8 Reasons Hoi An Should Be Your Next Travel Destination

 

8 reasons Hoi An Should Be Your Next Travel Destination because of Food, Rice Fields, Beach and Silk Lanterns

Ask anyone who has spent time in Hoi An, the popular UNESCO World Heritage former trading village located in the middle of Vietnam’s sprawling coastline, and they’ll likely give you many reasons why this should be your next travel destination: souvenir shops, restaurants, ancient places, hip-looking coffee shops, nearby rice paddies and much more.

Considering both Hoi An’s size and population, this picturesque town has quite a lot to offer to its visitors. Whether you are a traveler passing by for a few days or someone who wants to explore the ins and outs of this historical destination, you will have your hands full with all sorts of entertainment.

8 Reasons to Visit Hoi An

So, why should you include Hoi An in your travels around Vietnam? Here is a list of 8 compelling reasons that will make you wish that you’d never visited this town in the first place because you will not want to leave afterward!

  1. Tailor Shops
  2. Silk Lanterns
  3. Art Street
  4. Local Food
  5. Rice fields and Tra 
  6. Que Village
  7. Beach
  8. Hoi An Impressions

Map of Featured Places


 

  1. Tailor Shops

When visiting Hoi An, you don’t want to miss out on the opportunity of getting a bespoke suit ,  custom fitted shoes or a tailor-made dress. While needle masters in Savile Row (London) are quite renowned around the world, Vietnamese tailors also produce top-of-the-line designs that meet Western standards while using the finest fabrics. Yaly, Bebe, Kimmy and A Dong Silk are some well known Hoi An Tailors that offer quick turn around, and good service.

tailoring shop

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  1. Silk Lanterns

Silk lanterns are everywhere in Hoi An. The reason why has to do with the legacy that Chinese and Japanese left back in the 15th and 16th century when this town used to be Vietnam’s busiest trading port. Some locals will tell you they hang them in front of their homes to bring health, happiness and good luck. The truth is that lanterns give Hoi An a charming and distinctive character at night when visitors wander around Ancient Town admiring the gorgeous street lighting. Every month on the night of the full moon, the Lantern Festival takes place while all transports (even bicycles) are banned from roaming the streets. Our recommendation is to pre-book a table at a riverside restaurant to watch all the fun go by.

Hoi An colorful silk Lanterns

Silk lanterns in Hoi An

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  1. Art Street

Originally named Courbert Street during the French times, Phan Boi Chau is considered the art and culture street in Hoi An. Once the main street of the French Quarter, the buildings along this avenue reflect French architectural styles with its shops and houses aligned in rows on a broad street. As a matter of fact, as you roam the numerous galleries and cultural spaces on Phan Boi Chau, look out for details of French architecture such as arches, pillars, balconies and the French-style wooden shutters. Here is a little secret: Mr. Duong who owns the house at 25 Phan Boi Chau has many stories to tell about the history of the area. You can ask at the March Gallery if he is available for a short tour.

street art in Hoi An

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  1. Local Food

Hoi An also ranks pretty high on the food scene since it showcases a handful of regional dishes that you won’t find anywhere else in Vietnam. Cao Lau is probably the most renowned local delicacy and will not be found anywhere else but Hoi An. Why? Apparently, the water used for cooking the broth comes from an ancient well (called Cham well) that gives this dish its scrumptious, unique taste. Regardless of the water source, this is a must-try meal that you won’t find anywhere else but Hoi An. Besides this bowl of goodness, other local must-try dishes are Bánh Bao Vạc (White Roses), Com Ga (Chicken Rice) or the Mango Cakes sold on the streets. However, our all-time favorite is Banh Mi Hoi An. Unlike other versions of the popular Vietnamese sandwich, this one seems to have an acquired taste that we haven’t found anywhere else. Apparently, the key to a great Banh Mi is in the owner’s secret sauce. If so, head to Banh mi Phuong at 2B Phan Chu Trinh and try it yourself.

Mi Quang Noddle in Hoi An with green lettuce, shrimp and chicken

traditional food in Hoi An

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  1. Rice fields and Tra Que Village

One of the most common things to do in Hoi An is cycling around town. While riding your bicycle in the Ancient Town can be a daunting task depending on the time of the day, we recommend heading over the surrounding countryside and enjoy the colourful rice paddies that are just a short ride away from the city centre. If you want to witness the real local experience, do it during the early morning (6-7 AM) when the sunlight shines beautifully over the fields creating amazing textures and colours. If you ride your bicycle along Hai Ba Tung street for about 3km, you will not only find rice paddies but also discover Tra Que Village, a uniquely quaint area of Hoi An full of vegetable gardens and ponds. You will get a glimpse into the country life as you watch the farmers cultivate, care for and harvest their produce. Plus you will suddenly come to the realisation why local dishes taste so good: it’s all about the greens!

