Hey everyone! I hope all had a memorable holiday break. Most of you are back to your normal paces while some people (like me!) are still enjoying the last few days of the break. I am on my last day here in the province; I will be flying back to Manila tonight.
Now back to business. Today, I will be introducing a section called Throwback Thursday Treat. I will blog about experiences I had in my past international & domestic trips. It will feature places to go, food to eat, activities / tours to take & a lot more.
First destination – Saigon! Last May 2014, I got the chance to visit Vietnam’s largest city, Saigon (also known as Ho Chi Minh City). I went for a full 3-day weekend trip with my college blockmates, Shane & Jolly.
Saigon crew! (L-R) Paolo, Jolly & Shane
3 days were not enough to explore everything the city has to offer but here were 4 activities we did for that short weekend trip:
1. Mekong Delta Day Tour (My Tho & Ben Tre)
We booked this tour through our hotel a week before we arrived in Saigon. The tour guide picked us up in the hotel at 7:30 am. Kathy, a Filipino tourist who was on the same flight to Ho Chi Minh as ours & also a guest in our hotel. joined our group for that day. We took a 2 hour bus ride to My Tho, then transferred to a local motor boat to Unicorn Island. We were given samples of locally produced honey. We also went around the local village then headed to the natural water coconut canal. Each paddle boat can accommodate up to 6 people (2 guides & 4 guests). This is my highlight of that day tour. I enjoyed every moment while traversing the calm waters of the canal. I also saw a glimpse of how the locals survive the day-to-day challenge.
First stop at Unicorn Island (with Kathy!)
After the natural water coconut canal tour, we transferred to another local motor boat & headed to Ben Tre. We visited the handmade coconut candy workshop. The women from the shop showed us how they make the coconut candies. Then, we headed to a local restaurant for lunch. We were also given free time to go biking & explore the village. My friends & I opted to just sit down & talk. Last stop was the tropical fruit garden where we had slices of pineapples, papaya & dragon fruit while listening to Vietnamese traditional music. We then rode the motorboat back to My Tho, then to our bus back to Ho Chi Minh City.
At the paddle boat for the natural water coconut canal tour
If only I have a couple of days to spare, I would stay in one of the villages near Mekong Delta; but if you only have a few days in Saigon, this day tour is worth-taking. Just make sure to bring a big bottle of water & towels because it’s very hot in the area.
2. Saigon Hotpot Tours
Few weeks before our trip, I’ve read about Saigon Hotpot. It’s a non-profit organization of Vietnamese students & young professionals who take tourists around for free in exchange for English conversations. What usually happens is one books a tour via their website then days before your schedule, you will get an email from your guide re: arrangements of pick-up. Your guide will join you throughout the day / tour but you have to pay for their entrance fees & food / drinks. Fair enough, right?
With our walking tour guide Emily outside the War Remnants Museum
We took 2 tours with Saigon Hotpot. First, we had the city walking tour with Emily. She’s a very nice young woman who became our friend after the tour. She used to work for BCI Asia Vietnam (& I work for BCI Asia Philippines) & she knows my previous boss; probably the reason why we clicked. We walked around the different landmarks of District 1 namely The Ho Chi Minh City Supreme People’s Court, The Reunification (or Independence) Palace, The War Remnants Museum, Saigon Central Post Office, Notre Dame Cathedral & Bến Thành Market. Normally the tour ends at 5:00 but we extended up until dinner. Good times!
Outside Saigon Central Post Office
Kathy joined us for afternoon coffee & dinner before she left for Manila
The 2nd & last tour we took with Saigon Hotpot is the traditional meal tour. It is somewhat similar to a Vietnamese cooking class; the meals are prepared & eaten in the house of the guide. Sue, a guide from Saigon Hotpot, picked us up at the hotel at 8:00 am & she accompanied us to our host Jenny & her house. Jenny’s family already went to the market earlier that morning to buy the ingredients we need. We prepared spring rolls, spinach with fish sauce, tofu & pineapple & a lot more. Apart from learning how to cook local dishes, we also got to know their family as well as their way of life. This tour is one of the best ways to get to know the locals, their food & way of life. In return, we tourists help them practice their English-speaking skills.
Traditional meal tour with our host Jenny & her good friend Sue
I recommend that you check out Saigon Hotpot when you go to Vietnam. We did not only know about the Vietnamese history, food & culture; we also met new friends & gained memorable experiences in their tours.
3. Vietnamese Cultural Show
Saigon is famous for 2 cultural shows – the water puppet show & the AO Show. The water puppet show features Vietnamese cultures & traditions through dancing water puppets. On the other hand, the AO Show depicts how the rural Vietnamese community adapts to modernization through traditional music & dances & modern acrobatic movements.
The Vietnam crew before the AO show
My friends & went for the AO show where we enjoyed traditional songs & dances with some nerve-wrecking acrobatic stunts. The show ran for about 2 hours with a 10-minute interlude. For more information about the show, schedule & ticket prices, head over to the AO Show website. I would recommend everyone going to Saigon to at least catch one of these 2 shows.
4. Food & Coffee Trip
There is no other way of knowing a country or a city than by trying its local cuisine. Vietnam is known for their spring rolls, phở, bánh mì & coffee. We’ve explored most of District 1 by foot; all I can say is that local restaurants, cafés & food stalls are everywhere. The food these cafés & restaurants serve are all delicious & affordable. I’ll give a brief overview below where we had some nice meals / drinks in Saigon:
Phở – We had dinner in Phở 2000, one of the 2 famous phở restaurants in Saigon. It is where former US President Bill Clinton dined when he visited Saigon in year 2000. The place is a few steps from the famous Bến Thành Market. They serve really delicious phở. I would recommend this place to everyone.
Phở 2000’s famous dish
Coffee – Trung Nguyên Coffee is the drink to beat! I don’t drink coffee but my friends do; so we tried it. I sipped from my friend’s cup; their coffee is really strong! I didn’t like it but I think other people love it. I brought home some packs for my mom & grandma.
Spring Rolls & Bánh mì – We’ve had a few ones of these, but I reckon the best ones are those sold in the streets. They’re everywhere so you won’t have any trouble looking for one.
Bánh mì from ABC Bakery
Milk Tea – There’s this small coffee shop after Bến Thành Market named Phúc Long Coffee & Tea. Yes, they also serve coffee but what I really enjoyed here is their winter melon milk tea. It is one of the best milk tea’s I’ve tried! Seriously, it is one drink you should try when you go to Saigon. Next time I fly back to Saigon, I will head to another Phuc Long Coffee & Tea Shop & order 1 big glass of milk tea!
Phuc Long’s Milk Tea
Side story: The first ever McDonald’s in Vietnam was in soft opening while we were there. Of course they had other fast food restaurants like KFC. People were lining up in the counters. We got curious so we tried McPork, a burger which was not in the McDonald’s menu in the Philippines. It tasted like our local longganisa & it was good.
Saigon skyline from Khu A – Công Viên 23/9 (September 23 Park)
There were still a lot places to discover, activities to do & local food to eat but we only had limited time so we were only able to do the ones above. Next time I go back to Saigon, I’ll definitely go for that Cu Chi Tunnels tour, watch the Water Puppet show, eat in the famous Lunch Lady & take a Vietnamese cooking class. I’m looking forward to my second visit to Saigon! 🇻🇳
PS: All photos taken using my HTC One M8.