Ho Chi Minh City is now one of my favourite cities, so I’m going to dive into specifics much more than I would normally. Buckle in.
(Don’t worry, I’ll get to the food bit soon.)
First things first: food. (Patience was never my virtue.)
Pho is an obvious go-to, and Bun Cha is a must-try. It’s like pho minus the soup, plus some crispy bits of who-knows-what and peanuts. The Bun Cha at Quan An Ngon was amazing, although we did see a rat or two in the open-air restaurant. (Those of you who have been to Asia will know to take that in stride. We ordered another round of 75-cent beers and tried not to think too much about it.)
If you make it to HCMC, it would be a crime to miss out on Cuc Gach Quan. By that point in our trip I was pretty sick of overcooked bok choy and carrots, so the 35 different vegetable options were a welcome relief. Many of them didn’t have English names, however, so we mostly went with our waiter’s recommendations. The spring rolls, soft shell crab, pumpkin flower, and fresh juices were indescribably amazing.
The bread in HCMC wasn’t as good as in Hanoi and we didn’t come across any egg coffee, but you win some, you lose some.
In other news:
The manfriend’s brother wanted to do some learning, so we toured the War Remnants Museum, the Reunification Palace, and a very hard-to-find Pagoda. The War Museum was interesting and heartbreaking and definitely worth a few hours, but the other two I could have skipped. We didn’t make it to the Cu Chi tunnels, but I heard from other tourists that it was the highlight of Vietnam, so they’re first on my list if (when) I make it back.
Since we didn’t have time to visit Hoi An, I went to a tailor in HCMC: Tricia & Verona. They were recommended by the New York Times as a good Western-style option, and they didn’t disappoint. I would highly recommend them, but know that they will call you back for fittings and for pickup multiple times and each time you arrive nothing will be ready. They’ll probably send you away for another two hours, and then when you come back you’ll sit there for another hour before they have a half-basted dress lining for you to try (I figure the second time you arrive in one evening is when they actually start to work on your items). At the end of the day, though, they delivered all of my items to my hotel before I had to leave for the airport (full disclosure: I told them I had to leave 4 hours before I actually did and was out when the clothes were delivered, so I can’t say for sure that they were on time, but I suggest using the same strategy), and I’m incredibly happy with how they turned out. It’s slightly more expensive than other Vietnamese tailors, but way cheaper than having something made at home (I paid $60 per dress, though cost will depend on the style and material).
I should also mention for anyone considering going (and also for my Dad’s sake) that Vietnam as a whole felt really safe – at least in terms of pick pocketing or mugging and kidnapping and the like (but don’t use that as an excuse to be careless – who thought putting your iPhone on a selfie stick and holding it out 5 feet away from your body was a good idea?). I did mildly fear for my life around most cars and all buses, but we made it without being squashed (even if I was so hopeless in a river of slow-moving tire-to-tire motos during a New Year’s Day event that a super pregnant lady grabbed my arm and herded me across the street while her husband tried to hide that he was laughing at me).
Anyway- I had an amazing time in HCMC and highly, highly recommend it.
Beautiful Saigon Hotel – reasonably cheap (without being a $3/night hostel, because I’m a little bit of a princess), but in a great location.
L’Usine – for a more-expensive-than-America shop with a cafe upstairs. Very hipster. I spent a few hours on New Years Day blowing the budget to eat and sit on the balcony for a couple hours to watch traffic and write postcards while the rest of our crew recovered from their hangovers. It was definitely the best roast beef sandwich of my life, though.
Final note: More food!
Gingko and L’Usine both also sell Marou chocolate, which is a local Vietnamese single-origin fair-trade* brand with gorgeous packaging. Check them out.
*Not certified. See their website.