Oh Ho Chi Minh City, the usual first or final stop on a backpacker’s journey through Vietnam. After an interesting bus ride across the border from Cambodia, we arrived in this adorable city filled with flowers overflowing from balconies and motorbikes making up the infamous traffic.
When you’re travelling with the Dumpling Queen, it’s obvious that you’ve come to Vietnam for a foodcation (stay tuned for her article on all the foods of Vietnam!). When the food is as light, healthy, delicious, and inexpensive as it is, there is no guilt when you eat more than your fair share of meals per day.
How can you not eat pho (pronounced fuh) when in Ho Chi Minh City? It’s pretty much unavoidable when it’s an appropriate meal for breakfast, lunch, or dinner. Pho is a delicious light broth, served over rice noodles and with a ton of fresh vegetables and herbs. Usually it is made with beef, but can also be made with chicken or pork.
We were introduced to this dish by our new friend Phuoc. It is a sheet of rice noodle, rolled up with pork and vegetables inside. It is usually topped with veggies, Vietnamese sausage, and crunchy fried pancake and served with chilies and dipping sauce.
Vietnam is the number one producer of dragonfruit. During our bus ride out of Ho Chi Minh, we passed by miles and miles of monster-looking trees that happened to be dragonfruit farms. These extraterrestrial pink fruits are sold in massive piles on the markets. The flesh is either white or bright pink with small black seeds. It’s a great to your fruit salad or smoothie.
This creamy, sweet, chocolately brew can turn tea people into coffee people, I can testify. At 15000 VND ($0.88 CAD) per cup, it’s really hard to say no to an, almost mocha-like, sweet iced coffee.
20 cent Baguettes
Thank you to the French for this one. Vietnam was once a French colony, so it is common to find crunchy and chewy baguettes sold almost anywhere from street vendors to shops to grocery stores. We felt zero guilt when we carb loaded with a 2-foot long baguette we bought from a grocery store for 3900 VND, that’s $0.23 CAD!
Turtles, rabbits, cow penis and more!
If you’re a truly adventurous foodie, give our good friend Phuoc a visit at his restaurant. He’ll give you VIP treatment and the best price for these Vietnamese dishes. We weren’t quite down for these delicacies, but the other, more “normal” menu items are just as bomb, fried rice with beef, veggies with garlic, clay pot pork, it’s all good. Plus the atmosphere is super chill as the guitar gets passed around and every few minutes you hear “yo mai!”, followed my glasses clinking and empty bottles hitting the floor.
His place is at 181 Nghia Phat Ward 6 Tan Binh District. It’s a great spot if you’re interested in getting out of the tourist area and explore another part of town.
On the Silly Sir quest to find more craft beer in Asia, naturally we found ourselves at some local breweries of Ho Chi Minh City.
Pasture Street Brewery
Not too far from the backpacker part of town lies this brewery tucked away through an alley way and up some stairs. It’s worth the visit if you’re getting tired of the usual Tiger beer and Bia Hai. They have 10 uniquely made craft brews, with our favourites being the spice island saison and the Vienna lager with vanilla and cloves. They also have a wicked looking grilled cheese sandwich on the menu. A flight to try 6 beers will cost you 275000 VND ($16.20 CAD).
This brewery is a bus ride away up and over the river. It is in an up and coming area with a bunch of trendy restaurant and cafes popping up, many owned by expats. Bia Craft offers a variety of their own brews and also stocks a good select of imported craft beers from around the world. It’s a quiet, chill place that offers a solid pint. A flight of four beers runs you up 175000 VND ($10.30 CAD).
Each of these sights are within walking distance of one another, and they can all be checked off your list in one day. How convenient right?
For a time warp back to the 70s, a visit to Independence Palace will take you there during a very important time for Vietnam. The original palace was bombed in 1975 then rebuilt to what it is today. The new palace, turned museum is open for visits to walk about and learn more about its significance during the Vietnam war. Entry fee is 30,000 VND ($1.80 CAD) per person.
War Remnant Museum
Another stop for history buffs! If you didn’t already realize the atrocities that was the Vietnam war, the photographs of reporters of the war and aftermath will drive the point home. It’s not a place for the light hearted or for young children, but for everyone else, prepare to be heartbroken. Entry fee is 15,000 VND for foreigners ($0.88 CAD).
Who would have thought that a post office is a tourist attraction? If you’re in the area, hey why not?! The Saigon Post Office is the love child of the French, British, and Vietnamese architects. It is also still a filling functioning post office, so bring your postcards!
Notre Dame Cathedral
Just across the road from the Post Office is a large roman cathedral, you won’t miss it. Maybe you’re looking for a change up from the Buddhist temples you’ve been photographing around SEA. Apparently rumours spread that the status of the Virgin Mary had shed a tear in 2005, sent people flocking to the sight to witness the miracle. I cannot confirm nor deny of this is true.
There are many Couchsurfing hosts in Ho Chi Minh. It’s a great way to meet and hangout with locals and have an experience that’s different than you’re usual backpacker hostel. It also doesn’t hurt your wallet, as you pay it forward with your stories and company.
We stayed with a host named Phuoc in district 6. We spent 3 nights with him and his family at this home, which is attached to the restaurant that he owns. We spent many great hours getting to know each other over beers, singing and guitar and practicing English and Vietnamese. His mother took us around the market one morning as we tagged along during her grocery shopping run.
We even celebrated his friends birthday with cooking up a little taste of Canada, funnel cakes topped with mango and coconut ice cream to keep in the tropical spirit of course.
Making your way around the busy city is surprisingly easy on public transit. There are many public bus routes that can take you pretty much anywhere. Each ride costs only 6000 VND ($0.35 CAD) per person.
Taxis are also an option for getting around and can be cost effective if you have multiple people. We took a taxi to catch our early morning bus from district 6 to the city centre and our 30 minute ride cost about 100,000 VND ($5.90 CAD).
We loved our short time in Ho Chi Minh City and would have loved to stay longer if our schedule allowed it. Don’t skip over this charming place. Like any city, if you stay long enough and know where to look, you’ll find some hidden gems.