Singaporebrides | Editors' Notes

July 2015

Things To Do In Ho Chi Minh City for An Awesome Girls’ Weekend

If Bangkok is the current hipster in town, then Ho Chi Minh City is definitely the older, and quirkier sister. Here are the things you can do in HCMC for a girls’ weekend before your wedding!

Ho Chi Minh City, or Saigon—as it is still fondly known today by the locals—is one of the most populous area in Vietnam with a population of 9 million. And from that 9 million, a whopping 3.5 million are currently zipping around the city on motorcycles. When VietJet Air invited me, along with eight other companions, to visit HCMC, I decided to challenge myself to cross a road amidst the infamous Vietnamese traffic, Saigon-style, and come back in one piece.

With the many low-cost carriers (LCCs) available in the market today, travel has been made so convenient and easy to manage. Waiting half a year to embark on a vacation is a thing of the past now, and it is being replaced with frequent last-minute, weekend trips to countries in the region. VietJet Air, a fairly new player in the scene, has a rather impressive fleet that does 21 routes domestically and globally, reaching Singapore, Bangkok, and even Seoul.

It was going to be my first time in Vietnam and I really didn’t know what to expect. I looked at the itinerary that had been prepared for us, and it was packed really tight. So many things for just three nights!

But first, I found out we could travel like a boss, even on LCCs. VietJet Air had booked us on SkyBoss Class, a premium service that offers priority check-in, complimentary 20kg baggage allowance, inflight meals, and airport lounge access.

VietJet AirVietJet AirSkyBoss ClassSkyBoss ClassChangi Airport LoungeChangi Airport LoungeInside VietJet AirInside VietJet AirMeals on VietJet AirMeals on VietJet Air

It was a short, uneventful flight to HCMC, made pleasant by the clear skies, comfortable seats, and pretty Vietnamese stewardesses. After arriving at Tan Son Nhat International Airport, we were soon met by our wonderful tour guide, Du, and whisked off to the VietJet Air office.

The office was located about five minutes away, right across from the airport. Standing at one of the windows, you are offered the view of planes taking off and landing. And thank goodness for this view, because the open-concept office was bustling with activity, with the CEO, Luu Duc Khanh, sitting in the middle of it all. The training rooms were full with trainees, as well as the holding room, where the crew from our flight were currently resting. The vibe was young and energetic, and I was soon to discover, this buzz was a natural phenomenon, as it was within every Vietnamese I met on the street.

Introduction to VietJet AirIntroduction to VietJet AirTraining Room at VietJet Air OfficeTraining Room at VietJet Air Office

Influenced by the French during the colonial occupation, some architecture, as well as the wide, tree-lines boulevards in HCMC, will remind you a little of Europe. And, if you are wandering around near the City Hall, you might turn a corner and find yourself on a street full of American and Italian brand names that are immediately recognisable. Yet right across the shopping stretch, you will catch the unmistakably familiar scents of food wafting from the street stalls.

Street Art and Street FoodStreet Art and Street FoodTree-lined Boulevards at Nguyen HueTree-lined Boulevards at Nguyen HueShin HouseShin House

On our first evening, as we were sorting out SIM cards and checking out the local snacks in the convenience stores at Nguyen Du, I chanced upon a charming boutique by designer and architect Truong Hanh. Inside Shin, there was a mind boggling selection of vintage cotton and linen dresses, as well as leather handbags and colourful camera straps. I could have gone crazy shopping in there.

From the gray of the dust left behind by the traffic and the wary eyes of the locals, HCMC may seem daunting for a first-timer there. But step into a store or engage a Vietnamese in conversation, and you’ll discover clean and well-looked-after interiors, and an open mind. I was intrigued, and refreshed, by elegant and proud Saigon.

Not-so-heavy traffic at Ho Chi Minh CityNot-so-heavy traffic at Ho Chi Minh City

HCMC is best interpreted by its five suburban districts, though trust the locals when they say “entertain in District 1, eat in District 5, and live in District 3”.

Traditionally the French Quarter of HCMC, District 1 is where you will want to start off your trip. Take in the architecture from the Opera House, the Notre Dame Cathedral and the City Post Office before spending a few solemn hours in the War Remnants Museum and the Reunification Palace. Some hotels in HCMC are steeped in history and romanticised in novels, such as Hotel Majestic, Hotel Intercontinental, the Rex, and the Caravelle Hotel, and they make great photo ops.

Right beside District 1 is District 5, home to Cho Lon, HCMC’s Chinatown. Get ready to be overwhelmed by Binh Tay Market. Hot, crowded, positively packed from floor to ceiling with products for wholesale, the 17,000 square metre market is a labyrinth made up of wet goods, housewares, clothes, shoes and everything else in between. From afar you can see its multi-tiered roof adorned with dragons, and in the middle, a central courtyard dedicated to the market’s founder, Quach Dam, is decorated with even more dragons.

Quan AmQuan Am Pagoda

Around the area, you will see many beautiful pagodas, but do visit the Quan Am Pagoda (Goddess of Mercy), which was built in 1740, the oldest in the city. Many locals make offerings and hang incense coils from the ceiling to pray for the well-being of their families.

