I am sure there must be one thousand questions in your head right after booking your flight. The very first question being where should I stay?
There are literally THOUSANDS of hotels in Ho Chi Minh City and I am not joking. Ranging from a few dollars for a hammock rental by the highway to five stars hotels.
Before we jump to accommodation, let’s deal with what to pack.
There are things which you can still buy in HCMC if you have forgotten, but the lack of location knowledge will make searching for items a tremendous waste of precious time.
Shoes & Clothings
The general weather in Saigon and the surrounding province is hot and humid. Temperatures generally linger around 30 degree C / 86 degree F in the day and 25 C/77F at night. You will find yourself literally soak in sweat. Your shirt will be soaking wet and your underwear becomes moist and unbearable. This can be the most turn-off for travellers first time to Asia.
This is due to the humidity of the air. The air is so humid that sweat cannot be effectively evaporated.
In this humidity, personal hygiene can deteriorate rapidly within a few days.
So bring light clothing and sandals or slippers are the preferred gear.
Body powder after bathing can help to prolong the period between another bath. Vietnamese are known to take regular showers throughout the day to stay cool and to keep themselves clean and odour free. You will start to notice body odours that you have never had.
This is because the bacterias which are responsible cannot thrive in dry and cold climate, and upon coming in contact with hot and humid air mixed with your sweat, they will immediately come alive! Pack deodorant or buy some upon arrival.
If you wear shoes throughout the day and night without changing your socks at least once a day, you will also start to develop stinky foot. Your shoes will build up so much bacteria that it will smell so bad that you will have to throw them away. Foot rot will follow if you fail to keep your feet dry ( a common problem for American soldiers during the war).
The problem is compiled with constant rain during the monsoon season which last from April till September. During this period it will rain on a daily basis with rampant street flooding. The rain will intensifies in June and July with thunderstorm and torrential DOWNPOUR. Nothing can keep you dry.
DO NOT GO OUT DOOR DURING A FLOOD OR TORRENTIAL DOWNPOUR! THERE ARE EXTREME RISKS OF BEING ELECTROCUTED, FALLING INTO A HOLE!
Prepare for Brownouts & Blackouts
Vietnam uses 2-pin wall sockets and the power supply is 220V (which shouldn’t be a problem with electronic these days).
The real problem will be brownouts and blackouts. In Saigon brownouts are still a common thing especially during the dry season. Vietnam is extremely reliant on hydroelectric power generation. During the dry season water becomes a problem.
All available power during the affected days are diverted to factories and industries. Residential will be last on the list. Power rationing will take place. Residential estates and districts will rotate to have their power cut during the day ranging from an hour to a few hours.
Some times brownouts can happen at night too due to a falling tree damaging the cables. Brownouts can also happen during heavy rain. It is dangerous to go out during a massive storm because the electrical cable can be severe by falling tree branches and when these live cable touches the puddle of water it will electrocute everything and everyone who is connected.
When you travel outwards towards the smaller cities or towns, expect no power for the whole day sometimes.
Most shops or restaurants will have their own small generator to provide some light but nothing more. And they usually have enough fuel for a couple of hours only.
A power bank can be a god send. There are a lot of variety of power banks available but typically the higher capacity power banks comes at a trade off for weight. And a higher capacity power bank requires a longer charging time.
Note: Airport and airlines will restrict the way you carry power banks. Most power banks below 20,000 mAh should be fine, but make sure you purchase one that clearly label its capacity. No power banks can be checked in!
People have also begun to resort to solar charging or solar power bank. It depends on your needs and budget.
A tough and waterproof torch light is also a must. It will come handy during times like these.
I once woke up to a complete blackout night during a typhoon only to discover that the drainage on the top most floor's balcony was choked with debris and rain water pour down the stairwell from the 4th floor to the ground floor. Luckily I have a habit of hanging my Maclite by my bed, or otherwise I wouldn't have made it to the ground floor, without slipping, to shut down the main. And to later return to the balcony to clear the choke under the downpour. It was like while I was trying to clear the debris while someone pour a whole bucket of water onto your head.
And don’t forget to pack a waterproof pouch to keep your passport and documents in. I cannot emphasise enough on this. Keep the pouch under your shirt at all times.
The most common problem you will face in Vietnam will be food poisoning and diarrhoea.
Prepare charcoal pills and diarrhoea medicines in the plenty. You can get them in the local Vietnamese pharmacies though but having it ready is much better than having to source for one.
The water from the tap is not portable, not even when you boil it. Ice served in drinks is a common source of diarrhoea.
The next source of diarrhoea is from raw uncooked vegetables. I am sure manure is still being used as fertiliser in some smaller farms.
Migraine and headache
The noise pollution is indescribable. Busses literally blast their repeating horns 24/7. Taxi, motorbikes, exhaust fumes, and the heat are a perfect recipe for migraine and headache. Especially if you come from a quiet country.
Bed bugs and mosquitoes
If you opt to stay at a budget guest house, expect the bugs. Bed bugs is common. Mosquitoes are also wide spread in Asia.
Mosquitoes repellent and bed bug creams are a must have.
Cuts and wounds
Let’s just say that public safety is not well observed in Vietnam. Exposed nails, uneven walkways, protruding bars and what have you are everywhere.
Falling and getting yourself cut are weekly affairs, especially if you have a little too much to drink.
You should get a tetanus shot is vital. Next is to prepare a small first aid kit with bandages, band aid, etc. is important.
A good hat, sun block, and sun glasses is paramount.
Vietnam is sunny most of the time. In the cities there might not be trees to provide you with shades. The risk of sun burn is real even if you stay in the cities.
Now, besides travel insurance which is a MUST, the next thing to take care of is money. The Vietnamese currency is called DONG. And you will become instant millionaires because of their large denomination.
The trouble with booking a hotel in Vietnam is the language barrier or they practice price discrimination against western tourists. Even as an Asian tourist you will also face similar fate. Even for someone like me who speaks fluent Vietnamese I still prefer to book via Agoda. Not only their rate is always BETTER than walk in rates, the information provided on Agoda website is extremely helpful for making a right decision, especially the MAP! If a hotel is not listed on Agoda, then don't bother at all. Please help me by clicking on the banner below if you are seriously looking for a hotel, as I can get a referral fee which helps me fund my yearly hosting and domain name fee. TIA!