Spend Your Vacation in Exotic Vietnam

Edited by Christine dela Cruz, Anonymous, Eng, Lynn and 1 other

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Vietnam has gained popularity as a tourist destination in Asia over the past five years, especially with the advent of budget air travel.

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Vietnam's exotic appeal is mainly what attracts tourists to explore this place. There are lots of things that are unique in Vietnam, and which may not be easily found in other popular Asian tourist destinations such as Hong Kong, Thailand, and Singapore.

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Two Major Cities in Vietnam Worth Exploring

There are two major areas that people like to visit in Vietnam: Northern and Southern Vietnam. North often refers to Hanoi, which is the capital. On the other hand, South refers to Ho Chi Minh City, which is also referred to as the commercial capital. Ho Chi Minh City also, at times, goes by its former name, Saigon. Although these two cities both belong to Vietnam, there are interesting differences between them such as:

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  • Hanoi is considered to be more traditional, while Ho Chi Minh City is considered more open-minded when it comes to international influence. This also roots back to their history, where government sits in Hanoi, while Ho Chi Minh City became the first entry point of colonizers.
  • A good number of Vietnamese would also make a point that people from Hanoi are very much family-oriented, while those from Ho Chi Minh City are family-oriented as well, but also put equal importance to career and business.
  • Hanoi has four seasons, while Ho Chi Minh City only has two. Weather in Hanoi is rather easy to predict. On the other hand, weather in Ho Chi Minh City can change a lot. It may be very sunny in the morning and then suddenly rain in the afternoon.
  • Important ceremonies such as engagements and weddings typically occur in the morning in Hanoi. On the other hand, festivities such as these typically occur in the evening in Ho Chi Minh City.
  • People typically go home much earlier in Hanoi compared to Ho Chi Minh City. In Hanoi, at 10 p.m., you barely see people roaming around except the foreigners. In Ho Chi Minh City, activities continue even at nighttime and streets remain busy.
  • Hanoians have this routine of starting their day really early, even on weekends, while Saigonese base their hours on the hours required at work.
  • Hanoians are perceived to be more particular about their personal appearance while Saigonese consider comfort and practicality when choosing what to wear.
  • Food in Hanoi is more natural and plain. In Ho Chi Minh City, they like experimenting with various traditional sauces and spices, so the food comes out as more flavorful and colorful.

There are many more differences between these two places, which are equally worth discovering and experiencing. In general, if you prefer a more laid back and quiet surrounding, you should go to Hanoi. If you prefer a livelier city with a lot of hustle and bustle, Ho Chi Minh City is for you.

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Unique Things to Experience in Vietnam

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    Coffee preparation.
    Coffee drinking is a significant aspect of the Vietnamese culture. They sit over coffee to finalize a business deal, generate new clients, get to know another person better, relax, share secrets with each other, and much more. They prepare coffee in a very unique way, using a coffee filter and waiting for it to finish dripping before they mix it with sugar and milk. When they drink it cold, they like putting a bit of coffee on top of ice cubes and wait until the ice cubes melt. Overall, drinking coffee in Vietnam is not something to be rushed. They prepare it in such a leisurely way in order for the entire process to allow all those interactions to take place.
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    Drinking coffee along sidewalks.
    As unique as the process of preparing coffee, another thing that is very significant in Vietnam is how they sit along sidewalks, on small chairs, and drink coffee there. It is such a unique part of their culture that it even appears like a mini festivity, especially when the whole length of a street is occupied by customers. In Vietnam, even if you have a very small budget, you can still afford to open your own coffee shop. You can just have a mixtures of coffee, some cups, lots of ice, a few small chairs and tables, and there you go. You just have to choose where you would like to have your shop. This practice continuously attracts a lot of tourists, especially Westerners, and they just join in, mingle with the crowd, and enjoy a cup of coffee.
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    Ordering a bowl of noodles.
    Saying "noodles" alone in a restaurant to order is not that simple. Noodles are a very important part of a Vietnamese meal, second only to rice, which is why they have such a variety of them. Choosing a particular type of noodle is a treat because you are usually presented with several different types of buns or noodles in the local Vietnamese language. They may be flat, thin, transparent, yellow, thick, round, or so many other qualities. Aside from this, local noodle shops often allow you to choose the toppings. It could be thinly-sliced liver, beef tendons, chicken fillet, pork, shrimp, crab, squid, or even snail. Thereafter, they will garnish your noodle soup with lots of green leafy vegetables or they will give you a whole plate of these vegetables and it's up to you to put in as much as you wish.
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    Riding on a cyclo.
    A cyclo is a kind of bicycle where the driver bikes at the back as it pushes a one-person carriage in front of it. These cycles often wait along the streets of downtown cities and carry tourists around who would like to explore some parts of the city. Some of them have covers on top of them in case it is very sunny or it suddenly rains.
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    Shopping.
    Although shopping for luxury items and other high-end brand names is not something to look forward to in Vietnam, because these items are relatively more expensive in Vietnam compared to its neighboring countries, shopping remains enjoyable. If you go to downtown Ho Chi Minh City called District 1 or to downtown Hanoi around the Hoan Kiem Lake area, you will find several Vietnamese arts and crafts shops that sell various lovely items. Embroidery and detailed bead works are very distinct to Vietnamese art. Haggling is very common in Vietnam so if you want to get some really good discounts, you must prepare to go through negotiations. If you are up for a really good discount, come to shop early in the morning when they have just opened. They think the first sales are lucky, so they will do everything to convince you to buy, no matter how low of a price you'd like to pay for the item.
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    Motorbike riding.
    Motorbike is the main mode of transportation in Vietnam. Each family member would have his own motorbike as early as high school age. Therefore, riding a motorbike in Vietnam is not as scary as in other countries because you literally just go with the flow together with hundreds of other motorbikers. However, one word of caution is that your reflexes must be quick, and attention level must be high, as you will have to do a lot of defensive driving since traffic regulations are not that strict.
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    Walking around the city.
    Downtown Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi are very pedestrian-friendly. That's really a very unique characteristic of Vietnamese cities. You don't need high speed trains nor taxis in order to discover some interesting tourist spots. You can literally just walk down the sidewalks and enjoy the view.
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    Backpacking.
    Vietnam is part of the so-called Indochina region, which is a huge chunk of land which can be crossed by land. This includes Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand, Laos, and Myanmar. Because these countries can be crossed by land, a backpacking trip in these countries usually commences in Vietnam. There are various travel agencies in an area called Pham Ngu Lao in downtown Ho Chi Minh City that sells bus tickets and even tours in the entire Indochina region. If you are looking at going around all these countries, around three weeks would be enough to do so. You must prepare accordingly, as a bus ride to Phnom Penh (Cambodia) from Ho Chi Minh City takes about seven hours. If you go further up to Siem Reap from Phnom Penh, that will require another 10 hours. Therefore, when planning your itinerary and the time frame it requires you to cover all, you must take these things into consideration.
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Popular Tourist Attactions in Northern Vietnam

Downtown Hanoi

Despite its traditional image, Hanoi should not be mistaken for a dull and boring place. In fact, it is such an interesting place that even a small side street could surprise you. Downtown Hanoi is characterized by small streets and peaceful lakes. There are two major lakes that attract tourists here. One is Hoan Kiem Lake and the other one is West Lake. Hoan Kiem Lake is right in the middle of a traditional shopping area, while around West Lake, you will find a lot of restaurants. What's also interesting about Hanoi is that their streets are named according to a certain product they sell. They have a street that sells silver, plasticware, funeral ceremony materials, etc., and these streets are named according to that.