Green Rice Field with Sunset in Hoi An

Green Rice Field with Sunset in Hoi An

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  1. Beach

Like all of the above wasn’t enough, it turns out that this town is also a beach destination. In fact, if you keep cycling past Tra Que Village on Hai Ba Trung, you will end up at the nicest spot on Hoi An’s coastline: An Bang beach. Only 4 kilometres away from the city centre, head over here in the afternoon to cap off a busy day of sightseeing and souvenir shopping. Whether you want to sit back and relax under a sun umbrella or enjoy yourself knee deep in the water, this is the go-to beach in Hoi An since the once-popular Cua Dai beach is now suffering from severe erosion. On a clear day, you will be able to spot Da Nang’s coastline and its tall buildings, or even the mountains in Son Tra Peninsula if you get really lucky.

Hoi An beach with fishing boat and blue sky

Hoi An beach with fishing boat and blue sky

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  1. Photography

This picturesque town is a photographer’s paradise. It doesn’t matter whether you are an avid photographer or someone who recently started taking pictures, your camera will fall head over hills in love with Hoi An. Its colonial buildings with wooden structures, the quays and canals that make up the townscape and the locals hanging out at every other corner simply make the best scene for your shots. And if you don’t believe us, pay a visit to the French photographer Rehahn’s gallery/museum called ‘Precious Heritage’ (located on the aforementioned Art Street, Phan Boi Chau) where visitors can enjoy looking at his beautifully taken photographs of Hoi An (where he is settled) as well as the shots of the 54 ethnic groups scattered across Vietnam.

Hoi An a perfect place for photography

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  1. Hoi An Impression Theme Park

The latest addition to the entertainment scene, Hoi An Impression Theme Park is a long way off being finished but the lovely open-air theatre is already showing the play ‘Hoi An Memories Sceneries’. The show covers the history of this commercial trading port while offering a glimpse of what life would have been like from the 15th to the 19th century. Apart from the cast of over 500 actors and a 25,000 square meters, the lighting and sound put together an incredible show that makes this play an unforgettable experience that you don’t want to miss out.

 

Outdoor theater

 

We hope you enjoyed reading about the 8 reasons to Visit Hoi An! Once you’re done with everything on this list you might consider exploring the beautiful surrounding countryside! XO Tours offers an amazing morning motorbike tour and fun evening walking food tour that explores the island of Cam Kim, which has virtually been untouched by tourism. On both tours, you’ll get to each some delicious local food, while getting to meet the local people in their homes and places of work! You can book one or both of our Hoi An tours by clicking HERE. We hope to see you in Hoi An soon!

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5 Incredible Islands in Vietnam

When it comes to tropical islands in Southeast Asia, Vietnam is often overlooked in favour of Thailand, the Philippines and Indonesia. But, as we shall see in this XO Tours Blog, the islands in Vietnam are equal to its neighbors in natural beauty, historical interest and, most importantly, wow factor. What’s more, because the beach-seeking masses tend to flock to other nations in the region, this leaves Vietnam’s pearls in the ocean relatively quiet in comparison. North, south and central regions all boast alluring islands, where velvet seas lap the white sands of hidden coves, and rugged, jungle-covered interiors form a mesmerizing tropical backdrop. Transport to these specks in the ocean is improving and so too is the infrastructure on the islands, making them more accessible and comfortable than ever before. These islands will integrate themselves in your perfect Vietnam itinerary.

 

white sand and blue sea in a Vietnamese island

 

In this XO Tours blog, we’ve summarized the charms of 5 of Vietnam’s islands, including practical information to help you on your way. Click on an island from the list below to read more about it:

Here are the 5 Incredible Islands in Vietnam!

 


 

CON DAO ISLANDS:

Why go?

Isolated, seldom-visited yet easily accessible and utterly beautiful, Con Dao is a candidate for Vietnam’s best kept secret (so don’t tell anyone else!). The main island of Con Son is rugged and jungle-covered. At several points around the island, the rocks give way to soft sand backed by jagged, windswept mountains, like a scene from Jurassic Park. Once a penal colony run by the colonial French, many Vietnamese consider this a haunted island; stalked by the ghosts of tens of thousands of political prisoners who died while incarcerated here from 1862 to 1975. But, although the past is commemorated in the museums (including the prisons themselves), Con Son’s future is all about pleasure: frolicking in the gin-clean waters, ambling under palms on the beach, trekking through the jungled interior, enjoying Vietnam’s best diving, strolling along the romantic seafront promenade backed by fading French villas, or pampering yourself in ultra-luxurious resorts.

