I’m going to be honest and say that Vietnam wasn’t on my immediate list of countries I wanted to visit but when my friend Myriam, whom I met in Australia, decided to move back to Ho Chi Minh City aka Saigon, I knew it was the perfect excuse to make a trip to Southeast Asia.
Lucky for me, a round trip flight from Melbourne to Ho Chi Minh City can be as cheap as $450 AUD which is pretty good for a round trip international flight.
I booked my ticket with AirAsia which is a considered a budget airline. My experience flying with them was good enough for me. None of my flights had any delays and I didn’t have any issues with document verification or baggage.
My only issue would be that there were no screens on the back of the seats or USB slots so I couldn’t charge any devices and had no idea where we were located in the sky.
Since I had my friend as a tour guide, I didn’t plan anything at all for my 2 weeks in Vietnam. I just booked my ticket, packed my bag and hopped on a plane.
Even if you don’t have a personal tour guide, I would recommend not booking too much in advance. The good thing about Vietnam is that it’s one of those countries where you can plan as you go.
There’s so much to see in Vietnam, it would be hard to stick to a strict itinerary so in my experience it was much better to just go with the flow.
I arrived in Ho Chi Minh City at around 10 p.m. and was bombarded with so much stimulation with all the people in arrivals. My first impression of Vietnam was that they have a high population and barely any diversity.
I took a Grab from the airport to Myriam’s place and had my first little taste of Vietnam. Even though it was getting late into the night there were still a bunch of people out and about.
Once I got to her apartment, we ate and caught up like friends do. The view from her 22nd floor balcony was absolutely stunning and a great preface to the rest of our Vietnam adventure.
My first day time view of Ho Chi Minh City was from the balcony and it was even better during the day. She lived in District 2 which is the area for a lot of expats and wealthy Vietnamese.
Right from her balcony you can see the entire city, highway bridge, and canal in the distance and huge mansions right below. It was definitely the kind of view I could never get tired of.
Although the city was gloomy this day, I’ve added photos that were taken another day so you can see how pretty the city from above is!
Exploring District 2
On my first official day, we went venturing in the neighborhood and grabbed some street food. The weather was super rainy and gloomy which is apparently uncommon for Ho Chi Minh City so pho was the perfect choice.
There was a cute little spot close to the apartment so we walked there which allowed me to take in the scenery. I absolutely love all the architecture in Vietnam! There’s so much color and character and for the most part no buildings look the same.
In addition, there was a bunch of street art which I’m a huge fan of. It always make a city look more vibrant and welcoming.
Pho for Breakfast
It was actually my first time trying pho because I feel like it’s one of those foods that you have to try at the right place and I wanted my first experience to be good and authentic.
We each got a beef pho and it was soo good! There was so much flavor with all the stuff they give you to add like fresh lime juice, mint, garlic, bean sprouts and other herbs.
Since it was a tiny street food shop run by a local women, there wasn’t a name for it unfortunately.
Drinks at Dolphy Cafe
After eating we went and got coffee at Dolphy Cafe and did a bit of journaling and drawing. The lifestyle in Vietnam is pretty chill so there are a ton of little cafes where you can enjoy a drink and get work done.
Most of the menus offer a variety of different coffees, smoothies and lattes, but Vietnamese coffee is one of the popular options if you want to get knocked off your feet.
It’s made with Robusta beans making it really strong so be prepared for what you’re getting yourself into. I’m not a huge fan of caffeine but do enjoy the taste of Vietnamese coffee.
Shopping at Vesta Books
Half an hour or so was spent enjoying our drinks and chatting before heading across the street to a cute home ware, stationary and knick naks shop called Vesta Books.
More time was spent there than anticipated but they had such a great selection of prints, books, journals, sustainable products and more.
I ended up getting two postcard size art prints that I’m really excited about and a metal straw to use during my time in Vietnam (which I lost in two days).
The prices were dirt cheap, i think I only spend like 70,000 VND which is around 3 USD.
Banh Mi’s at Banh Mi 362
After all that walking and shopping we got hungry and decided to go for Banh Mi’s at Banh Mi 362. This was my first Banh Mi experience and I very much enjoyed it.
