked, and decided to proceed.
The date for Tet this year was February 5th. By the 2nd, it was becoming difficult to find a restaurant that was open in Da Nang. We moved on to HCMC on the 3rd, hoping that in such a large city that we would have no issues with finding places to eat. And, we were wrong – almost every place to eat was closed and almost every business was closed as well.
On the upside, we chose a perfect place to stay – Sherwood Suites, which is located in District 3 (close to both the War Remnants Museum and the Reunification Palace). We had a one-bedroom apartment with a full kitchen as well as a washer and dryer. Yes! Time for some clean clothes! I cannot speak highly enough about this hotel. Besides having a luxurious apartment to relax in, the breakfast was incredible, the service was friendly (but not intrusive, as we experienced in other hotels in Vietnam), the pool was the perfect temperature, and the location was great. And, we didn’t starve because there was a Lotteria (fast food) and grocery store across the street, as well as a nice restaurant in the hotel.
We could definitely tell that we had moved south – the temperature soared into the 90’s every day. We walked around District 1 every morning after breakfast before it got too hot. Since we were here a year ago (Two Days in Saigon), we had already seen the main sites; at least the ones that we wanted to see, so this time around we just wandered and people watched. We spent time by the pool and got massages (of course!).
One thing we noticed right away was that it was easy to cross the street here! There are many one-way streets and plenty of traffic lights. Unlike the other cities we have visited in this country, people actually seem to obey the traffic signals. Because it was Tet, the traffic was lighter than is typical.
Just like everywhere else we have been in Vietnam, motorcycles are everywhere. They are the “pack mules” of this country. What we would use a pickup truck to haul in the US gets strapped on to a motorcycle here. Entire families ride on a single bike and the family dog. I call the motorcycles here the “Saigon SUV’s”!
And of course, beware of motorcycles riding down the middle of the sidewalk! Though, to be fair, they do try to limit this by putting barriers on the sidewalk. The ropes didn’t seem to help much…
We noticed security guards almost everywhere. Most seemed pretty bored; thank goodness they had their cell phones to keep them occupied!
There were signs everywhere wishing us Chúc Mừng Năm Mới (Happy New Year). There were special displays up all over as well. We saw many people taking photos in front of the displays.
I was especially impressed with the pretty yellow blossoms on the trees.
Correction – I was impressed until I got a little closer. It must’ve taken a while to wire all of those fake blossoms onto the trees!
We saw a team getting ready to do the dragon dance, and then turned the corner to find a group already in action. Very cool!
We visited District 5 (Cho Lon) but found everything closed up, just like District 1 and 3. There were a few people selling goods for Tet, but mostly we saw the remnants left over from the celebration.
We walked to the Ben Thanh Market a few times. Many people take off for the holidays and so many of the stalls were closed and locked. Inside the market, there were some stalls open, but a small fraction of the normal amount.
We passed by some of the tourist attractions.
Clayton tried his hand at carrying things, local style.
I noticed what looked like propaganda billboards all around. Perhaps I am wrong, but that is what they looked like to me.
So, did we do anything particularly exciting in HCMC? No, not really. But, we did get rested up and ready for the rest of our journey. Tomorrow, we are off on a 3-day river trip to Phnom Penh on Mekong Eyes!