 

white sand and blue sea in Con Dao Islands, Vietnam

Beautiful beach on Con Dao

 

What to do?

Beaches are few but very scenic. They are best explored by renting a scooter or bicycle and riding the deserted coast road. Trekking is fabulous on Con Son Island, thanks to new walking trails through the jungles and mountains, which are all part of the national park. Visiting the prison museums will open your eyes as to what this beautiful island was once like for thousands of political prisoners, who were held in appalling conditions. Former inmates include some of Vietnam’s most famous revolutionaries. Diving (by far the best in Vietnam) and boat trips to the outlying islands is easily arranged. And simply walking along the seafront promenade of old Con Son town is a highlight: nowhere else in Vietnam will you find empty, quiet and charming streets like these (see image below).

 

Where is it?

Con Dao Archipelago is a group of 15 rugged islands, 80km off Vietnam’s southeastern-most coast.

 

When to go?

Being right out in the middle of the ocean, the Con Dao Islands get hit by both the northeast and the southwest monsoons. The best time to visit is from early spring to mid-summer (February to July). During this time of year, the water can be calm and clear as glass, and winds are relatively light, although monsoon downpours are common.

 

How to get there?

There are two options: by air or sea. The islands are just a 45-minute flight from Saigon. Vietnam Airlines flies 4 to 6 times daily in both directions on a propeller aircraft. By boat it’s a 12-hour voyage on a small, cramped vessel, departing Vung Tau every couple of days. The journey begins at dusk and ends at dawn. Boats are often cancelled due to rough seas.

 

seafront promenade with coffee with a breathtaking view in island, Vietnam

Seafront promenade of old Con Son town, Con Dao image source: Tom Divers

 

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CAT BA ISLAND:

Why go?

Cat Ba is a large and arrestingly beautiful Vietnam island in the middle of Halong Bay. From here there are marvelous vistas of the surrounding spectacle of limestone monoliths rising out of the blue sea. The island itself is a fantasy world of shimmering jungles, soaring limestone peaks, exotic bays and hidden coves. Staying on Cat Ba Island is a way to beat the crowds that descend on Halong Bay, mostly on overnight cruises. On Cat Ba Island, you can explore Halong Bay at a more leisurely pace, without being herded around like cattle from place to place on a tourist boat.

 

between blue sea and mountain Cat Ba Island in Vietnam

Cat Ba Island, Vietnam

 

What to do?

Cat Ba is excellent territory for outdoorsy travellers. Hiking or biking in the rugged national park, kayaking in the gorgeous bays, and some of the best rock climbing in Vietnam (see image below), make it one of the best overall destinations for adrenaline seekers. But, for those with less energy, Cat Ba offers several lovely stretches of sand to relax on, and short boat trips to Lan Ha Bay, where isolated limestone islets prick the seas of the Gulf of Tonkin. A quick jump in the balmy waters and a seafood lunch on the beach is all the energy you’ll need to expend.

 

Where is it?

Cat Ba is the largest island in Halong Bay. It’s located 45km east of Haiphong and 50km south of Halong City. The island is surrounded by small limestone islets that make up the dramatic land-and-sea-scape that Halong Bay is famous for.

 

When to go?

Late autumn, just after the monsoon storms have passed and the holidays are over, is the best time to visit Cat Ba Island. November is our favourite month on the island, but the middle of spring (April and May) is also good. In the summer months, humidity is high, tropical downpours frequent, and tourist numbers (both foreign and domestic) are at their highest. In the winter months, it can be cold, drizzly and misty.

 

How to get there?

Cat Ba Island is most easily reached from Haiphong. There are usually four daily sailings in both directions on hydrofoils; the journey takes 1 hour. There is a ferry from Tuan Chau Island, just south of Halong City, but it docks at the ‘wrong’ end of Cat Ba Island, from where there is only skeletal transportation to the main town. Cat Ba Island is also well-connected to Hanoi thanks to an excellent bus-and-boat link operated by Hoang Long Buses.

 

climbing with a beautiful landscape blue sea in Cat Ba Island, Vietnam

Rock climbing on Cat Ba Island

 

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PHU QUOC ISLAND:

Why go?

