Last week, Markus flew from Oslo to Ho Chi Minh City to spend 7 days holiday with me. Before the trip, we were both worried that it would rain heavily for the holiday week due to the monsoon season weather condition in the South of Vietnam from August to November with high precipitation.
To our surprise, other than wearing disposable raincoat holding hands walking around district 1 for the first day, we can happily to conclude it was a beautiful week with clear blue sky and sunny weather.
Our Airbnb was located right next to a beautiful pink church at Tan Dinh Market. Little did we know, the church is the second largest one in Ho Chi Minh city after Notre Dame Cathedral. A unique feature of this church is the tradition to ring their bell every hour with the ring count as the same as the hour count.
Tan Dinh Church, an iconic church known for its Romanian architecture in pink color built in 1880 by the French.
Back to the main topic of today article, Saigon for the weekend. In fact, Markus has done a solo trip to Ho Chi Minh city once in August 2016 and visited the major attractions such as: the Independence Palace, the War Museum, Ben Thanh Market, The Central Post Office, The Notre Dame Cathedral. Thus, for this time, I wanted to take Markus to go somewhere off Saigon to have a sense of how life is in the suburban areas.
Day 1 in Saigon:
1. Cu Chi Tunnels: This historical site is located about 37km north from Saigon center and very famous for having a complex tunnels system with extensive underground network made by hands by Vietnam soldiers during the war with American 1960s.
There are many ways to get to Cu Chi tunnels: by public bus, by scooter, by travel agent or by taxi. After checking the prices and travelling time, we finalized to make our trips via travel agent. Here are the reasons:
- Feature: It was a free and easy tour by Daily travel Vietnam tour: a joined group 15-20 people, no meals, no amenities provided, only two ways transportation with small shuttle bus and a tour guide.
- Insanely cheap 99,000 VND (4.5 USD) for Vietnamese and 120,000 VND (6USD) for foreigners excluded Cu Chi Tunnels Entrance fee ( 20,000 VND – 1 USD for Vietnamese and 80,000 VND – 4 USD for foreigner)
- In comparison with taking taxi, we would have to pay around 2 millions VND (100USD) two ways.
- It’s daily tour and there is no restriction in booking time. We called the agent at 10pm and we got our tickets for the next day at 8am.
- Total travelling time by taxi or bus shuttle bus is 4hrs.
- Compare to taking bus, we would have to spend total 7hrs of traveling since there is no straight bus to Cu Chi Tunnels.
We woke up at 6:30 for coffee and breakfast before being picked up by the shuttle bus at 8:00. There were about 20 tourists mainly foreigners. Along the way, the bus stopped at a Handicap Art and Craft Factory where beautiful handcrafted products were made by the disabled artists such as flowers vase, wall-arts, paintings, etc. We spent about 30 minutes at the place before continue our trip to Cu Chi Tunnels.
Eventhough I have been to Cu Chi Tunnels twice before – the most recent one was 7 years ago – I was really excited for all the knowledge I would gain from understanding how the tunnel system worked, how they had been built since I could not recall anything from the previous trips.
Markus, on the other hand, was a complete virgin. He was amazed and showed so much respect for the Vietnamese soldiers during the war: with poor living condition underground (sleeping with snakes, scorpions, insects), limited supplies of clean water and foods, still they were able to win the impossible.
The tour guide was explaining how the soldiers could slide through the tiny square hole on the ground and how they camouflaged the entrance from the Americans.
How to slide through the tiny hole!
The tour guide also introduced us several techniques the soldiers had used to counter the American’s strategies on finding and destroying the tunnels such as using termites nest, etc. In addition, he also guided us through different types of traps used, how the soldiers made bombs, how the smoke arose from cooking could go undetected.
This is Durian trap – one of those created to cause fatal injuries to the American soldiers.
How bombs were cut manually to utilize parts of them for making new bombs. (Daring level – impossible!!!)
Lastly before we headed out to watch a documentary about Cu Chi Tunnels, then we came to the part everyone was waiting for – going into the tunnel!!!
