Vietnam days 28-29: last days in Ho Chi Minh City + Vietnam reflection

Last Vietnam post! And also my last Asia gap year post…going to save all the emotions for another day. 😉 My final chapter of Vietnam took place in bustling Ho Chi Minh City (also called Saigon locally). My time here was short (a little over 24 hours), but I made sure to make the most of it before flying back home. I have brief recap as well as some reflection on Vietnam below. 🙂

Day 28: travel day + dinner with “old” friends

My second to last day in Vietnam was spent getting to Ho Chi Minh City – it took 6 hours by bus from Mui Ne. I’ve taken SO many of these sleeper buses in Vietnam, and I have to say, I’m going to miss them! They are super comfy and time flies as I can usually sleep through most of the ride.

I got to Ho Chi Minh City and checked into my hotel; I went the hotel route for my last night as I felt done with hostels. Then in the evening, I met up with Johanna and Nelson, who I met previously in Vietnam. You might remember Nelson from Dalat and Johanna from my Mui Ne posts. It was so nice to have some familiar company on my last days in Vietnam, because frankly, I wasn’t in the mood to make new friends. I mentioned in my last post how running into backpacker friends feels like you’re seeing old friends again, and that’s exactly how it felt like. We had a fun dinner at Propaganda Bistro – it was so lovely chatting away while enjoying upscale Vietnamese food. 🙂

After dinner, I took a walk on the popular Bui Vien Street, a touristic street filled with nightclubs, shops, and restaurants. It was crazy busy and LOUD too! It felt like a competition between nightclubs on who could blast the loudest music. I took one walk-through and moved on.

The lights were very pretty though. Like many big cities in SE Asia, Saigon truly shined at night. 🙂

Day 29: one day in Ho Chi Minh City

The next day was my last day in Vietnam! My flight was in the late evening, so I wanted to make the most of my one and only full day in HCMC. It didn’t hit me that this was my last day…it felt like any other day where I woke up, ate breakfast, mapped out my day, and had all these things to look forward to. I don’t think this will hit me until I’m back in America. 😛

After breakfast, I was off for a stroll around District 1, the main tourist neighborhood where I was staying. Overall, my impression was very positive! Saigon was surprisingly developed, modern, and full of upscale eateries (at least in District 1). It certainly wasn’t Singapore or Kuala Lumpur-level developed, but I liked the vibes here better than Hanoi (Vietnam’s capital where I started out). However, there was still that stressful chaos that lingered in the air classic to Vietnam, and so, I enjoyed my walk but quickly got burned out.

I visited Japan Town which Johanna recommended yesterday. It was early in the morning so there weren’t many people, but I liked seeing all the Japanese restaurants and decorations. I think SF’s Japan Town will always be my favorite. 😉

After a full morning of walking around, I had some lunch, and then I went to the War Remnant’s Museum, which was basically the main reason I came to Saigon. So many backpackers said good things about this museum, so I knew I wanted to block off half a day for it.

The museum was dedicated to preserving artifacts and showcasing the atrocities of the Vietnam War. The outside was full of old fighter airplanes, tanks, and missiles used by the U.S. It was an epic greeting to the museum.

Inside was very different…intense, moving, sad, eerie, shocking, a whirlwind of emotions! I think it was important to see this especially as an American, since we don’t learn about the Vietnamese point of view in history class. I would definitely recommend this museum in Saigon.

And that wraps up my brief time in Saigon, completing my amazing north to south journey across beautiful Vietnam. The rest of the day was spent resting, packing, and flying out.

It’s hard to believe my Asia gap year has come to an end! It’s hard to put in words how much these last 8 months meant to me. I’ll post a separate piece reflecting on the whole experience, but for now, I first want to share some reflection on Vietnam…

Overall, ending my Asia trip in Vietnam was the absolute best decision. I chose to end with Vietnam because I wanted an easy and social experience, and that’s exactly what I got. Completing the Ha Giang motorbike loop was hands down one of the most meaningful experiences of my entire gap year. I learned so much about myself, and it also inspired another motorbike trip through Central Vietnam. I certainly caught the motorcycle bug as now all I want to do is plan more motorcycle road-trips!

My pacing in Vietnam was a lot faster than other countries this year. I spent on average 1-3 nights in each city, compared to other countries where I spent 5-7 days on average. I do like the slower travel more, but it’s also satisfying leaving Vietnam feeling like I saw “everything.”

It’s no secret that Vietnam is more touristy than other countries in SE Asia, and with that came some pros and cons. On the positive side – Vietnam was very social, and I met many more backpacker friends here than other countries this year (I also admit I was pretty antisocial in the beginning of my trip). Lots of tourists also meant there was good infrastructure to get around, plenty of hostels, etc. Also given the exposure to tourists, Vietnamese people were open-minded about clothing and I felt comfortable dressing more freely than any other country.

But with lots of tourists also meant it was difficult to get that “authentic” Vietnam experience. Every other country this year, I felt like I was able to find some off-the-beaten-path authenticity, but not in Vietnam. It felt like anywhere beautiful had hordes of tourists (like Halong Bay and Ninh Binh)…oh how I missed the days of having entire swimming holes to myself in Nias Island, Indonesia! Also, because of the volume of tourists here, I felt like there was more divide between locals and tourists, which also meant more scammers. I also found a large language barrier as people’s English was not great.

My biggest challenge in Vietnam was the aggressive culture – an “eat or be eaten” attitude to everyday things. I don’t want to generalize, but I can’t help but compare to other countries I visited in SE Asia where there was more warmth in people’s attitudes. I found everyday dealings to be very rude and short, which wore off on me over time…

All this said, I loved Vietnam for the robust backpacker scene, but not so much the actual culture! Vietnam just simply could not stack up to the authentic experiences I had in other countries this year, like India (which I can now solidly say was my favorite country this year).

However, I’m still SO glad I came to Vietnam. The people I met and experiences I had were truly once in a lifetime, and as time goes on, I think it will hit me how transformative this was.

If you made it to the end of this post, thank you!! Sharing my gap year on the blog has given me so more purpose. This is one of the biggest treasures of my life, and from the bottom of my heart, I am so grateful for anyone who takes interest in it.

Next time I blog will be back in the US, where Joe and I are starting our lives together in our brand new trailer!!! ❤ Love and light to you all.

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