Imagine Jackie Chan starring in an Asian sequel to the Hangover. Take away the high consumption of alcohol and add in a couple more weird and wacky experiences and you’ve got yourself 24 hours in Ho Chi Minh City, a.k.a Saigon. Here’s a recap of how I maximised a short amount of time in one of Asia’s most up and coming cities.
Nestled in the heart of District 1, I found myself wandering the streets in search of breakfast and caffeine. Vietnam is the biggest exporter of coffee in the world, so it didn’t take me long to find a café that served a French-style breakfast with excellent coffee.
But there were plenty of breakfast options on offer. In my quest, I also found a number of food carts, offering everything from traditional pho soup to tropical fruit.
DIY coffee stands were also around, but in the end, I chose a café quality croissant and coffee… Tick.
I jumped on a tour bus that I’d booked the previous evening heading straight out to the Mekong Delta. I wanted to get immersed in some of the more cultural experiences Vietnam had to offer, and with such a small amount of time in Vietnam this would be the closest I could get to what some would call “Real Asia”. The upside to riding solo on this particular trip was that I could always manage to find myself a spare seat on a tour bus. The specific tour I had booked set me back $25US and was primarily filled with Cantonese-speaking tourists, but there were a few other Aussies and English-speaking tourists along for the ride too.
After a bit of a debate on the tour bus as to whether to take the freeway or the more time-consuming route of the toll-free road, we eventually got underway. The cost of the toll road was a total of $6US return. If given a choice, I’d recommend coughing up the cash and saving yourself a couple of hours in transit, which we did. Soon we arrived at a boat terminal, hello Mekong River nice to finally meet you.
Before we sat down to a lunch of one of the most delicious authentic Vietnamese-style fried crispy fish I’ve ever had, we got stuck into a number of cultural activities. The island we were touring was renowned for producing coconut candy. We were educated on the process of its creation, shown step by step exactly how the product reached the shelves. The candy tasted delicious and was produced in a number of different flavours.
Then we were escorted via horse and cart from one part the island to where we were seated for lunch. There were murmurs that the horses might be donkeys, but regardless, we got there safe and sound.
After lunch, we were paddled through a maze of slim estuaries, dodging oncoming wooden boats and sometimes banging up against them as they passed. This was the highlight of my time in Vietnam. We sat in single file in our boat as our driver navigated us along the tiny river beds. This experience was one to remember.
Balancing these little boats was an art form, something we as a group managed to successfully accomplish.
We passed under arching palm leaves and saw tin shed houses with the journey culminating at the mouth of the river where our larger tour boat was moored ready to take us back to the other side of the Mekong River. We had a quick stop to try some traditional Vietnamese honey and lime tea and listened to a performance of traditional singing and music. Honestly, it wasn’t my favourite part of the trip, but it was interesting.
After a long day of listening and learning, the tour bus returned us to the starting point, just outside the famous Ben Trahn Markets in Ho Chi Minh City. By this point, I was fully recharged after a solid nap on the bus on our way home and was ready to tuck into some grub. There were many traditional pho restaurants on offer. I decided to go against the grain I found myself a delicious Beef Lok Lak, another traditional dish which tastes delicious and I highly recommend giving it a red hot crack if you get the chance. As I wandered back to where I was staying in District 1, I rounded out the evening with a delicious ice coffee topped with cream purchased from a local Bubble Tea shop.
My time in Ho Chi Minh City was awesome. With more cafés per square kilometre than any other city in the world, you’d be struggling to say that you couldn’t find yourself a decent coffee. From bustling marketplaces full of bartering customers to navigating rickety boats along narrow river beds, strap yourself in for a sensory overload.
Jake Rich is a lifestyle and travel blogger who loves to share his adventures on his travel blog Life Starts Now.
Instagram: @jakerich55 Twitter: @jakerich55
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