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    Activities
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    1. Water puppet show. This is one of the most popular attractions in Hanoi. They have a water puppet theater right across the Hoan Kiem Lake and they run a show several times in a day, especially during weekends.
    2. Duck boating. As there are many lakes in Hanoi, boating is a common activity. These boats are usually shaped like ducks, so aside from riding it, you can also take some pretty photos of those duck boats afloat the lake.
    3. Restaurant hopping. Hanoi is popular for interesting dishes, one of which is called Bun Cha Hanoi which is a noodle topped with grilled meat or meatballs and sauced with fish sauce with papaya and carrots. The flavor is so delicious that this particular dish reaches the other cities of Vietnam, but it is always pertained to as Bun Cha Hanoi to remind everyone that it's actually of Hanoian origin. The restaurants in Hanoi are interesting in a way that they commonly look very ordinary yet once you've tasted the food they serve, you will automatically forget how ordinary the place looks like in the first place.
    4. Exercise by the lake. The air around the lake is normally very fresh and cool, that's why it has become a commonplace for people to do their daily exercise.
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    How to get there
     
    1. Downtown Hanoi is about 40 minutes from the Noi Bai domestic and international airport.
    2. You can take the metered taxis from outside of the airport. It is best to take those operated by Mai Linh transport, as that is a huge taxi company in Vietnam with a good reputation. If you take other taxi brands, there is likelihood that their meters will be faster than normal and you will end up paying more.
    3. If you want to be more comfortable and do not prefer getting out of the airport to look for taxi, you can choose to get those car services inside the airport. Those are overall quite reliable, and as long as their counters are inside the airport, you are sure that they will charge based on industry standards.
    4. There are also shuttle buses from outside the airport that go directly to both the West Lake and Hoan Kiem Lake areas. However, there is a specific timing that these shuttle buses wait at the airport. If you happen to arrive beyond 5 p.m., they may not be available anymore.
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Halong Bay

It is considered a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the most popular tourist destinations in Vietnam. It is situated in Quang Ninh Province. It showcases more than 1,000 (around 1,600) small islands and limestones that surround parts of the bay. These islands are not inhabited so they are very well-preserved and develop through the natural process of Karst landscape development.

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    Activities
     
    1. Hotel stay in the middle of the bay. What tourists usually do is they get accommodation from one of the small boats that just stay for a night or two in the middle of the bay to enjoy the quietness and the beauty of the entire place. You can sleep, dine, and enjoy music while admiring the nice view of the limestone. These boats are created to be like small hotels, so you get everything you need in an accommodation as you would get in a hotel.
    2. Party. These small boats host some nice parties too, so it is indeed a lovely time to be in the middle of the bay, with such a beautiful scenery, and enjoy a nice party with several other tourists.
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    How to get there
     
    1. Fly over to Hanoi. Visit the travel agencies surrounding Hoan Kiem Lake. They offer various packages for Halong Bay trip. They also sell bus tickets, in case you prefer to go on your own instead of joining a tour.
    2. You can choose to go by bus or train to Quang Ninh province from Hanoi. Hoang Long bus is the most reliable and popular brand that you can take. If you prefer train, you can take the Halong Express train.
    3. Once you reach Quang Ninh province, you can take another bus that goes directly to Halong City.
    4. Based on experience, going to Halong independently, taking bus rides and transferring to another, could be rather difficult, especially if it is your first time in Vietnam and you cannot converse using the local language. In most cases, tourists are advised to avail of the transfer service instead, that starts directly from the Hanoi airport. They take care of the entire travel, so there is no need to worry about buying several separate bus tickets.
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Sapa

Sapa is toward the northwestern side of Northern Vietnam, located at 4,921 feet above the sea, in the Hoang Lien Son mountain. It lies very near the Chinese border. Because it is located in such a remote place up north, it is popular for its cold weather, especially during the last quarter of the year, up until February or March of the following year. The scenery here is very natural and there's a lot of cultural heritage to discover, such as ethnic tribes, vast vegetation, and rice terraces.

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    Activities
     
    1. Staycation. Just staying inside the hotel and having a cup of coffee or tea on the balcony that overlooks the mountains is good enough to make you feel that your trip to Sapa is all worth it. You get to enjoy fresh air, which is not that easy to find anymore in cities.
    2. Trekking towards Fansipan, the top peak in Vietnam.
    3. Sewing class. The tribe is usually willing to teach visitors how to do the handicrafts they produce. Be a bit sensitive, however, and don't just take pictures without getting their permission. There are a few of the tribe members who do not appreciate their photos or even photos of their products to be taken.
    4. Homestay. If you want to get to know the tradition and the culture in Sapa, homestay is one of the best ways to achieve that. An overnight stay in one of the tribes is all worth it because you get to see how they live and even get a bath treat in their fresh and clean springs. If you choose your homestay place carefully, you can experience this very comfortably. Some homes have good facilities that are similar to that of a hotel.
    5. Boating at Sapa lake. You can rent a pedal boat which you can take around Sapa lake. You have to remember, however, that they don't rent out these boats when the weather is bad. Also, it is usually unavailable during weekdays when there are not too many tourists around.
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    How to get there
     
    1. Sapa is most popularly reached by train from Hanoi. The entire journey takes about nine hours. The train is operated by both the government and some private companies; therefore, the quality of the cars could be different. Based on the amount you are willing to pay, you can get some really nice and comfortable cabs in which you can get a good night's sleep.
    2. The train ride finishes off in Lao Cai. To get to the main area of Sapa, there are several shuttle buses that you can take from the Lao Cai train station.
    3. Once you are in the main city of Sapa, everything can be reached by foot. It is just a small town so it's generally easy to explore. Having a map will somehow help, although it may not be a necessity as getting lost is highly unlikely.
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Cat Ba Island

Cat Ba island is considered the largest among the islands in Cat Ba that forms part of the land surrounding Halong Bay. The view here is similar to what you can see at Halong Bay, although of course, it is just a portion of it.

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    Activities
     
    1. Swimming. The beach at Cat Ba island is very clean, with white sand and amazing view surrounding it. A lot of tourists prefer to go here instead of the other beaches in Vietnam because it is a bit more private. The beach front is separated by limestone, so it may feel like you have your own small private beachfront. Swimming during winter and spring may not be ideal, however, as it can get really cold.
    2. Biking around the city. Double seat bikes are very common here. You can just take it around the city or if you bike your way up from the beach, near the Pier, you can bike along the street that overlooks the beach. Air is very fresh, so this is such a nice treat in the morning.
    3. Picnic by the beach. There are huts around the beach and families like to gather around these huts and enjoy some of Cat Ba's local delicacies.
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    How to get there
     
    1. From Hanoi, you can take a bus to Hai Phong and stop at the Ben Binh Pier.
    2. You would have to take a ferry ride from Ben Binh Pier to Cat Ba Island for about half an hour.
    3. Once you reach the port area at Cat Ba, you can just walk around the city. You can reach the beach from the port area where the ferry stops in about 10 minutes by foot. Hotels and restaurants surround that area.
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Popular Tourist Attractions in Southern Vietnam

Downtown Ho Chi Minh City (District 1)

District 1 is considered the downtown of Ho Chi Minh City because this is where most businesses are located. You would find the head offices of huge companies situated in buildings here. Compared to other areas of Ho Chi Minh City, the bulk of high-rise buildings is in District 1. Shopping areas, hotels, and restaurants are plenty in this area as well.

