Day 6 out of 365. Far out, time sure does fly. Exactly two months ago I was exploring the amazing streets of Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. Today I’m sitting inside, attempting to survive by the pedestal fan, in this house that has so many cracks that hot air comes in and cold air goes out. (Never ever pick a rental purely based on the kitchen. Consider it very strongly, but remember grass needs to be cut, summers need to be cooled, winter in Victoria can be f**king freezing and more than one powerpoint in a room is preferred.) I’ve just eaten a roast vege salad with scrambled eggs, and now I’m sitting down typing this and watching the new Beauty on the Beast on Netflix. I like movies with singing. I’m not sure if I like Hermione Granger (Emma Watson) as Belle, it’s a bit weird.
As we travelled, I wrote things down (especially in HCMC) and kept thinking I wanted to be able to share our adventure with others. The places we ate, the places we stayed, to inspire people because I just really loved Vietnam. As Chris and I were walking around, I’d grab his arm and say ‘God I love this place’. By Day 12, in Hanoi, I’m 99% sure he was pretty over me doing that. So now here I am, sharing this with you.
What I loved about this city:
The greenery. It was on balconies, in restaurants, lining the streets. So many plants. The colours of the building. The food. There were plenty of parks with greenery, exercise equipment and Vietnamese locals playing badminton, or doing Tai Chi, or just using the equipment. The food. The traffic was absolutely bloody nuts, and it was initially terrifying to be on the back of the Vespa but you will come out alive! I loved the coffee. Everything was within reasonable distance from where we stayed so we only used a car to get to and from the airport. I loved the food, and the coffee. Holy mother of god, vietnamese coffee is one of the best things on earth.
Where we stayed:
We decided to give Airbnb a go on our trip. We’ve done it once before (in Hahndorf, South Australia) and loved the little touches. I wanted to get a bit more local, and staying in a fancy hotel with a potentially unhelpful front desk and an average breakfast buffet isn’t a high priority for me. Unless you plan on spending all your time at the hotel (which you won’t, and shouldn’t), you can spend your hard earned dollars more wisely. Choosing to stay an at airbnb gives you the opportunity to mix with the locals, learn things from them and understand their way of life. When choosing, we were reasonable and read the reviews, and made sure we had features like a private bathroom, air conditioning and that our belonging would be safe.
We stayed in this room, which was on the fourth floor of M2C+ Cafe in District 3 (very close to District 1). We were very happy with this choice. We walked everywhere. Breakfast was included for us, a choice off the breakfast deal menu, which included a hot or cold drink. Chris was partial to a hot milk coffee (traditional vietnamese coffee where milk is condensed milk), whereas I generally chose the iced coffee milk.
Our host left us a walking map of the city which highlighted local attractions and plenty of recommendations for places to eat – we loved this, and clearly used it well.
Things to note: this room is on the fourth floor and stairs are not necessarily in line with Australian building standards (#steep), the separate (but private) bathroom does flood with the shower (but if you leave for the day after it will be no issue), cafe prices are reasonable in comparison to other cafes we’d stop at for coffee, and at 6:30am in the morning it takes about 15 minutes to get to the airport.
The room was $220 AUD for 5 nights, November 2017. GREAT value.
Where we ate:
We used our airbnb walking map for a lot of places. There were 10 local recommendations, we went to five. With tours and breakfast included, you actually run out of time to try all the restaurants you want to! These are a few of our highlights:
- Pho Hoa Pasteur (local recommendation) – probably one of the best Pho (noodle soup) I consumed. I loved how vietnamese food uses so many herbs and spices, and then comes with a variety of garnishes you can choose from. At first I was a bit apprehensive about staff just moving them from table to table, but this restaurant had a high turnover of patrons (lots of locals) that things did not sit long. Pho was about 70, 000 VND (~$4) per bowl (!!!)
- For our first night, we did a food tour: Vespa Adventures Saigon after Dark. You get on the back of a vespa, freak out in the traffic, and eat and drink the night away! The food was really really good with plenty of seafood. Definitely recommend this tour!
- Hu tieu Nam Vang Nhan Quan (local recommendation) – We walked in and one of the barely english speaking waiters asked ‘you want everything?’, so we said yes. Two bowls of soup with noodles, mince, quail eggs, prawns and what looked like bits of leather was placed in front of us, with all the usual garnishes – chilli, lime, bean sprouts, thai basil, asian greens.
- Banh Mi Huynh Hoa (local recommendation) – another popular place where people line up for the best Banh Mi in Saigon (HCMC). Banh Mi is a baguette (which were so fluffy on the inside, and crispy on the outside) with different sliced meats, pate, cucumber, carrot and chilli, and this one will set you back about 35, 000 VND ($2 AUD). The day we had this on the agenda, we got absolutely drenched walking from the War Remnants Museum and it was absolutely worth it.
- Ben Thanh Market – it’s quite overwhelming trying to pick a place to eat with all the shop keepers hassling you. We sat down to some cheap Pho, springs rolls & iced coffees.
- Pho Le (local recommendation) – another day, another bowl of delicious Pho. I had not eaten this many noodles in years!
- Royal Saigon Restaurant Bui Vien (Trip advisor recommendation, on the walking backpacker street) – we enjoyed this place for our final night in Saigon – we sat on a table on the footpath and watched the nightlife. We chose the ‘See you again Vietnam’ platter (fried and fresh spring rolls, chicken skewers, wontons, minced pork and beef wrapped in betel leaf, shrimps wrapped in potato) and Banh Xeo (crispy vietnamese pancakes). It was delicious and the staff were fantastic!
The tours we chose:
I did a fair bit of research on these. I’ve been on bad tours, most notably one in Bangkok to the floating markets and wanted to avoid the tourist traps and bus trips. The following were on the more pricey side, so I guess you get what you pay for?
- Vespa Adventures: Saigon After Dark food tour
- Vespa Adventures: A glimpse of the Mekong – I thought this would be a great way to see the Mekong Delta. We didn’t do the usual boat ride down the Mekong with vietnamese hats, we explored the country side on Vespas and ate at local markets. I really enjoyed it.
- Les Rives authentic river experience: Cu Chi tunnels half day tour – we were recommended this by people on both Vespa tours. We chose the 7am departure and I’m so glad we did. The Cu Chi Tunnels is a massive tourist hot spot with thousands of tourists coming through daily. We arrived just before the first bus load of tourists, and when we finished the tunnels, the car park was absolutely full. It takes under an hour to get to the tunnels via speedboat, and you avoid the approx 4 hour round bus trip back to HCMC.
Essential apps to have on your phone:
- Maps.me – this is an offline map. You download the city map whilst on wifi, and then you can use it to guide you around the city. You can pinpoint places to eat on your map, save places of interest if you pass something. It’s so handy.
- XE currency – this works offline too! Handy to have when you are trying to work out what you are paying for something, especially when bartering..
I’m definitely no expert, but thank you for reading. x
2 thoughts on “Travel & eat here: Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam.”
Hi Emma! Chef Anthony Bourdain also likes Vietnam. Him and his crew have filmed a couple of episodes of “Parts Unknown” there. Try to meet up with him next time you go. He is known for seeking out different people and points of view. A great post, very interesting–thank you.