Singaporebrides | Editors' Notes

December 2016

Your 4D3N Itinerary for a Relaxing Getaway To Ho Chi Minh City and Phu Quoc Island

If you’re no stranger to Ho Chi Minh City but are still drawn to its unexpected charms, a quick hop from the city to the neighbouring island of Phu Quoc, with its pristine beaches and gentle breeze might just make you an even bigger fan of Vietnam.

Last year, we visited Ho Chi Minh City for the first time and was blown away by its vibrancy and openness. It wasn’t what we expected of Vietnam at all, and were pleasantly surprised by its history, food, and people. What we didn’t know, and was about to find out, was that Vietnam’s best kept secret, was their beaches. VietJet Air once again invited us to find out for ourselves why Vietnam is the upcoming getaway destination for Singaporeans.

We’ve put together a 4D3N itinerary for a weekend of night markets, beaches, and glorious seafood for you. Run away with your partner for a while in the midst of wedding planning, or grab the girls for a long weekend getaway.

Day 1: Walking around Ho Chi Minh City District 1

We left Singapore on an afternoon VietJet Air flight and arrived about two hours later. On our last trip, we kept driving past the legendary Rex Hotel and my curiosity about the famous hotel has been satisfied on this trip! With no time to spare, we headed for the streets as soon as we checked into the hotel, which is only 20 minutes away from the airport.

If you haven’t been to Ho Chi Minh City, you can check out the Notre-Dame Cathedral Basillica of Saigon and its famous red façade. Officially known as the Cathedral Basillica of Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception, the cathedral was built between 1863 and 1880 by the French, and has two distinctive bell towers. In 1959, a granite statue of Our Lady of Peace was installed at the flower garden in front of the cathedral. On a good day, you’ll see many couples having their wedding photos taken here.

Notre-Dame CathedralOur Lady of Peace Statue in front of Notre-Dame Cathedral

Right next to the cathedral is the Saigon General Post Office, which bustles with activity. Its architecture is a delightful blend of Gothic and Renaissance influences, and is one of the oldest buildings in the city, with its ornate furnishings, tiled floor and high ceiling, which somewhat resembles a old European train station. The post office also has two mini souvenir lanes on each side of the building.

Saigon Central Post Office Portrait of Ho Chi Minh inside the Saigon Central Post Office Saigon Central Post OfficeSouvenir Shops inside the Post Office

Get to the Ben Thanh Market around late afternoon, armed with a shopping list. The usual items to purchase are coffee beans and powder, lotus seeds, souvenirs and lacquer ware. The market is huge and a little difficult to navigate – it is easy to get lost in the lanes flanked by stores that look similar. But it is within the inner lanes that you can get the best deals. The vendors will always offer their products for tasting and feel free to shop around for the best rates before you settle on the store you want to purchase from.

If you hang around long enough in the market—and believe me, you will if you are very focused on shopping—you might be in time to see the night market coming to live. In the evening, the food stalls surrounding the market open out into the streets, serving street food like pho, seafood, pancakes and desserts. Locals hang out there after work, much like our hawker centres.

Ben Thanh MarketThe main street inside Ben Thanh Market Ben Thanh MarketOne of the stalls selling coffee beans

Head back to the Rex Hotel and go up to the rooftop bar for a drink, some music, and a view of the avenue below. Built in 1927, the building, at different points in its history, housed an auto dealership, three cinemas, a dance hall, and a library. The hotel was the site of the American military command’s daily conference during the Vietnam War, and the rooftop bar was the favourite hangout for military officials and war correspondence. Even though the bar is only on the fifth storey, you get the perfect view of the Saigon Opera House and People’s Committee Hall.

4D3N Itinerary for Ho Chi Minh City and Phu QuocView of the People’s Committee Hall from the rooftop bar at Rex Hotel Rex Hotel The classic interior inside the Rex Hotel room

Day 2: Acquaint yourself with Phu Quoc Island

After an early breakfast at Rex Hotel, we jetted off on another VietJet Air flight to the island of Phu Quoc, about an hour away.

Phu Quoc is still a relatively unknown destination in Vietnam. The airport on the island only opened recently in December 2012, but the number of visitors to the island are climbing steadily. Blessed with a huge virgin forest, white sandy beaches and coral gardens for snorkeling, it isn’t difficult to see why locals and tourists alike are flocking there quickly – to get to experience the nature before it becomes too commercialised. The Vietnamese government has big plans to develop the island into an eco-tourism destination by 2020.

