This trip has been a blast because it’s my first time travelling with my partner to a foreign land. And it’s also a country I am familiar with as I’ve been there a few times before this trip marks my fourth time setting foot in this country. The biggest draw for me is the food and culture here. It’s very affordable, delicious and healthy each Vietnamese dish is usually accompanied with a lot of fragrant herbs and veggies. I used to study Vietnamese before and I’ve also gone for a language immersion trip here in Ho Chi Minh City so I was confident in exploring this city on our own.
Singapore Changi Airport
We took the cheapest flight to Ho Chi Minh City and at the time of booking, Jetstar offered us the cheapest air ticket prices at $140 for a return flight. The 2-hour flight was smooth and there were no hiccups.
Sofitel Saigon Plaza Hotel
And once we reached Tan Son Nhat airport, we booked a Grab taxi which took us to our hotel. The taxi fare was about SGD 7 inclusive of the airport surcharge. (There’s also Uber and you can book the cab using the airport’s WIFI.) We stayed for two nights at Sofitel Saigon Plaza Hotel. I remember vaguely that I was here 7 years ago at their lobby, wandering around their classy lobby just to enjoy some air-con before heading out to brave the heat.
The hotel has been refurbished so it still looked very new and chic. Do read more about my detailed review on Sofitel Saigon Plaza here. The hotel provides complimentary shuttle service to Ben Thanh Market so we decided to head there first to explore the market on our first day.
Since it’s also Sam’s first time here in Vietnam, I decided to cover some of the popular Saigon attractions on our first day. However, there isn’t much time for us because we spend a couple of hours walking over to Pham Ngu Lao (a.k.a Backpackers’ Street) to search for The Sinh Tourist, a local tour company, just to book our Cu Chi Tunnel trip for the following day. I don’t remember Ben Thanh Market was that far away from Pham Ngu Lao but the walk from one place to another took us quite long. Perhaps there were new streets or buildings built in between and it made it more difficult to cross the roads with crazy traffic. As usual, the traffic in Ho Chi Minh City can be quite chaotic. And to cross the road, you just need to walk confidently across the street at a constant speed and allow the skilful motorbike riders to dodge you. Thank goodness these locals had a good sense of time and space estimation.
Ben Thanh Market
You can shop for souvenirs here but you will need to learn how to haggle. Over the years, the shop vendors have learnt how to communicate in English so there isn’t much of a problem conversing in English with them. The younger ones in Vietnam were also quite fluent in English.
Royal Saigon Restaurant
Prior to this trip, I researched on all the popular food eateries in Ho Chi Minh City and there were so many eateries and restaurants which I really want to check out but both Sam and I were pretty small eaters. And our hotel provided us with wonderful food at their Executive Lounge so we didn’t cover many popular Vietnamese eateries.
However, on our first night, we managed to find Royal Saigon Restaurant in Pham Ngu Lao area. It’s a family-run restaurant that serves really good and authentic Vietnamese food. We tried their Banh Xeo and Com Tam (broken rice) which were served on rattan-woven plates with banana leaf. The service was good too and you should definitely give it a try if you happen to live in Pham Ngu Lao area.
Address: 228 Bui Vien, District 1, Ho Chi Minh City 700000
The Sinh Tourist
We also managed to locate where The Sinh Tourist is and booked a 1-Day Cu Chi Tunnel and Mekong river tour with them. This tour agency was recommended by my Vietnamese friend and I was glad that I went with her suggestion because the tour is value-for-money. Our tour guide is very experienced and knowledgeable. His commentaries were interesting and insightful. He was able to make history come alive and when he shares with us the significant historical events and stories in Vietnam, you can see the passion he had for his country burning in his eyes.