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    Activities
     
    1. Dining. Dining options at downtown Ho Chi Minh City is close to being endless. You can find authentic Vietnamese restaurants here, from low to high end. You can choose to eat noodles along sidewalks or at the night market, or go to a polished Vietnamese restaurant serving equally delicious authentic Vietnamese cuisine. At the same time, this area is very multinational, so you can easily find non-Vietnamese restaurants, like French, Italian, American, Portuguese, Brazilian, Cuban, Lebanese, Irish, Turkish, Spanish, Singaporean, Korean, Japanese, Indian, and many many others. What's also nice in District 1 is that you can just walk through the entire area, so even when you go around to select your restaurant, you will not have to take taxi all the time.
    2. Aerial viewing of Ho Chi Minh City. The tallest building in Ho Chi Minh City is called Bitexco, which is home to many multinational companies. The building has a very unique shape, similar to that of the lotus flower bud, and each floor is said to be completely unique in terms of measurements. No two floors have the same measurements. The lotus flower is very significant to the Vietnamese culture and the design of this building was inspired by that. On the 49th floor of this building is the viewing deck, where you can use small telescopes to zoom in on some parts of the city. You get to enjoy a 360-degree view of the surrounding areas. Bitexco is easy to locate once you are in district 1, as you can just look up, and the moment you see that lotus bud-shaped building, just walk toward it. It is also in the middle of everything, so it's definitely not easy to miss it.
    3. Shopping. Shopping is one thing to enjoy in Ho Chi Minh City, especially if you are not after luxury items. Here are the most popular shopping areas in District 1 and the great finds that you can buy there:  
      1. Ben Thanh market. Before all other shopping malls were established in District 1, Ben Thanh market has already been there and been popular to tourists. This is both a wet and dry market, so you can literally find anything that you might need here, from fresh fish to luggage. The wet area is toward the back side of the market. What tourists like buying from the wet area are fruits, because compared to other countries, they are relatively cheap. For instance, a kilo of dragon fruit would normally cost about $4 in neighboring countries like the Philippines and Malaysia, but it only costs $2 in Vietnam. Among the popular fruits in Vietnam, which are also said to have originated there, are dragon fruit, lychee, mango, longan, banana, and guava. You may also buy some interesting souvenirs at Ben Thanh market, especially lacquer wares, embroidered bags and home décor. One thing to note, however, is that Ben Thanh market stalls like giving double the price the first time you ask. Therefore, never buy a product on an impulse. You really have to bargain down to half of the initially proposed price.
      2. Ben Thanh night market. Ben Thanh market itself closes at about 6 p.m. every day. However, if you happen not to be able to make it during the day, you still have an option to shop at nighttime, as right outside the Ben Thanh market building, they set up stalls for food and various other items. This night market opens on both sides, so there are still a good number of stalls to shop from. One thing you need to be mindful of when you shop at the night market is that the street in the middle of the stalls remains open, so you need to be careful as you walk around because there are still motorbikes that pass through it.
      3. Saigon Square. Saigon Square is also right in the middle of District 1, just perpendicular to the main road. In here, you will find many dry goods like bags, clothes, shoes, accessories, and other gift items. If you are looking for factory overruns, this is the best place to go to. Compared to Ben Thanh market, however, the sellers here are more considerate when it comes to declared price, so you should not haggle for half of the price as they were somehow honest to you already right from the beginning. Asking for a 10-20 percent discount is reasonable enough here.
      4. Taka Shopping Plaza. This shopping area is on the same street as Saigon Square, but just on the other side of the main road, Le Loi street. They also have an entrance along Le Loi street, although it's not easily noticeable as it's smacked towards a very small alley in between restaurants. This place is again heaven to a lot of women, as you can find almost everything that a woman might like to buy - clothes, shoes, bags, belts, accessories, scarves, and anything that you can think of. They are also able to sell many sizes of products, so it does not matter whether you are on the petite or plus-size side.
      5. Nguyen Trai street. Vietnam, compared to other countries in Asia and especially in the world, has probably the smallest shopping malls. They have still maintained the French-like system in shopping, where shops are not enclosed in a big building. Shops stand alone and people walk along the streets from one boutique to another. You will see this particular system along Nguyen Trai street in District 1. You will find many brand name boutiques here, both local and international, that line up along the road. There are about two blocks of these shops, so you can definitely spend a good amount of time here browsing through each.
      6. Dong Khoi street. Dong Khoi street is considered one of the most high-end streets in Ho Chi Minh City because of its location. Situated on this street are two 5-star hotels, Caravelle and Sheraton Hotel, where dignitaries often stay when they visit Vietnam. There is ongoing construction of another 5-star hotel with luxury boutiques towards the end of Dong Khoi street near Saigon River. Also, this is where the famous Opera House is located. It is, therefore, a given that this street attracts a lot of tourists that's why a good amount of middle- to high-end brands open their shops here.
      7. Parkson. This is one of the first few department stores opened in Ho Chi Minh City. It offers both local and international brands, which are more in the middle range in terms of price. It also has food court at the top floor so you can enjoy both dining and shopping here.
      8. Diamond Plaza. This is somewhat similar to Parkson in terms of style and the items they sell. However, Diamond Plaza has some luxury shops on the ground floor, so you get some variety.
      9. Vincom A & B. Vincom was one of the bigger shopping malls established in the past six years. It has worked well with the Vietnamese market; that's why after a few years, they established a bigger one just diagonal to the first Vincom mall. The concept here is typical of shopping malls, although what's noticeable is that they often have good promotions to attract customers.
      10. Rex Shopping Arcade. Along the main road, Le Loi street, is Rex Hotel, which is considered a historical hotel in Ho Chi Minh City. In the past two years, they have redesigned the hotel and put up a high-end shopping arcade at the ground floor where you would find brands like Salvatore Ferragamo, Burberry, Chanel, Cartier, Ralph Lauren, Rolex, and the like.
    4. Watching cultural shows at the Opera House. The Opera House is one of the cultural centers in Vietnam. They showcase local Vietnamese talent here and from time to time, you will find interesting shows that highlight the traditions in Vietnam.
    5. Tour of the city. There are cycles that you can rent and they can bring you to various spots in the city which you can take photos of.
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    How to get there
     
    1. District 1 is around 30 minutes from the airport. You have options to choose from in terms of transportation to take to get there.
    2. Taxi is the most common option to get to the city. Metered taxis are a good option and there are three brands which you can find outside as they line up at the left side of the arrival area: Mai Linh, Vinasun, and Saigon Tourist. These brands are overall reliable and honest.
    3. If you want more personalized service, you can choose to avail of car services located just outside the customs area at the airport. They have counters there where you can pay and then they will lead you to the car that will bring you to the city. The price of these cars is usually about double what you would usually pay if you took a metered taxi.
    4. Shuttle buses are another option, although you will have to spend some waiting time here as the buses come and go at a particular time. They normally park toward the right side of the arrival area. These buses go to District 1, and you may have to tell the driver which street you are exactly going to so that he can see whether he can just drop you off there or at the nearest street.
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Cu Chi Tunnels

The tunnels at Cu Chi is a wide network of very narrow underground tunnels which are interconnected to other more complicated tunnels going around the country. These tunnels were used during the Vietnam war as hiding spots, as well as channels to communicate and transport supplies. These were very important to the Vietnamese community, so they preserved the tunnels well, and now opened to tourists as they explain how valuable this place had been.