I got a vegetarian one so it had mushrooms and a bunch of pickled veggies making it was super tasty. I can finally see what the hype is all about and understand how it can hit the spot when you’re craving a Banh Mi.
We did more walking around the neighborhood before heading back to rest up before going back out again later.
Shopping at Soul.bohostyle
Vietnam is one of the countries that doesn’t experience day lights savings so it gets dark around 5 p.m. everyday. After the sun had set we headed to District 3 to a shop called Soul.bohostyle owned by Lin. She is a friend of Myriam’s and probably the most genuinely nice person I’ve ever met.
Her shop has such a great energy with soft colors, collages, wall hangings, and murals. She is a DIY queen because a majority of the decor in her space was made with her own two hands.
In addition, Lin makes all the clothing and focuses on flowy and carefree pieces. I ended up trying on a couple pieces and choosing a blue two piece set and custom made black flowy pants. In addition, I brought two pairs of pants to get altered and a maxi dress I wanted made into a two piece set.
Soul.bohostyle is a great store to shop at if you want to add well made pieces to your wardrobe and support a local Vietnamese female business.
Eating dinner at Sushi Nhi
It was November 11th this day so quite a few places were closed for some reason so we decided to get sushi for dinner.
Sushi Nhi had good reviews and was a short car ride distance making it an easy choice. Once we arrived there was a short wait so I had a bit of time to look at their menu before hand.
The menu was like a book with a ton of pages and each of the items had a photo which made choosing what to eat nice and easy.
I ended up ordering two of the rolls and it was definitely A+ sushi. The cost was cheap ended up being around only 10 USD but the sushi tasted fresh so I would recommend this place if you’re looking for a sushi fix in Saigon.
After eating we wanted to go out for drinks but the two places that we checked out were closed for 11/11 so we did a bit of night walking.
I absolutely loved the vibes of Vietnam at night. It’s like the day never ends with people living leisurely like there’s no tomorrow and little lights everywhere making everything look alive.
Went for a morning swim
One of the perks of living in an apartment complex is having a pool to lounge at.
We started our morning by getting fresh coconuts from the convenience store downstairs and then taking a light dip in the pool.
It was a luxury to start my day by the pool with the sun shining and sipping cold fresh coconut water.
The amount of relaxation was something I didn’t except from a vacation to Vietnam but there I was enjoying my slow morning.
Lunch at Padma de Fleur
After some lounging we went to get lunch at the cutest florist cafe called Padma de Fleur nestled in District 1. It used to be just a florist shop but the owner decided to add a cafe to it.
The menu offers yummy drinks and home style cooking. Whatever is cooked that day is what is what is served but I didn’t mind because I’m always down to try something new.
The interior of the space was so divine with flowers and foliage literally everywhere giving you so many good photo opportunities that we didn’t let go to waste.
There’s two levels so the space is just oozing with creativity making it a great place to waste the day away.
I ordered passion fruit juice which was my drink of choice during my time in Vietnam. I seriously couldn’t get enough of all the fresh juice and how cheap it was!
The meal we were served was a mix of rice, sautéed veggies, and some type of seafood. Again, there was much flavor for such a simple dish so I absolutely loved it.
I wish I knew the names of the dishes, but maybe you can figure it out from all the photos that I took.
Our meal ended with a popular Vietnamese dessert which has some sort of peas in a sweet watery sauce topped with ice cubes. The texture was interesting and the taste pretty subtle.
I would definitely recommend putting Padma de Fleur on your list of cafes to try while in Ho Chi Minh City.
Visiting the Notre Dame Cathedral of Saigon and Saigon Central Post Office
Since we were already in the area, our next stops were the Notre Dame Cathedral of Saigon and Saigon Central Post Office, which are two very popular tourist attractions in Ho Chi Minh City.
I hadn’t seen any other races except for Vietnamese with the exception of expats until I ventured into the touristy areas.
All my fellow foreigners were spotted in that area and I hate to say it but the Notre Dame Cathedral (which was under construction so we couldn’t go inside) and the Central Post Office were extremely underwhelming.
