After spending a few days on Phu Quoc Island, soaking up the rays and enjoying lots of fresh seafood and fruit, it was time to head back to the mainland and start our ‘official tour’ – beginning in Saigon (HCMC). Though we were sad to leave the beach and bungalows, we knew we were in for an exciting 10 days in Vietnam and Cambodia. 

Checking out of Phuong Binh House was easy, as was the flight (minus some turbulence and shovey people). We were greeted by our tour guide (Bao) and immediately taken to the Reunification Palace, where Bao gave us a tour.  The palace was very nice, but the bunker was fascinating to see, especially since they still had some furniture, equipment, and maps used during the American War in Vietnam. After visiting the palace, we were whisked away to briefly see the Notre Dame Cathedral (it was closing) and then popped into the Old Post Office. 

 

 We then went to the Ben Tanh Market and tried some market food which included Spring Rolls (with shrimp and pork) and Bloating Fern-shaped cake with pork baloney.  

After browsing the bustling market a bit, we went to our welcoming dinner at Viet Heritage and were welcomed with a 5 course meal (we only paid for drinks)-pork spring rolls, grilled shrimp cake wrapped around sugar cane, stewed pork with beans, potatoes and carrots (in a sauce) with a fresh baguette, fried fish (Que Lam style), sauteed water morning glory with garlic, steamed rice and a few pieces of fruit for dessert.  The food was fresh, lovely and was a very nice way to welcome us to our tour!  I don’t think I will ever get tired of Vietnamese Spring Rolls!  I also felt very grateful to have so many fresh veggies, tropical fruits, and awesome baguettes after being in Korea for 5 months–fruit and vegetables are expensive in Korea and almost all their bread has a lot of sugar in it!

After dinner, we were taken to our stunning hotel (Silverland Central Hotel and Spa), checked in and were on our own to explore the outdoor portion of Ben Tanh Market.  I came back after exploring and had a nice long hot shower and got to bed early as we had breakfast at 7 and a 7:30 pickup time.  HCMC is constantly alive and bustling with many things to see and do-and a haven for a bargain if you are able to haggle (so glad my friend Stan is so good at it)!

The next morning, we met up with Bao and set off of for the Cu Chi tunnels to see the tunnel system used in the American War in Vietnam.  It took us 1.5hrs to get there and we arrived just in time to avoid the heavy crowds.  I found it very interesting to see things ‘a bit’ from the Vietnamese point of view–the intro video called the Americans ‘…a crazy bunch of devils’ and went on to detail how the people of the town refused to give in to the American invasion and would have ‘A rifle in one hand and a plow in the other’.  I was quite impressed by the tunnel system, the traps they built and their ability to re-purpose all sorts of things they obtained after attacking US troops (shoes, bombs, etc.).  I have never been a fan of war, so some parts (mainly the traps) were a bit difficult to see-but I knew what I was getting into. 

While there, we saw how traditional rice paper is made,  got to taste some fresh tapioca (kinda like yucca) and I made a kitty cat friend.  Other visitors can pay to shoot off some pretty heavy artillery!

After leaving the tunnels, we headed off on another 1.5hr drive to the Holy See of the Cao Dai religion.  We arrived just in time to go inside (after some pushing and shoving by the other foreigners) and were able to catch a glimpse of the daily ceremony.  We shot a few pictures and left quickly for lunch (to beat the crowds).  I absolutely must go back there and spend some time shooting photos and looking around-the place was very crowded and full of impatient tourists. Lunch was just OK, but given the location of the temple, we probably had the best place around.

Afterward, we drove a bit over an hour to get back to our hotel in HCMC.  Stan asked our guide where to find the best Pho in the city and he led us to an AMAZING restaurant (Pho Hung)!!  My first time eating Pho and I wanted to kick myself for not having it sooner.  You can add herbs and spices to taste and although mine was a bit on the hot side, the broth was stunning.  I chose the beef with egg and was not disappointed.  I am absolutely hooked, although I have been warned that all Pho from now on will pale in comparison!  

On our way back to the hotel, we took in the sights of the foreigner street (bars, hostels and brothels) and stopped off to have a beer and people-watch…Finally, as it was our last night in HCMC, we popped up to the 8th floor of our hotel and sipped cocktails while looking out over the city.  

Saigon (HCMC), from the little that we saw, is a great city!  I would definitely consider moving there if the opportunity arose, though the thought of riding a scooter in that much traffic does make me a little nervous! Visit Vietnam, you won’t be disappointed!

Traveling to Vietnam with your family? Check out this post via Thrifty Family Travels for some great tips!

Visit Vietnam - A Great Few Days in Saigon