Vietnam’s most talked-about island, Phu Quoc has long been touted as the next Phuket. For years it’s been the darling of backpackers looking for long, deserted, tropical beaches to chill-out on. But now, with the completion of massive new infrastructure (an international airport and extensive road network), the island is firmly on the radar of mass tourism. The beaches are bright, the water is blue, the interior is green, and there are a great number of accommodations to choose from. Getting here is easy from anywhere in Vietnam and, increasingly, from regional hubs across Southeast Asia too. This is Vietnam’s biggest island and, despite all the development, there’s still room for exploration and finding your very own stretch of sand to lie out on.

 

white sand, turquoise sea and palm tree in Phu Quoc Island, Vietnam

White sand beach on Phu Quoc Island

 

What to do?

The number-one ‘activity’ on Phu Quoc is lying on the beach under a palm tree, with a book in one hand and a cocktail in the other; broken only by fresh seafood meals and swims in the balmy, mirror-flat Gulf of Thailand. The island is covered by a dense canopy of jungle, of which the majority is part of Phu Quoc National Park. For a taste of the damp, life-filled jungle, take a trip to one of the waterfalls, or arrange a trek in the national park. Rent a scooter to explore the coastal and inland roads: you’ll be rewarded with stretches of empty beach, isolated fishing hamlets, and tidy little pepper farms. Diving, snorkeling and boats to outlying islands make an excellent day trip. At night, try a squid fishing trip on a wooden boat, complete with fresh-caught seafood dinner on-board. Local life can be experienced by taking an early morning stroll around the chaotic fish market in Duong Dong town (see image below).

 

Where is it?

Located in the Gulf of Thailand, Phu Quoc is one of the most westerly points in Vietnam. 50km off from the southwestern Mekong Delta, it’s closer to Cambodia than Vietnam.

 

When to go?

By far the best time of year to visit Phu Quoc is the dry season, between December and April. During this time, the sea is as still and calm as an infinity pool. The skies are blue, the sun is warm, but mornings and evenings are fresh and cool. Temperatures begin to soar in late spring, and from July tropical downpours are common, seas get choppy and water can be murky.

 

How to get there?

Phu Quoc’s new airport receives dozens of domestic and international flights every day. Within Vietnam, there are direct flights to the island from Saigon and Hanoi. Competition among airlines keeps prices reasonably low. Because flights from Saigon to Phu Quoc are so regular, it’s easy to connect from any major city in Vietnam. An increasing number of regional hubs also fly direct to Phu Quoc, including Singapore, Hong Kong, Kuala Lumpur and Bangkok. Phu Quoc is also connected to mainland Vietnam by boat: both the Mekong Delta towns of Rach Gia and Ha Tien have several daily services to the island.

 

traditional seafood market in Phu Quoc Island, Vietnam

Fish market in Duong Dong town, Phu Quoc Island

 

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CHAM ISLANDS:

Why go?

A tiny collection of islands just off the coast of central Vietnam, the Cham Islands have been accessible to foreign tourists for some years now. Despite being within easy reach of one of Vietnam’s most famous tourist spots,Hoi An, development has been slow. Only the largest island is inhabited and it’s here that you’ll find tantalizing ribbons of white sand, blue bays and densely forested hills. Most of the tourism here is based around day trips on boats from Hoi An, including beach-hopping, snorkeling and seafood lunches. However, for more intrepid travellers, it’s possible to escape the day-tripping crowds by travelling to the islands independently via public boat and then camping on the beach. But you’ll need time and patience to do this.

 

wooden dock though a turquoise sea in Cham Islands, Vietnam

Wooden dock on Cham Island

 

What to do?

Diving, snorkeling and swimming are the most popular activities on and around the islands (see image below). Most day tours from Hoi An have snorkeling equipment. Diving can be arranged through The Dive Bar in Hoi An. Cycling around the island on its beautiful (but very steep) coastal roads is the best way to explore the beaches. Hire a bike from Hoi An and take it on the public ferry to the island.

 

Where is it?

The Cham Islands are around 20km off the central Vietnamese coast, east of Hoi An and Danang. There are 8 islands in this mini-archipelago, but only one, Hon Lao, is inhabited but this is known to most travellers simply as Cham Island.

 

When to go?

Late spring to late summer is best: the weather is warm and sunny most days, but there are still plenty of tropical downpours around. During the winter months, seas can be rough and temperatures pretty chilly (for Vietnam). Avoid weekends and public holidays, when the island’s beaches become crowded with domestic tourists.

