Welcome to Saigon / Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC), Vietnam!
I tried to blend myself in by strolling along the walking street to admire street performers and indulge myself in the friendly culture. I also shopped at Ben Thanh market and Saigon Centre.
I especially loved kungfu panda posing for me!
I stayed in Ruby River Hotel, a cozy small hotel in district 1. It’s a very comfortable stay for me. The hotel smells good, and it’s quiet. I had restful sleep throughout my 4 days 3 nights stay. Prices are around SGD$61 per room per night, which is very reasonable. It’s located in a strategic location within walking distances to various food areas, massage places, shopping areas and some attractions.
The very first good meal I had was a wonderful traditional Vietnamese set meal at Duong’s for 450,000 Vietnamese dong, which cost about SGD$26. It’s a little pricey but the high class environment and the attentiveness of the staff awed me. I wrapped my own Vietnamese spring roll back in Hanoi and here I’m wrapping my own main course in Ho Chi Minh City! The main course that I had to D-I-Y was “Hanoi Traditional Grilled Fish” (La Vong’s Style) which consists of catfish marinated with galangal, lemongrass, chili, turmeric, shrimp paste, fermented steamed rice. It’s served with dill, spring onion, fresh rice vermicelli, herbs and traditional Vietnamese dipping sauce. I also had a piping hot bowl of the highly popular street food, “Pho”, which is a Vietnamese soup consisting of beef broth, rice noodles called banh pho, mushroom, lime leaves, cinnamon, cardamom, onion, herbs and meat, primarily beef or chicken. The meal ended sweetly with a black sticky rice with sugar, coconut milk, yogurt, ice cream and cookies bits. Day 1 was satisfying!
One thing about the Vietnamese is that the handicapped actually make amazing handicrafts! They painstakingly break egg shells and use them to decorate the handicrafts. It’s a tedious and time consuming process from painting to polishing of the finished product.
The best part of my trip got to be the visiting of the Cu Chi Tunnels on day 2. It’s interesting to listen to the carefully planned escape and hiding routes the Vietnamese warriors took to survive the wars and defeat the enemies. I take my hat off to their great survival skills. The bus ride to Cu Chi Tunnels from Ho Chi Minh City is 2.5 hours!
Fly me to the moon please!!!!!!!!
Otherwise, take me into the tunnel. I crawled for the longest time in my life to escape from one side of the tunnel to the other side. It’s dark inside but really fun! I got all muddy and dirty.
I was so happy as I realized I seemed to have found my new home!!!!!! I didn’t know I’d fall in love with living inside a small hole and camouflaging myself. It’s an exciting adventure.
Food wise, I tried the tapioca dipped in peanuts. It’s delicious and sweet on its own too. Throughout the “war zone”, there are also many tactful traps to trick the enemies.
For instance, the shoes are worn in the opposite directions so the soles of the footprints will also leave trails in the opposite directions to confuse the enemies.
You can also play airgun rifle somewhere nearby Cu Chi Tunnels! Shoot your target with real bullets to experience the thrill and loud sound.
When I got back to Ho Chi Minh City, I went for a simple and average Vietnamese lunch at “Bep Me In” located at a small alley near Ben Thanh Market. This is a household edition of Vietnamese cuisine and taste like what a mother cooks.
After a short rest back at Ruby River Hotel, I hopped onto a “Saigon by Motorbike”night tour to visit some of the less touristy places. For instance, I visited the Thich Quang Due Statue – who burnt himself to go against the draconian policy of the South Vietnamese Government.
I tried the Vietnamese Hue Noodle Soup with a rich broth and beef slices. It leaves a sweet aftertaste. I realized most of the noodle soup in Vietnam comes with a lot of herbs. The sugarcane drink tasted similar to Singapore’s style with lemon.
It’s a homely and special experience to visit some of the oldest apartments area in district 3. Most of the locals live very simply in their homes watching TV, eat home cooked food, or entertain their children with toys. In fact, one of the more luxury enjoyment is having a mini BBQ with family and friends just at the corridors outside their homes.
I also passed by the biggest flower market in district 10, followed by a motorbike ride towards the fashion street with fashionable clothes just for the locals, a traditional local wet market and a small Cambodian market with street food and people watching soccer together. I enjoyed people-watching the life of the locals.
I pretty much like district 7, as it is a living area full of light in the night. The starlight bridge is a highlight for the locals there, especially lovers. There are also random “sparkles” on the floor of the bridge itself, making the area bright and romantic.
Some of the locals even live in boats with beds, toilets, and kitchens. My night ended with drinking a huge coconut, shopping and bargaining for the best prices at some small night markets. Woohoo! Day 2 was fulfilling!
The city tour on day 3 started with an exploration of the Reunification Palace, also known as the Independent Palace. It’s so grand and beautiful!
Everything is delicate and intricate from the grand meeting places and offices to the colorful telephones that signify different messages.
If I were given a choice, I would love to live in this palace!
Moving on, the Central Post Office is a beautifully preserved remnant of French colonial times and perhaps the grandest post office in all of Southeast Asia. This building features arched windows and wooden shutters. The looping arches, intricately designed marble floors and antiquated telephone boxes reminds us of the importance the post office played in the olden days before emails and mobile phones. This is still a functioning post office today and you can still send a letter or postcard the old fashioned way.
Located next door is Notre Dame Cathedral, another cultural site that offers visitors a chance to imagine life in Vietnam during the times of the Indochinese Empire.
I also tried weasel coffee. It’s a little bitter and thick on its own, so I enjoyed mine with condensed milk to make it sweeter and more fragrant.
The army guys would probably enjoy visiting The War Remnants Museum which was also once known as the “Museum of American War Crimes”. It’s a shocking reminder of the long and brutal Vietnam war. The American troops had used weapons and military equipment such as a helicopter with rocket launchers, a tank, a fighter plane, a single-seater attack aircraft, and even a conventional bomb against the Vietnamese between 1945 and 1975.
After the half day city tour, I had a sumptuous Vietnamese family meal at Cyclo Resto. The staff are very friendly and courteous. I tried egg coffee!
The rest of the day was spent enjoying a hot stone massage at Blue Sky Spa, chilling with matcha at a quiet cafe “Koicha” and some slow and light shopping at night markets. So slack right!
My favorite find throughout my whole trip would be Huynh Hoa’s Banh Mi!!!!!! It’s like baguette with lots of ingredients in it. Very special taste. Another food to try would be broken rice, which is like a typical mixed vegetables rice but in Vietnam version. This trip has inevitably added lots of calories to me! I eat until very full everyday!
On my last day in Ho Chi Minh City, I strolled towards the Ho Chi Minh Museum in the morning. It’s a quiet place and it’s free of charge. It’s not very tourist-friendly though, as most of the information are written in the Vietnamese language.
I chanced upon Saigon Opera House, an elegant colonial building at the intersection of Le Loi and Dong Khoi Street in District 1. This restored three-storey 800-seat Opera House was built in 1897 and is used for staging opera and a wide range of performing arts including ballet, musical concerts, Vietnamese traditional dance and plays.
Thereafter, I went to “Trung Nguyen Legend Coffee” for a short coffee break and then moved on to hunt for “Bun Mam” just across Ben Thanh Market, a fermented fish rice noodles with seafood and a rich but slightly salty broth. Both were decently good and left me craving for more.
Thank you Vietnam for the wonderful insights into Ho Chi Minh City! Thanks for reading!