With a renewed understanding and respect of Vietnam, we dove headfirst into what HCMC is more than eager to offer: the food!

To get to know Vietnamese food better, we got to make our own. Meeting Chef Khang at Ben Thanh Market to shop for our ingredients, we had to keep an eye and ear out for him as he snaked his way around the narrow lanes, teaching us to differentiate between limes and lemons, basil and watercress. The market is huge and divided into sections, like all markets, but at every corner, there were sudden surprises like stalls selling deadly snakes and scorpions soaked in spirits and alcohol.

Smelling the herbs at Ben Thanh MarketSmelling the herbs at Ben Thanh MarketLive soft-shell crabs at Ben Thanh MarketLive soft-shell crabs at Ben Thanh MarketBen Thanh MarketPotent PotionsHandmade rice paperHandmade Rice Paper

We then stopped by a stall where rice paper was being made. Unfortunately for us, the lady was just finishing her last batch and there weren’t enough for all of us, so we shuffled to a dry goods stall next door to buy some factory-made ones. “It is not handmade, but the quality is consistent,” said Chef Khang, before he disappeared into another alley for our next ingredient.

We managed to make our own Fried Rice Paper Roll, Water Spinach Salad, and Fried Crispy Noodles, and it was delicious! For those who can’t cook, it was not a stressful session at all, with a very patient Chef Khang answering our endless questions and pandering to our photo-taking needs. “I have managed many kids’ rambunctious birthday parties here, so I am well-trained,” he jokes.

Saigon Cooking Class at The RefinerySaigon Cooking Class at The RefineryMelissa making her rice paper rollMelissa making her rice paper rollThe finished productThe finished productWater Spinach SaladThe Water Spinach Salad that was very fun to make

After being imparted with the knowledge of fish sauce and how its quantity in a mixture can alter a dish drastically, we were set loose in the land of pho and bahn mi. And we did good, I think. We visited many restaurants, some loved by the tourists, and some by the locals.

Pho for breakfastPho(tography) for breakfast at Pho 2000Banh Xeo (pancake) and grilled dishes for lunchBanh Xeo (pancake) and grilled dishes for lunch at Nha Hang NgonFine dining hotpot for dinnerFine dining hotpot for dinnerVietnamese coffee at Highlands CoffeeVietnamese coffee with Estelle

On our last night, VietJet Air had arranged a special treat for each of us: an after-dark tour around HCMC—on a Vespa! It’s a part excursion, part street food adventure whirlwind tour that took us to experience nightlife like a local. From 6 to 10pm, we drank, and we ate, and we sang, and we partied. Who’d have thought that entertainment in Vietnam was this good!

After-dark Vespa TourLook how thrilled Jen and Katie areListening to Adele covers in a classy cafeListening to Adele covers in a classy cafeBen Thanh Market at nightBen Thanh Market at nightLive music in a crowded clubLive music in a crowded club

It was the perfect way to end our trip, but I personally would recommend the tour on the first night you arrive. That way, you get to know the city and see the things only locals are privy to. Then you can plan the rest of your days in HCMC according to the places and areas you saw and liked.

The theme of our trip was “A Girls’ Weekend Getaway”, and it couldn’t be more right. To my surprise, three nights were not enough to explore HCMC, especially with such great company. There were local sidewalk cafes I spotted that I wish I had time to try, and we all know Vietnamese coffee is as good as they get. And if you do your research well, or ask a local who is willing to share, you get to taste the best street seafood at great prices.

Amazing seafood at District 4Amazing seafood at District 4Chill Sky Bar at A & B TowerChill Sky Bar at A & B TowerTrying to figure out drinking games with the girlsTrying to figure out drinking games with the girls

Ho Chi Minh City shows all the signs of economic success—fine dining restaurants, fancy cars, a thriving nightlife—yet the Vietnamese hold on fiercely to their war-torn history, religion and way of life. From the melee of noisy construction work (metro system coming up in 2019!) and traffic, I watch with amusement as petite women dressed in skirts and heels ride their Vespas expertly with one hand, or families of fours and fives manoeuvre the traffic piled on a tiny motorcycle.

To me, Saigon is hiding its wild streak and waiting for someone worthy to discover its beauty. I have, and I’ll be grabbing a few more girlfriends to head back for more.

Oh, and I cross the roads in HCMC like a Vietnamese now.

VietJet Air Girls' WeekendLet’s do another trip, girls! (From left, Melissa, Jennifer, Jo Yin, Katie, Du, Evonne, Jaclynn, Jessica, Estelle)

VietJet currently operates more than 770 flights per week. In Vietnam, VietJet has successfully connected key economic regions such as: Ho Chi Minh City, Ha Noi, Hai Phong, Da Nang. International flights include Singapore, Bangkok (Thailand), and Seoul, (Korea). Tickets can be purchased online or via VietJet’s Facebook pageby clicking on the “Booking” tab. Tickets can be purchased with major credit cards including Master Card, Visa Card, JCB or American Express.

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Things To Do In Ho Chi Minh City for An Awesome Girls’ Weekend