There was just a lot of people and tour groups everywhere with not much to see between the two attractions. Although, I will say the exterior of the post office is very appealing with the light yellow color.
Drinks at Propaganda Cafe
After the quick pit stops, we headed to Propaganda Cafe in District 1 because Myriam suggested it as a cool cafe to check out.
The interior walls are full of all the propaganda art but other than that it operates as a normal cafe. The lighting is pretty dim in there so it didn’t take photos of the entire space.
I ordered my favorite drink passion fruit juice and we moved outside to enjoy the sun.
Shortly after finishing our drinks we headed back to chill before going out later.
The ride back to my friend’s apartment was my first Vietnam motorbike experience. I had never been on the back of a motorbike before but I really enjoyed the experience. It was riveting and not scary at all!
The best part is just getting to enjoy the ride and soak in the feeling of the wind on your body with a good song playing in your ears.
If I lived in Vietnam, I would definitely go on motorbike rides just to clear my head.
Dinner at Al Sham
One of the perks of visiting a friend is the opportunity to meet new pre-vetted people that you wouldn’t otherwise if you were just traveling by yourself.
Later that night we headed to Al Sham in District 1 for some middle eastern food to celebrate one of Myriam’s friends birthday’s. We ended up ordering family style with a bunch of different plates for people to choose from.
There was a group of about 10 of us and the space was kind of small but we enjoyed the food and each others company regardless.
I always love to talk and learn from people who had a completely different upbringing than me. In addition, speaking with born and raised locals is always the best way to learn about a foreign country.
Drinks at Nong Trai Khoai
As you can see by now, there is a lot of drinking and cafe sitting done in Vietnam so after getting dinner a majority of us went to Nong Trai Khoai in the Binh Thanh district for a drink.
It’s a great spot to meet with friends because there’s a great open chill vibe with mood lighting and all the neon signs. It’s open from 4 p.m. to 1:30 a.m. so would be a good spot to pregame or wind the night down.
I wanted to try something new so opted for the Hibiscus Cider by Bazan Brewing which is local to Vietnam. Everything about it was perfect because it tasted like juice and the alcohol percent is like 6.5.
Soon after called it a night after one drink each before going our separate ways for the night.
We had tentative plans to go to Mui Ne this day but kept forgetting to book transportation.
First thing we did that morning was book an overnight sleeper bus from Ho Chi Minh City to Mui Ne.
It wasn’t leaving until 10 p.m. that night and arrived at 3 a.m. The tickets were only $17 USD for two which is affordable for a 5 hours bus ride.
Legumes for breakfast
For breakfast, we ordered smoothies from Legumes for breakfast. The one I got was a bit too tard for me and the flavor was kind of lacking but it was good none the less.
Exploring Cai Dai Temple
After eating breakfast, I spent the rest of the afternoon exploring the Cai Dai temple.
It was around a 30 minute motorbike ride and it had my camera strapped to my neck so I was able to get a ton of awesome shots. Taking motorbike rides is a great way to see a bunch of different areas in a short amount of time.
I seriously took so many photos…
The temple was absolutely beautiful and there weren’t that many people there which was a plus. The interior looked so divine with all the stone, statues and offerings.
I had never visited a temple before so I had no idea what to do. I made sure to remove my shoes but other than that I wasn’t sure what the rules were.
I spent a good amount of time there before having to head back to pack a bag before we headed to District 7 to visit Myriam’s friends, Alix and enjoy some time at a spa before catching our bus.
Eating pizza from Centro Pizza
Alix lives in District 7 and it’s known to be a favorable area in Ho Chi Minh City. We spent some time chatting and ordered pizza from Centro Pizza. I didn’t really have any expectations for what pizza in Vietnam would be like but it did the job.
The two pizzas we ordered were margarita and a veggie one with a bunch of mushrooms. The crust was thin and there wasn’t a lot of sauce or cheese but it was obviously just the style of pizza sold at this place.
Going to Golden Lotus Spa
Once we finished eating we went to Golden Lotus Spa which was highly recommended by Alix. It’s a Korean style spa with a bunch of different rooms and sections offering unique relaxing experiences. They also have two different locations in Ho Chi Minh City.
