Vietnam

Guide to Ho Chi Minh City

Ho Chi Minh was just as chaotic, hot and crazy as I had imagined it to be. This bustling city was previously known as Saigon, though for the most, the name has stuck. With little research, I arrived here feeling a little lost and instantly overcome by the humidity. 

Saigon is a crowded city filled with endless markets, street food stalls and a symphony of noises and smells.  In my opinion  can be quite overwhelming if you don’t know where you're going or how to navigate it!

When you arrive, you’re greeted with an abundance of motorbikes, changing lanes ever so quickly, manic road rules and hot and humid temperatures. Anyone would think this is a recipe for disaster and I’ll be the first to admit that even attempting to cross a road is downright terrifying.

I very quickly grew to love Saigon. Uber made it an easy and cheap way to navigate the city, with cross-town journeys costing us no more than $2- $4 each way. With wifi at an abundance, this is the easiest way to make your way around to the places you want to see, without having to spell out addresses and rely on carrying small cash for taxi fares. To make it even easier, you can pick up a cheap sim card with data so that the app is always accessible.

 

 

STAY

VILLA SONG SAIGON

A colonial inspired, boutique stay situated along the riverbank of District 2, this riverside retreat is light filled with attentive staff, open garden areas and freshly prepared cuisine.

Click here to read my review of Villa Song Saigon

www.villasong.com

197/2 Nguyen Van Huong Street, Thao Dien Ward, District 2

 

TO DO & SEE

WALK THE STREETS OF BEN THAHN

The Ben Thahn market & surrounding distrcit is a busy, bustling area where crossing the streets requires boldness and courage. Though it’s quite touristy in some areas, walking the streets of this district and it’s alleyways will give you a look into local life. The roads are lined with street food stalls and people sitting at all hours of the day on tiny stools to have their meals.

 

THE FLOWER MARKET

A little gem that I’m so glad I found. The markets come alive early and I suggest getting a taxi here as soon as you wake up. The alleyways of florals are endless and is a nice change from the tourist markets & haggling. This market awakes in the very early hours- around 5 am or so, with flowers arriving from Dalat and Hanoi.

 

THE WAR REMNANT MUSEUM

This museum had me leaving with a very heavy heart. To really understand the history of Vietnam and it’s people, a visit to the War Museum showcases the incredible impact this war made to the country during this time and the effects that it still has. The Agent Orange and Photography exhibit is hard to believe but is such an important part of Vietnams history that can’t be missed if you’re visiting Ho Chi Minh. Admission is 15,000 Dong (about $1).

 

TAKE A DAY TRIP INTO THE MEKONG DELTA

The Mekong Delta is often referred to as the Rice Bowl of Vietnam, as it provides much of Vietnams food & crops. A day tour from Saigon will keep you busy from dawn til dusk but can’t be missed. It takes two hours each way (give or take with traffic) and is a nice countryside drive. You’ll then get to sail down the Mekong’s intricate waterways and see coconut factories, working boats and friendly locals.

Mekong Delta Day Trip

 

ROOFTOP VIEWS AT THE SHERATON

If you wan’t to get above the madness, the views from the Sheraton’s rooftop bar is one of the most colourful sights you’ll see. Sit on the balcony and soak up the lights from a calmer point of view.

The Sheraton Saigon

 

EAT

Saigon has an abundance of street food on each and every corner. Be sure to try the local favourites of Bánh mì (baguette sandwich), Phở (noodle soup) and Bánh xèo (cripsy filled crepe). Street food dishes will set you back around $1- $2 per dish and is a great way to sit on the footpath and people watch while enjoying it how the locals do.

 

CỘNG CAFÉ

Saigon runs on coffee and can be enjoyed on nearly every street corner. Cong Cafe serves up Vietnamese iced coffee with coconut cream ice-cream. With propaganda decor, walls of books and vegan options available, this hipster hang out was one of my favourites.

26 Lý Tự Trọng, Bến Nghé, Hồ Chí Minh

www.congcaphe.com

@congcaphe

 

L’USINE

A french inspired cafe, bistro and store that sits above the bustling tourist area. To get to Luisine, look for the sign above an alleyway entrance which is filled with traditional paintings. Turn right at the end and climb two flights of stairs. The coffee here is strong and it’s organic interiors make it a place to spend an afternoon cooling off with an iced coffee or three.

70 Lê Lợi, Bến Thành, Hồ Chí Minh

www.lusinespace.com

@lusinespace

 

QUÁN BUI

Authentic Vietnamese food. The Ngô Van Nam location has a lush rooftop alfresco dining area with city views and some of my favourite food in Ho Chi Minh. Fresh lemon juice, young coconuts, stir fried greens, brown rice, prawn spring rolls and stir fried seafood were some of the dishes we feasted on.

Three locations

www.quan-bui.com

 

OM VEGETARIAN

Located in District 2, and a 4 minute walk from Villa Song Saigon, this restaurant was up there with one of my favourites. It’s cheap and healthy and with high ceilings and attentive staff it’s such a nice place to unwind for lunch or dinner. The menu highlights the health benefit of each dish and is a bit of a laugh.

Facebook

215 Nguyen Van Huong Str, Thao Dien ward, District 2

 

HUM VEGETARIAN

Always listed as one of Saigons top Vegetarian eateries, Hum is located right within District 1 and has really delicious healthy options. I tried the vegetable tempura, spring rolls and pineapple & cashew fried rice. A little more expensive than the others listed above, but the interiors are well decorated and is a nice little option for a long lunch in the heart of it all.

