I am sure there must be one thousand questions in your head right after booking your flight. The very first question being where should I stay?…
There are literally THOUSANDS of hotels in Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City) and I am not joking. Ranging from a few dollars for a hammock rental by the highway to five stars hotels.
Before we jump to accommodation, let’s deal with what you SHOULD pack.
If this will be your first trip to South East Asia, there are items that MUST pack into your luggage. Other items can be bought should you forget to pack them in. However, being a first or even if you have visited Saigon before, the lack of location knowledge will mean that searching for the place to buy forgotten items will be a tremendous waste of precious time.
You should be spending your time in Saigon visiting places instead of looking around to purchase necessities that you should have packed.
1. Body Powder
The general weather in Saigon and the surrounding province is hot and humid. Temperatures generally linger around 30 degree C / 86 degree F in the day and 25 C/77F at night. You will find yourself literally soak in sweat. Your shirt will be soaking wet and your underwear becomes moist and unbearable. This can be the most turn-off for travellers first time to Asia.
This is due to the humidity of the air. The air is so humid that sweat cannot be effectively evaporated.
Body powder after bathing can help to prolong the period between another bath. Vietnamese (and generally South East Asians) are known to take several showers throughout the day to stay cool and to keep themselves clean and odour free. You will start to notice body odours that you have never had.
This is because the bacterias which are responsible cannot thrive in dry and cold climate, and upon coming in contact with hot and humid air mixed with your sweat, they will immediately come alive! Pack deodorant or buy some upon arrival.
Perfume will quickly turned sour as the day wears by. Powder last longer and keep you dry.
Powder in shoes is a MUST!
If you wear shoes throughout the day and night without changing your socks at least once a day, you will also start to develop stinky foot. Your shoes will build up so much bacteria that it will smell so bad that you will have to throw them away. Foot rot will follow if you fail to keep your feet dry ( a common problem for American soldiers during the war).
The problem is compiled with constant rain during the monsoon season which last from April till September. During this period it will rain on a daily basis with rampant street flooding. The rain will intensifies in June and July with thunderstorm and torrential DOWNPOUR. Nothing can keep you dry.
Therefore, a pair of good sandals is paramount to a comfortable travelling in SE Asia. It is perfectly fine to be seen wearing sandals to most places. However, some night clubs require covered foot wears.
If you are travelling during the monsoon (raining season), it will
rain POUR on a daily basis. Sometimes it will rain the whole day for non-stop, for a few days.
Raincoats should be in your backpack and with you at anytime. Tropical storms can formed within 45 minutes of a bright sunny day without warning.
4. Diarrhoea Medication
The most common medical problem you will face in Vietnam will be food poisoning and diarrhoea….
Prepare charcoal pills and diarrhoea medicines in the plenty. You can get them in the local Vietnamese pharmacies though but having it ready is much better than having to source for one.
The water from the tap is not portable, not even after you have boiled it! Ice served in drinks is a common source of diarrhoea. The water used to make the ice are not of a clean source, or simply just from boiled tap water. So throw away the ice.
The next source of diarrhoea is from raw uncooked vegetables. I am sure manure is still being used as fertiliser in some smaller farms.
Side note: It is extremely important that you take de-worming tablets after returning from SE Asia. De-worming should be done together will ALL travelling companions. De worming tablet comes in a single tablet form, chew and swallow. Repeat after 4 months for a complete course.
In Saigon brownouts are still a common thing especially during the dry season. Vietnam is extremely reliant on hydroelectric power generation. During the dry season water becomes a problem.
All available power during the affected days are diverted to factories and industries. Residential will be last on the list. Power rationing will take place. Residential estates and districts will rotate to have their power cut during the day ranging from an hour to a few hours.
Some times brownouts can happen at night too due to a falling tree damaging the cables. Brownouts can also happen during heavy rain. It is dangerous to go out during a massive storm because the electrical cable can be severe by falling tree branches and when these live cable touches the puddle of water it will electrocute everything and everyone who is connected.
When you travel outwards towards the smaller cities or towns, expect no power for the whole day sometimes.
Most shops or restaurants will have their own small generator to provide some light but nothing more. And they usually have enough fuel for a couple of hours only.
Nothing worse than low battery
Imagine yourself after a long day out and your phone’s battery is almost dead. Upon returning to your small guest house you released that there is a blackout. No lights. No power. These days we all use our phone’s flashlight as a torchlight. And there is nothing more dire than having no electricity and no phone battery.
A power bank can be a god send under these real life situation.
There are a lot of varieties of power banks available but typically the higher capacity power banks comes at a trade off for weight. And a higher capacity power bank requires a VERY LONG charging time.
Lookout for Lithium Polymer power banks. They are very light weight but come at a higher cost.
Also, airlines now restrict the maximum capacity of power bank to under 20,000 mAh due to fire hazards of these power banks. And you cannot check them into your luggage and must be hand carried.
An important small detail is the ability to proof to the airport security that your power bank is indeed less than 20,000 mAh. Most cheap power banks have no inscription or label to show the power banks’ capacity. In such event, you will have to discard your power bank.
Additional Good To Have
Durable Torch Light
Although these days you can use your mobile phone as a torch light, nothing beats a trust worthy torch light. I recommend purchasing a Mag-Lite which cost about USD20.
They last longer and waterproof and can take tons of punishment.
I was once woke up to a real life nightmare. There was a complete blackout night during a typhoon. The drainage on the top most floor’s balcony of my house was choked with debris. The rain water cannot be drained and rain water pour down the stairwell from the 4th floor to every floor, like a waterfall. Luckily I have a habit of hanging my Mag-Lite by my bed, or otherwise I wouldn’t have made it to the ground floor, without slipping, to shut down the main (imagine when power suddenly return!). And to later return to the balcony to clear the choke under the downpour. The entire scenario was like while I was trying to clear the debris with someone constantly pouring a whole bucket of water onto your head.
A waterproof pouch for your passport and documents. If you mobile phone is not water resistance you should get one for your phone as well.
Migraine and headache medication
The noise pollution is indescribable. Busses literally blast their repeating horns 24/7. Taxi, motorbikes, exhaust fumes, and the heat are a perfect recipe for migraine and headache. Especially if you come from a quiet country.
The Vietnamese believe that music played at 200 decibels is the most ideal. In night clubs the best place in the house is right IN FRONT OF THE SPEAKERS! These are reserved for VIPs and foreigners.
Bed bugs and mosquitoes
If you opt to stay at a budget guest house, expect the bugs. Bed bugs is common. Mosquitoes are also wide spread in Asia.
Mosquitoes repellent and bed bug creams are a must have. Malaria pills should be taken BEFORE your trip and continue to take after the trip. Don’t buy aerosol repellent as you cannot check them into flights, but can be purchased at the local convenient stores.
Small First Aid Kit
Let’s just say that public safety is not well observed in Vietnam. Exposed nails, uneven walkways, protruding bars and what have you are everywhere.
Falling and getting yourself cut are weekly affairs, especially if you have a little too much to drink.
You should get a tetanus shot is vital. Next is to prepare a small first aid kit with bandages, band aid, etc. is important.