Southern Vietnam: Saigon and Mekong Delta

Traveler: Breonne Eberhart

Where: Saigon and Mekong Delta

When:  January 2018

Overall Experience

Vietnam…. A combination of street food, motorbike exhaust, and durian. While that may not sound very appetizing you just know your about to experience everything that encompasses Southeast Asia. I started my adventure in Ho Chi Minh City or Saigon. I spent three days in Ho Chi Minh city and the vibe of this area is pretty laid back with very welcoming smiles from the locals.

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Making new friends

Logistics

Flights to Vietnam can be pretty cheap! I got a round trip flight from Hawaii to Ho Chi Minh for $450 USD. I flew from Hawaii and it took approximately 13 hours with a layer in Seoul.  I would recommend getting a visa before arriving in Vietnam. There are many ways to obtain a visa such as through third parties or getting a visa on arrival which I heard can be a nightmare if not done correctly. So I ended up going directly through the embassy in DC. I sent my passport to DC and received it back within the same week and it was ready to go!

Where to stay
Ho Chi Minh– I stayed at a hotel called Parkview Homestead which is located near Ben Thanh market by district one. If you like an array of restaurant choices and nightlife this is where you want to stay. The hotel  was actually an apartment with kitchen/living room and very close to the market and nightlife. Just a side note the locals told me that district 4 and 8 are dangerous and to avoid that area.

Where to eat
Ben Thanh market– This market literally has everything and anything but most importantly the food stalls! There are more noodle soups then I even knew existed and every one I tried was delicious. If you are looking for some sweet elephant pants this is also a Mecca for shopping.

My Bahn Mi– I waited for the moment I was able to eat a Bahn mi in Vietnam for a long time and I will say it was worth the wait! I found this little cafe while aimlessly walking down the street and so glad I did. Try the chicken pate Bahn mi!

Mekong Delta– The floating markets on the delta are on the of the best places to experience local delicacies!

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Floating markets

Things to See

Ben Thanh Market

On my first day in Vietnam, I walked around Ben Thanh market. I met a lot of travelers who were doing the same as I, just trying to find the best noodle soup. I met a guy from Madagascar and not only did I pick his brain about traveling there he also told me which food stand he thought was the best. It’s in the market and has Bun Bo Hue. This noodle soup is just phenomenal. It’s spicy, flavorful, and warms your belly. It also has mystery meat in it but when in Vietnam try everything. I haven’t got sick yet.

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Eat your greens at the Ben Thanh Market

There are so many little stands to choose from but you can’t go wrong with any of them. Do a little research before you get there to know which dishes you are looking for and that makes it a little easier to decide which stand to eat at.

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Delicious, hot noodles!

War Remnants Museum

This museum houses exhibits from the Vietnam war. It’s interesting to see the viewpoint of the Vietnamese. Propaganda vs’ reality? Either way it depicts the brutality and gruesome nature of this war.

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Helicopter from the Vietnam War

While I was heading toward the museum a motorbike pulled up and this older Vietnamese man asked if I wanted to see more of the city. I hesitated thinking of all the bad things that could happen but if we didn’t take risks we wouldn’t see anything in life. So I agreed on a price before I got on and it was something like $5 for two hours. Seemed like a good deal to me. Mr. Dao was his name and he took me to the war remnants museum, a few temples, and back to my place.

Driving on a motorbike in Saigon is not for the faint of heart. There are zero driving rules with cars, people, and motorbikes all going in different directions. After the initial “Holy Shit we are going to get in an accident every two seconds” you realize they have been doing this their entire life so I trusted him. The museum was small but something to see if you have time.

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Mr. Dao and me

Cu Chi Tunnels

The Cu Chi tunnels are an elaborate tunnel system that were built during the Vietnam war. These tunnels were built by the Viet Cong troops and were used in order to survive aerial US bombings.  Many people spent much of their life underground. These tunnels came equipped with kitchens, hospitals, and even a theater. I wasn’t sure how I was going to get here so Mr Dao said he would drive me there. It was an hour and a half on motorbike. I was pretty sure I was not coming back to Saigon in one piece but Mr Dao exceeded my expectations. And it was super fun to be entangled in the web of thousands of motorbikes! If you go I would recommend taking this mode of transportation to see more of the countryside. The tunnels themselves are very touristy. I thought I might be able to do a self guided tour once I got there but that wasn’t the case. They put you with a group of at least 20 people. But it it was neat to see the tunnels and the Vietnamese way of life during this time.

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Exploring the Cu chi tunnels

The Mekong Delta

The Mekong Delta is a fascinating river system that starts in Tibet and supplies countries all the way down to Vietnam with fish and produce. I found localsonly.com it’s a company which caters to people who want a private, authentic experience. I did some research and it is difficult to get to the delta by yourself so, Thien who was my tour guide, came to pick me up at my hotel in Saigon and drove me about two hours to the delta. She was very knowledgable about her country and gave me a lot of information. Here we stopped a few places to see the local craftsmanship. People were making bricks by hand, coconut products, and sleeping mats. I got to try homemade coconut candy, and wine that had fermented snakes and geckos in it. It sounds absolutely disgusting but I must say it was pretty good! Don’t worry the snake venom is neutralized by the ethanol.

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Delicious snake wine!

After seeing life on the Mekong we stopped for lunch at a local family’s home. They prepared a fresh caught fish from the river behind their house and it was one of the best meals I’ve had in Vietnam.

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Fish with a family

The little town on the Mekong  that we were in was my favorite so far. It was called Nahn Thanh. It looked like a little village out of a storybook. Everything was miniature sized, people very friendly, and it was lined with coconut trees. From there we boarded a Sampan boat and paddled down the Mekong river. I only had one day to spend on the Mekong but if you have more time I would recommend spending as many days here as you can. It’s amazing to see their way of life, floating markets and villages, and everyone was very hospitable. I really enjoyed this area and the countryside.

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Sampan boat on the Mekong Delta                      

Bui Vien Walking Street

This street in Saigon has all the Bia Hoi and spring rolls one can ask for. This street is always packed with locals and tourists.

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Bui Vien Walking Street

Tips

  • Avoid booking a hotel in district 4 and 8. It is a dangerous area per the locals.
  • It is relatively safe in Saigon but was told not to wear any jewelry and keep your purse very close to you especially on motorbikes because people have been known to snatch belongings when passing by
  • Tour the countryside on a motor bike….It is worth the anxiety lol
  • Spend as much time as you can on the Mekong Delta
  • Drink some snake wine
  • Enjoy the phenomenal food, culture, and lifestyle

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