What I should know when traveling to Saigon…

I noticed I haven’t been writing about my  travels, but only short social postings on my instagram profile, so here goes…one long written post about my most recent food hunting in Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam.

Before I start anything, let me give you a heads up that this is a TOTALLY SPONTANEOUS trip.  I took zero moments to make a decision, and then took 54 minutes to get my air ticket settled with MAS customer care line, then a day before the trip due to unforeseen circumstances, Huskydaddy is willing to accommodate my impulsive action to fly and be my companion for this. (I’m so thankful and grateful for his existence!) So I had no planning, no itinerary, but only one thing in our mind. FOOD.

#YOLO, how bad can things be? It’s only Saigon after all…
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Let’s start with the bad. The things everyone should know before entering to any country, is doing research. We had no idea (particularly only just me) how much it cost to go to the airport. And what are transportation in Saigon? Our airport transfer trip to our hotel at district 1 … was 210,000 VND. (If we have gotten GRAB Car, it’s only between 130,000 to 150,000 VND). The price of the cab wasn’t an issue, BUT the driver decided and forcefully requested for tip. We tried giving RM2 and 10,000VND as tip, but he rejected and request for USD instead. In the end, we gave RM10 as tip because he wouldn’t let us go (so that adds on to our initial negotiated price) .

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You may be thinking why I’m writing about something to menial, but I was at ‘that’ moment; feeling stressed, confused and just landed in a new country… so it kinda ruined my trip a little – and I was paranoid hailing for a cab after that.

We checked in to our hotel. Nothing fancy, as long as it is clean I’m a happy traveler. But right after the driver’s incident, I had to go through another ‘not-so-very-nice’ experience. The reception desk requested for our passports for verification at first, so we gave it since it’s pretty normal for any hotels to do so, but then they didn’t give us back the passports after. So I politely requested for it, but they told me that I don’t need my passport outside so they’ll keep it at the hotel lobby desk. And I’m like whaaaaat? So I repeated myself, that I want my passport back, they can make a copy for verification – just give it back to me. And she innocently said the same thing. The third time I requested and they gave it back – but the sound and tone she said it, give me the impression of ‘fishyness’ – she even showed and told me that all their customers do it, and pulls a drawer out (an unlocked drawer). Never mind the other people, I just want my passport back so I can feel safe with it. You may be asking why am I so paranoid about it?

Well, I’ve watched too much documentaries, and read too much news on human trafficking in SEA countries, and they showed what can happen if anybody get hold of your passport, and something happened to you… etc etc. So yes, I am paranoid. I am not implying anything, I’m just being me. When I travel, my identification sticks with me! I am just that paranoid – one should never give anyone else keep your identification card and your passport. They can make a photocopy for verification and cross it but not keep it especially under the circumstances of more than 24 hours, and in an unlocked drawer.

After this two incident, we went into our room feeling extremely uneasy. So I had ruined my two hours in Saigon. LOL. I was just so paranoid to do anything else. Anyway I calmed down after, washed up and then I’m ready to go…. because I am so hungry!

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me sitting at the central park – we’re walking to hunt for food. I was so hungry!

And this is when the good part comes…..  and is really just all about food.  My activity starting point is where all the good food is, and then plan from then onward. The food you must try in Saigon, which I’m just going to be briefly introducing here.. If you want to read about my top 5 favorite food rank in Saigon, click here. Braised yourself for all the food you need to try out.

Banh mi is one of the greatest examples of fusion food done extremely well – a representation of Vietnam and France, all stuffed into a handheld crusty baguette.

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Pho, the Vietnamese beef noodle.

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Banh Mi Op La, similar to any Banh Mi, but this is slightly different because they separated the sunny sides eggs and other ingredients in the supposed Banh Mi. Honestly, I like it better separated!

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Com Tam – means broken rice, and Com Tam Ba Ghien, is grilled pork that served with the broken rice. Since we liked our first Com Tam so much (which was pretty far away, we tried another nearby too, which was an unintentional find in the city.

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It was hidden on a small alley in District 3 (the same alley where you can find a good bowl of Chao (Congee) with steamed duck. Which is the next item on my must-try food list.

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We found out this place reading from a blog (which so happen I lost the screenshot) and it was hidden in an alley. It took us good 10 minutes to search for it. Even local taxi driver couldn’t tell us where. But it was worth it.

