Our first stop on our 20-day trip to Vietnam was Ho Chi Minh City. Most tourists in Vietnam start in the south and city-hop north, or vice versa. Unfortunately because of poor planning we were starting south, going halfway up, then returning south before flying north… JUST to fly back south before leaving Vietnam. It may have been cheap, but SO not ideal.
Anyway, Ho Chi Minh is great and there’s lots to see, but 20 days is barely enough to even scratch Vietnam’s surface. This means that we only had around 36 hours to see the city. Luckily, we had a great local guide: our American friend who we met several years ago in Prague (confusing, I know). She met up with us early in the morning with her boyfriend and two motorcycles in tow. We were in for quite the ride!
If you’ve never been in Vietnam, then it might be hard for you to understand what it’s like to race through the city on two wheels. Here’s a 90 second unedited video to give you a taste. Like Chinese bikers, people in Vietnam aren’t scared to go full speed, but unlike in China, they wear helmets. Every single person wears a helmet! This was quite the culture shock.
Riding on the back of a motorcycle was exciting (albeit terrifying). We whizzed past countless constructions while our friend explained that the metro is in the process of being built plus sidewalks are being renovated. We also zoomed across beautiful bridges, past tiny Vietnamese houses and even a pink European style church!
First things first: a phở breakfast. There were several different kinds, and we went with rare beef. There were plenty of fresh herbs, limes and sauces to season the already perfectly-tasting noodle soup. I’ve eaten phở all over the world, but nothing can compare to the real thing.
Next up was a fabric’s market that made me drool with a desire to craft ALL THE THINGS. We walked through the aisles with our jaws on the ground and didn’t close our mouths until mangosteens were shoved in them. In case you ‘re as clueless about mangosteens as I was, it’s a tomato shaped fruit with a hard pink shell with white lychee-textured sweetness on the inside. Delicious. And incredibly messy…
After that scrumptious snack came a scary-sounding desert: weasel poop coffee with typical Vietnamese condensed milk. It’s considered the most expensive coffee in the world and it does not, I repeat, does not taste like poop! Give it a try. It’s perfectly clean, safe, yummy and surprisingly strong.
Just when we thought things couldn’t get any better, we were whisked off to a Czech restaurant. After living in Prague for 20 years, I wasn’t overly excited about “knockoff” Czech beer. I could not have been more wrong. Our pint of pilsner beer and traditional fried cheese made us feel back at home and we made mental notes to visit the one in Hanoi once we were there. But you can read more about that later.
It was a hot day and the beer didn’t quite quench our thirst. So naturally, we moved on to a pub with dozens of draft beers and ciders. The selection was amazing and I would have stayed there all day if it weren’t for the words “coconuts by the river.” Another wind-through-the-hair ride later and we were relaxing by the river drinking fresh coconuts that cost less than a bottle of water in China. Perfection!
We couldn’t have been happier about our deliciously relaxed day, but Angela wanted to knock it out of the park (more like universe). Sushi. Our second-to-last stop was a food street where we ate ALL the sushi. It was the first time that I ever tried sea-grapes that look like seaweed caviar but are 100% vegan.
Finally, the sun was setting and were were full of all our favorite foods. We drove into a more traditional area, pulled up a few tiny plastic stools and ordered a bucket of beer. The price for eight bottles of beer in a bucket full of ice? Less than $10. The elderly man trying to say hello from a nearby table and toasting us? Priceless.
Okay I lied, we stopped at one last place on our way to our hostel. A cute pub with an old cutesy VW minibus as the bar and I had my favorite cocktail: a white Russian. We sipped and thought about our day. It wasn’t a typical sightseeing day but we saw what locals and expats do for fun. Plus we got many mini history lessons from the back of the motorcycle.
Thank you so much Angela, for our first and best day in Vietnam!