1. Get shopping & eating at the Ben Thanh Night Market
Where? Intersection of Le Loi, Ham Nghi, Tran Hung Dao Avenues and Le Lai Street
Why go? Amazing food and crazy atmosphere – there’s a really big mix of tourists and locals, too.
How long will you need? Don’t bother getting there before 7pm for the night market – then, stay all night!
Cost? Food and trinkets are all super cheap
– Ben Thanh Night Market, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam
2. Take a day trip to head out and crawl through the Cu Chi Tunnels
Where? There are heaps of providers for these tours, but I’ve done it with Buffalo Tours twice now, and wouldn’t go with anyone else!
Why go? The Cu Chi Tunnels are an absolutely enormous network of interconnecting tunnels underground in the Cu Chi region of Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City). The tunnels were used by the Viet Cong soldiers in the 1960s as communication and supply routes, as well as hiding spots and living quarters, which the area above ground was being bombed and razed. And seeing it first hand can’t even come close to reading about it.
How long will you need? The tour I did was a half day (morning)
Cost? Private tour for US$52.00 per person, or small group tour for US$40.00 per person
– TBT: Crawling through the Cu Chi Tunnels in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam
3. Take in an incredible view of the city from EON51 Café at the Bitexco Financial Tower
Where? 36 Ho Tung Mau Street, Ben Nghe ward, District 1
Why go? Because the view is incredible, but it’s much cheaper to buy drinks at the café than it is for a ticket at the viewing platform!
How long will you need? An hour or so – it’s a great break from the heat and craziness in the city below.
Cost? We paid around AUD$18.00 for a fresh coconut and a fresh mango juice
– View from the top: EON 51 at Bitexco Financial Tower, Saigon, Vietnam
4. Ignore the stuffy tourists and eat the street food!
Why go? So many people will turn their noses up at the idea of eating street food in South East Asia; those people need to get their heads checked, because some of the best food in the city comes from the street!
Cost? Everything is cheap, which means you can stuff yourself silly!
– Eating the city: Saigon, Vietnam
5. Join the locals and slow down with some coffee, bird song and people watching at Tao Dan Park bird café
Where? 110Bis, Nguyễn Du, Bến Thành, District 1
Why go? Each morning, from around 6am until around 8 or 9am, a corner of the park becomes a meeting place for men around 30 – 50 years of age, and their pet birds. Which makes it the most peaceful space set among beautiful gardens and full of birdsong.
How long will you need? Get there early and stay until the crowds start to drift off
Cost? So cheap I can’t even remember!!
– Tea time: Tao Dan Park Bird Cafe, Saigon, Vietnam
Time to go back to Vietnam for the morning…
Early in the morning, this lady was already out and cooking in a narrow alley behind a larger street. With the piles of plates lined up on a small plastic table to the side, I assumed she was preparing for the morning breakfast rush…
These ladies had a lot to say. I may not speak or understand Vietnamese, but I know two women having a good gossip session when I see it! They were so animated and excited, so I’m guessing that who or whatever the topic of conversation was was pretty juicy.
The market stalls selling fresh meat, fruit, veggies and herbs seemed to be mostly the domain of the women. They’re the bosses. They basically run the country. This lady was no exception – again, it was early in the morning and she was getting set up to sell. Also, the ladies of Vietnam somehow manage to make matching two piece summer suits actually look good. Even with gumboots.
This guy had not a care in the world. I’m not sure he was totally aware of his surroundings either. He sat in this empty doorway as the cars and motorbikes flew by, at the start of a busy working day, and he rolled and smoked his cigarette with a look of complete peace and oblivion on his face. Had a massive car accident occurred right in front of him, I’m still not sure it would have been enough to rouse him from his trance…
And this lady. I have mixed feelings about her. On one hand, she grilled up some damn delicious pork skewers for us in the middle of the busy marketplace, and served them up hot off the grill with some very tasty sauce. On the other hand, she decided to play the “screw-the-foreigners” game, and charged us VND 40,000 for each individual pork skewer, rather than the VND 40,000 for the whole plate on the menu card. Sneaky. But, that’s the way it rolls over there! Lesson learnt.
Tao Dan Park
110Bis, Nguyễn Du, Bến Thành, District 1, Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon)
This café stop on our last morning in Saigon was probably the highlight of our time in Saigon. Another suggestion from our wonderful Cu Chi Tunnels guide, she told us about the “bird café” in Tao Dan Park; each morning, from around 6am until around 8 or 9am, a corner of the park becomes a meeting place for men around 30 – 50 years of age, and their pet birds. Sounds odd, right? It is, but in a really beautiful way.
