We made it to Ho Chi Minh City in one piece! In the end it took us six weeks to pedal from Hanoi to HCMC. We racked up 1,165 miles in 27 riding days and 15 rest days. We had battled through monsoon rains and blistering heat, up mountain passes and along choked up highways. It was time to celebrate our achievement.
We had booked into the New Saigon Hostel 2 (the prequel was full), which is in the heart of Backpacker Area, District 1. The hostel was located down a quiet alleyway with a few other hostels, and a 5 minute walk from the main bars and restaurants. The room felt like 5 star luxury compared to some of the places we'd stayed in over the past six weeks; we loved it. The TV in the room even had Netflix, which became invaluable on our second day when Hayley became bed bound with a stomach bug.
Despite Hayley's illness, we still managed to spend some time exploring District 1. HCMC has a very different feel to Hanoi, much more westernised, developed and still rapidly developing.
Posing in front of HCM Financial Tower
View from a boat trip up the Saigon River
Saigon Central Post Office
If she only knew what that chicken would do to her later
HCMC has lots of high rise buildings, many of which have roof top bars; the perfect place to celebrate making it to the finish line we thought.
We tried Glow bar on our first night, mainly because it had a 2-4-1 happy hour. True to form, on our way to the bar the heavens opened. Mercifully, the downpour subsided after 15 minutes and we headed to the roof where we enjoyed some delicious cocktails and took in the view.
During our stay in HCMC we also went to OMG! bar. Despite only being 8 stories up, the view from the top was fantastic.
OMG! The view at the top is so amazing!
Celebratory cocktails at Glow Bar
Got to mention: Incredible burgers at Soul Burger
There's plenty of cultural things to do in HCMC. We chose to check out the War Museum and Independence Palace.
The War Museum mainly displayed photographs, but it also had a few tanks and war planes outside to nosey around. The photographs on display were from both sides of the fence, taken by both Vietnamese and American photographers. Some were quite harrowing.
Hayley had previously read about Independence Palace and was eager to go. The palace was last occupied by the last president of the Republic of Vietnam, Nguyen Van Thie. In 1975 communist tanks smashed through the gates of the palace signalling the fall of HCMC. The palace has since been suspended in time, left in exactly the same state it was in 1975. Definitely worth a look.
Abandoned chopper on the roof of the palace
Blind Association Massage
We had read about this one in the guide book; "cheap", "professional", "helping a good cause". We both fancied a foot massage, and with it being only 2 minutes from our hostel we had to give it a go.
We struggled to convey to the receptionist that we only wanted a foot massage, and within minutes we were both semi-naked, face down and being pummeled from head to toe. I've not had many massages, but this definitely didn't feel right. I left crippled. A good cause perhaps, but only for the very charitable.
Selling the Bikes
We arrived in Hanoi six weeks earlier with no bikes, no gear and no real idea of how we were going to get everything we needed to cycle to HCMC. It took us a few days of searching and some knock backs before we landed our steeds. They have been fantastic! In 1,165 miles we have had two punctures, AND THAT'S IT! We paid 8.4 million Dong (~£300) for the bikes, and it was time to see if we could claw some of that money back. With Hayley held up in bed, I headed out to find a buyer.
Thanks to Top Gear, every backpacker (and his dog) is buying a motorbike and riding the length of Vietnam. So the backpacker area in HCMC is full of people buying and selling motorbikes. No bicycles though. Still, I tried my luck and started showing the motorbike sellers pictures of our bicycles on my phone. Of the numerous people i asked, one guy showed an interest. Later that day we wheeled the bikes down to him and managed to negotiate 2 million Dong (~£71) for mine. Not a bad start, but they wouldn't go higher than 1.5 million Dong (~£53) for Hayley's, even though it was a much better bike. I thought we could get more.
Generally speaking, in Vietnamese towns and cities, similar businesses are clustered together. If you want to buy or sell bicycles, you've got to go to the one street where all of the bicycle shops are. That street in HCMC is called Bui Huu Nghia; in Hanoi it was Ba Trieu. With our time in HCMC almost up, I rode across town, intent on selling Hayley's bike. There must be in excess of 20 bicycle shops on Bui Huu Nghia, all selling new and second hand bikes. Jackpot! I swallowed hard at 1.8 million Dong (~£65) for Hayleys bike, but I couldn't get any higher. Its a buyers market and i was desperate.
So in total we got 3.8 million Dong (~£136) back for the bikes, just less than half what we paid. Not bad at all.