Note: This is Part 1 of a 3-part post about my Ho Chi Minh City experience with Urban Adventures.
My trip to Vietnam was filled with so many wonderful moments it’s difficult to choose one highlight. As a solo traveler not feeling 100 percent confident to take on Ho Chi Minh City on my own, I can confidently say the best thing I did in my trip planning was book city tours to explore the city and nearby areas.
It so happened three of the five tours I took were with Urban Adventures. (Tip: when you book through the link, you’ll receive $10 off an Urban Adventures Tour!) You may think I really, really like them, and I do, I’ve taken a tour of Philadelphia with the company, but it was just by coincidence. See, I used AAA’s travel agency to book my accommodations (at the Empress Hotel, which I would stay in again in an instant), a couple of tours and airport transfers.
Those tours, the Cu Chi Tunnels and Saigon Street Food by Night, were booked through a third-party entity and I didn’t realize it was Urban Adventures until I looked at the vouchers. If I had the time and energy, I should have booked them directly and would have probably saved some money, but, I took advantage of the convenience of booking through a travel agent and don’t regret doing so.
Ho Chi Minh Discovery Tour: Perfect Introduction to the City and Vietnamese Culture
The Discovery Tour was the first tour I took that week and it provided an excellent orientation to the city and Vietnamese culture. I booked this myself after realizing I needed someone to teach me how to cross the street in Ho Chi Minh City. The tour picked me up at my hotel and I joined two others for a half-day adventure. My guide, Jay, was entertaining and informative as he led the group through the War Remnants Museum, Reunification Palace, a temple and a couple of markets in Chinatown. The tour included lunch at Pho 2000, made famous in 2000 when President Bill Clinton presumably slurped noodles there.
Jay taught me how to safely cross the street, educated me about the “Happy Room” (bathroom), explained how to bargain in the markets, taught me how to pray in a temple, and shared his personal connection to how the Vietnam War impacted him. Although he wasn’t born during until after the war and was taught in school to hate the U.S., Jay said open access to the Internet allowed him and his peers to research, learn and make their own determinations about the War vs. parroting propaganda.
Sidebar: Everything I read and heard said people in Vietnam don’t refer to it as the Vietnam War in Vietnam but the American War. During the week, most everyone referred to it as the Vietnam War and I don’t know if that’s because there’s a cultural shift with the younger generation (the Millennials) because of their access to the Internet and interest in American culture or if it’s just the way it is.
Urban Adventures’ Ho Chi Minh Discovery Tour was the perfect introduction to the city and a must to any visitor’s first day in the city.
The next day, it was off to the Cu Chi tunnels with Urban Adventures. Stay tuned for that post!
Tip: If you get emotional (like me), keep tissues handy on this tour. For the most part the War Remnants Museum has a lot of anti-American propaganda and the Agent Orange Room is the most powerful. In addition to images of people impacted by agent orange, there are preserved babies with birth defects allegedly caused by Agent Orange on display. Yeah, a bit odd but the message tugs at the heart.
View additional images from my trip on my Flickr stream.
Travel guides I used during the trip:
- Vietnam: 100 Unusual Travel Tips and a Guide to Living and Working There
- Lonely Planet Vietnam (Travel Guide)
- Survival Vietnamese: How to Communicate without Fuss or Fear – Instantly! (Vietnamese Phrasebook) (Survival Series)
Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links to support my traveling habit but opinions are my own.