Ho Chi Minh City People's Committee Building

Ho Chi Minh City People’s Committee Building

Introduction

My favorite kind of city to visit is the kind that has unique sounds, smells, and tastes.  I’m talking about a place where if your walking around blind folded, you’ll be able to know where you are just by smelling the food, hearing the sounds of the city, and tasting its food.  Places like Tokyo with its constant electronic sounds, Istanbul with its smell of spices and minaret chants, or New York City with its horn honking and squeaky taxi cab breaks comes to mind.  Saigon, with its endless sea of mopeds and delicious street food is certainly this type of city.

I also love it when my expectations and preconceived notions are totally wrong and I end up discovering something totally unexpected.  Saigon was more modern, clean, young, fun, bustling, and tasty than I ever imagined.  The food was so good that I just wanted to spend the whole time eating.

 

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So many mopeds

Planning

Since Vietnam is still a developing nation, the exchange rate is quite favorable and things such as tours, food, and items are very inexpensive.  There are many tours and tour operators available that you can find on tripadvisor.com to maximize your time will in Saigon.  I had only 48 hours in the city and most of the time I spent awake, I was with a tour operator.   A couple of weeks before the trip, I was coordinating a full day tour with an operator (via email) and was amazed how responsive and accommodating the tour operator was being.  Whenever I made a request and sent off an email, 15 minutes later I got a response saying, “sure no problem”.

The most popular way to tour the city is by joining a moped tour company.  Any other way to move about in the city is just slow and time consuming.  I was amazed to see entire families of four on one tiny moped or people transporting home building materials on mopeds.  I was told the only rule of the road is to “try not to hit each other”.  So the first day, I booked a moped day and night tour with xotours.vn and had a wonderful time.

On day two, we spent the entire day touring the Mekong river delta with roadstour.com.  It was a nice contrast to get out of the city and tour the country side.

Home Depot Run in Saigon

Home Depot Run in Saigon

First Night

When we landed, we were greeted by our tour operator from roadstour.com for our day 2 tour of the Mekong Delta.  They offered to pick us up from the airport as we making other plans with them for touring the Mekong Delta.  After checking in at the hotel, I found a highly rated roof top restaurant on tripadvisor.com not far from the hotel.

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Municipal Theatre

On the way to the restaurant I was impressed by some of the French architecture lit up nicely along the way.

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My first meal in Vietnam was insanely awesome and defied expectations.  When they brought out the shrimp appetizer with mango and pesto I thought I was in New York City, only that the price here was 90% cheaper!

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The entire meal with drinks came out to under 15 US dollars.  Oddly enough, US dollars are excepted just about everywhere and is the only currency accepted when paying for your tourist visa at the airport.

Day One

Day Tour

On day one we booked the “Sights” tour with XO Tours which tours the top sights in the city by moped. The tour was in the morning before the weather became too hot and the sights included the Notre Dame Cathedral, Reunification Palace, Tan Dinh Market, Chinatown, Thich Quang Duc memorial, Ho Thi Ky Flower Market and the Thien Hai Pagoda.

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Sights Tour

Notre-Dame Cathedral Basilica of Saigon

Notre-Dame Cathedral Basilica of Saigon

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Our skilled moped drivers

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Saigon Central Post Office

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Famous Evacuation Site

 

Thiên Hậu Temple

Thiên Hậu Temple

Night Tour

For the evening, we booked another tour with XO Tours called the “The Foodie”.  This was a 4.5 hour tour that spanned 6 Saigon districts and all food and drinks were included.  The tour started by picking us up by moped at the hotel and then stopped at several street food vendors.   This was a great way to visit lessor known parts of the city and to eat where the locals love to eat.

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Great stop with grilled food

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Met some folks from Australia on the tour

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Tasty soup that’s not Pho

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I wasn’t a fan of the Fetal Duck Egg

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Day Two

For day two I booked the Mekong Delta tour with roadstour.com.  This 8.5 hour tour picked us up at the hotel by van and  took us to various stops along the Mekong Delta, which is about an hour outside of Saigon.  Once we arrived to the Mekong Delta, the tour took us by boat or horse draw carriage to various different areas to explore.  This a great tour to see the countryside of Vietnam without venturing too far from the city.  After the tour was over, the tour operator offered to take us back to the hotel so we could shower, and then take us to the airport for tour 7:30pm flight to Cambodia.  This tour operator really maximized our time and made everything seamless.

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Rest stop on the way to the Mekong Delta

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Vinh Trang Pagoda

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Mekong Delta

 

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Some delicious fruit while we watched locals singing.

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Singing performance from locals

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Hand–rowing sampans along beautiful small canal

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Ben Tre Province stop over to learn how coconut candy is made

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Horse drawn carriage on the village road to next stop

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Honey being made by bees that had no stinger

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Stopped at a local house where I picked coconuts from the tree to try fresh coconut milk.

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The tour operator used one of those huge boats for just the two of us on the tour

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Unexpected awesome meal right next to the river was included!

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So much great food

 

Conclusion

In conclusion, Vietnam is a great place to visit and I wish I had more time to see even more of this beautiful country.  With only 48 hours in country, I saw way more than I ever expected due to great affordable tour operators that professionally maximized time wisely and ventured out to areas that I would never have visited on my own.  Be sure to arrive hungry and join a food tour that will take you to areas where all the locals are eating; the food will blow your mind!  Stay tuned for the next part of this series where I review Park Hyatt Siem Reap in Cambodia.