The Best of Vietnam: A Food and Sightseeing Guide to Saigon and Hanoi

Striking and breathtakingly beautiful, few places in the world boast as spectacular (and often overwhelming) splendor as Vietnam, and this magic is especially evident in its largest cities. In Saigon (or Ho Chi Minh City), you’ll find stunning 18th-century French architecture, endless stalls selling the famous banh mi sandwich, and beautifully landscaped parks with temples and palaces. The streets of Hanoi are filled with the sound of motorbikes zipping by, the bustle of street vendors dishing out pots and pans of noodle soup and sizzling roast pork, and the glisten of picturesque pagodas. Whether you’re visiting Vietnam for the first time or your 15th, this guide to Vietnam’s busiest cities will take you deep into the heart of one of Asia’s most glorious, vibrant, and humble countries.

Ho Chi Minh CityFormerly known as Saigon (and most locals still call it that), Ho Chi Minh City is the perfect mix of old and new. You’ll find colonial French architecture juxtaposed with whizzing motorbikes and crowded markets. Centuries-old temples and pagodas flank gleaming skyscrapers. This is a city that takes a few days to explore to really understand the interesting contrasts.

foodFood in Vietnam varies greatly from north to south, and with Ho Chi Minh City in the south, the food here tends to be tastier and spicier than Hanoi’s. These are dishes you must try while wandering the busy streets.

Banh Cuon: A hearty rice dish steamed to perfection, banh cuon are thin slices of rice filled with minced meat, mushrooms and shallots. It’s served in bite-sized pieces and is often served at breakfast with a drizzle of fish sauce (a must for most Vietnamese dishes), bean sprouts, and cucumber. Tip: If you can, order from a street vendor so you can watch the locals prepare it in their larger-than-life metal woks. Where to try it: Banh Cuon Hai Nam, 11A Đường Cao Thắng, phường 2, Quận 3, Hồ Chí Minh, Vietnam

Banh Xeo: Banh Xeo is another eye-pleasing and delicious dish, basically a big, savory crepe. Named for the sizzling sound it makes while cooking, this crepe pancake mix is ​​topped with equal parts pork, shrimp, and bean sprouts. It’s served for breakfast or lunch with, you guessed it, fish sauce. Where to try it: Banh Xeo 46A, 11A Đường Cao Thắng, phường 2, Quận 3, Hồ Chí Minh, Vietnam

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