32 Võ Van Tan, 6, 3, Ho Chí Minh

www.hum-vegetarian.vn

 

KOKOIS

Also located within District two and a five minute uber ride from Villa Song is Kokois Cafe. A beautifully designed outdoor oasis where East meets West.

24 Thao Dien, Ho Chí Minh

www.kokois.com

 

THE DECK

If you’re feeling fancy, the Deck is where you want to be. If you’ve got cash to spend, you can arrive by boat or its a less than 5 minute taxi ride from Villa Song in District 2. The food here is exceptional and the same goes for the staff.

38 Nguyen U Di St, Thao Dien, District 2

www.thedecksaigon.com

@thedecksaigon

 

Special thanks to Air Asia for getting me safely to Vietnam

 

Hoi An Ancient Town, Vietnam

If there is a place in the world that i’ve been to that most resembles a story book town, Hoi An is it. Located on the central coast of Vietnam, Hoi An is an enchanting, colourful and lively town that’s a must-visit for anyone traveling to Vietnam.

It’s a picturesque puzzle of alleyways which used to be one of Vietnam’s main ports- and here you’ll find no shortage of tailors, spas, eateries and photo opportunities.

 

GET HERE

Unless you’re traveling through Vietnam by road, to get to Hoi An, fly into the closest airport- Da Nang. You’ll then need to take a taxi journey 30km down the coast to reach this enchanting town.

 

STAY

We stayed at the Anantara Hội An which is located almost in the centre of it all. it’s a relaxing sanctuary with colonial vibes, an amazing buffet breakfast and luxurious outdoor pool area for lazy afternoons.

The Anantara is within walking distance of shops, restaurants and tailors, and they provide you with many activities to keep your days busy- cooking classes, bikes to ride through the rice paddies and sunset riverboat trips.

Anantara Hội An

1 Pham Hong Thái, Son Phong, tp. Hoi An, Quảng Nam, Vietnam

TO DO & SEE

GET SOMETHING TAILORED

Hội An is known for it’s abundance of tailors. You can get anything made here – from custom-made suits to silk gowns to leather shoes and bags. If you’re going to get something tailored, make sure to leave yourself at least a few days to do so. Make sure to be specific with your order, measurements & details- bring along a sample garment or detailed images to ensure you get a great fit- and don’t forget your bartering skills.

My biggest tip would be to hit the tailors on your first day so you’ve got enough time for fittings and any adjustments.

A leather tote bag will cost roughly $50NZD and simple cotton dresses about $20-$35 NZD.

These are the three places I went to in Hoi An and can vouch for. The three ladies at each of these tailors were kind, easy to work with and we loved chatting to them.

 

Leather wallets & shoes:

(These two are located right outside the Anantara Hotel)

BI 99- 12 PHAM HONG THAI ST, HOI AN

We had leather boots and bags made here which we love. Be really specific with all details of your boots.

DZUNG FREE SPIRIT- 1B PHAN BOI CHAU ST, HOI AN

We had some small leather purses made here (about $12NZD each) and leather sandals ($25NZD).

Dresses:

BINH THUY- 111 NGUYEN DUY HIEU ST, HOI AN

I had a cotton wrap dress (maxi) made here and it is the most perfect fitting dress in my wardrobe.

Tip- If you want to get a dress made in good quality silk- I suggest brining 2-3 metres of silk from home(139-150cm in width) to ensure you get 100% silk which is colourfast, good quality and authentic. I found that good quality silks here were hard to find unless you went to a fabric store and then took it separately to the tailor. We were also reassured multiple times that fabric swatches were *100% silk* but because I’ve worked in the fashion industry, I knew the difference. Some of the silks here also aren’t colour fast, which means that when you wash them, the colour will run like wild.

Before getting too excited and ordering 10 items, if you can spare the time, get one garment made (usually this takes 1-2 days) and make sure it fits, it’s good quality and you’re happy with it before ordering more garments.

You’ll always be required to leave a cash deposit (usually 30-40% of the total order) but make sure you keep your receipt so you don’t forget how much you gave and so you also remember which store to go back to!)

 

THE OLD TOWN

The old town architecture here in Hoi An is a mix of French Colonial, Japanese and Chinese and is so unique. Spend your days just wandering through the dreamy mustard coloured laneways and strolling down the canals. Make sure to stop at the Japanese Covered Bridge and the Chinese Assembly Halls for photo stops.

The city of Hoi An comes alive at night with colourful lanterns, street food stalls and lights. Sitting down by the river on a balmy evening with a drink in hand at theMango Rooms makes for a pretty magical setting.

 

CYCLE AROUND

Cycling the streets of Hoi An is the best way to get out and explore the rice paddies, vegetable farms and the nearby An Bang beach.  Most hotels offer bikes free of charge or you can rent these around the town.

 

EAT

If you’re planning to visit, prepare yourself for a gastronomic affair to remember. If you feel like getting amongst it all, there’s plenty of cooking classes around the town so you can take some of the secrets home with you.

Don’t leave without trying Bahn Mi and the local dish of White Rose dumplings- a steamed rice flour dumping with a centre of ground shrimp mea serves with shallots and vinegar dressing.

 

Minh Hien Vegetarian & Cooking Classes (make sure to try the fried & fresh spring rolls, banana leaf salad and white rose dumplings) 50 Tran Cao Van | 30A Dinh Tien Hoang, Hoi An

Morning Glory 106 Nguyen Thai Hoc St, Hoi An

An Gia Cottage 93 Lac Long Quan, Hoi An, Vietnam

Miss Ly 22 Nguyen Hue Street, Hoi An

Mango Rooms 111 Nguyen Thai Hoc, Hoi An

 

Special Thanks to Air Asia for getting me safely to Vietnam!