Our 1-day tour to Cu Chi Tunnel and Mekong River only costs SGD 20 per person. This includes:
Lunch, Air conditioned bus/mini van/car, English-speaking guide, wet tissue, one bottle of bottle, boat trips, tropical fruit platter, honey tea, traditional music performance and horse cart ride. It excludes the beverages served during lunch, entrance fee to Cu Chi Tunnel and tips for the tour guide and driver.
It is very affordable considering that lunch is provided and there was a list of interesting activities included in the itinerary. The tour started at 7 am and ends around 5 pm.
The Sinh Tourist
Address: 246 – 248 De Tham St. District 1, Ho Chi Minh City
Cu Chi Tunnel
The first stop was at Cu Chi Tunnel where it is about a 2-hour drive from Ho Ch Minh City. This place was where the Cu Chi people attempt to resist the American troops from intruding their country. These people were tough and smart. They built an extensive underground network of tunnels that allowed them to seek shelter and protection during the war. It’s my third time in Cu Chi Tunnel but I always leave this place with a fresh perspective. Perhaps the story sinks deeper the more I learn about the world.
I couldn’t remember how much the entrance fee costs but I know that it’s less than SGD 10.
The whole site was well-preserved. You still do see the actual army tanks used during the war.
There’s also a shooting range where you have the opportunity to fire off an AK47 or MK16 with real ammunition. You would just need to purchase the bullets. They sell ten bullets for 500,000 dong which is about SGD30. I didn’t try it but Sam did. He shared the bullets with another tour group member.
Next up, we ate some steamed tapioca root which is the main staple food in Cu Chi tunnel during the war.
The tapioca chunks are dipped in a small plate of chopped peanuts with some sugar.
We spent about 2 hours in Cu Chi Tunnel and after a tiring walk through the narrow underground tunnels, we headed straight to Mekong Delta – My Tho. It is another 2 hours of drive. From My Tho, we took a motorboat ride to Con Phung ( Phoenix Island) for lunch.
I used to think that the waters in Mekong Delta looked dirty because of pollution. But I came to realise that the muddy appearance of the water is due to the presence of the silt which is fertile sediments coming from waters in China and Laos.
For lunch, we had the deep-fried crispy Tai Tuong fish, deep-fried spring rolls, sweet-sour vegetable soup, stir-fried water spinach with garlic, caramelised pork and fish served in clay pots. Lunch was good and fulfilling so I can’t complain!
Off we go to the coconut candy-making factory! Coconut candy or kẹo dừa is a popular Vietnamese candy made with only coconut milk and coconut cream.
After extracting the coconut milk, they would reuse the coconut husk to make bowls or containers. Nothing is wasted over here.
Besides coconut candy, they also sell coconut oil, coconut mascara, coconut cream, coconut chips and coconut wine as well.
We get to see how these locals made the coconut candies by hand.
From the coconut candy-making place, we took a horse ride to catch a Vietnamese traditional music performance.
Just right outside the performance site, there was this mobile cart stall that sells fresh sugar cane juice for only 10,000 Dong. They added a dash of lime juice which made the juice tasted so refreshing.
Before the performance, they served us honey tea and their local tropical fruits.
This place also has a small bee-keeping farm where they also sell honey stored in bottles.
This form of folk art from Southern Vietnam was accredited by UNESCO in 2013 as one of the Intangible Cultural Heritages of Humanity. It is called Đờn ca tài tử and the music speaks of the local’s work and life on the land and rivers of the Mekong Delta region.
After the soulful performance, we sat on a small hand-rowing boat which brought us to a motorboat where it took us back to My Tho where our tour bus is. The bus ride back to Ho Chi Minh City was about 2 hours plus long and it was one long bumpy right back as the roads are not quite even and the bus driver drove quite recklessly. Nonetheless, we reached back Saigon in one piece.
For the rest of the day, we just stay in our hotel to enjoy the cocktail hour and packed our luggage because we were headed to Vung Tau the next morning. Check out for my next blog post on Vung Tau!
Also, you can watch my travel video of Ho Chi Minh City right below!