This trip is all about our search for the best kimchi there is in Korea – all the majestic views, jaw-dropping landscapes, postcard-worthy scenery, interesting people and most importantly, K-Pop, are just icing on the cake (quite an extraordinary icing if I may say)! You see, kimchi is the national dish on this part of the world. For some who have been living a monkish existence and haven’t heard of kimchi, kimchi is a traditional fermented Korean dish made of vegetables with a variety of seasonings.
Everywhere we go in Korea, kimchi’s pungent smell greets us like the hearty “Annyeong Haseo” – from breakfast to lunch to dinner. Yes, you heard it right – breakfast. And not just kimchi as an unassuming side-dish for breakfast – they have kimchi soup, kimchi fried rice, and my favorite of them all – kimchi seaweed.
We are not complaining you know. The energy we got from the highly nutritious kimchi sustained our draining 7am t 9pm tour everyday. We thought our already well-trained from miles of walking in Singapore but no, I deserve a bronze medal in walkathon for the amount of walking we endured in our Korean tour.
So we walked and walked and walked. From the autumn-leaves filled tree lane at Nam-I Island, to life-sized teddy bears at Teddy Bear Farm, to the charming blue mountains and white sands of Seoraksan Park, to the quaint and foggy town of Alpensia, to the fairy-tale like pavements of Everland, to the bustling alleys of Myeongdong and historial palaces of Gyeongbok.
And when we get tired and hungry, we eat and eat and eat – what else but kimchi! So you see, this trip is really a search for the best kimchi in Korea. And if you may want to ask where you can find the best kimchi in Korea..well, uhmm, I cannot exactly disclose the secret place to you. And what? Deprive you the joy of endless walking and searching? Where’s the fun in that? So in master Yoda’s words “On you own, you must seek.”
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, 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 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 Asian neighbours. And Vietnam shows no sign of stopping any time soon.