Recently, I had the opportunity to welcome my cousin and his family to Saigon for the first time. They were eager to explore the city, and I was more than happy to be their guide. We spent a few days together, uncovering the city’s hidden gems, trying out local food, and taking in the sights. What made the experience even more remarkable was that they had no phone and no translator – just us, and the city.

My cousin Gavin and his wife Natalie hail from Adelaide, South Australia. They had never before considered Vietnam as a potential holiday destination, until they had a discussion with their sister-in-law, who is from Vietnam but resides in Australia. This conversation was the spark that ignited a six-month-long planning process, which resulted in a three-week-long family holiday across Vietnam for a group of nine extended family members.

Natalie was amazed by the modern city, with its bustling streets and vibrant nightlife. She took in the sights and sounds of the city, and was captivated by its blend of old and new. From ancient temples to modern skyscrapers, there was a wealth of culture to explore. Natalie sampled the local food, which was a mix of East and West, from spicy noodles to French pastries. She also enjoyed the friendly locals, who were always willing to help and offer advice.

Natalie’s visit to Ho Chi Minh City was a delightful experience. She was captivated by its unique beauty, and the mix of Western and Asian cultures. The food, people, and sights of the city were all remarkable, and she was thrilled to have experienced it firsthand. She left feeling enriched and inspired, eager to share her stories with others.

Coming from a smaller city in Australia, when asked about her first impressions of Saigon, she noted with enthusiasm, “It felt like organized chaos driving from the hotel to the airport! We were really taken aback by the vibrancy, the loudness, and all of the different food stands and people that we were seeing along the way, not to mention all the bars.”

Gavin (second from left) and his family are enjoying a memorable trip to Ho Chi Minh City, visiting some of the city’s exciting nightspots. In the photo, they are captured in a moment of joy and laughter, making this a special memory for years to come. The photo was taken by Ray Kuscherts and is a great reminder of the wonderful time they spent in the bustling metropolis.

Gavin (second from left) and his family pose for a photo while visiting some of the exciting nightspots in Ho Chi Minh City. Photo: Ray Kuschert

Interestingly, Ho Chi Minh City was the ideal choice for the couple to begin their holiday. Not only did it provide them with the opportunity to adjust to the culture, environment and challenges of Vietnam, but it also gave them access to tour guides, including some of the writer’s former students. These tour guides were able to provide them with a variety of tours, transport, hotels and locations across the country, making their stay in Ho Chi Minh City a wise decision.

Fortunately, for the family, having a cousin who resided in Vietnam and spoke some Vietnamese was a great advantage. On Saturday, we went sightseeing in the city and visited certain local attractions which were much less visited by tourists. It was a wonderful experience for Nat and Gav to see the small details that were not in the center of the city, and not many people get to witness them. These places included local markets and small, lesser-known museums which were not included in the must-see list of tourists.

My cousin also has a beautiful three-year-old daughter travelling with them, adding another layer of complexity. This had us exploring parks and playgrounds that I had never taken a second glance at in all my time in this country. Clearly, Ho Chi Minh City is now much more equipped to cater to children than it was in the past and this growing and developing aspect is making it an even better place for families to visit.

Whilst watching Zoe play, I asked them what was the most surprising aspect of Ho Chi Minh City and they were quick to identify the local cuisine as the highlight of their first few days there. However, as they explored further with tours to the Cu Chi Tunnels and other parts of the city, it became apparent that Ho Chi Minh City has significantly fewer English speakers compared to other major Asian cities such as Bangkok, Kuala Lumpur, and Bali. This made navigating the area much more difficult without a guide.

There is one thing that most tourists and newcomers to Vietnam find confusing: the money. With so many zeros on the notes, it can be difficult to understand the value of the currency. Fortunately, with some help from locals, navigating the financial landscape is not as daunting as it may seem. Plus, prices in Vietnam are often much cheaper than in Australia, making it a great destination for budget travelers.

Ray Kuschert and his wife took their cousin’s family on an exciting day trip out of Ho Chi Minh City to Ba Ria – Vung Tau province. A supplied photo shows Ray Kuschert (right) and his wife taking his cousin's family on a day trip out of Ho Chi Minh City to Ba Ria - Vung Tau province. Ray and his wife were thrilled to be able to share the beauty and culture of Vietnam with their family. They enjoyed exploring the province and taking in the sights.

A supplied photo shows Ray Kuschert (right) and his wife taking his cousin’s family on a day trip out of Ho Chi Minh City to nearby Ba Ria – Vung Tau Province.

Now, after three weeks of exploring, Gavin and Natalie have seen some of the most spectacular places that Vietnam has to offer, from Hanoi to Ha Long Bay, Da Nang to Hoi An, and even a weekend in Vung Tau.

When I asked Natalie what advice she would give anyone visiting Ho Chi Minh City in the future, she responded with a kind smile and said, “My advice would be to come with an open mind. Don’t be too rigid in your plans and trust the process; there’s a certain flow to the way things work in Vietnam that will carry you along.”

And I can’t agree more. Throughout my 10 years of travels across Vietnam, rarely does a plan come true. Often, I have to say that I am going to a place and allow the Vietnamese way to just work itself out, and it always does. I suppose that is one of the amazing things about Vietnam; if you just trust it, it will all work out ok in the end. But more so, you always walk away with a memory to last a lifetime.

As I bid farewell to my cousins, I found myself with a newfound appreciation for the unique challenges faced by tourists in Vietnam. From my incredible experiences, I was able to gain a deeper understanding of the culture and learn to go with the flow of the Vietnamese way of life. The wonders of the country truly astound, and I am left with a feeling of awe and admiration.

Ho Chi Minh City is truly a gateway to a new and exciting world for foreigners. In the past decade, services and facilities have been developed that make it the go-to location for travelers from all over the globe. I’m immensely proud of my adopted hometown and eagerly anticipate welcoming many more visitors to our country and Saigon in the near future. Vietnam is truly a place of captivating charm.

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