There are 2 things that simply are a ‘must-do’ when in Ho Chi Minh.
#1: A Saigon Street Food Tour.
#2: Cu Chi Tunnels.
Lets start with #1.
Upon arrival I was searching as to which street food tour to do. They are all pretty similar, and most are very generic. I wanted a less touristy version of the street food tour, and lucky for me me, my brother messaged and suggested Saigon Street Eats. I googled. I booked. ( http://saigonstreeteats.com)
Saigon street Eats is run by an Australian and Vietnamese couple living in Vietnam. It is an off the track tour, which takes you to the back streets of Saigon for a more authentic sample of Vietnam. So once you book, you can opt to be picked up by motor scooter, and taken to and from the destination…or ‘chicken out’ and take a taxi…we opted to go balls to wall and go by bike. In the rain. In Vietnam. (the holiday brain took over and all sense was out the window)
We arrived in an area not frequented by tourists, met our guide Binh..(more about him later!) and 2 other couples from various parts of the world. No other tourists were to be seen. Anywhere. It was awesome.
The tour starts with Binh ( who lived in Melbourne for 6 years, is fluent in English, very knowledgeable about the history of Vietnam and its food cultures, which vary across the country and a great host!) He explained what to look out for when choosing to eat from the street stalls. It’s never risk free, but these are the strict tips. The stall must have stainless steel tables, strong, bright lighting, the food must be visible and the chef should be cooking within sight. You are less likely to fall ill if you stick to these basic points. Hopefully.
And the food! Amazing and so much of it…. Tasty, fresh and such a variety from the 4 stalls we ate at. Crispy pancakes packed with the fresh herbs, seafood like you’ve never seen, desserts with such traditional history behind the style, wrapping and how to eat it…plus the best of all …the tasty Banh Mi – the obligatory baguette of Vietnam. Oh, and lots of beer…and a baby duck egg, but that story stays on the tour!.
It was a wonderful night, a must do…but book prior to leaving home…just in case.. They also have a walking Pho morning tour which is all about the traditional breakfast soup. Do one. Do both!
#2 Cu Chi Tunnels
If you are only in Ho Chi Minh for a short stopover, choose your Vietnam War History tours carefully. I would suggest either the War Remnants Museum or the Cu Chi Tunnels. I have previously visited the war museum and it is extremely confronting and very sad.
The War Remnants Museum in Ho Chi Minh City documents the costs of the war. It’s aimed squarely at foreign visitors–you won’t find many locals here. The tone isn’t one of victory, but one of victim. The museum amounts to an extensive catalog of the appalling legacy of war. If you are travelling with children I would prefer the tunnel tour, it is not as confronting for small people.
I chose to book the tunnel tour that starts on the Saigon River. You are collected from your hotel and driven to the docks. Then jump aboard a ‘luxurious’ jet boat and zip along the Saigon River to the Cu Chi Tunnels.
We opted for the early departure (730am) rather than the midday option..due to the heat it is better to go early. The river trip is peaceful and you can get a glimpse into traditional river life..fishing boats, water hyacinths and beautiful old shanty’s lining the banks of the saigon waterway.
Once at Cu Chi its go time.
Descend underground with a guide into a vast network built by resourceful guerrilla fighters during the Vietnam War to provide supply routes, food and weapon caches, living quarters and hospitals. The tunnels of Củ Chi are an immense network of connecting underground tunnels located in the Củ Chi District of Ho Chi Minh City, and are part of a much larger network of tunnels that underlie much of the country.
If you have a fear of confined spaces, which I do..it is pretty terrifying. The tunnels are tiny, dark and drop deep underground. The heat makes it a challenge as well. Needless to say I went about 10 mtrs in..and then just as quickly backed out! Literally. The kids were fine. I waited at the opening to greet them. Win Win.
After the tour, you have the option to shoot guns. At targets. It is a strange thing to want to do, but in this controlled environment, and after a full 2 hours of talking war and bombs and guns..it seems normal. Its not.
But I will say, shooting a round of bullets out of an AK47 is something that is both exhilarating and morally wrong. And I will never do it again.
After your tour, you can feast on fried spring rolls, chicken and beef dishes, and soup as you enjoy an authentic, traditional Vietnamese lunch by the river. If you’ve selected the later tour, you’ll enjoy a provided dinner.
After your meal, depart Cu Chi and return by speedboat to Ho Chi Minh City. Upon arrival at the central pier, you will be driven back to your hotel.
It was a great day out and we were back to the hotel by mid afternoon. A refreshing swim, another round of massages, plus a nighttime walk through Ho Chi Minh Square, which seems never to not have a zillion people milling around at all times …then it was time to head back to the hotel , and pack for our departure the next morning.
Thank you Saigon…you were an incredible host.
Next stop Hanoi……
(The Cu Chi Tunnel tour that we booked was through http://www.viator.com/?SSAID=1210009&aid=148628)