 

How to get there?

Many tour operators in Hoi An can arrange day trip packages to the Cham Islands, including transport. Alternatively, there is a daily local ferry (2 hours) leaving Hoi An in the morning, which allows you to travel to the islands independently. You can even take a bicycle with you to amble around the island on two wheels.

 

snorkeling in Cham Islands, Vietnam

Snorkeling around Cham Islands

 

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QUAN LAN ISLAND:

Why go?

Quan Lan is one of the thousands of islands that make up Halong Bay and Bai Tu Long Bay. What makes Quan Lan special is that, despite being easily accessible, extremely scenic, and having a handful of decent accommodation options, it receives a tiny fraction of the tourist traffic that has, in many cases, ruined the experience of other islands in the bay. Quan Lan is a thin slither of an island, with excellent beaches along its eastern shore, and two small, sleepy hamlets at its southern and northern tips. Its sandy bays are wide are long, the sea is blue and calm, local fishermen are friendly, and seafood is superb. If you want to experience Halong Bay off-the-beaten-track, Quan Lan is what you’re looking for.

 

isolated beach with white sand and turquoise water in Quan Lan Island, Vietnam

Isolated beach on Quan Lan Island

 

What to do?

Quan Lan Island’s main appeal is its slow pace of life and lack of things to do. Cycling or riding a scooter along the length of the island on the only road is a great way to explore. Swimming and relaxing on the beaches will occupy most of your time. But there are a couple of historical sites too: the ruins of Van Don, which was once an important trading post, lie in the northeast of the island, and there’s an attractive, two hundred-year-old pagoda in the south (see image below).

 

Where is it?

Quan Lan is a long and slender island in Bai Tu Long Bay (just northeast of Halong Bay). Its western shore looks out over other limestone islands in the bay, while its eastern shore looks onto open sea.

 

When to go?

As with Cat Ba Island and the rest of Halong Bay, Quan Lan is at its best in late autumn and high spring. The summer months can get busy with holidaymakers from Hanoi, and prices rise accordingly.

 

How to get there?

Quan Lan can be reached from either Halong City, on the mainland, or Cai Rong port on Van Don Island. The latter has the most frequent ferry connections to Quan Lan. There are at least four separate sailings in both directions each day. Journey time is about 1 hour. From Halong City there is only one fast boat a day to Quan Lan Island (90 minutes).  But the journey through the limestone karsts in the bay is glorious.

 

traditional Vietnamese pagoda in Quan Lan Island, Vietnam

Pagoda on Quan Lan Island

 

We hope you enjoyed this blog post showcasing the best 5 Islands in Vietnam! If you’re more interested in beaches, please read our post about the “Top 5 Best Beach Destinations in Vietnam.”

Looking for more travel tips, and great things to do in Vietnam while you are here? Bookmark our blog, leave a comment on a blog post or on our facebook, we’d love to hear from you. Hope you join us in Vietnam soon!

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Top 5 Historical Sites to Explore in Hoi An Ancient Town

With so many places to visit in Hoi An Ancient Town, it may be overwhelming to travelers that are only visiting this beautiful coastal city for a short time. If you are one have 1 day in Hoi An, you should focus your time on these top 5 places to visit in Ancient Town.

Hoi An history: The Biggest trading port in Vietnam back in the day

Check out the top 5 sites in Hoi An

“It looks straight off a postcard!” That could easily be one of the first statements that someone would make when they visit Hoi An, Vietnam. Its streets full of lanterns and colorful colonial houses wow travelers when they set foot in its Ancient Town for the first time. This coastal town definitely holds a long-standing history where both indigenous and foreign influences have played a major role. This results in its various historical sites that make up a unique heritage of Hoi An.

What makes Hoi An history so special? It represents a perfect example of a melting pot that has evolved over time in an international commercial port. Considered the most important harbor in Vietnam during the 16th century,  merchants from all over the world (China, Japan, Holland, and India mainly) found shelter in this small town located in Central Vietnam. As years went by, they forged a rich, diverse culture that still attracts thousands of visitors every year. During the years of Chinese occupation, Hoi An was known as ‘Hai Pho’ (village near the sea in Vietnamese). This later turned into ‘Faifo’ during the Indochina times under the French colonization.

Just by walking around its many historical sites, travelers will realize the tremendous cultural value contained in each aged facade or communal house around the Ancient Town. In fact, its authenticity proves to be a trademark trait since Hoi An has managed to preserve its traditional wooden architecture and townscape. Its original street plan with buildings backing onto the river as well as its layout made up of canals, quays and bridges remain as it once was.