Phu Quoc locationPhu Quoc Island is where the red drop pin is Novotel Phu QuocView from the lobby at Novotel Phu Quoc Resort

Check into the newly-built Novotel Phu Quoc Resort, and head to Ham Ninh Fishing Village, located on the east coast of the island, for lunch.

In the past, Ham Ninh village was where fishermen went to seek shelter during a storm. Soon a community was established there. The locals lived in thatched huts and made a living by fishing and diving for pearls. While the Ham Ninh of today is slowly developing to adapt to the arrival of tourists, the main economy here still relies on fishing. The sea at Ham Ninh is quite shallow and contains the largest concentration of seaweed beds on Phu Quoc.

Ham Ninh villageThe long pier at Ham Ninh Village Ham Ninh VillageView from inside a seafood restaurant at Ham Ninh Ham Ninh villageA table full of salads, seafood, meat, and Phu Quoc pepper Ham Ninh villageSome dishes were served piping hot

Crab is a specialty in Ham ninh village and you can see it being served at restaurants and street stalls near the pier, usually steamed and served with a dipping sauce. The other specialty is Sea Cucumber Soup.

After lunch, head back to the hotel for a day of relaxation. The Novotel Phu Quoc Resort is set on one of the islands most well-known beaches, Truong Beach, famous for its gorgeous sunsets. The beach stretches unobstructed for 20 km along the west of the island all the way down south. That’s why Truong Beach is also fondly called the Long Beach.

Truong BeachThe stretch of Truong Beach right in front of Novotel Phu Quoc Resort Novotel Phu QuocInfinity Pool at the front of the hotel Novotel Phu QuocAnother pool facing the beach

Or you could go for a swim in both the pools in the hotel. There’s the infinity pool near the main building and a pool nearer the back with a bar. Never one to miss a trip to the spa, I booked myself a two-hour massage session to bliss out until right before sunset.

Dinner was at the Seafood Restaurant at the hotel. The restaurant’s interior was intimately designed for an excellent indoor dining experience. You could also choose to sit outdoors if the weather is good. We ordered from the international menu, which has sushi, sashimi salads, grilled squid, and other Vietnamese cuisine, so you will really be spoiled for choice in terms of food. Perfect way to end a perfect day.

4D3N Itinerary for Ho Chi Minh City and Phu QuocBeautifully plated sushi 4D3N Itinerary for Ho Chi Minh City and Phu QuocSeafood noodles 4D3N Itinerary for Ho Chi Minh City and Phu QuocSeafood pancake

Day 3: Exploring the island

The next morning, we had a buffet breakfast at the hotel before heading out to explore more of the island.

There are actually many activities on the island. If you’re the adventurous type, Phu Quoc has many red dirt roads for motor bike riding, so that’s a good excuse to rent those bikes on the island if you have a license. We heard that the best off-the-beaten-tracks are found in the north of the island, around Dai Beach and Thom Beach. Or you can go fishing! Hire a willing fisherman and his boat and head towards An Thoi village, Duong Dong, Cua Can, because these places are where the fishermen hang out before they leave for the fishing.

There are also many dive shops on the island offering a wide range of services and equipment. The most famous dive sites are the An Thoi Archipelago collection of 15 islands where you may spot a dugong and Turtle Island for interesting coral formations. Great spots for snorkeling and scuba diving.

Phu Quoc PepperThe Phu Quoc pepper with salt and lime juice is served at every meal and goes with everything!

If you’re a foodie, there are some factories and farms that are uniquely Phu Quoc you can visit, such as fish sauce distilleries and pepper farms. Phu Quoc is famous for its production of very high quality fish sauce that is exported worldwide. Unfortunately, fish sauce is not allowed on the planes because of the risk of breakage. The pungent aroma of the famed fish sauce is difficult to remove so airlines have banned them from being checked in. So enjoy them on the island while you can. Phu Quoc also produces very good quality black peppercorns. You’ll find many pepper plantations around the island, and some of them even have organised tours.