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    Activities
     
    1. Tour around the whole facility. The tour guides will take you around the whole facility in groups and explain step by step what each area means. These tours are normally started with a short film showing to explain the historical background of the place.
    2. Going through the tunnels. At some point in the tour, the tour guides will allow you to enter one of the tunnels and move inside it as long as you wish. You may choose to exit right away on the first exit point, but if you are brave enough, you can continue further. The tunnels are really narrow and there's not much air inside, so this is something you need to prepare for in case you feel like taking the challenge of going through it.
    3. Firing. There's a firing range there, where you can just purchase a few bullets and test on your accuracy and skill with the gun. Someone will be assisting you, so there's no need to worry if you do not know how to operate a gun.
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    How to get there
     
    1. Cu Chi Tunnel takes about two hours by bus from District 1. It's best to go there as part of the tour, so you are guided accordingly.
    2. There are usually two types of tour packages - half day and whole day. Half day tours would leave at 8 a.m. and come back to District 1 at 2 p.m. Whole day tours not only go to Cu Chi Tunnel, but also pass by the nearby temples. It typically starts at 8 a.m. and comes back to District 1 at 6 p.m.
    3. The best place to go to to avail of a tour is the Sinh Tourist, located at the backpacker's area on De Tham street in District 1. They are so far the cheapest yet most reliable tour company in Vietnam. They have various schedules as well. What you do is buy the ticket there at least a day before the tour. If it's not peak season, you can also buy on the same day, but of course there is some risk here in case they are unpredictably full.
    4. On the day of the tour, you have to be at the Sinh Tourist office at least 45 minutes before the departure time. They will check on your tickets and assign you a boarding pass to let you know which bus number you have to take. They are quite organized here, so all you have to do is wait at the office and they will announce as the buses come.
    5. The bus ride, if going straight to Cu Chi, takes about 1.5 to 2 hours. The actual tour will be about two hours and then you are headed back to District 1.
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Mekong River

The Mekong River is one of the longest rivers in Asia. It flows through Vietnam, Cambodia, and then Laos. From Ho Chi Minh City, you can see a part of this river through a Mekong River tour that goes further down Ho Chi Minh City towards a province called Can Tho.

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    Activities
     
    1. Temple tour. Before arriving at the Mekong River, you will pass through several temples and tours will normally stop at Cao Dai temple.
    2. Tour of the Mekong Delta area. The guides will showcase what the livelihood of the people there is, and will also show how some products are made. This area makes various products from banana and coconut, and you would see how innovative they are to create products from these.
    3. Southern Vietnam dining. Part of the tour is to have lunch with the other tourists and most of what they serve are cuisine that is typical to that area. Some people sing or tourists just happily exchange experiences with one another.
    4. Boating. The tour commences with a short boat ride along the narrower parts of the river. You will see bamboos around you as you do this. Tourists take pictures of one another as they bump into each other along the river.
    5. Feeding of animals. There are areas where you can actually play with and feed some animals like monkeys and snakes.
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    How to get there
     
    1. A tour is ideal to avail of when going to Mekong River.
    2. From the Sinh Tourist office at De Tham street in District 1, a bus ride to Can Tho takes about three hours, including the short stops in the temples.
    3. Once you reach a part of the river, a ferry ride will be taken for about 30 minutes, which goes deeper into the city, toward the more rural part of the Mekong Delta. Once you get to that area, that's where most of the activities start.
    4. It will be the same route going back to District 1.
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Dalat

Dalat is not very far down South, but is somewhat nearer the central part of Vietnam. This place is in the highlands, so the temperature here is rather cold. It is well-known for really fresh fruits and flowers, plus the beautiful scenery. People say that Dalat used to be the vacation area for French colonizers before, so it was really made to be beautiful and polished. You will notice that even the houses here have elegant styles and designs.

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    Activities
     
    1. Sightseeing. The entirety of Dalat is just really nice to the eye. Whether you just want to go around the lake in the middle of the city, or you would like to go to the woods, everything looks very appealing.
    2. Tour of the temples and palaces. The Bao Dai palace is one of the common places to go to when visiting Dalat. This is the palace of the king of the last dynasty of Vietnam.
    3. Waterfalls sightseeing. There are four major waterfalls in Dalat that are worth visiting:  
      1. Cam Ly waterfall. This is to the west of the city of Dalat. The waterfalls, which are 30 meters high, are amazingly surrounded by lines of pine trees.
      2. Prenn waterfall. This is a bit farther compared to Cam Ly waterfall because it is about 10 kilometers from the city center. It is only 10 meters high, but the water that gushes downward is rather wide so that some people compare it to a curtain.
      3. Pongour waterfall. This is considered the best waterfall of the southern part of Vietnam. It is farther by 45 kilometers from the city center of Dalat.
      4. Bopla waterfall. This is between two hills that are said to be shaped like elephants that are kneeling. This is situated 8 kilometers from Dalat city.
    4. Boating. There are various lakes in Dalat. Some of them you will find at the city center, while there are a few very good ones that are hidden between the hills. In any case, boating in those lakes is very common. It's such a peaceful experience because you enjoy the view and at the same time cold breeze passes through your face. It's a good way to relax and forget about the hustle and bustle of the city.
    5. Trekking to Lang Biang mountain. Lang Biang mountain is said to be the highest peak at the Southern region of Vietnam. From Dalat city, you need to allocate a full day to be able to trek toward Lang Biang and spend a few hours there. It is estimated that the trek will be around five hours. Once you reach the top, you will see beautiful plantations of coffee, vegetable farms, and some churches of traditional architecture.
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    How to get there
     
    1. From Ho Chi Minh City, it is ideal to take the night bus to Dalat. Night trips take only about 5.5 to 6 hours while day trips could last as long as nine hours because of traffic. Night buses normally leave at around 10:30 p.m. and arrive in Dalat at 4:30 a.m.
    2. Bus tickets can be purchased from the travel companies at the backpackers' area. Phuong Trang is the most popular brand and it is safest to take this.
    3. There are two options for the bus - sitting bus and sleeper bus. If you would like to be really relaxed during your night trip, it is advised to take the sleeper bus because you get a full bed. The price difference is not that much compared to the sitting bus, although it could be more during peak seasons like summer.
    4. Most of the buses would stop and unload at the Phuong Trang bus terminal in Dalat.
    5. Hotels normally have the habit of offering free pick up service from the bus terminal for their guests. Just make sure you tell them your departure time from Ho Chi Minh City and they would already know what time to expect your arrival.
    6. Once you are in Dalat, getting around is easy. You can take a taxi, ride a bike, walk, avail of the hotel car service, and use many other modes of transportation.
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Popular Vietnamese Dishes and Delicacies that are Worth Trying