Smiling Female tourist enjoy with Ho An friendly local street seller in Hoi An Ancient Town

A female tourist has fun with Hoi An local street seller in Hoi An Ancient Town

Top 5 Places to Visit in Ancient Town

Japanese Bridge

Phuoc Kien Assembly Hall

Duc An Old House

Cam Pho Communal House

Thanh Ha Terracota Park

Visiting Map

Most of the spots are within walking distance so its a good day tour. You could stretch it out and really take some incredible photos and mix with the locals but most people find 1 day is sufficient to take it in.

Now that you know the story behind Hoi An history and what makes it a living museum, let’s explore the top 5 Hoi An historical sites that you shouldn’t miss out when visiting this picturesque coastal town.  By the way, you can enter up to five places when buying the ticket (120,000 VND) that gives access to the 22 buildings or points of interest spread around the Ancient Town, so this list is a perfect match to tear all coupons off your tourist pass. That sounds like a lot of places to visit! If you are traveling in a rush, these are custom itineraries so you can get the most of Hoi An in one day.

Lanterns with Japanese writings are lit all over Hoi An at night

Lanterns are the colorful and beautiful uniqueness of Hoi An

  1. Japanese Covered Bridge, the city originally named “Hai Pho” was divided in two parts. Why so? The iconic bridge separated the Japanese community from all the others, mainly Chinese groups that came from different provinces in the land of the Red Dragon. Besides its fascinating architecture, this bridge holds a hidden gem: there is a small pagoda in the middle where fishermen worship the northern god Tran Vo Mac De, considered to be the deity of weather. Make sure your cross this unique bridge and take a sneak peek inside the tiny temple before exploring the most artistic part of town on the other side.
  2. Phuoc Kien Assembly Hall (46 Trn Phú, Minh An) is the most famous and established hall in the Ancient City. Like we mentioned earlier, many Chinese settled in Hoi An during the 16th and 17th century. These merchants came from different provinces such as Guangzhou, Fujian, Chiu Chow and Hainan and they tended to huddle around pagodas that turned into their assembly halls.  in this place, the Chinese from Fujian would celebrate their cultural heritage while paying tribute to their ancestors. Inside this assembly hall, you will find three deities that are all related to fishing (Thien Hau, sea goddess; Than Phong Nhi, who listens to the sound of distant ships; and Then Ly Nhan, who sees those faraway boats).  On top of that, the place is beautifully decorated with ancient Chinese structures and, at the back of the hall, there is a large and very impressive dragon statue.

     The upper architecture of a Chinese temple in Hoi An ancien town

    Hoi An traditional Chinese Temple architecture can be seen on the entrance to Phuoc Kien.

     

  3.  Duc An Old House (129 Tran Phu) has done a genuine effort to present some real history and to remain intact despite the fact that 400 years have gone by. The surviving wooden structures scattered around the Ancient Town are original and intact, a living example of the traditional South East Asian trading port and commercial center that Hoi An once was. Unfortunately, many of these old houses have sold out to the tourist industry and turned into restaurants, cafes, bars, tailors or souvenir shops.  A nice step back in time, this building from 1850 portrays what life would be like in Hoi An two or three hundred years ago when this family hosted the most successful bookshop in central Vietnam selling renowned Vietnamese and Chinese texts along with the works of foreign political figures at the time. If you are lucky enough to meet one of the family descendants, they will show you around enthusiastically and tell you tales of their childhood times spent in this ancient house.
  4. Cam Pho (Communal House of the Cantonese Chinese Community)(52 Nguyn Th Minh Khai) is one of the oldest structures in the village (more than 200 years old) and an intrinsic part of the merchant heritage of this town. Communal houses in Vietnam used to be not only a place of worship but also an administrative center to hold meetings of the village’s officials. These buildings helped preserved the deep-rooted culture and served as meeting points for holding cultural activities and celebrations. Among the 23 communal houses in Hoi An, located about 100 meters away from the aforementioned Japanese Covered Bridge, this communal house worships the local golds of the village and its ancestors, thus its Vietnamese name Cam Pho Huong Bien (Ancestors of Cam Pho). If shopping in the vicinity, just enter and explore this colorful house that looks more like a temple nowadays. Plus there aren’t many tourists inside which makes the visit more enjoyable and peaceful.
  5. Thanh Ha Terracota Park is located in Than Ha Pottery Village -3km west of the Ancient Town of Hoi An. It might not be a historical site itself but it does represent the long-standing pottery tradition that craftsmen have developed over the years in Central Vietnam. In fact, this village became famous due to the distinctive Ying-Yang titles that fill many roofs in the old city of Hoi An. Apart from all the interesting terracotta models, ranging from unique artworks to impressive miniature models of world buildings and monuments, the architectural design of the park truly makes this place worth seeing. Ride a bicycle from the Ancient Town to the Terracotta Park to make the visit even more adventurous while you soak in all the green scenery and surroundings of Hoi An.  Besides the exhibits, visitors can also take part in the experience and make pieces of pottery themselves.

