Flowing through the colourful landscapes of Southeast Asia for 2,700 miles; Asia’s second longest river, the Mekong, passes some of the continent’s most esteemed destinations. In total, this mystical waterway negotiates six countries — China, Myanmar, Laos, Thailand, Cambodia, and Vietnam — providing a vital lifeline for the millions of people who reside along its banks.
Choose to journey this illustrious riverine passageway aboard a 5-star luxury Space-Ship, and you’ll enjoy port calls in a selection of Southeast Asia’s best-loved visitor destinations. Numerous luxurious river ships travel miles along this ageless waterway, conveying you direct to the heart of the Mekong’s authentic cultural highlights.
In order to better showcase the wonderful port visits that await you on a luxury Mekong river cruise, we asked Scenic Brand Manager and self-confessed travel devotee, Nichola Absalom, to share her experiences of one of the Mekong’s favourite destinations, Ho Chi Minh City. Offering helpful tips and advice on what to see and do during a visit to Ho Chi Minh City, we’re providing you with a fantastic insight for those travelling to the city as part of a longer Mekong river cruise. Read on for the full account of her experiences on the banks of the Mekong River.
THE BEAUTY OF VIETNAM AND THE MEKONG
I adore travelling. At an early age I caught the ‘travelling bug’, and since leaving university I’ve spent my entire career in the travel industry. I’ve been one of the lucky ones. I travelled far and wide, and experienced many things that truly left me awestruck. But it wasn’t until last year that I finally made it to Vietnam. The country always seemed to come below other destinations on my ‘to-visit’ list, but in October 2015, I boarded an Emirates flight to the country’s biggest and most vibrant metropolis, Ho Chi Minh City.
The flight from the UK to Vietnam is long, with a change in Dubai, but this serves to break up the journey nicely. And if you manage to get some sleep along the way, all the better. Plus, there’s three pieces of good news on arrival:
1. You don’t need to purchase a visa beforehand – you can get one when you arrive
2. You can pay in US dollars
3. Everyone speaks a little English so it’s easy to find where you need to go
Good first impressions, then. Ho Chi Minh is set up for tourists. Hotels of all budgets are aplenty. Mine, the 5-star Caravelle, was just where I wanted to be. It was comfortable, generously appointed, and benefitted from great amenities and a central location.
From its historic, colonial French architecture to its ultra-modern skyscrapers, Ho Chi Minh City is a destination of lurid contrast. There are markets, coffee shops, eateries, local shops, and internationally-renowned designer stores aplenty, while spa and massage centres seem to lay claim to every street corner. The city has a life of its own and you cannot help but be drawn in by it. Visitors will soon get used to the fast pace, the busy roads, and the endless Tuk Tuks and motorcycles. When you venture past the skyscrapers and boutique hotels, the history of the city can still be witnessed — so it’s up to you how much you wish to explore.
For those interested in unearthing the history of the infamous Vietnam War, the War Remnants Museum is a must see. The collections inside are a very real reminder of the past mistakes of humanity, with the various atrocities of the Vietcong war on show for all to see. It’s harrowing to read the stories and witness images from that time, but it’s an important part of the country’s heritage, and should never be forgotten.
There’s a hidden gem in this city that I was lucky enough to find, Tao Dan Park. A green space where locals flock to for socialising and exercising, Tao Dan paints an authentic picture of real life in Ho Chi Minh City. The most fascinating thing about the park is the daily visits from older gentleman with birdcages in hand, to what is known as the Bird Café. The birds are left hanging in their cages whilst the men sit and drink Vietnamese coffee (very bitter but well worth trying).
If you have time (or the inclination), a good way to see the city is via a Vespa tour. Don’t worry, as you don’t have to drive one. These popular tours happen daily, you’ll be part of a group, and you’ll be very safe. These tours take you off the beaten track, to secret spots and some of the best places in the city. It was a real highlight for me.
Vietnamese food is simple, fresh and delicious. Everywhere you go you’ll see street food vendors, local restaurants and cafes. There’s a common perception when eating in Asia that it’s easy to get sick, but stick to these rules and you’ll be fine:
1. Eat where you see locals eating
2. Eat where you can see the food being prepared and cooked
Steamed rice seems so much tastier when eaten in Vietnam. It’s the staple food here and is served with almost everything, but for some reason you never get tired of it. It tastes different with every meal you order. There’s something to suit every palate: seafood, traditional dishes, an abundance of soups and western fare.
Interested in following in Nichola’s footsteps and experiencing Ho Chi Minh City for yourself? Call us today on 01730 711010 to speak to our cruise experts or contact us online
By Nichola Absalom – Scenic Cruises