After this trip, we found a whole new respect for Ho Chi Minh City, and Vietnam as a whole. We thought we will be bored at our wits’ end and just have a relaxing staycation at our hotel, order some room service and just curl up in the airconditioned comfort of our hotel room while watching re-runs on HBO. But Ho Chi Minh City (formerly Saigon) surprised us in many ways. One can never run out of things to do and places to visit in this bustling city. From Buddhist temples, to museums of sorts, to interesting architectures of French influences and other famous landmarks. The only thing that could stop you from visiting all these places is the unforgiving heat, it can barbeque your flesh in an instant, but even that didn’t stop us from roaming around.
Saigon will not let you stay in your hotel, it will kick you in the butt and let you immerse into it’s chaotic yet charming and one-of-a-kind culture. Crossing the streets alone is an adventure in itself. Saigon is often dubbed “The Motorcycle City” since motorbikes are their primary mode of transport and they are just the king of the streets here. If crossing the streets of Manila is a challenge, it could be a spiritual experience in HCMC because you might want to pray for your life and call all the saints you know while crossing. It’s just that intense it will give you an adrenaline rush.
And don’t even get me started on food. Saigon is just a foodie heaven! If you’re a sucker for street foods like me, you’re in the right city. It’s packed with immense flavour at every nook and cranny. You don’t have to make a reservation at some fancy resto to taste this world-revered cuisine.
Here’s my personal list of food you must try when you’re in Saigon. Just be ready to get your hands dirty and stretch your tummy to fill in all this good stuff.
1.) Pho. This is a Vietnamese noodle soup consisting of broth, linguine-shaped rice noodles, a few herbs and meat. It is a popular street food in Vietnam and is primarily served with either beef or chicken. We tried this at Pho 24 which is a famous Pho Chain in HCMC. We chose this joint because of its close proximity to the attractions we visited but I’m pretty sure there are better versions of Pho somewhere else. Nonetheless, it still gave us an impressive introduction to Pho.
2.) Banh Mi. Banh Mi is a Vietnamese meat-filled sandwich on a banh mi bread or the more commonly known French bread/baguette. We had ours at Highland café and some street stall. You can have this anywhere in the city and it will be delish nevertheless.
3.) Vietnamese Spring Roll. You can have this either fresh or fried with sweet/sour/spicy (take your pick) dipping sauce on the side. Either way it’s just addictive.
4.) Grilled Red Snapper (with spicy rub). One word: dynamite! We had this at an open-air hawker-style resto at Benh Than night market and the communal dining experience made it extra special.
5.) Ca Phe Da. Finely ground Vietnamese-grown dark roast coffee individually brewed with a small metal French dip filter into a cup containing about a quarter to a half as much sweetened condensed milk. It may be a little too sweet, but what the heck, I have a sweet tooth after all so I enjoyed it a lot.
Aside from visiting all the touristy spots, we also had one good whole day at Suoi Tien amusement park. We just love theme parks! And this Buddha-inspired amusement park is just out-of-this-world! It’s even considered as one of the world’s most bizarre theme parks.
We spent a couple of hours on the pool and enjoyed every bit of it. The sculptures, the pure tackiness of some of the rides and its overall cheesiness put a smile on our face all day.
In a nutshell, we just had a blast in Saigon! The people are very friendly and polite. The shopping scene especially at Benh Than night market is not to be missed at all. The throng of tourists just proves that HCMC has a lot to offer. And you can see that their tourist spots are well-maintained.
Once again I feel sorry for my hometown, Manila. The streets of HCMC are just cleaner, more organized and probably more developed that I can’t help but compare. It’s sad that we seem to be really left behind by our neighbours. And Vietnam shows no sign of stopping any time soon.