Vespas, Wine Bars, Wind Chimes & Fancy Hats

Saigon

So I made a bit of a booboo when booking our first stop in Vietnam. I honestly had no idea that Saigon and Ho Chi Minh were the same place. I had heard not so great things about Saigon but good things about HCM (in conversations with different people who referred to the city by different names). So after I booked our trip to HCM and realized later that it was Saigon, I was a bit hesitant. However, after spending a few days there, I could not have been more pleasantly surprised.

We got to HCM around 4pm, checked into our hotel (Pullman Saigon Centre) and got up to the room. The hotel is really beautiful and modern looking with funky light fixtures, couches and tables in the rooms. There is also a beautiful pool overlooking the city and the hotel staff (namely the concierge) were excellent.  I was waiting for a replacement debit card and they kept an eye out for it and made arrangements with me incase it didn’t arrive in time. They also had plenty of suggestions for restaurants and helped set us up several times with taxis and transportation to and from the airport. A+ service.

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We booked a Vespa tour of the city while still in cambodia and we got picked up right around 6pm. It was raining but after confirmation from the tour operator that the trip was, indeed, on, we met the guys on the vespa’s outside the hotel. They had super fancy ponchos ready for us and in a few minutes we were on our way.

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We met the rest of our group (an awesome couple from ireland) at Zoom Cafe (owned by the tour company) for a get to know each other drink and a pre trip briefing. We would hit a bar or two, then go for seafood and then a place with rice pancakes (more like crepes) and then continue on to a couple more bars including 2 live music venues.

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At the first seafood stop we had clams, mussels, crab claws and some frog legs. Riding through town was pretty cool on the back of the vespas and taking in the scenery was way easier then if we were driving ourselves. I was also able to get a bit of work done which was kind of funny.vietnam-saigon-seafood-restaurant-foodOur next stop was for spring rolls and the rice pancakes as well as lettuce wraps with beef and fresh herbs. Then on to a music/coffee bar with some really cool local musicians singing local tunes and some western favorites (including the beatles and elvis). Our last stop was a club with a live band. It was hot and stuffy but a cool vibe. The lead singer of the band was a 40 something year old mr. miagi looking dude complete with the goatee.

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We parted ways with our irish friends and jumped on the back of the vespas to return to the hotel.

For our first breakfast in Vietnam I found a cool Pho (pha) Bar called, conveniently enough, Ru Pho Bar. We got some spring rolls, pho rolls and then some pho in soup with brisket, meatballs, steak, tendon and tripe (think thats intestine). All of it (except the ‘meatballs’) were delicious.

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We walked around town a bit more and Marina did some shopping. Most of our time in Vietnam would be spent eating or drinking and Saigon was the same. We walked a bit more until it started to rain so we found a local pub for a drink. Back to the hotel and some planning for the evening.

We checked out the guide book at the hotel (which I normally wouldn’t do, but I double checked the places on trip advisor) and found a cool looking French wine bar that we wanted to check out for the night. We had some time to kill and walked around the area where the bar, Le Rendez Vous, was. Its right by the riverfront so we walked around there a bit. It was pleasant, not too much too see but interesting enough. There were plenty of young 20 somethings (and some 70 somethings) just taking in the view and making out with each other. There are some river boats there and they have nightly restaurant and booze cruise type boats there.

We went to Quan Bui for dinner which was right across from the wine bar. The food was excellent and once the french manager got there, the service was excellent. We had braised pork (I’ve eaten sooo much pork in asia) with quail eggs, stir friend small (like super small) clams with crispy sesame rice cakes and some bok choy. The whole meal cost us $12.

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Thats one of the things I noticed about Vietnam in my week plus here. It is extremely affordable. Even the fancier places aren’t that bad. The other thing I noticed about Vietnam (at least in hanoi and saigon) is that it is NOT pedestrian friendly. With all the motor bikes and taxis and the lack of traffic lights (or rules for that matter) pedestrian walk ways, its a pretty big clusterfuck when trying to walk through the city and, god forbid, trying to cross the street. You kind of just need to go for it and trust that the drivers will weave out of the way before hitting you.

Anyway, back to the food and drinks.

We went to Le Rendez Vous and grabbed a bottle of French (bordeaux) wine. The only problem with this is it was served cold (or as the manager said, at the proper tempter but because its so hot in the place, it seems colder… ok guy, whatever you say) and never really opened up. Good French wine needs a little time to open up and when it’s cold it could take a while. It wasn’t until an hour or more later (and 4 other glasses of wine from another bottle) that the wine finally ‘presented’ itself and was any good. We also grabbed a charcuterie (meat and cheese plate) which was surprisingly good.

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The music at the place was really good. They had 2 local guys one on the guitar and one on the drums (and WINDCHIMES… guy KILLED IT). They were signing some local songs but mostly western stuff, including (as in the vespa tour place) a lot of beatles and elvis. Me and Marina were one of only a few people in the place so we were bantering a bit with the band. It was a really enjoyable time. And I would highly recommend it if you visit Saigon.

We got back to the hotel and crashed for the night. Our flight was mid day the next morning so we got up and found a cool place for breakfast before the flight. May Restaurant is located inside a french colonial house and all the reviews were stellar. It was completely empty when we got there as they were just opening but the service and food were outstanding. We just told the manager to bring us whatever he though we would like. He did NOT disappoint. We got two noodle bowls (not soup), one with seafood and one with pork. Each had 3 spring rolls and were in a fish sauce. All delicious.

That was it for saigon. After breakfast we were on our way to the airport for our next stop in Vietnam (Hoi An).

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Overall, like I said, I was pleasantly surprised and satisfied with HCM/Saigon. The food was excellent, the people were VERY friendly, the city was accessible (albeit a bit hard to walk around), and all around we had a great time and it was a really good intro to Vietnam

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