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    Pho.
    Whenever one describes Vietnamese cuisine, pho will never be forgotten. You see it everywhere all over Vietnam. People even eat it along the streets. It is one of the most common foods taken during breakfast, although of course, they also serve it during other times in a day. It is made up of broth and fresh flat rice noodles that are dumped into the soup. You can choose between beef (pho bo) or chicken (pho ga). Then it is garnished with herbs and a few green leafy vegetables. It also goes very well with a few drops of lemon.
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  2. 2
    Cha ca.
    This originates from Hanoi and there is even a particular street in Hanoi named after this. This is basically a dish made of small chunks of fish that's seasoned mainly with turmeric, which results in a yellowish color. Ginger and garlic is also added to create an interesting taste. This fish marinade is then placed in a small hot pan that continuously heats and cooks it, even when it's served on the table. It is then paired with round rice noodles.
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  3. 3
    Banh xeo.
    These are translated into pancakes in English, but it is not like the typical Western pancake that's sweet. Instead, a combination of mushrooms, bean sprouts, shrimp, pork, and beef are wrapped in a very thin crepe. This whole pie is then cut into smaller portions, and then each portion is wrapped further by lettuce or mustard before dipping into fish sauce with papaya and carrots.
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  4. 4
    Banh khot.
    These look like egg tarts, but the difference is that they are not sweet. A pie is made with a bit of coconut milk and then topped with any of the following: Shrimp, oysters, scallops, pork, or beef. This pie is then wrapped by lettuce and then dipped into fish sauce.
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    Bun bo hue.
    This is another popular noodle soup in Vietnam. It uses thick round noodles, similar to the one used in spaghetti. It is then dumped into a slightly spicy broth and then added with some onions, pepper, and other herbs. Beef usually goes very well with this, but pork and liver are also commonly used.
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    Banh cuon.
    These are thin rice flour slices, stacked together and then mixed with pork and mushrooms. Fish sauce is then spread over it. This is another typical dish taken during breakfast at home, although it can be served any time in the day.
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    Banh beo.
    These are small rice cakes placed on small plates and then garnished with fried pork skin on top, together with bits of herbs. A teaspoon of fish sauce is then spread over each.
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    Bun dau mam tom.
    This may look very simple because it is comprised only of tofu and rice noodles, but do not underestimate it. The uniqueness of this dish lies in the mam tom, which is a dipping sauce with a pungent smell. Once the noodle and tofu are mixed with a bit of this mam tom, the entire taste of the dish is to die for. The mam tom is added with a bit of lemon for extra flavor.
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    Bun cha Hanoi.
    These are grilled pork chops or meatballs that are mixed with rice noodles, lettuce, and fish sauce with papaya and carrot slices.
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    Com suon nuong.
    These are grilled pork chops that are paired with steamed rice and a bit of cucumber and fish sauce. This is said to be Saigon's version of Hanoi's bun cha.
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    Bo luc lac.
    In simple explanation, this is Vietnam's version of the West's beef steak. Beef is combined with some vegetables, pepper, and garlic and then served with rice or potatoes.
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    Lau.
    This is the general term for hot pot, and it could be a combination of anything. It could be a hot pot of vegetables, seafood, meat, or a combination of all. What they normally do is serve a huge pot of broth and let it boil on the table. Once it starts to really boil, the meat or seafood is slowly pushed in to let it cook. Once it's done, it's served in different bowls, with a bit of rice noodles is added.
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    Banh mi.
    This is almost as common as pho in a way that you would see it in almost every corner in Vietnam. It is a rather huge baguette stuffed with pork, chicken, or chicken strips and then mixed with raddish, carrots, leaf, and a bit of pate.
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    Banh bao.
    This a steamed bun with pork inside. Some more special buns would include quail eggs inside together with the pork. They say this is not originally Vietnamese but of a Chinese origin, but it is very popular in Vietnam anyway.
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    Che.
    This is a general term for Vietnamese desserts served in a bowl or glass. It may be a mixture of grated corn and coconut. It could be a mixture of tapioca, jelly, caramel flan, fruits and ice. It could be a sticky rice with mashed green beans in a mixture with ice. There are still so many che varieties that you can explore and discover in Vietnam.
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    My xao bo.
    This is similar to the stirred fried noodles of Singapore. They stir fry noodles and then add up beef, garlic, onions, tomatoes, and morning glory.
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    Xoi.
    This is simply sticky rice that is topped with either chicken legs, chicken strips, sausage, or pate and then added with a bit of carrots and radishes. A tablespoon of fish sauce is also sprinkled over it.
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Visa Requirements in Vietnam

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    There are certain countries that are exempt from visa requirements to enter Vietnam:
     
    1. ASEAN countries are permitted to stay for 30 days without a visa:  
      1. Cambodia
      2. Indonesia
      3. Laos
      4. Malaysia
      5. Singapore
      6. Thailand
      7. Philippines (21 days)
      8. Brunei (14 days)
      9. Burma/Myanmar (14 days)
    2. Other countries with visa exemption and are allowed to stay for 15 days:  
      1. Denmark
      2. Finland
      3. Japan
      4. Norway
      5. Russia
      6. South Korea
      7. Sweden
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    For those nationals of countries without exemption, there are options to avail of visa on arrival where they will enter Vietnam without a visa but will pay the corresponding fees at the visa counter at the airport before passing through immigration.
    Otherwise, it is best to process a visa in your home country at the Vietnam embassy prior to your departure.
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Overall, Vietnam is not very strict when it comes to tourists entering the country because they are promoting the improvement of tourism in Vietnam. Even when a country is not included in the visa exemptions, it is very rare that someone would have an issue securing a visa.

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How to Travel Around Vietnam Safely

Vietnam is overall a safe place, with a very low crime rate. The main factor contributing to this is the fact that guns are banned from the entire country. Also, Vietnamese are known to be less hot-tempered and they can easily let go of fights just like that. It is not uncommon to see two motorbikes bumping into each other and both drivers falling off into the street, yet they can stand up and just brush off their bruises and say sorry to one another, then go.

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In spite of this, it is still useful to take note of some tips on how to travel around Vietnam safely, to avoid any hassle that might ruin your vacation.

  • Take care of your bags. One of the most common crimes committed in Vietnam is bag snatching. It is best to use bags that are closer to your body like messenger bags and backpacks. Anything that loosely hangs from the body catches the attention of bag snatchers.
  • Avoid using your phones along the road. Similar to bag snatching, if you just bring out your phone at the roadside and use it, the likelihood of your phone getting snatched becomes higher.
  • Make use of the safe inside your hotel room. In case you need to leave behind some of your cash in the hotel, make sure you put it inside the safe. If the hotel does not have a safe, deposit it at the front desk and get a claim receipt. If you lose belongings inside your hotel room without you following this basic protocol of how to keep your items safe, they will not be responsible for your losses.
  • Follow the traffic signs. Vietnam roads are already way too complicated because of the number of motorbikes. It is best to follow traffic signs when you want to cross or walk around to avoid any accidents.
  • Check your food carefully, especially if you eat in the market and other areas which are exposed. There is some likelihood that a fly or dirt might get into your food, so it may be better to carefully check it before starting to eat.
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Restaurants Worth Trying in Vietnam

Dining is definitely one of the most enjoyable things to do in Vietnam. There is a good variety of restaurants to choose from, especially if you go to the main districts of Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi.