If I remember correctly, it only cost around 350,000 VND for Jjim Jil Bang which includes entrance and access to all the saunas, but they offer a 20% off during happy hour if you go during a certain time of day.
There’s no photos allowed so I don’t have any photos but you can click the link above to see their website.
The first order of business is to get undressed and shower so you’ll need to be comfortable being naked and seeing other people naked.
Only the showers and changing rooms are separated by sex obviously so for the common areas you’re forced to wear this oversized mustard shirt and shorts set that will make you look like an extra on Orange Is the New Black. If you’ve ever been to a spa then you know what I mean.
They have a bunch of different rooms such as Himalaya Rock Salt Sauna and Infrared Aroma Herbal Sauna to give you an example.
The first room that we went to was such a hard sensation to describe. The best way I could explain it was like laying on a bunch of coco puffs in a heated room with serious mood lighting. The sensation of tiny little beads forming to your body was quite relaxing after laying for a bit.
Following the coco puffs room, we chilled in the ice room which was such a nice feeling after being in the heated room. It was basically a human freezer with icicles forming.
I would definitely recommend Golden Lotus Spa if you’re wanting a Korean Spa experience in Ho Chi Minh City. It’s one of those places where you could definitely spend all day so plan accordingly.
Taking sleeper bus to Mui Ne
The next few days were spent in Mui Ne and at Lara Homestay in Ke Ga which I’ll detail in their separate snapshot posts.
Day 4,5,6 – Mui Ne
Day 6,7,8 – Ke Ga
Once we got back from our amazing adventures in Mui Ne and Ke Ga it was actually day 8 so we spent the rest of that day resting.
Only one full day was spent in Ho Chi Minh City before catching a flight to Da Lat which will get its own snapshot posts as well.
For the sake of someone on vacation not being able to have Ho Chi Minh City as a homebase, I’ll continue this post with everything I did in Ho Chi Minh City even though the dates aren’t consecutive.
Breakfast from Legumes
I had mentioned Legumes earlier but didn’t go into any detail because we ordered it for delivery through the Grap app.
Basically it’s a cute healthy and environmentally friendly smoothie and smoothie bowl shop in District 2. They have a bunch of different juice, smoothies, bowls and food options and isn’t expensive at all.
This time I ordered a different smoothie and I liked it better than the first one I tried the first time because it wasn’t as tart.
Going to Independence Palace
My day continued with a solo trip to the Independence Palace which is where the president of South Vietnam lived during the Vietnam War.
Now it is a tourist attraction with a bunch of the rooms in their original state on display.
It cost 45,000 VND ($1.94 USD) for the palace and 60,000 VND ($2.59 USD) for the palace and exhibit. My day was dedicated to visiting Independence Palace and War Remnants Museum so I got the ticket for both.
I love seeing places that have stayed the same so it was really cool and interesting to see the aesthetics that were used to decorate these rooms back in the 60’s.
My favorite room was probably the game room because it had mid century modern furniture making the aesthetic nice and groovy. The other rooms I liked was the theater because of the red lush seats and the presidents’ closet because they had both male and female clothing from the 60’s on display.
After going through the palace which took about an hour and a half, I headed to the exhibit which was a short walk across the lawn.
The exhibit was full of pictures of the family members who lived in the palace over the years and what it looked like back in the day. It wasn’t very big so it didn’t take too long to go through it.
Seeing War Remnants Museum
Once I finished up at the exhibit, I went to see the recommended but terribly sad War Remnants Museum.
I really wasn’t prepared for everything I saw in the museum but it was extremely eye opening to how much the people were lied to and how watered down of a version I learned in school.
There are 3 floors so you could easily spend 2-3 hours there. Unfortunately, I only had time to see levels 1 and 2 but that’s probably all that I could handle for the day.
The first level is about all the protests against the Vietnam War from around the world and the people that sacrified their life.
The second level has two sides: one all about during the war and one all about the aftermath of Agent Orange.
All the images and stories are truly so sad and disturbing and makes you think twice about how much the government lies to its people.
Entry is 40,000 VND ($2.50 USD) so it’s completely worth it and something you have to see for yourself.
