Summer 2018: Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City)

Hi all—


It’s been a while since we’ve blogged on our travels, and, due to popular demand (read: peer pressure from a few friends), we’re back. I’m not committing to a post everyday, but one round-up of highlights from each city we visit seems very do-able to me! Hope you enjoy reading them!
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The locals here call it Saigon, and you'll see both names used interchangeably. We think it's a traditional identity thing, similar to Leningrad/St. Petersburg.

EAT:


Bông Súng - Vegetarian restaurant near Saigon Notre Dame Cathedral. We ate pho (that had some great tofu) and spring rolls (which were so-so). Tons of options, and a menu with images, so you can see what you’re ordering! Decent WiFi, too!



My Bahn Mi - The Banh Mi is a classic Vietnamese sandwich, traditionally served with pork, pickled veggies, herbs, and mayo on a baguette (gotta love that French colonial influence). Tofu and egg banh mis are also common vegetarian options. My Banh Mi was started by two notable chefs working in Vietnam. Their specialty twist on the sandwich is in the sauce— they have 6 different sauces you can add to your sandwich. We opted for the black pepper and weren’t disappointed! The bread was crunchy and fresh, and the tofu was awesome! I wanted more herbs and pickled veg, but all in all, we enjoyed it.




Tin Nghia - We walked to Tin Nghia specifically for their curry noodle soup and it was totally worth it. Two fresh coconuts and two noodles soups cost us a grand total of $4.95. Awesome. The soup was delicious, and very similar to a favorite from Bodhi Tree in Huntington Beach. It made me appreciate the great options we have for Vietnamese food in SoCal.






Pho Chay Nhu - When looking for the best veggie pho in Saigon, Pho Chay Nhu had great reviews. The ladies there spoke no English, but we managed to communicate what we wanted and the soup was incredible. The broth was rich, and the soup had veggies, noodles, sesame crisps, tofu, and some mock meat. The fresh herbs and lime were perfect.




Banh Nam - On our last morning in Saigon, we walked to Banh Nam before heading to the airport. We had tofu banh mis (great pickled veg and herbs, though the tofu was pretty soft, which neither Rick or I prefer) and kumquat iced tea. All of that cost us about $3.25, which was less than what we paid for one banh mi at My Banh Mi the day before. I’m all about the deal!




Juice Elixir - A quick juice stand near our Airbnb offering smoothies and cold pressed juices, along with full juice cleanses. Rick opted for a passion fruit and pineapple smoothie with chia, while I had passion fruit, pineapple, and mango.



COFFEE:


We always opted for traditional Vietnamese coffee, black, while in Saigon. It comes slightly sweet, or you may be able to sweeten it to your liking. There is usually about a third of a glass of coffee, served in a full glass of ice.



Phin & Bean - Clearly, a western-influenced coffee spot. In addition to the traditional Vietnamese offerings, they have pour over and French press options with a variety of beans. Great decor and strong wifi. It is obvious that they care a lot about the quality of their coffee here!





Cafe May - A local chain with Vietnamese coffee (black, white, and with condensed milk) and espresso. Simple choices, multiple locations.



SELF-CARE:
(Self care is all about balance, right? Sometimes that means massage therapy...or retail therapy. So, I’m lumping all of the #TreatYoSelf type stuff here!)


Môc Spa - Easily one of our most favorite parts of visiting SE Asia is the abundance of affordable massages and spa treatments. Môc Spa was just around the corner from our Airbnb and has great reviews. We opted for 90-minutes massages which included hot stones and coconut oil. The massages themselves were a mix of deep tissue and Thai-style, and the girls did a great job of manipulating our bodies. The best part? It was only $27 total for both of us. :::touchdown hands emoji x 3:::


Ginkgo Concept Store - I had read about this store that sells unique Vietnamese handicrafts (read: hipster, artisanal) when I was googling a bit about what to do in Saigon. We stumbled upon the store, which was great to wander around. Didn’t find anything to buy, but it was fun to look!


The Craft House - Down the street from My Banh Mi, this little shop has tons of fun home decor and gift-type items. And, they are all local made! Good quality stuff, not cheapy plastic things. Loved wandering in here!




Malls - Similar to Hong Kong, Western-style shopping malls are a big draw for tourists and locals alike. Of course we found the Zara, but also Ted Baker and some of the high end shops as well.


DO:


City Hall - Ho Chi Minh City Hall was built in the early 1900s and is a beautiful French influenced building. There is a long garden leading up to the front, with a statue of Ho Chi Minh. It’s Lot up at night, and definitely worth a stop for a photo.




US Consulate - Most everyone has seen footage of the helicopter evacuations from the top of the US Embassy during the fall of Saigon. The building itself no longer exists (it was knocked down after it fell into disrepair after 20 years of non-use) but the US Consulate exists in the same location. You can’t go inside without an appointment for services but you can walk around it.
there is a monument to the Vietnamese soldiers who attacked the embassy outside (put there by the Vietnamese government)


LOGISTICS:


We flew Cathay Pacific from HKG to SGN. It’s about a two and a half hour flight. Rick booked our tickets using British Airways miles, since we find they are best used for short distance flights.


We stayed at Vika Homestay, booked via Airbnb. Vika was so hospitable, staying up late to meet us after we got delayed and offering a customized map of recommendations. Our airport pick up (from SGN to the homestay) was included in our reservation.



Rick used Grab to order the local version of an Uber to get us to the airport when it was time to leave.


As an American, you will need a visa to enter Vietnam. You can apply in advance online— you will be emailed a letter of approval (don’t be alarmed if it contains names and passport numbers of other people as well as your own info) and the entry paperwork. Save yourself some time and fill in the paperwork ahead of time. Bring a passport photo and $25 USD cash for your visa, which is granted on arrival at the airport.


If it can be avoided, try not to get a new passport AFTER you’ve been granted approval for your Vietnam visa. They may not allow you on the plane because the numbers don’t match up, and you may be delayed 6 hours in Hong Kong….
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More to come! 
--E&R

We are currently in: Hoi An, Vietnam
Next stop: Hanoi, Vietnam

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