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Authentic Vietnamese

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    Quan An Ngon.
    This is by far the most popular Vietnamese restaurant among foreigners. It seems like every first time visitor is being told about this restaurant, that's why they come here right away. In here, you get to try a huge variety of Vietnamese dishes, from appetizers to main course to desserts. What's even interesting in this place is that most of the cooking and preparations are done on the side seams of the restaurant, so visitors get to see first hand how their food is being prepared and what the ingredients are. If you do not know what to order or are not familiar with how Vietnamese dishes are called, just go around the restaurant and point what you like. The staff here are overall very friendly and very helpful to foreigners who need help in understanding the food better. The entire place is a colorful array of Vietnamese food, and since it is a place for tourists, the kind of energy here is amazing. Almost all guests are so excited about Vietnam and are enjoying the dining experience together. There are 2 branches of this in District 1. One is located just a few steps away from the Reunification Palace. The other one is a few blocks away, along Pasteur street.
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  2. 2
    Com Nieu Saigon.
    This is located along Tu Xuong street in District 3. They serve traditional Vietnamese food, with a little twist. You should really try their version of pot-grilled rice. They cook the rice in a claypot and make sure that the outer part becomes crunchy. They would put it on your plate and then sprinkle it with traditional fish sauce and garnish it with herbs. It goes well with any viand. Aside from the fact that this tastes better than your average steamed rice, you should also see how they serve it. They do a little bit of exhibition where two of the waiters would be throwing to each other the clay pot with rice inside, similar to how they would do it when they play football. After the last throw, the waiter would break the pot and then put it on the plate. Customers cheer and take photos, some of them even volunteer to pair up with the waiter in throwing around the pot. Food is great here and the service is excellent.
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  3. 3
    Mon Hue.
    This is a restaurant serving mainly food from a province in Central Vietnam called Hue. Most of Hue food is spicy because of the herbs they use. At Mon Hue, you get to try a good variety of this specialty food at affordable prices. The Bun Bo Hue here is really flavorful, and you can choose between a small and a large bowl. Bun Bo Hue is a traditional noodle soup which used thicker rice noodles, similar to the one that you would use in making spaghetti. Another must-try at Mon Hue is their spicy baby clams, which you would eat on top of a cracker sprinkled with sesame seeds. There are several branches of Mon Hue scattered all over Vietnam. One of them is at the back side of Ben Thanh Market in District 1, along Le Thanh Ton street. Another one is along Nguyen Trai street in District 1, which is a popular shopping street in Ho Chi Minh City.
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  4. 4
    Nhu Lan.
    Nhu Lan is a very simple looking local restaurant and food shop, but they should not be underestimated. In fact, they serve almost all varieties of local food, from snack to main courses. They are located at a corner along Ham Nghi street, which is considered the financial area in District 1, because head offices of banks in Ho Chi Minh City are there. Nhu Lan serves meals from breakfast to dinner. However, they have gained more popularity among foreigners because of the delicacies that they sell, which foreigners normally buy to bring back home. They have rice cakes, pastries, smoothies, Vietnamese sandwiches, fruits originating in Vietnam, and a whole bunch of other things. During special festivities in Vietnam like Lunar New Year and Mid-Autumn Festival, you would see Nhu Lan very busy in selling mooncakes and hampers for gifts. Nhu Lan has been very popular among locals and foreigners for decades already. They have another branch in downtown district 3, along Hai Ba Trung street as well.
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    Xua va Nay.
    The name of this restaurant means "yesterday and today". Indeed, this restaurant has created a little community within that small street they occupy in District 1. They have expanded through the years and established various sister companies that operate within the same area. Therefore, during weeknights and weekends, you'd see big groups of people gathering around over hotpot and a few bottles of beer. Because this restaurant has been drawing such huge crowds, there are also local entertainers who would do their stunts here to earn money. Suddenly, a guy would be doing an exhibition of blowing fire upwards or some guy would suddenly sing a very traditional Vietnamese song. The place itself is not posh at all, in fact it looks very local, without airconditioners and all that. However, this is exactly the reason, why people, both locals and foreigners, are hooked to this place. There's a good feeling of freedom to just have a good time with friends. They serve really good food, particularly their hot pot and grilled dishes. They are located in a small street perpendicular to Ly Tu Trong, just a few blocks behind the Ben Thanh Market.
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    Oc Dao.
    This is a restaurant that's situated in a covered area, which looks like a parking lot. It's a very local place where customers just sit on plastic chairs and eat on the plastic tables. However, people do not come here for the ambience. They come here for the great variety of snails, shells, and clams that they serve. Each snail can be cooked in so many ways, and all you have to do is tell the waiter of your preference and they will cook it the way you want it. There are so many types of snails here that you would not really remember how each one is called. This place is usually packed during lunch time where office workers gather to have lunch. This is located on Nguyen Trai street in District 1, but you have to go inside narrow streets. If you are already on Nguyen Trai street, just ask anyone on the road and for sure they will be able to point you where this place is.
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    Hoang Ty.
    Hoang Ty is a very local restaurant which gained popularity for the spring rolls that they serve. What they do is let you choose among spring roll fillings, from steamed meat to beef to shrimp, and then they will serve it together with salted spring roll wrappers, carrots, radish, cucumber, rice noodles and a whole plate of green leafy vegetables. Aside from the fact that the spring rolls indeed taste delicious once you finish making them, the entire experience of making your own spring roll based on your liking is indeed unique. There are 2 popular branches of Hoang Ty. One is along Trang Quang Khai street in District 3, and another one along Vo Van Tan street in District 1. As people come here in big groups, you can expect that this place is rather noisy. However, what's nice is that when you experience eating in this place, you have seen a big part of Vietnamese culture already.
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    Banh Xeo.
    Banh Xeo is a kind of pancake in which they wrap mushrooms, meat, seafood, and others in thin crepe. Thereafter, you wrap them further with lettuce or mustard and then you dip onto fish sauce. This is a hugely popular local food that's why they have put a restaurant that specializes on this. As you enter the restaurant, you would see them cook the Banh Xeos, with all the huge pans lying around. What's also interesting in this restaurant is that each of the tables are decorated with a little carving and origami of Vietnamese lifestyle in the countryside. These are then covered with glass and then that's where you dine thereafter. They serve so many types of Banh Xeo here. If you are not familiar, please free to tell the waiter and he can show towards the cooking area and you can just point which Banh Xeo you prefer there. There are several branches of this restaurant around town. Coming from the airport, you would see one along Nguyen Van Troi street. Also, there's another one along Suong Nguyet Anh street in District 1. Their branches are always very traditional-looking, with a lot of bamboos in the structure, so it is not easy to miss this place.
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    Quan An Thanh Binh.
    This is a little restaurant just a bit diagonal from the back of Ben Thanh Market. They are somewhat similar to Nhu Lan, who serves meals and at the same time sell Vietnamese delicacies that can be taken back home by foreigners. The whole restaurant, although small, is surrounded by these delicacies, so you literally just have to look around and point what you'd like to buy. Also, when you dine in, there are local pastries that are automatically placed on your table, so it's up to you if you'd like to try them and it will just be automatically added up to your bill later on. Price is on the cheap side, so it's definitely a good alternative in case you are traveling on tight budget. A must-try in this place are their noodle dishes, particularly what they call Bun Thit Nuong, which is rice noodle topped with grilled pork chops and garnished with cucumber, radish, lettuce, cabbage, and carrots. The best part here is when you put an entire bowl of fish sauce into it and then you have to mix it to balance off the flavor.
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  10. 10
    Pho 24.
    Pho 24 is like the equivalent of McDonald's or Burger King in Western countries. It is considered a fast food restaurant, but serving Pho and other Vietnamese rice dishes. It is spread across the country and you would almost always see at least one branch in every street in Vietnam. They serve various types of Pho and even in different serving size. They can even deliver it to you. Therefore, if you got tired from exploring Vietnam and would like a hot rice noodle soup for dinner, give them a call and they will deliver your food in less than 30 minutes. The rice dishes here are also good, although nothing that extraordinary. It is ideal for quick fixes, just in case you got hungry in the middle of your shopping and would like to have rice.
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    Barbecue Garden.
    This is a garden-type restaurant located along Le Thanh Ton street in District 1, about two blocks from Ben Thanh Market. It is enclosed by a white fence but inside it is a small garden decorated with lights. Each of the tables are equipped with a griller, so you get to order the meat and garnishes that you like and you fry it in front of you. In case you don't prefer to do this, you can request them to already cook the food for you. However, most foreigners prefer actually doing the frying and grilling themselves, because that adds to the fun in this place. The crowd here is very lively and what is notable with the staff is that although the place is normally crowded, they are very alert and fast in their service. Price here is very average so it's a definitely a good deal to come and dine here. They serve a good variety of Vietnamese dishes and really refreshing tropical drinks. It might be better if you book, although the turnover of people here is quite fast, so you can still get seated later on without a booking.
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    Marina Ngoc Suong.
    This is within District 3, but still quite near downtown Ho Chi Minh City. This is essentially a Vietnamese restaurant with specialization in seafood. You have two options here. You can stay outside of the restaurant building and enjoy live performances, or you can stay inside the restaurant and enjoy a more peaceful dinner. Outside can get quite noisy, especially on Friday night when most employees gather around here. You can select from a wide variety of options when it comes to seafood. A must try here are their oysters. It is fresh and clean all the time. Also, their buttered scallops are fantastic. Most of the seafood they serve are fresh and still alive right before they cook it.
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    Ngoc Suong.
    This belongs to the same group owning Marina Ngoc Suong. However, this one along Suong Nguyet Anh is a much higher end version of Marina Ngoc Suong. It is within a very posh house, that looks like a small palace in the middle of the hustle and bustle of District 1. They serve really expensive food here, together with some fancy wine. However, if you do decide to spend money in here, you should just go directly for their lobsters as it's definitely worth it. The quality is fantastic and at par with those that you could get at 5-star hotels. You will enjoy every single bit of it. The interiors of the restaurant are worth taking pictures of. Every single detail is well-thought of and artistically created.
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Asian

