The massage parlour manicure

Photo of a girl's manicured hand, holding a lotus bud.While we were in Ho Chi Minh, I visited a brothel for the first in time my life. With my 13-year-old daughter in tow.

At least, I think that’s what happened.

We’d been walking for hours in the stupefying heat – first to Saigon Square, a shopping centre my daughter wanted to visit, then on a circuitous route down to the harbour. We planned to check out our options for a family boat trip, taking in the sights of the city along the way.

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Screwed by the cyclo guy

We spent a bit less than two days in Ho Chi Minh, arriving on Sunday evening and leaving late on Tuesday morning: two teenagers and two adults who hadn’t travelled together before.

Taking a spin in a cyclo (one of Vietnam’s three-wheeled bicycle taxis) was high on my wishlist. But given the short timeframe and challenging dynamic, I knew we’d have to be opportunistic; grabbing the chances that came our way and abandoning the ones that didn’t, without regret.

Photo of a food stall at Ben Thanh market

Photo from

So I kept the wishlist loose.

On the Monday morning, we visited Ho Chi Minh’s largest markets – Ben Thanh – whose narrow aisles were a dense coagulate of people, noise and humidity. Pretty much as expected.

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The traffic in Ho Chi Minh

Busy traffic on a Hoi Chi Minh streetI’m not a city girl at heart – so as a travel destination, Ho Chi Minh City initially held little attraction for me.

As we planned our holiday, I thought of Ho Chi Minh as a stopover where we would sleep a couple of nights and recover after our plane trip, before beginning our Vietnamese adventure in earnest.

It’s not that I don’t like cities. I work and socialise in Sydney. It throbs with a life that I’d miss if I were permanently banished to the suburbs (where I live) or some beachy bushland (where I’d like to live).

Food, music, theatre, pubs, festivals, ferries, friends. They all connect me irresistibly to a somewhat city-bound life. But I hate the busyness of the city – the press of bodies on the footpath; the noisy, traffic-jammed streets; the feeling of being rushed and stagnated all at once by the sheer volume of humanity competing to move through the same space.

And with a population of nearly 9 million to our 4.6 million, the streets of Ho Chi Minh are notorious for their busyness – and chaos.

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