Vietnam

Vietnam travel: Discover the character, culture and cuisine of Hi Chi Minh City

Vietnam travel: Discover the character, culture and cuisine of Hi Chi Minh City


There is never a dull moment on the bustling streets of Ho Chi Minh City. photo/123rf

From edgy bars to retro underground bunkers, vibrant Ho Chi Minh City has plenty to explore, writes Brett Atkinson.

Day 1

10 o’clock in the morning

Start your day at the old Compass Cafe, tucked away near busy Pasteur Street via a maze of stairs. Enjoy Vietnamese coffee and banh mi op la, a hearty local dish that combines warm baguettes with fried eggs and bolognese. Co-founder Mark Bowyer also runs Rusty Compass, an excellent travel site focused on Vietnam.

11 am
Take a motorcycle taxi 2 km north to the War Remnants Museum. The building’s galleries feature robust exhibitions about the Vietnam War, including anti-war posters from many countries, including New Zealand, as well as challenging conflict imagery. For travelers to Vietnam, a visit is both a face and a must.

The city's War Remnants Museum is a must-see for tourists. photo/123rf
The city’s War Remnants Museum is a must-see for tourists. photo/123rf

1 pm
Hum Vegetarian Cafe & Restaurant provides a peaceful space after visiting the museum. Highlights include a refreshing papaya and grapefruit salad and a mushroom and banana blossom curry. Make room for mango and sticky rice desserts.

2pm
From the restaurant, walk 500m to reach the Reunification Palace. Fascinating highlights of the building are the retro 1960s design, including the underground network of Situation Rooms and Communication Bunkers, as well as the April 30, 1975 display of a Conqueror’s flag by a North Vietnamese soldier on the iconic balcony to mark the Represents the fall of Saigon.

4.30pm
Walk south for about 15 minutes to Calmette St and experience totally modern Vietnamese cuisine. Artisan chocolates are made from Maison Saigon Marou’s local fair-trade cocoa – try an iced chocolate with cinnamon and chilli – while La Caph’s stylish tasting studio serves blends and single-origin coffees from Vietnam’s central highlands.

The expansive Ho Chi Minh City cityscape is a mix of old and new buildings. photo/123rf
The expansive Ho Chi Minh City cityscape is a mix of old and new buildings. photo/123rf

6.30pm
Ho Chi Minh City is also one of the best travel destinations for Asian craft beer lovers. About 2km northeast of Marou’s chocolate paradise, try a tasting flight at the Heart of Darkness brewery. Core beers include hoppy Kurtz’s Insane IPA, while Futile Purpose Pilsner adds refreshing cucumber.

8pm
A 5-minute walk from the Heart of Darkness is Quan Bui, a stylish bistro with a traditional Indo-Chinese design serving dishes inspired by the hearty cuisine of northern Vietnam.Try the Claypot Spare Ribs with Caramel Sauce or Haiphong Flavor
Fried seafood rolls. Great Vietnamese-style cocktails, too.

Day 2

9 am

Find Ho Chi Minh City’s funniest cafe scene in hip 1960s apartment blocks along pedestrian-only Nguyen Hue Avenue. The nine-story building at 42 once housed American military officers during the Vietnam War, but is now a ramshackle collection of cafes and edgy fashion retailers. It’s an ever-changing scene, so just follow the crowd up the faded stairs. On the third floor, Dosh Donuts combines seasonal flavors like longan and rambutan with a city view.

10.30am
Spend a morning in the leafy Da Khao neighborhood, which is home to many beautiful buildings dating back to the French colonial period in Vietnam. The incense-filled Jade Emperor Pagoda features intricate wood carvings and fantastical Taoist deities, while the city’s excellent history museum is housed in a 1929 mansion with a fusion of Chinese and French styles.

The floating flower market is very popular with locals. photo/123rf
The floating flower market is very popular with locals. photo/123rf

1 pm
Nearby lunch options include Banh Xeo 46A – for Vietnamese egg pancakes stuffed with pork and shrimp – or a hearty pho bo (beef noodle soup) at Pho Hoa. Must-have side dishes include gio chao quay filled with fresh herbs
(Chinese fried bread) and cha lua (pork sausage wrapped in banana leaves).

3pm
On the way back to your riverside accommodation, visit two of Ho Chi Minh City’s most popular French colonial buildings. Wedding photography around the red-brick tower of Notre Dame, completed between 1877 and 1883, remained popular, while the nearby Central Post Office was built about a decade later. Dive inside for a map of the glory days of southern Vietnam and the city formerly known as Saigon.

6pm
Ho Chi Minh City is at its most exciting after dark, especially when you’re riding a Vespa scooter through the neon-lit streets. The 4- to 5-hour Vespa Adventures experience includes a Saigon after dark itinerary filled with street food and live music, as well as a special craft beer tour at four different locations in Southeast Asia’s busiest beer hotspot.

reach there
Connecting at Changi Airport with Singapore Airlines is the most direct way for New Zealanders to travel to Vietnam. The recently launched low-cost carrier Bamboo Airways has direct flights from Melbourne and Sydney to Ho Chi Minh City.

walk around
Load up your smartphone with a local Viettel SIM card and use the Grab and Gojek carpooling apps to ride cheap car and motorcycle taxis around the city.

where to live
Combining retro Indochina with 1930s Art Deco design, The Myst Dong Khoi is centrally located near the riverfront. The rooftop pool offers expansive Saigon views.

For more information, see vietnam.travel



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