  1. 1
    Dae Jang Gum.
    This is a huge Korean restaurant, with one of its popular branches at the Kumho Asiana Link, just beside the Intercontinental Hotel in District 1, along Hai Ba Trung street. This is a typical Korean restaurant with private rooms that are ideal if you are coming in groups. This place can get really crowded during weeknights and especially during weekends. Therefore, it is ideal that you book in advance if you want to experience the hassle of having to wait outside for a vacant table. Service here is fantastic, because they have a calling button on the table. The servers will come to you right away if you need anything. Each visit here comes with a free Kimchi selection at the beginning of your meal, while waiting for your order, plus overflowing clean water and moist towelettes. They will also provide you a traditional Korean cold tea at the end of every meal along with some fruits. As you walk out, you would see the owner greeting each of the guests and wishing them a good day.
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  2. 2
    Pho Dinh.
    This is a combination of Korean and Japanese restaurant located on Nam Ky Khoi Nghia street in District 1, just doors away from the popular shopping center Saigon Square. The best seller here are the set lunches, which include your selection of meat, rice, kim chi, appetizers, miso soup, dessert, and iced coffee. They offer a good selection of appetizers as well, from steamed beans to friend corns and salads. They occupy 2 floors of the building, downstairs are benched chairs around the table, while upstairs is a typical Japanese setting with sunken floors to let you sit down. The place can get really crowded during lunch time, so schedule your time accordingly. Also, parking may not be possible right in front of the restaurant, as the sidewalk is quite narrow. You might have to park at the private parking space right across the street.
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  3. 3
    Tokyo Deli.
    If you see a white and red sign board, that might be Tokyo Deli. There's quite a few branches of this already in the city, one of them is located just behind Ben Thanh Market, along Le Thanh Ton street, in District 1. Another one is along Ngo Duc Ke street, which is a street perpendicular to the popular Dong Khoi street and Nguyen Hue street. They serve a good variety of authentic Japanese food. Among the favorites of customers are their sushi selection as well as their noodle bowls. Their branches are also very cozy in a way that they normally would occupy a narrow building and operate in several floors. Because of this kind of arrangement, you get a bit more privacy and the entire restaurant is not too noisy. Service is extremely fast and they serve unlimited Japanese green tea, with very clean ice cubes, which is very typical among the Japanese.
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  4. 4
    Lac Thai.
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Middle Eastern

Western

  1. 1
    Jaspas.
    They serve a combination of Western and Asian cuisines. Overall, Jaspas restaurants look quite posh and fancy, yet the price is more on the average side. There are 2 popular branches of Jaspas in district 1. One is inside an area called Refinery, along Hai Ba Trung st., just across the side of Park Hyatt Hotel. Jaspas there is by the corner and it goes with the other Western and Middle Eastern restaurants in the area. Another one is along the popular Dong Khoi street, towards the end of the road going to Saigon River. Service is usually excellent and they have very attentive staff. If you come along with children, they will not get bored in this place as every table is lined with wax paper and crayons are provided for doodling on it. Their pizza and pasta are good. Also, some Vietnamese traditional cuisines like Bun Cha Hanoi is served, but presented rather nicely compared to local restaurants. They serve excellent desserts here which are good for sharing because the serving is normally huge.
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  2. 2
    Alfresco.
    This belongs to the same group that operates Jaspas. Alfresco is known for their pizzas. Their selection suits anyone because they have meat, seafood, and vegetarian options. During lunch time, they have promotions such as "buy 2 take 1" for the set lunches and this is mainly the reason why people from the offices come here. It can get rather crowded at lunch time, especially their branch along Mac Thi Buoi street, on the side of Sunwah Tower where most financial companies are located. The ribs here are among the bestsellers as well, because it is very tender and the barbeque sauce they use is delicious. This place is ideal for people with a huge appetite as most of their dishes are served huge.
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  3. 3
    Pendolasco.
    People get surprised when they enter Pendolasco because you would not be able to imagine that such a private and posh restaurant exists in the small alley along Nguyen Hue street. From outside, you would not even think there's a restaurant there, if not for the signboard. You have to go further inside the alley before you see the spacious restaurant. There are some small trees as well that add up to the overall image of the place. Once you're there, you would even think you are in one of the alleys in Italy. Pendolasco serves authentic Italian food and their crunchy thin crust pizzas are definitely a must try. The spices and seasoning that they use further add up to the Italian taste. They are not so much on the expensive side, although of course, they are more expensive compared to other average Italian restaurants around the area. The place is not too crowded as well, so if you want some quiet dining time with your family after a whole day of going around Ho Chi Minh City, this is the best option.
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  4. 4
    Pacharan.
    This is a very lovely Spanish restaurant at the corner of Hai Ba Trung street, right across the Park Hyatt Hotel in Ho Chi Minh City. It is a 4-storey restaurant, with the 4th level being an open air dining area. Inside this place are some really elegant home decor and paintings. It is also dimly lit, so the more this adds up to the fancy ambiance of the place. They serve authentic Spanish dishes. A must-try in this place are chorizo and paella. They have a good selection of wine as well, which goes very well with their dishes. They are more on the expensive side, compared to the size of each serving, although it's all worth it if you consider the quality of the place. They have some performances at the rooftop as well, especially during weekends. They can get packed during Friday and Saturday nights, so it's best to book if you want to have a guaranteed spot. Right outside the Pacharan are some nice souvenir shops as well, selling huge miniature ships that are detailed enough to almost look like the real one.
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  5. 5
    L'usine.
    This is along Le Loi street, just about a block away from the Ben Thanh Market. It is a Western restaurant serving some fancy dishes and wine. Another thing that attracts customers here is the stationery shop at the ground floor which sells few pieces of unique functional items like notepads, foldable shopping bags, storage racks, pens, pen holders, backpacks, memo holders, photo frames, and the like. At the second floor where the restaurant is, there is a balcony which can accommodate guests who smoke or those who just prefer dining under open air. They are rather on the pricier side compared to other restaurants in the area, but the ambiance and the quality of the service are all worth it.
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  6. 6
    Good Morning Vietnam.
    The name of this place is taken from the movie, Good Morning Vietnam. It is a cute little wooden restaurant in the middle of the backpackers' area, along De Tham street in District 1. It occupies two floors, the first floor is not airconditioned, while the second floor is. Inside this restaurant, it feels like you are in downtown Italy, eating in a restaurant in a small alley. Once you taste the pizza and pasta here, the more you will think that you are in Italy. The taste is really authentic Italian. The cheese that they use is probably what makes it really delicious. You can also use spicy vinegar and olive oil along with it. The pasta dishes are served rather large for Asian appetite, so it is ideal for sharing. Another must-try is their ice cream. It does not come in many flavors, but each of them is delectable.
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  7. 7
    Pizza 4Ps.
    This is another restaurant in District 1 that is rather easy to miss, had it not been mentioned by a friend. It is located along Le Thanh Ton street, within the Japanese area. However, it is located way inside a small alley beside a high-rise building. In fact, you would not think that there is a lovely restaurant towards that direction. The place gives you a feeling as if you are in Greece, especially at the ground floor near the bar. The kitchen is also exposed, so you get to see how they make the dishes. The prices of food here are very very reasonable, especially if you compare it to the quality. Also, it is not crowded at all, so it's definitely an ideal place for a cozy dinner with the family. When you come here, make sure you order both pizza and pasta so you'd be able to understand why people are raving about this place.
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  8. 8
    NYDC.
    This is not a Western brand unique to Vietnam. However, what makes it unique is how they select a location in Vietnam to setup a restaurant. One of them is located outside of the Metropolitan Building in Dong Khoi street and it is looking towards the beautiful view of the Notre Dame Cathedral. Another recently opened branch is along Nguyen Trai street, almost at the corner, near the roundabout, and is strategically located at the shopping street of Vietnam. NYDC is a fresh new idea for the Vietnamese market, who used not to like Western food much because it is perceived as not nutritious. However, with the selection of food within NYDC, it is a good testament to the fact that not all Western food is junk food. Healthy choices are available.
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Reliable Hotels to Choose