Bun Cha – cold rice noodle, with minced pork in sweet sauce served with lettuce. This is my number 1 favorite food! For me, this is very unique and original to Vietnamese. I am sure Vietnamese restaurants would sell it, but it never came across my mind to really know what was it and boom.. I’m glad my first try is in Saigon.

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Of course, I wouldn’t missed out the desserts part of the food.

Che Chuoi; in short banana dessert. How do I explain this? Hmm,  it is steamed banana, mixed into sweetened coconut with sticky rice. I tell you, it sound like this plate is very sweet, but actually is not. IT IS SO DAMN GOOD!

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As I grow older, I’m not really a dessert person anymore, but I’m glad I tried this. Its a small roadside stall at 241 Vo Van Tan Street in District 3.  Opens at 5pm and close when finish. We went there around 8pm, and I was so afraid it was finishing because you can see many locals hoarding around that place eating their favorite dessert.

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Custard coffee. I have no idea how i came across this. I just wanted to eat the yummy looking custard displayed. So I pointed my fingers at it, paid 10,000VND and then grandma who doesn’t understand me, showed me some black stuff, and poured into it. Turned out is the strong Vietnamese coffee.

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Circle K – their convenience store, majority dominated the Saigon busy districts. So taking the culture of serving ‘hot food’ too, we wanted to try out their instant noodle for supper, but always not fast enough. So we tried their steamed bun (pau).  Really commercialized taste, but able to warm up your body at night before bed. The ‘pau’ is still warm, and there are few varieties you get to choose from, just make sure you don’t choose Taro or Salted egg flavor because is damn sweet (unless you think you’re running low on sugar)
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I am sure you’ve probably seen this ice cream somewhere at the food court of Takashimaya. Since KL doesn’t have Takashimaya, might as well, give it a try. The price is actually quite expensive on Vietnam standard, but given the fact that this is a Japan original branch out, so we don’t really mind. But if you ask me, I’d prefer the local desserts more.

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Street stall BBQ, is a hang out time for the local youths. There’s a blog I came across that writes about the best street stalls in Saigon city, which is pretty good recommendation. Here are just some of the grilled items, which I like it very much. You can choose to go into any stalls you want, and pick out the meat. (We’ve tried prawns, octopus and snail). Yes you read right.. SNAILS.

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And some other food we tried which we forgot the name completely. We tried out some of the stalls we walked pass which very much fancy the locals and just pointed fingers on the food we want to order / or think it’ll be tasty to try it out.

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Pho – but a different kind with raw beef soup base and thick rice noodle.
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Clear soup base – fish paste rice noodle (Pho)
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Chao Lau – known as a Hoi An original noodle, but it didn’t really taste good, so you can skip this.

I would think that only in the Philippines, there’s Balut – steamed duck embryo. I didn’t know Vietnamese has the same kind too. In fact they have quail egg embryo. They called it the Cut Lon and Vit Lon; I don’t exactly know which is which; so anyway we tried it and I like the quail egg embryo. It taste pretty good. If you’re up for bizarre food, give it a try. Locals said they take these as a form of energy boost; whenever they feel tired, they’ll take this. Like Malaysians taking brands essence chicken. 

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Before I came to Saigon, all I can ever think of Vietnam is spring rolls. I was anticipating to try out all different kinds of it. But it turned out they wrapped with something I never like putting my tongue to taste it, so… I didn’t get to taste the different types of it.

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Spring roll wrapped with thin rice noodle

Then we tried fried spring roll. This one taste slightly better than the clear ones. In fact, I preferred the fried type if you ask me.

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Then we tried beef wrapped with some kinda leaf and then have it fried. I totally forgot what was this, but it tasted really good! You can order this as Bun Cha 145 at Bu Vien Street. 

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Vietnamese Coffee – if you’re a coffee person, then yes, Vietnam as one of the largest factory of coffee, you should drink like at least once a day… (but keep it to the morning though). There’s no bad coffee here, and all of them taste good even at normal food stalls, or street stalls.

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So the top part is pretty much my food journey. Of course, I can’t only stomach food all the time. We gotta walk it out. So the rest of the blog below are summary of the places nearby we visited. We didn’t plan to travel outskirts because we wanted just a leisure trip and really exploring the city in its own unique way.

The Bin Tanh market – the busy market selling all type of local goods ranging from clothes to snacks to groceries.