Vietjet flight to Da Lat
Our flight to Da Lat was scheduled for 7:45 p.m. later that day so I headed back to the apartment to meet Myriam and pack up my stuff.
We arrived at the airport with enough time for a domestic flight but there ended up being a huge check in line at the VietJet counter.
Staying calm and hoping for the best we got lucky and they let everyone that was on our flight cut the line. In the end our flight ended up being delayed like an hour but we were thankful otherwise.
Day 10,11 – Da Lat
We spent 2 days in Da Lat and arrived back in Ho Chi Minh City close to 12 p.m. at night due to delays so we went straight to sleep soon after.
By this time we were pretty tired from all our adventures in Mui Ne, Ke Ga and Da Lat so we took the day slow.
Pho for Breakfast
I was really craving that pho I had on my first day in Ho Chi Minh City so we headed there for breakfast.
It tasted just as good as it did the first time and solidified the fact that I will have to find myself a good pho place in Melbourne.
Drinks at Soma Art Cafe
By this point I should know that no meal in Vietnam is complete without going to a cafe and getting a drink after.
Soma Art Cafe is located in the District 2 and is just another great place to meet with friends and get work done. There is indoor and outdoor seating so you can pick to fit whatever your mood is for the day.
I ordered a fresh apple juice and it came garnished so professionally with a dried slice of apple. And not only was it pretty, it was really tasty too.
We stayed there for a bit drawing and editing photos before heading back to the apartment to chill.
Hanging with new friends
Later in the evening I joined my friend at one of her friends places and met a group of filmmakers. One of the guys was from Ho Chi Minh City and the other two were traveling from Mexico City now living in Ho Chi Minh City.
It’s always interesting when a bunch of creatives get in a room so it was fun meeting people from completely different walks of life and being able to connect instantly on that level.
Drinks at Nong Trai Khoai
After an evening of Vietnamese beers and sake, home made appetizers and tons of laughs, four of us headed to Khoai for more drinks.
The drunchies kicked in because we ended up ordering pasta, two orders of quesadillas and tacos. And wow the food was so expectantly really good! It was the perfect pub kinda food that hits just right when you’ve been drinking.
Not too long after we ended up calling it a night by going our separate ways by catching a Grab.
Going on a tour of Mekong Delta
The day before I booked an 8 a.m. tour to the Mekong Delta more specifically the Can Tho area. It was only 34,000 VND which is around 13 USD.
The price included a boat ride, row boat ride, lunch, tastings, bike ride, and a fresh coconut.
I booked my tour through GoYourGuide and they had a bunch of different tours to choose from. All I had to do was check in once I arrived at the meet up location then our guide came and got everyone when it was time to leave.
It took about 2 hours to get to the Mekong Delta so I definitely took a nap on the ride there. Our tour guide was Khanh and he had a lot of jokes which helped break the ice since most of my group was full of couples.
Once we got there the first thing we did was take a boat ride across the delta to another area where they make, package and sell the famous coconut candies.
The process of how a coconut gets turned into a candy was interesting to hear about. They have a few different flavors but we were able to try the durian and chocolate flavor.
The flavor of the candies was nice and subtle, but I like candy with a lot more flavor.
After seeing the process and doing a tasting, we took a row boat through a narrow stream in the Mekong.
The ride was so peaceful and super cool to see what daily life here would be like using a boat as a mode of transportation reguarly.
Since I was leaving in 2 days, I had finished all my cash so unfortunately I wasn’t able to tip any of the ladies so if you make a trip to the Mekong Delta, be sure to bring cash.
After our little row boat ride, we took a pit stop to try some fresh honey straight off the comb.
Even though there were hundreds of bees, our guide was definitely not afriad to hold the thing housing all the honey combs.
It felt so weird to poke my finger into the honey comb and taste a bit of fresh honey. I can’t pin point it but it was definitely different than honey I’ve tried before.
After we walked to this to a outdoor seating area to try some exotic fruits local to Vietnam.
A few of the fruits we were able to try was dragon fruit, papaya, mango, pineapple topped with spices, and longan which you have to peel to eat.