We headed for the very isolated Sao Beach, on the southeastern side of the island. It’s tricky to get to on your own, so hire a taxi should you want to head there. If you’re looking for a beach with white powdery sand, clear calm waters, a smattering of palm trees, and quaint cocktail bars, it’s definitely making a trip here. The picturesque beach is popular with locals, water sports lovers, and families because of the shallow waters.

Sao BeachWater sports and tour boats on Sao Beach Sao BeachYou can find more secluded spots to the left and right of the beach Sao BeachThe water is shallow enough for you to wade far out into the sea and even sit down on the sand bed

Upon reaching the “main entrance” of the beach, you’ll be surrounded by restaurants and water sports vendors. However, turn left and keep walking until the noise fades away and feel the sand under your feet getting cleaner and softer. The sand leading into the sea slopes gently, so you can actually wade pretty far out into the water.

Spend a few hours at the beach and have dinner at one of the seafood restaurants before you leave. Again, you can look forward to fresh crabs, the daily catch of fish and squid, and very refreshing coconut juice. There are facilities on the beach for you to wash up; if you’ve rented a day bed from any of the bars along the beach, you can also have access to their shower rooms.

Sao BeachFresh steamed crabs Sao BeachCoconuts at the beach bar

The best form of after-dinner exercise is, of course, night market shopping. The Dinh Cau Night Market is actually a 500m long street with about 50 stalls selling food, drinks, souvenirs, and snacks. The market opens at 5 pm, which is when Vo Thi Sau street closes off traffic and turns into a pedestrian-only shopping street.

At the main gate to the market, you will see the seafood stalls on both sides of the street, while the souvenir stalls are towards the end of the street. Since it’s a relatively short street, I recommend that you walk the entire stretch of stalls before deciding to buy or eat anything. Like any night market all over Asia, you’ll see many stalls selling similar items at varying prices. Some vendors are friendly, some aren’t.

Dinh Cau marketThe main entrance to Dinh Cau Night Market Dinh Cau MarketThere are many tables outside each seafood restaurant Dinh Cau MarketTourists and locals alike check out the souvenir stalls

We found some stalls selling peppercorns by the bag as well as bottled ground pepper, so if you, like us, are utterly seduced by the smoky spiciness of the Phu Quoc pepper, salt and lime juice concoction that the restaurants serve with every seafood dish, you can buy up a storm here. Another stall we couldn’t tear ourselves away from was the one selling candied nuts. There were at least 10 different flavours of the crunchy snack, from salted caramel to ginger. You can buy them in three different sizes and make excellent gifts.

Dinh Cau marketYou can buy Phu Quoc peppercorns by weight or the ground ones prepacked Dinh Cau marketYou will see one big stall selling candied nuts with all sorts of flavours Dinh Cau marketFresh grilled seafood from one of the seafood restaurants

End the night with a Saigon beer and grilled squid at one of the restaurants near the entrance.

Day 4: Back to Singapore

We had to wake up very early to make our flights back to Singapore. Fortunately, the hotel breakfast starts early and the variety and quality were amazing. You’ll have a little time during the stopover at Ho Chi Minh City to do some last minute shopping, but otherwise, you can still buy some souvenirs at the shops inside the International Airport. You’ll be back in Singapore in the evening and wishing you were still on Sao Beach.

VietJetView of the VietJet plane from the lounge at the airport VietJetSnacks and meals available on board VietJet if you booked SkyBoss, their business class

Accommodation:

Rex Hotel Saigon
141 Nguyen Hue Blvd, Vietnam
Website: www.rexhotelvietnam.com

Novotel Phu Quoc Resort
Phu Quoc, Duong Bao, Duong To, Vietnam
Website: www.novotel.com/PhuQuoc

About VietJet Air:

Vietjet is the first airline in Vietnam to operate as a new-age airline with low-cost and diversified services to meet customers’ needs. Currently the airline boasts a fleet of 42 aircraft, including Airbus A320s and A321s, operating 350 flights per day over 60 routes. In Vietnam, Vietjet has successfully connected key regions operating routes in Vietnam and across the region to international destinations such as Thailand, Singapore, South Korea, Taiwan, Malaysia, China and Myanmar. Today, Vietjet is one of the fastest growing airlines in Asia, transporting over 35 million passengers, and is quickly expanding international routes throughout the Asia Pacific region and beyond. Tickets can be purchased online at www.vietjetair.com.