Culture shock in Ho Chi Minh Vietnam travelling

Culture shock in Ho Chi Minh

I am going to be honest with you here… I did not enjoy Ho Chi Minh as much I as expected to. I thought that it would be this amazing city bustling with life and culture. Unfortunately, it couldn’t quite live up to my wondrous imagination. Also, as a side note, please don’t take this blog as a negative review or as though I’m being uncultured towards this amazing city. I am glad we went to Ho Chi Minh as it made me realise that I am definitely more of a seaside or country girl than a busy city girl.

Getting to Vietnam itself was a long and tedious journey in the first place. We caught a flight from Manchester to Singapore via Jeddah and then another flight to Vietnam followed by a bus to District One (which may I add, they kicked us off at the wrong stop!) and then an hour walk to the hostel due to getting lost. It took us 2 days! So take my advice, although this was our cheapest option, it was the most draining. It meant that we had to go through four different time zones in only two days. We were having dinner at breakfast time and breakfast at lunchtime. So if you are planning on visiting Ho Chi Minh, I would suggest either a direct flight or working it out where you can stay a few nights in the different countries that you pass. Otherwise, like us, your head won’t be in the right mind space for Ho Chi Minh.

Once we’d found our hostel, we got showered and dressed quickly and went to find some food. Trying to navigate yourself around Ho Chi Minh is quite a task and within minutes you will start to realise how much you hate mopeds. Mopeds are literally everywhere, the roads, the pavements and left stranded throughout the city. There is no structure to the traffic system that means crossing a road could take you a very long time and could also result in loosing a limb. So to cross the road, take a deep breathe, don’t hesitate and just walk. Drivers know that pedestrians walk out in front of them and there is this unwritten rule in Ho Chi Minh where they just know to drive around you should you get in their way. Drivers use their horns to let others know that they are turning or coming up behind them. This is because they don’t tend to use their side mirrors. They just look ahead and drive and for me, that was terrifying!

Ho Chi Minh mopeds

Ho Chi Minh Hostels

The hostels themselves aren’t too bad. They are what you’d expect for the money you pay. Not too large, not too clean, not too fancy but very very cheap. We stayed a night in Long Hostel and a night in Saigon Backpackers Hostel (backpackers alley), which cost between $5 and $6 a night.

The atmosphere of Ho Chi Minh for me was just chaotic. Put simply there are just too many people there, locals, expats and tourists. I felt like I couldn’t breathe. Everywhere you went there was noise. Everywhere you went there were people begging you to buy their products, adults, children, disabled people and the elderly. Everywhere you went there were people begging you to come visit their shop or restaurant. It was just too much. Too noisy. Too polluted. Too many drunken westerners.

The busy streets of Ho Chi Minh

Ho Chi Minh Food

Now, for all those negatives there was one positive for me. The food. There was so much to choose from regarding what you would like to eat; but for me, I wanted to experience the Vietnamese food. Which, in all honesty, was spectacular. If you want to sample a more traditional Vietnamese menu then make sure the restaurant you choose is filled with mostly Vietnamese people. Now I know that this may be a little daunting, especially when they probably wont speak much English, but take a deep breath and suck it up cause it is absolutely worth it! Another tip for finding a great place to eat (but may not always apply) is to stick with places that have a very small menu. When a restaurant has a very large menu with a range of cuisines you can assume that the food may not be fresh and also may be frozen waiting to be reheated. The best meals we had in Vietnam were ones where the menu was very limited and they ended up cooking our meals fresh right in front of us as everything is made to order.

Ho Chi Minh street food

One final thing, if you look western, be prepared for people obviously staring at you, taking pictures of you or asking you to take a picture with them. You will also be targeted for begging and will be harassed to buy more products than others and finally having them laugh at you. I am honestly not sure why they do this, it may be the look of confusion we get when trying to work out how much money to give them (it is quite a difficult currency to get to grips with) or maybe the way we dress, which is very different!

I hope that you didn’t find this to be too negative and I hope I haven’t stopped anyone from wanting to visit. I am very glad and privileged to say that I have visited there. I am writing this with my upmost honesty to hopefully prepare you better than I was and to hopefully allow you to spend more time there than I did so that you can fully appreciate their city.

I would one day like to return, in the hopes that the reason I found Ho Chi Minh so intimidating was due to jetlag, culture shock and because it was the first place we went to. Now that we’ve been away from Hi Chi Minh and spent time in a smaller quieter place, I am starting to miss the chaotic charm of Ho Chi Minh City.

How did you find Ho Chi Minh? Or do you have any questions about the city? Let us know using the comments below!

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Jade Schofield


  1. Hey, Sounds like you threw yourself into the deep end. Was this your first visit to SE Asia?

    That sounds like a lot of the cities throughout the entire area. While it can be amazing to be swept away in the hustle and bustle, it can also be super intimidating. You’re right, the noise and the people and the constant energy is really draining.

    Glad you found the food good though!!

    1. Author

      Hey Kaine! We definitely did throw ourselves into the deep end, our first time in SE Asia was indeed Ho Chi Minh!

      After two months travelling, we are keen to head back to Vietnam and give Ho Chi Minh another go, for first time travellers it was incredibly intimidating and chaotic but I think we’re now equipped to deal with the mad rush!

      Hope your travels are going well!

      Jade & Tamara

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