My best friend and maid of honor in my wedding finally came to visit me in Shanghai. It was her first time in Asia since she was a kid. She’s Vietnamese-American, born in Vietnam and immigrated to the US with her mother and siblings when she was 9 years old. On her trip to Asia we decided to go back to Ho Chi Minh City, formally known as Saigon, where she was born.
This was the first time my husband and I had travelled to a foreign country with a native speaker. We aren’t too big on organized tours since we like to see things at our own pace but also the fat kid in me likes to eat through countries to really get to know them. Luckily my best friend is the same way :). As we do with any vacation, we planned each day with sites. By “sites”, I mean meals… and snacks…and happy hours and then more snacks. Boy! Does HCMC have some delicious sites!
Our first stop was lunch. We checked out Banh mi Bistro. To be honest Banh mi Bistro was a Tripadvisor trap. I call it a “Tripadvisor trap” because sometimes these reviews are written by people that have never in this case eaten a delicious banh mi or are written by the owner.
We had the Bistro Special (Bistro dac biet) 35.000 VND. This was a very mediocre banh mi sandwich. It was neither traditional nor inventive and exciting. I also ordered an ice coffee (ca phe) with jelly and tapioca pearls (tran chau) 25.000 VND which was good but not out of this world.
We did actually take some time to visit some of the historical sites that HCMC has to offer. The Reunification Palace is a must see tourist attraction. I loved the retro 70s look of the building and interior. An amazing well preserved historic structure and was the location of where the Vietnam war officially ended.
We also visited The War Remnants Museum, which was a collection of moving yet graphic photos from the Vietnam war. A vivid reminder of how tragic the repercussions of war can be. And then nearby, the Notre Dame Cathedral, located across from the historic post office is also a tourist attraction in HCMC worth stopping by. I love how you can see the subtle French influences throughout Vietnam. You can see it through some of the architecture and food.
All this history made me hungry. So we headed to an early dinner on Pasteur Street. Nha Hang Ngon is the perfect restaurant for those who want to try a little bit of everything or don’t know what to eat. The menu is extensive and you can walk around the restaurant to different stations and see all the fresh ingredients and see your dishes being made.
We ordered the Banh Xeo (Vietnamese Rice Pancake) 54.000d, Bun Cha Ha Noi (Vermicelli & Ground Pork Meatballs served with Fresh Herbs & Fish Sauce) 56.000d, Bun Cha Gio (Vermicelli & Fried Spring Rolls served with Fresh Herbs & Fish Sauce) 56.000d, Com Nam Canh Ga Chien Toi (Rice Cakes served with Chicken Wings Fried with Garlic) 56.000d. All of it was delicious! I had never seen Banh Xeo like that! The crepe was huge! Although this restaurant is more expensive then what you would get more casually on the street it was all under $20 (including 3 beers!). Totally worth it in my opinion!
Afterwards we checked out the Ben Thanh market. I actually liked going at night since the market is outdoors and it is cooler without the sun out at night. This market sold a lot of counterfeit items (bags, scarves, jewelry etc.) and other touristy trinkets.
All this shopping left me thirsty…and hungry again. So we went to check out another area for a drink and snacks. We stumbled upon a street with some bars and restaurants and we decided to stop at this place. We liked this place mainly for the ambience. It was on a corner and you got to sit on a small stool and table in the middle of the sidewalk to people watch.
We sat and took in the nightlife of HCMC, watched a street performer, Michael Jackson impersonator and magician (all in one), enjoyed some local Saigon beers, grilled chicken wings and shaking beef that came with a side of fries. Are the fries to the side of this dish a sign of French influence? I don’t care. I will always eat fries. I wasn’t able to snap too many photos of the place before the electricity went out. For the entire block. No one else was fazed. This was our cue to get the check.
Banh Mi Bistro | 76 Vo Thi Sau, P. Tan Dinh, Quan 1 (District 1) HCM City | (08) 3820 6257
The Reunification Palace | 135 Nam Ky Khoi Nghia, Quan 1 (District 1) HCM City | 0808 5037
The War Remnants Museum | 28 Võ Văn Tần, phường 6, District 3, HCM City | (08) 3930 6325
Saigon Notre Dame Cathedral | Bến Nghé, Quận 1, HCM City | (08) 3822 0477
Saigon Central Post Office | 2 Công xã Paris, Bến Nghé, Quận 1, HCM City | (08) 3829 6862
Nha Hang Ngon | 160 Pasteur, Phuong Ben Nghe, Quan 1, HCM City | (84-8) 3827 7131
Ben Thanh Market | HCM City