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If you’re thinking of getting souvenirs, I suggest you to visit this place and bargain for it. The items sold here can be pretty affordable if you bargain. BUT just make sure that only if you are definitely sure you’re buying from them. Reason because, they can be very aggressive and rude if you’re just “looking” or “bargaining” and not get anything from them. img_2244

The busy roads of Saigon. There’s really a lot of motorist! I got a culture shock. I mean, everyone told me to be prepared for it, but you can never be mentally prepared. Crossing the streets, even if you’re on pedestrian and the light is green, you’re still intimidated to do so. Some cars or motorcycles will just appear suddenly. After a two days, we kinda master the art of it. Just walk with confidence! LOL. img_2243 The thing I noticed in Saigon, as much as the streets are crowded with vehicles and motorist, I don’t really feel or smell a lot of the fumes (like in KL) and as much as they’re like driving without rules, there’s really no road rage! The way they drive and stopped in the middle, the drivers seems to be able to compromise… Imagine them driving in KL, a simple mistake, can cause a huge commotion. So, I conclude Saigon drivers are much better drivers than us. LOL.

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Damn cute stools and tables they have on the street side. This is their type of ‘mamak’ . LOL

Then we walked into small housing alleys. It felt like I have just gone back to the past (in a good way). It feels like I’m in the 90’s.
img_2226 Some of the few tourist-y sightseeing places you can visit nearby…

War Remnants Museum; is a place you should check out. It might seem like just any war museum, but when I visited it – I never expected the outcome. I came out feeling depressed and wondering why is there even a war. The museum has collected, written and documented many facts during the Vietnam War which some of us (like me) who doesn’t even know about. The entrance fee is about 30,000VND for two person.

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Sightseeing the Notredam Cathedral, and Central post office – both are nearby each other, perfect for photo taking.

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The Central Post Office were pretty amazing to us. I mean, it carries a very nostalgic elements in the area and when we visited, there’s a sight where a grandma was reading over and over again a letter she received. *touching* Of course in her own language that I don’t understand. So, I was pretty amazed that in the middle of this huge place, there is a place where you can sit and write or read letters.

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Some other places, I checked out but didn’t catch any pictures before weather is just pretty gloomy for photos.

  • Independence Museum
  • Saigon Square and other shopping walls (if you’re feeling too warm to walk)
  • Central park – is walking distance to the Cathedral

Majority of the places we walked; there restaurants / food stalls we go into are not really fluent in English, so it’s a chicken and duck conversations majority of my time. We do go into places that are travelers friendly with English menu and pictures to see… but they’re usually twice the normal food price. Which is still affordable to our standard.. but you know Malaysians lah…  *grins* . If you can find something cheaper and tastier, you become more and more cheapskate.  So we end up, downloading pictures and pointing it to them and hope we ordered the right food. In times like this, food review and travel bloggers saved our life! (thank you.) 

I did not even try to memorize any basic Vietnamese, so it’s a total disaster for me. I totally cannot recognize any of their words or even close to pronouncing their language correctly. So it’s bad. We have to have google map with us all the time. We won’t be able to survive if not thanks to Google and Grab Car. Grab car saved us a lot from us feeling potentially scammed, but after two days, we realized that any meter taxi we hail is honest enough on their price. So is OK to hail a cab as long as you know is running on meter.

After 4 days, I’ve had enough of Ho Chi Minh and I’m ready to go home. I missed home really really bad. Oh to note; eating at the airport, the prices are in USD, so remember to keep some VND or USD for home, if you plan to eat at the airport. BUT please don’t do any last minute shopping there – that’s my advise, because things are almost triple the price there. If I have done my research, I would’ve known NOT to get ‘scam’.  My biggest weakness – impulsive purchase.

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This pack of fried lotus seed cost 12USD and i bought two packs… DO NOT BUY it from the airport!

Overall, I felt that 4 days is a bit overkill for Saigon. Unless, you have plans traveling further outskirts like taking day tours to Mekong Delta, Chu che tunnel, or spending a night in Mui Ne; I think 3 days is already more than enough to experience and taste their culture. That said, it’s still not very expensive for leisure travelers like us, since flight tickets are so competitively cheap nowadays…. just fly there for a bowl of Bun Cha!

Read about my top 5 favorite food and where to find them in Saigon.

That ends my impulsive and spontaneous food adventure in Vietnam.

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And… we say goodbye to Ho Chi Minh.

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