How long does it take to get over a breakup? According to science, a mere three months may just be what one needs to ‘recover’ from the split. While I did not ‘technically’ broke up with my favorite country in Asia, it’s about three months since I left it after a 3-day whirlwind romance. It was my sixth or seventh trip to Vietnam and marked a 10th year anniversary since I first visited in 2006.
Like most whirlwind romance, our trip was impromptu and filled with exhilaration, as my travel partner, Bernie, and I set off to get reacquainted with Vietnam – a country we both loved for various reasons, some of which are inexplicable (even to us).
People often ask me, ‘why would you want to return to a destination you have visited when there are so many other places in the world?’ We all travel for different reasons and more often than not, it is the people in the destination that captivate me. But, I digressed.
In this short 3-day whirlwind romance in Vietnam, Bernie and I had fun exploring the city of Ho Chi Minh – at times exclaiming madly with joy at a familiar sight, at times scratching our heads at a new building that did not exist in our previous stays. We ascended the 3rd tallest building in the country, nonplussed with the minimal settings but happy to just relax and watch the sunset over the city. We also visited one of the must-visit destinations in 2016 (or so proclaimed by Lonely Planet), Ho Tram, in search of spa, seafood and a relaxing retreat.
If you are looking for a weekend getaway from Singapore, here’s sharing some things to do in Ho Chi Minh and Ho Tram within 3 days:
Indulge in local Vietnamese food on a red/blue stool by the road
While Vietnamese food is easily available in both the cities that Bernie and I lived in, nothing comes close to that unique taste of authentic pho (rice noodles) or banh mi (baguette with meat) and so many other good food, nonchalantly prepared in one of those small family restaurants or street stalls in Vietnam.
Upon my arrival (Bernie arrived ahead of me), the first thing that we did was to look for breakfast. We knew what we want and found it on the street adjacent to the Saigon Central Post Office. That first sip of our iced coffee had us going ahh~ I hate to say this but we also slurped our noodles greedily (maybe it was just me!) and it was gone before we knew it. The patrons next to us were bemused but they have no idea that the bowls of soup noodles with that sour tinge of lime were bringing back good memories for Bernie and I, while satisfying our tastebuds!
Other local foods to try include my all-time favorite Banh Xeo (a pancake-like fritter with prawns)! This can be found in Ben Thanh Market or any local restaurants.
Get on a caffeine high with Cà phê sữa đá
Not long ago, someone shared an interesting opinion on coffee… the best coffee is not from Vietnam, Colombia or Africa. The best coffee is subject to individual’s preference. Well, in my humble opinion, cà phê sữa đá or Vietnamese iced coffee is one of the most aromatic and flavourful coffee in the world.
Promising a strong kick, a sip of this bittersweet beverage is sure to get one on a caffeine high. And since you are already in Vietnam, why not try one of the commodities here? Easily available from the street vendors to hipster cafes and almost all restaurants, it is not easy to find awful coffee in Vietnam.
Send a postcard at Saigon Central Post Office
More than an impressive French 120+ year old building, the familiar-looking Saigon Central Post Office evokes memories of a long ago. The building seems the same but the forgetful mind must have forgotten many details. This time round, the architecture and floor tiles commanded my attention. Perhaps, at different stages of life, we noticed different things that matter to us. I can’t help but to wonder how I would feel if I visit again in another 10 years.
“We are not the same persons this year as last; nor are those we love. It is a happy chance if we, changing, continue to love a changed person.” ― W. Somerset Maugham
The maps on the wall along with world clocks and telephone stations are interesting as well. Besides admiring the architecture and understanding the history, one can create your own piece of ‘history’ by sending a postcard from the Saigon Central Post Office. Postcards make for the best presents (because nothing is more valuable than the thoughts even when one is having fun).
Note: Postcards are available for purchase both in the post office gift shops or outside on the streets. If you are purchasing postcards off the street, be prepared to haggle and be careful to count the postcards in a pack.
Walk around the city to discover colonial buildings and history
Wandering along the streets of Ho Chi Minh, the sudden sighting of a familiar-looking building brought pangs of sentimentalism. Over the years, this is one place that never fails to change much and I am somewhat thankful for that because I stayed here during my first encounter with Vietnam. With a simple, yellow facade, the 5-storey tall Rex Hotel was first built by the French in the 1920s. Although it has supposedly changed much since its first appearance, this luxury business hotel continues to charm with its rooftop bar.