We include the individual maps of the 5 places to visit in Ancient Town below to help you navigate more easily:

  1. Map of Japanese Covered Bridge 

  2. Map of Phuoc Kien Assembly Hall (46 Tran Phu)

  3. Map of Duc An Old House(129 Tran Phu)


  4. Map of Cam Pho (52 Nguyen Thi Minh Khai)

  5. Map of Thanh Ha Terracota Park

     

What are your favorite historic places in Hoi An? Any other sites that we should include on this list? Let us know about the must-see spots that you would recommend visiting in this picturesque coastal town. If you stay longer in Hoi An, you may want to find the best tailors in Hoi An

If you’re looking for something unique to do in Hoi An, you might consider booking one of the unique experiences offered by XO Tours. Both our morning motorbike and evening walking tours take guests far outside the touristy old town and into the picturesque Cam Kim countryside where guests will have a chance to visit the local people in their homes and places of work. You can learn more about both the “Dinner with the Nguyens” and “Riding with the Nguyens” tours by checking out their respective info pages in the footer below.

Money in Vietnam – Payments, Forex and ATM Tips

 

Which currency (money) you should be used when you go to a specific country is one of the most important subjects travelers should research before visiting, because you’re not going to get too far without knowing which currency is most commonly accepted. So currency with visas are  main topics when you plan your Vietnam tour. The general rule is that it’s best to use the local currency when you travel because it should be accepted almost anywhere. In countries where the local currency is devaluing extremely quickly, however (e.g. Venezuela, Argentina), you don’t really want to be caught holding a currency that loses value every day. Additionally, many shops and restaurants in developing countries do not accept credit or debit card, so sometimes cash is the only option.

So, what’s the story on currency and money in Vietnam? Hopefully, this XO Tours blog post will take away most of the confusion regarding which currency to use in Vietnam, as well as the misunderstanding that usually comes with the topic of money in Vietnam.
Money in Vietnam Table of Content:

  1. How to pay for purchases in Vietnam?
  2. How to Exchange your currency to VND?
  3. How to Withdraw Cash at ATMs in Vietnam?
  4. Using Creditcard in Vietnam
  5. How Vietnamese Dong Papers look like?

How to pay for your purchases in Vietnam?

The official currency of Vietnam is the Dong (VND). There is nothing that cannot be purchased in Vietnam with the Dong. It’s worth pointing out that it’s actually illegal in Vietnam to request payment in any currency other than Dong. If this is the case, you might ask why the prices for so many things in Vietnam (e.g accommodation and tours), are listed in US dollars (USD)? The main reason is for comparison purposes, seeing as few people would understand how the Vietnamese Dong compares with their own country’s currency. Whereas most people would have an understanding of how their currency compares to the USD. For reference, as at March 2018, $1 USD is worth approximately 22,800 Dong.

Now, the big question! Can I pay for things in Vietnam using USD? Yes, it is widely accepted by many hotels, shops and restaurants.

Now, the second part to the big question! Should I pay for things in USD when in Vietnam? While you can, there is a downside to doing so. The exchange rate will be one that will be set by the vendor, which is more likely to be to their benefit rather than yours. As such, whatever it is that you’re purchasing, it’s likely to cost you more than it should. Now that we know that we need Dong to survive in Vietnam, how do we go about getting it?

The saying ‘Cash is King’, is certainly very true in Vietnam. And because things are relatively cheap there, compared to ‘home’, it’s not difficult dealing solely with cash.

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How to exchange your own currency in Vietnam

First off, it’s important to mention that you will get a much better rate when you change your currency in Vietnam, as opposed to changing in your home country. So unless you like giving money away, it’s strongly recommended to wait until you arrive. Many currencies from around the world are widely accepted for exchange, including US dollars, Pounds, Euros and Australian dollars.

