Saigon, or Ho Chi Minh City, was our first stop in Vietnam. Sadly, we were only there for about 12 hours because we had to keep heading north in order to get to the city of Dalat by the next day. We were constrained by the fact that Tet (Vietnamese New Year) was fast approaching and we wanted to start a 6 day one-way motorcycle tour from Dalat to Hoi An through the Central Highlands and partly along the Ho Chi Minh Trail. Since our guides would need to ride back home in time for Tet, we were told we had to start our tour by a certain date which meant for us to only spend one night in Saigon.
We arrived after a relatively smooth 8 hour bus ride from Phnom Penh (mainly slowed down by a highly inefficient border crossing into Vietnam) and were dropped off right in the heart of the Pham Ngu Lao area, sort of a backpacker’s ghetto from what we could tell. Conveniently, our hotel was only a 3 minute walk away so we were definitely able to maximize our time in the city. Our first order of business was to buy our bus tickets to Dalat for the next morning. Unfortunately for us, the only seats available were for the 5:30AM bus so we reluctantly paid up realizing that this would mean one less meal for us in Saigon. We’d heard that as you get closer to Tet the bus availability and prices can rise on almost an hourly basis, so we figured there was no use in fighting it. At least there was a bus for us!
It was already dinner time by then and the really sweet ladies at the hotel had recommended a few different places to eat that were only a 10 – 15 minute walk away. People had warned us that the traffic would be insane in Saigon but it didn’t seem any worse than every other city we’d visited so far. If anything, it felt almost a little more civilized somehow (maybe because there were no tuk tuks here). Anyway, we settled on having Pho for dinner since this is really what we were craving since arriving and boy were we not disappointed. Ironically named Pho Hung (just like in Toronto), the place was completely packed when we arrived – always a good sign! On the tables were these huge heaping piles of so many types of fresh herbs, lime wedges and hot peppers. The piping hot bowl of pho had delicious beef slices, tendon and fatty brisket in it. It was everything we could have hoped for our first meal in Vietnam and was a definite sign of meals to come. We finished off the night by walking through the nearby Ben Thanh night market (nothing too exciting happening) and sitting around watching the kids and parents playing in a nearby park. Before we knew it, it was time to catch some shut-eye before our super early wake-up call the next day. We picked up a few croissants from a nearby bakery as snacks for the next day and headed back to the hotel, lamenting that we couldn’t spend more time in the city. Hopefully one day we’ll make our way back to Saigon!