Keeping pet birds is quite popular in Vietnam – you notice cages everywhere, beautiful, old, vintage-looking bird cages, with gorgeous little feathered creatures sitting inside. The café at Tao Dan Park is a real social event, where the men of the city roll up on their motorbikes with their covered birdcages perched on the back. They park their bikes and carefully lift the cages, bringing them to rest on the floor in the middle of the outdoor “café.” The covers are removed from the cages, and they’re delicately hung from the hooks on what looks like a collection of big metal trees with braches especially crafted for the cages.
While the women are off presumably raising the kids, cleaning the house, running the shops and doing whatever else needs to be done, the men sit around for a few hours enjoying their coffee and listening to their birds sing. We pulled up a little plastic table and joined the growing crowd, husband with his Vietnamese condensed milk iced coffee, and me with my lemon tea and journal. While the tea is nothing to write home about (just a Lipton tea bag, boiling water and a squeeze of lemon), husband said the coffee was amazing, and that’s what everyone else seemed to be drinking, too. I got a lot of strange looks, being the only woman around, but probably no stranger than the perplexed look on my face when I first arrived trying to work out what the hell was going on. Travel is like that – we might all be a little weird to each other, but you learn to adapt to anything 🙂
There’s really no such thing as bad food in Saigon, but there were definitely favourites that were done exceptionally well. Here’s what to look out for when you eat your way around the city…
Soft and hot and chewy and ridiculously delicious, this is the street corner dessert dreams are made of. Don’t let the weird green colour put you off; look for it like a beacon if happiness when you pass the ladies on the streets manning their little carts.
Preferably pork. Don’t screw your nose up at the slathering of patê, because it’s magic mixed in with the pork and fresh herbs. The fresh baguettes have a shell like glass covering the cloud-soft inner. This was breakfast for us every morning in Saigon, and at under AUD$2.00 each, you’d be crazy not to!
Fresh spring rolls.
If you see spring rolls on a menu, and you have the option for fresh and fried, try the fresh ones occasionally. When you’re hot and sweaty from walking around the city, sometimes a fresh prawn rice paper roll with a cold iced tea is exactly what you need without even realising it.
Again, preferably pork. Because a big bowl of vermicelli topped with juicy pork and fresh herbs and pickled veggies is the ultimate night market meal at the end of a big day. And out of Hoi An, Hanoi and Saigon, I liked the Saigon version best!
“So what did you guys do in Vietnam for two weeks?!”
“We ate. And drank. A lot…”
Our answer to that question is met with either “umm… Ok…” and raised eyebrows (people who haven’t been to Vietnam) or “ohhh my god, you’re so lucky, that must have been amazing!!” (people who have been to Vietnam).
Given how powerful food can be in bringing back memories, I decided to draw some of the food and beverage stops we took, rather than just snapping quick photos…
Cafe EON 51
Bitexco Financial Tower, Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon)
If there’s a better view in Saigon, I don’t know where you’d find it…
The day after we arrived in Saigon, we went out on a tour to see the Cu Chi Tunnel complex, and our tour guide was amazing. She was a young lady who spoke English particularly well, and as clearly very well educated. She told us so much, not only about the tunnels and the history of the area, but so much about life in Vietnam for the average citizen. One of the other things she told us about was the Bitexco Financial Tower, the big, shiny high rise in the middle of the city. She said it would give us an incredible view over the city, but not to bother paying to get up onto the observation deck; it was cheaper to just buy a drink each at the cafe on the level below!
While the drinks up there weren’t cheap (we paid around AUD$18.00 for a fresh coconut and a mango juice), it was still cheaper than the observation deck tickets (around AUD$12.00 per person), and gave us the advantage of being able to sit down in an air conditioned cafe and enjoy our drinks without rushing. And with the most spectacular view…
If you’re visiting Saigon, this is definitely something to add to your to-do list, because seeing such a big city from that high up is pretty amazing! They also do food, coffees, cocktails and desserts, so you’ll be well catered for any time you decide to drop in – I feel like sunset would be pretty incredible up there…
It’s always hard to know where to start back after a break…
We had an amazing time in Vietnam; it felt so good to be back in a place I loved so much the first time around! We had 2 weeks over there, with our time split between Saigon, Hoi An and Hanoi. I have plenty to write about, and lots of gorgeous shots to show you.
For now, though, I wanted to just share this one image. One of my favourites from the trip. The one that sums up Saigon perfectly for me. It’s a city that’s both laid back and lazy, and frenetic and fast paced. People seem to be either rushing around, hellbent on getting to wherever they’re going right now, or sitting back and watching the world go by without a care in the world. One of the many reasons why I love this city ever so much…