  1. 1
    Caravelle Hotel.
    This is a 5-star hotel situated right in the middle of everything. It is along Dong Khoi street, which is a popular shopping street in Ho Chi Minh City. This is said to have been the place where Bill Clinton stayed when he visited Vietnam. The staff here are known to be very friendly and polite. What people also come here for is the Saigon Saigon Bar located at the 10th floor. This bar showcases good performances by bands from Cuba, Spain, and even America. The best part, however, is the fact that this overlooks much of Ho Chi Minh City. It's definitely nice to come here at nighttime, and see the lights in the city. During colder seasons, you even get to enjoy a fresh breeze of air. Food and drinks are reasonably priced, considering the fact that they are actually inside a 5-star hotel. And together with every order of drinks, they would serve a platter of traditional Vietnamese chips like dried jackfruit, cashew nuts, and dried lotus seeds. Caravelle Hotel also has a shopping arcade towards the right side, where you see some boutiques of luxury brands of watches.
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  2. 2
    Sheraton Hotel.
    Sheraton's shopping arcade is along Dong Khoi street, but Sheraton's entrance is along Dong Du street. Sheraton is very generous to visitors in a way that their lobby are almost always open to guests, even though they do not really stay in the hotel. They have some performances there from time to time, featuring traditional Vietnamese music. There is also a small souvenir shop at the ground floor, in which you can buy silk scarves, Vietnamese bags, traditional home décor, and some other accessories. Sheraton is also known because of the restaurant at the 2nd floor which hosts a sumptuous dinner buffet. Also at the 23rd floor is a huge disco and bar, which is perfect for some unwinding in the city. The good thing about Sheraton is that it is located at the inner part of that area, therefore, it is not so much affected by bottlenecks in traffic during rush hour, as compared to Park Hyatt Hotel.
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  3. 3
    Park Hyatt Hotel.
    This is another 5-star hotel located in the nicest part of District 1 in Ho Chi Minh City. It is located diagonally from Caravelle Hotel. In between Caravelle Hotel and Park Hyatt Hotel is the Opera House. Around it are various types of restaurants and shopping malls. If you stay here and would like to enjoy that part of town, there's no need to take any form of transportation as you can just walk around. Xuan Spa, which is at the 4th floor of this hotel, is also popular. However, you really need to book in advance, ideally 2 days before, because they are usually always fully booked. The restaurants and bar within Park Hyatt are common places that executives in Vietnam go to. The crowd is overall very decent and professional. The only downside is that because it is located in the middle of everything, the traffic could be quite bad during peak hours, most especially on weekends.
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  4. 4
    Intercontinental Saigon.
    This is another 4-star hotel in District 1 in Ho Chi Minh City that is situated very conveniently. It is right across the side of the Opera House and right beside Parkson. It is across the new Vincom mall. Also not to forget is the fact that it is along the famous Dong Khoi street. Everything is basically surrounding this hotel. At the ground floor is a coffee shop, which is popular for corporate meetings or just overall relaxing coffee time. The hotel building is not very high, which is ideal for those people who like staying in 4-star hotels but do not appreciate having to go up to very high floors nor walking through long hallways. This hotel is very well-maintained and has not lost its charm through the years. It looks extremely elegant at night time, when lights are lit, and its overall look complements that of the Opera House.
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  5. 5
    Bong Sen Hotel.
    This is along Dong Khoi street in District 1, and just across the shopping arcade of Sheraton Hotel. This is classified as a 4-star hotel, mainly because of its location. Although the rooms are rather small compared to those of other 4-star hotels, the location is very strategic that guests don't mind the room size. Although the area is known to be expensive, Bong Sen Hotel is priced much lower compared to neighbouring hotels. They are also popular for hosting Vietnamese buffet lunches at reasonable prices. They would normally do this on a Sunday, but when there are special occasions and holidays, they would extend it to other days. There is also a coffee shop at the ground floor of the hotel, just by the entrance, and they serve some nice plated Vietnamese dishes there. Beside the hotel, towards the left when you walk out, is another restaurant known for the quality of beer they serve.
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  6. 6
    Liberty Central.
    This is a 4-star hotel very near the Ben Thanh Market, literally just a half block away. It is relatively new in the area and has elegant facilities, including a swimming pool at the top. People joining tours usually stay here, so the hotel is rather packed most of the time. What people usually appreciate with this place is how appealing the lighting is because it is very bright, but not painful to the eye. The entire hotel looks very clean and neat.
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  7. 7
    A&Em Hotel.
    This is a chain of smaller hotels in Vietnam. There are actually 2 types of A&Em Hotels. One is a boutique style hotel which falls into the 2-star category. From outside, the lobby looks just like a 1-unit shop. The rooms per floor would only be around 3 to 4 and the building would typically have 10 to 12 floors. The rooms are usually very small, but overall clean and decent. On the other hand, A&Em Hotel has recently been building bigger and more elegant branches, which fall into the 4-star category. These hotels are usually themed, and one branch may have a different theme from another. There's actually too many of these A&Em Hotels around town. In fact, just around Ben Thanh Market, you can easily count around 5 of them. Further down in District 1, you would even find more. For both types, price is rather reasonable compared to other options.
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Other Shops that Might Be Useful to Know Of During Your Trip

Drugstore

  1. 1
    Guardian.
    This is a recently opened chain of drugstore and hygiene shop. What's more common in Vietnam are local drugstores, not chains of drugstores. You would find a good number of those local drugstores along Hai Ba Trung street, in District 3, near the branch of Nhu Lan restaurant there.
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  2. 2
    SPG Pharmacy.
    This is a pharmacy along Nguyen Hue street in District 1, just half a block from Sunwah Tower. They have a relatively good selection of medicines and the pharmacists here speak good English.
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Supermarket

  1. 1
    Big C.
    There are 2 known Big C branches in Ho Chi Minh City. One is quite near the airport, about 5 minutes away. Another one is at District 10, which is not too far away from District 1, only about 10 minutes away.
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  2. 2
    Coop Mart.
    This is a local brand known for being a hypermarket. They have a wide array of products, from wet to dry goods. There's quite a lot of this in Ho Chi Minh City, one of them is along Nam Ky Khoi Nghia in District.
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  3. 3
    Citimart.
    Citimart has both big and small supermarkets.
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  4. 4
    Maximark.
    This is located in District 10, not too far away from District 1, about 10 minutes away. If you tell the taxi driver you'd like to go here, they would know right away.
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  5. 5
    Select.
    This is a rather new brand in Vietnam and has just opened when the first Vincom mall was built. It is at the basement of Vincom B.
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Convenience Store

  1. 1
    Circle K
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  2. 2
    Shop 'N Go
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  3. 3
    Mini Stop
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  4. 4
    Family Mart
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Bookstore

  1. 1
    Fahasa.
    Fahasa is so far the most popular chain of bookstores in Vietnam. They are scattered all around the city. In downtown District 1 in Ho Chi Minh City, you would find a big branch along Nguyen Hue street, very near across the Sunwah Tower. There's another one along Le Loi Street, about 2 blocks from Ben Thanh Market. They sell various types of books, both local and foreign. At the same time, they sell stationeries and various gift items.
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  2. 2
    Phuong Nam Bookstore.
    This is another bookstore known for carrying a good number of book titles, both local and foreign. They have a branch at the basement of Vincom B mall.
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Department Store

  1. 1
    Parkson.
    There are several branches of Parkson all over Ho Chi Minh City and they are strategically located in a way that not two branches are very close to each other. One is right in the middle of District 1, near the Opera House. There's another one in District 5. Most recently, they opened a new one just across the Tan Son Nhat International Airport.
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  2. 2
    Diamond Plaza.
    This is across the Notre Dame Cathedral in District 1.
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  3. 3
    Zen Plaza.
    This is along Nguyen Trai st. in District 1, among the array of shops in that area.
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