September 8-11, 2016
Welcome to Saigon! It’s impossible not to fall in love with the energy of this city. A constant buzz of activity among modern skyscrapers and vestiges of the past, Ho Chi Minh City offers a dizzying array of bright lights and ambition.
Make no mistake, HCMC is for foodies. Options range from upscale French to traditional dishes and street food. You really can’t go wrong! Chris and I mostly opted for street food– cheap and genuine Vietnamese. As always, we ate and drank our way around the city. If you’re looking for a sit-down restaurant with a wide variety of Vietnamese cuisines from the north and south, I highly recommend Ngon. A local friend of mine took us there so we could sample dishes from all over the country. Another great spot to check out for traditional tastes is Quan Bui— super mega delicious!
For those seeking the best views of the city, head up to Eon51 for a birds-eye view. A high-end cafe and bar perched atop the Bitexco Financial Tower, you can find classy cocktails and live music. It’s a great way to get your bearings your first night in HCMC (and before you get too tired from walking around the city all day).
Our first full day in HCMC we ventured from our hotel, the Liberty Central Saigon Riverside. It was centrally located, packed with amenities, and you can’t beat a rooftop pool and bar! We were on our way to the War Remnants Museum. An incredibly somber experience, I recommend a visit. The museum offers extensive exhibits and documentation, an ostensible truth of the times and the worst of human nature.
If that’s got you feeling depressed (I would be worried if it didn’t), once you exit the grounds you can’t help but notice a restored and ambitious spirit of the Vietnamese people. Children laugh and play in the parks, teenagers gather together on street corners for coffee and gossip, and enterprising folks are setting up shop all around. Cafes, art shops, and niche boutiques are nestled among traditional shops and restaurants. One of the best examples of Saigon’s growth? Vibrant street art and a growing number of passionate entrepreneurs. For a post-museum pick-me-up, check out Pasteur Street Brewing Co. All their beers are brewed in house, served by knowledgeable staff, and a hidden gem away from the streets.
Some highlights of the impact foreign influences have left in Saigon are evident as you meander through the web of streets. The Saigon Notre-Dame Basilica, the post office, and the opera house are apparent influences of the French (as well as the tasty baguette which led to the famous Banh Mi sandwich).
For a truly Saigon experience, the Ben Thanh Market is a must visit. Watch in awe as intrepid souls on motorbikes move like a school of fish around the world’s most intimidating traffic circle. Then meander through the slew of stalls in the market. Vendors sell everything from souvenirs to spices. It’s a great spot for lunch too!
Of course, you can spend the whole day wandering and eating. There are so many options along the streets for quick bites. I would venture to say Vietnam has the best street food in the world! And it all pairs marvelously well with local beers like Saigon or the ubiquitous 333.
And while you can walk around all day, when the sun goes down Vespa Adventures is the most exciting way to taste the local cuisine. Chris and I had the most incredible time! Your driver will pick you up at your hotel and whisk you away to Cafe Zoom, where the beer starts to flow and new friendships bloom. Our tour guide was amazing! Not only did he introduce the group to some of the best traditional Vietnamese dishes, he also made sure we had a great time at a hidden speakeasy piano bar and capped off the night with a live band and more booze at Woodstock bar. And of course, he made sure to teach us how to properly toast in Vietnamese: Mot, hai, ba, yo! “One, two, three, CHEERS!” This is really the most fun time a foodie can have!
Saigon is a most gracious host. The food, the culture, the kind-natured people make Ho Chi Minh City a delight to visit! Stay tuned, Chris and I will definitely be back to Vietnam again soon.
Mot, hai, ba, yo!