This city is an utterly beautiful urban mess. It’s hot, it’s noisy, it’s chaotic, and I absolutely love it. The food is amazing, the people are warm, and its strong Vietnamese coffee is just out of this world. There is just so much about this city that I love, and it will always have a special place in my heart.
It Was So Freaking Hot
That being said, I got to admit that HCMC isn’t for everyone. My friend and I got the maximum experience of HCMC’s unforgiving, burning heat because we thought it was a good time to go during summer (May 2016), and we regretted not bringing any sunscreen with us. As someone who lives in Singapore, I am quite used to the tropical heat. I mean, no one really ever gets used to the sweltering equatorial heat but HCMC’s burning summer heat really tested my limits.
During our time there, temperatures got as high as 37°C. On some days, it poured, but even after the torrential rain, temperatures were at 34°C. Walking along the roads next to the busy (busy is an understatement) traffic really makes you feel like you’re being baked in an oven. If you’ve ever wondered how pastries feel like when they’re baking, this is your chance to find out.
Tip: if you’re thinking of visiting HCMC, don’t go during summer.
Beautiful Urban Chaos
Despite the sweltering heat, HCMC is still a place I’d like to revisit some day. Like I said, HCMC is a place I hold close to my heart. It’s not just because it’s the first place I travelled to by myself (with a friend, without my family), this place is special because it let me experience a reality that is so different from my own.
What gives a place its unique identity is its people. HCMC really owes its spirit to the warm, welcoming Vietnamese. You really get the sense that these people really want to talk to you, and learn about where you are from. Sure, a lot of it has to do with getting you to buy an extra souvenir so they could earn a little more that day. But at the same time, a lot of it is a genuine curiosity about who you are, and the possibilities that lie beyond their society.
Amidst the honking traffic, hot, dusty mess, is a society that is a just opening up to new possibilities. The warmth and friendliness of the people is something quite different from the distant, cold vibe you get from most polished first world cities, and that is perhaps what travel channels like TNL call “the spirit of the city”.
Mind Blowingly Good Food
Above all else, HCMC’s street food was really THE BOMB. I love how every street Bánh mì stall has its own special take on the humble sandwich; if my appetite allows, I’d try every Bánh mì stall I set my eyes on! Phở bò (Beef noodles), as expected, tastes fantastic. I actually really like having tonnes of basil leaves, mint leaves, and bean sprouts with my phở! It adds a lot more flavour to the noodles as compared to the very localised Singapore version which only has a few bean sprouts and basil leaves as a decoration of some sort.
The best highlight, to me, was simply sitting along the road and downing a nice, cold cup of cà phê sữa đá (Iced coffee with milk). In that kind of a heat, the strong, icy cold coffee tastes just like a kiss from heaven. I brought home 2kilos of coffee powder and I savour it every other day during tea and it’s become my favourite drink!
HCMC isn’t the most glamourous city, but I think that’s the draw of the place. The chaos may be overwhelming, the heat can be uncomfortable, but I guess these are elements of HCMC’s identity and the city won’t be the same without them. I mean, I’m sure cà phê sữa đá is at its best when you have it in the sweltering heat! Perhaps I should go back and visit HCMC some time soon. Although I think I’d avoid the Summer period this time, as mush as I enjoyed myself there in Summer 2016.