All in all, the trip to Cu Chi Tunnels took about 7hrs and was really worth it. We had learnt and experienced so much about the Vietnam – American war and the lives of soldiers and farmers in the past.
Back to the city after half day on the bus, we came back to the hotel and quickly fell asleep. The area we stayed was close to the most famous Vietnamese restaurant famous for selling authentic Vietnamese style pancakes. Having never been there before, we would want to save this for this occasion.
How pancakes are made. (Photo taken from Google Images)
Amazing crispy pancake!
After the dinner, my standard for pancake would never be the same anymore because it was so far, the best one have ever had in any restaurant. Hands down for Banh Xeo Dinh Cong Trang .
Total cost: We paid about 350,000 VND – 16USD for 2 for 4 different dishes (special pancake, spring rolls, summer rolls, beef rolls) and beers.
You may not see this everyday, but this is actual footage of me eating with a vibrant attitude towards foods. I love Vietnamese pancake – bánh xèo.
One of the things we love the most about Saigon is the craft-beer culture. Being an ex-employee of a brewing company, I have developed a strong interest in beer industry. Although I could not drink as much as Markus, my taste bud for beers can do wonders when it comes to good beers.
I went to this tap-room once with my friend back in July to try their Coffee infused beer and has been tempting to come back again with another good company – of course, no better candidate other than Markus. 🙂
Super cool entrance of the Tap-Room – Pasteur Street Brewing Co.
And of course, trying their Award wining best beer in the world – Cyclo Imperial Chocolate Stout – this is a must try item on the menu.
I think the reason this beer is so special is its residual taste on the tongue after drinking it – a mix between chocolate flavor with right level of bitterness but not too overwhelming.
Probably the best Corn Chips I have ever had in any bar.
Total cost: about 520,000 VND – 23 USD for two with two drinks – Passion Fruit Wheat Ale and Cyclo Imperial Chocolate Stout large size and a snack.
Day 2 in Saigon:
For our love of nature and animals, the zoo was our pick on the second day in Saigon. I could not recall the last time I was there but it was more than 15 years ago. I had no memory about it or whatsoever except my friends used to call it “smelly zoo”. (We all know what that name comes about, don’t we?)
Entering into the ticket entrance (ticket costs 50,000 VND – 2.5USD for 1 adult) , we first went to where them monkeys were. It was a like a walk among the 1900s when the zoo was built – the cage had this circus-like architecture; to which we found interesting and a little creepy at the same time.
(Photo taken from Google Images)
Feeling curious about the history of the Zoo, me and Markus sat at a bench to read about it on Wikipedia. Did you know Thao Cam Vien is one of the oldest zoos in the world? Built in 1864 by the French and was continuously in operation since its opening in 1869. It was so cool and so proud at the same time to know that the zoo has such a historical value, and it was in Vietnam – my birth country.
After checking out the monkey, the crocodiles, following the crowd, we found ourselves at the white tigers area. That was my first time seeing white tigers and man, I couldn’t imagine myself being inside the cage. They were huge!
Markus and the giant yellow tiger! So close OMG!
We had a nice stroll to other sections of the zoo to see elephants, giraffes, hippopotamus and many others. It was a great morning to just be together walking around and being so relax in the park, something we have been missing for the past three months without each other.
2. Saffron Restaurant– the experience was beyond expectation we went there twice.
Since the holiday was just after my job offer , we wanted to celebrate it together with our 7th country travelling together milestones. (Gosh, that many countries?!). 30 minutes intensive research, Markus suggested Saffron due to their swamping amount of excellent reviews on tripadvisor.
We came, we tried, and we were totally convinced!
My date for the night, and many more nights to come.
Upon having seated at our table, we were greeted with two Prosecco glasses, a basket of breads and 3 different dipping sauces (hummus, pesto and garlic sauce). I also forget to mention that this restaurant offers Mediterranean, Greek foods which were our favorite cuisines besides Italian and of course, Vietnamese.
The service was exceptional with staffs speaking fluent English, well studied about their menu items and well trained restaurant service skills. (Coming from a Hotel Management education background, I’m very critical when it comes to service). We ordered a deli plate to share, two mains and a cocktail.