Some historical buildings and monuments of note in Ho Chi Minh City include the People’s Committee Building, Saigon Notre-Dame Basilica and Saigon Central Post Office. These magnificent works of art reflect the French colonial influence. Other notable attractions not to be missed include the War Remnants Museum and Reunification Palace.
Formerly recognised as the Pearl of Far East, colonial architectures are dotted around the city and are easily accessible by foot. Should you be a photo enthusiast, it is easy for you to explore on your own but first-timer visitors are recommended to join a walking tour to better understand the history of this resilient country and her people.
Catch a sunset at Bitexco Financial Tower, Vietnam 3rd tallest building
The Bitexco Financial Tower attraction is nothing to be compared to other observation decks in the world, such as Abeno Harukas ‘300’ in Osaka, Japan or even Asia Bar in Singapore. However, the reality of this 68-storey modern building standing at 262m in the center of Ho Chi Minh city symbolises the country growth and it is a work of pride! For those of us who have an inexplicable love for the country, this 3rd tallest building in Vietnam (as of 2016) evokes a sense of admiration and the view is not all that bad.
The best time to visit would be in the late afternoon because one can have drinks or dinner at the cafe/restaurant located above the main observation platform while enjoying a beautiful sunset. Linger a little longer to watch the city slowly comes to life, like stars twinkling beneath.
Lounge in a characteristic hipster cafe
While theme cafes are not new in Ho Chi Minh city, the young and innovative are getting increasingly creative. These artisans of food and drinks extend their talents to creating a cosy and atmospheric environment for the perpetual cafe dwellers!
Instead of rushing around to visit all the attractions that the city has to offer, it is good to take a break and indulge in
laziness the local culture. One cafe that offers great food and drinks along with a great view of Ben Thanh Market is the hidden 2nd-storey Cafe Anh. Besides being an instagram-worthy place, the cafe has a cosy ambience and free Wi-Fi (great for solo travellers!).
Visit a Hindu temple in the city center!
The guide in me was extremely excited to find a Sri Mariamman temple right smack in the center of Ho Chi Minh city, and directly adjacent to it is a restaurant selling Singapore food. Talk about coincidence!
Located just just three blocks to the west of Ben Thanh Market, this hindu temple was built in the late 19th century and the building used to be a factory that produces incense sticks. The familiar-looking sight of the temple, somewhat similar to the Hindu places of worship in Singapore and Malaysia evoked a sense of sentimentalism. In this city that we thought we knew so well, there are so much that we have yet to explore and discover!
The Mariamman Hindu Temple is open every day from 07:00 until 19:00 and is located at 45 Truong Dinh Street in District 1. Note: Please dress appropriately (no shorts or sleeveless) to show respect.
Binge & shop at Ben Thanh Market
It may sound clique but in spite of other marketing options, Ben Thanh Market remains a great place to visit for purchasing souvenirs and bingeing on local food (be it for breakfast, lunch, dinner or supper!) Located in the city center, it is one landmark with its yellow 4-face clock that is hard to miss!
Food prices may be slightly higher here than at family-style restaurants by the street, but the quality of food is awesome. Shops located on the outskirts of the market provide fixed-price items but those within allow you to practise your haggling skills. Should you be a coffee lover or happy snacker, there are various stalls that provide good quality products at reasonable price.
Ho Tram is a small beach town in Southeast Vietnam where most affluent locals visit for a weekend getaway from Ho Chi Minh city (about 2-hour drive away). Should you be
bored looking beyond the usual attractions such as Cu Chi Tunnels or Mekong River tour, Ho Tram is a great option to relax by the sea. Imagine wide skies, crashing waves and a quiet time for rejuvenation, either alone or with loved ones.
Romance is fleeting… but love can be lasting.
Joan Konner shared this on Oprah: “In reality, romance is more fleeting and more dangerous than we are told, more complicated than we could have imagined, more elusive than we’ve been led to believe.”
While romance is fleeting, love can be lasting. Perhaps. Well, at least where Vietnam is concerned. I’m looking forward to visiting this awesome destination again.
The above information is based on the author’s own experience and should only be used as a reference. For more information on the destination, do check out: http://vietnamtourism.gov.vn/english/index.php/cat/70