One thing we love about this restaurant was that they served dishes with decent portions. Not like some of the rather good places we had been to, eventhough the foods was good, the portion was so small we felt like it was not worth the money. The deli plate was so much foods that we were afraid our bellies would be filled before the main course.
Down to Earth presentation – I love foods on the chopping board.
Markus had Double Cooked Lamb and I had beets salad. (sorry for the blurry photo, I was so ready to dive into the foods.)
After the main course, we were so sure that we would come back again within the week because that was an insanely good beets salad. I love salads and this, can easily comparable to the one I had when I was in Paris. Markus, too, he commented on his dish that was one of the best lamb dishes he had so far in Asia. Knowing Markus has a very hard-to-please appetite, if he said it was good – I’d better believe it.
Last but not least, when we thought the meal had been over, they gave us goodbyes with Limoncello. Oh yeah, we are happy folks now!
Total cost: 1,340,000 VND – 60 USD for two people with one sharing plate, a salad, a main course, and two drinks.
For the next visit at the restaurant, we did not have the meal quality as the same as the one we had had from the first visit: it was almost tasteless (maybe we had too high expectation?), nevertheless, we still thought it was one of the best Mediterranean restaurants we have been to so far.
3. Bar Eon 52 Heli – being at the highest bar in Saigon.
Just like 1Altitude in Singapore or Helipad in Kuala Lumpur, Eon 52 Heli was built on the same concept with live music but was not open-space, not as big and did not have entrance ticket. In fact, considering the view and the service we were having, the drink price list, it was value for money and worth a visit. Will we come back again? For the view yes, but not for the atmosphere since it is too disco-like lighting and too much dressy service (we had like 5 servers bowed at us on the way up and on the way down, which was totally unnecessary).
Stunning view from level 52 overlook Saigon by night.
4. Another Craft-beer bar – Why not Heart of Darkness?
With limited time in Saigon, we were giving priorities to all the bars we wanted to visit. Beside Pasteur Street Brewing Co, Heart of Darkness is famous for their wide range of tap beers, especially IPAs. Knowing Markus’s beer style like the back of my hand, bringing him here is like bringing a child to the toy shop. He didn’t want to leave.
One day we would come back and try all these beer taps. But for now, give us the IPAs!!!!
Markus ordered S arced Fire Golden Ale for a start and By The Hundred IPA which has the highest IBU 150 – the most bitter among all the IPAs. I was not sure how it went for Markus but for me despite I am a coffee lover, IPA’s taste is something not right for me. It is too bitter and bitter-gourd like aftertaste. Thus, I had truffle fries and cheesecake, which were – oddly gone well together.
The truffle fries had distinct flavour of truffle, a hint of garlic and fragrant melted butter. The cheese cake to me was too plain despite having drizzled with caramel sauce. All in all, it was rather good.
Total cost: 650,000 VND – 30 USD for two with two drinks, snack and dessert. In comparison to Pasteur Street Brewing Co, I am sad to say but this brewery certainly has the edge. The service was so much faster, staffs spoke excellent English; the bar counter offers wide range of beers, the price range was less expensive; the overall ambiance was more low-key eventhough the concept is the same and the beer quality is the same.
Conclusion? We will certainly come back again in the future.
A cheesy couple photo because we are romantic like that . <3
Here is just a highlight of some amazing places we have visited during the 7-days holiday in Saigon. We didn’t do like these everyday; Just like other ordinary couples, we love to spend some mornings running together, eating baguettes sitting on a bench in the afternoon at the park, eating kebabs, bun thit nuong (grilled pork with noodles) for dinners. Sometimes, it doesn’t matter where we go or what we do, all we need is just being together and enjoy the moments. Because we know, we will miss it when it’s gone.
Here to the 7th country travelling together!!
Kelin & Markus.
P/S: We hope you have a good read. If you come to Saigon someday and need a tour guide, I’m more than happy to be the one. Drop us an email and we will respond to you.