When it comes to exchanging foreign currency, you have a few options:

Banks and foreign exchange businesses being the main ones, but surprisingly some of the best places to exchange currency are gold shops / jewelry stores. Banks have more formal procedures which means you’ll need to show your passport, as well as fill out forms. You also might have to wait in line for awhile if there are a lot of customers at the bank. Foreign exchange stores are very straight forward, in that you hand over your currency, and instantly receive the equivalent in VND. Exchanging money at gold shops, while technically illegal, is also very simple. No forms to fill out, and passport not required; again, it’s a straight swap. If you’re in a small town and cannot find a currency exchange or gold shop, many tour agents will also offer currency exchange.

Interestingly, even the airport exchange booths are very competitive on rates when compared with the exchange stores and gold shops, dotted around the cities. So, all very straightforward, but is there anything else you need to be aware of before you exchange your hard-earned currency for a fistful of Dong?

Yes, a few things…..

  • First, have an idea of what the current exchange rate is for the currency you are about to change. You can do this by downloading one of the many currency apps found on most smartphones, or even just simply having a shortcut link to a currency exchange website, on your phone. What the app, or the website, states as the most current exchange rate, won’t be exactly what you will be offered. But, it will give you an idea of what the rate is, and what you are offered should be reasonably close to it.
    If it’s not, walk out and try another place.
  • Second, make sure the notes that you are going to exchange are in good condition. Torn and damaged notes may not be accepted, and even notes that have been written on may be a problem.
  • Third, make sure you are given a range of VND notes, including some lower denomination ones. ‘Breaking’ 500,000 dong notes can be a problem when purchasing low cost items, so having a range of notes that include 20,000, 50,000 and 100,000 Dong notes will make life much easier.
  • Fourth, make sure you count out the notes you receive in front of the person you are exchanging with, before you leave the shop.
  • Finally, it’s best not to change too much money in one transaction.  Most likely, the Dong notes you receive are going to take up considerably more room in your wallet than your own currency.

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Using ATMs in Vietnam

ATM location Agribank, Sacombank, BIDV Bank

Withdrawing money in Vietnam

 

So, not interested in exchanging currency, or just don’t feel comfortable carrying around that much cash? Or perhaps you’d just like another option? ATM’s  are your answer, then.

ATMs are everywhere in Vietnam. You generally won’t have to walk too far in most cities to find one. But, like exchanging currency, there are some things that you need to know about Vietnam’s ATMs.

  • ATMs in Vietnam only dispense Vietnam Dong.
  • All ATM machines have varying withdrawal limits for each transaction.The limit varies from machine to machine, and from bank to bank, and can be anywhere between 2,000,000 and around 10,000,000 Dong, with most being towards the lower end of that range. This doesn’t stop you from making several withdrawals, one after another, but you do need to be aware that there is an ATM fee for each withdrawal. This fee again varies from bank to bank, but is usually somewhere between 20,000 and 50,000 dong, per transaction.

What about the ‘hidden’ charges your own bank is going to sting you on international transactions? These charges could actually make the ATM fee look like small change. And if you’re using a low limit machine; needing to withdraw several times to get the amount you require, you could well be in for a rude shock when you check your bank statement when you get home. These charges will vary from bank to bank, but you could be looking at a fee of around $5 per transaction. This might not sound like a lot, but it quickly adds up if you’re restricted to withdrawals of around $100. So if you’re planning to use ATMs in Vietnam, try to apply for a card from a bank that does not charge you extra for withdrawing money internationally.

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How to use Credit Cards in Vietnam

Visa and Mastercard Credit Cards

Visa and Mastercard Credit Cards

Although the number of businesses in Vietnam that will accept credit card has increased dramatically in recent years, aside from large Vietnam hotels, some tour operators, large supermarkets and some restaurants, most businesses in Vietnam still do not accept credit card. Even for businesses that do accept credit cards, be aware that some merchants will add a minimum 3% surcharge onto the purchase price in addition to the foreign transaction fees that your own credit card company may charge you. As with the advice we gave regarding ATMs cards, try to sign up with a credit card provider that does not charge international transaction fees before traveling. In summary, we would only recommend using credit card for large purchases where you can earn reward points or in case of emergency.

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VIETNAM DONG – NOTES

Vietnamese notes come in various denominations, with the main ones being of the plastic polymer variety.
The denominations in plastic include 10,000, 20,000, 50,000, 100,000, 200,000 and 500,000. To avoid common scams pay attention on the following paper notes.
There are also some older paper notes, and these come in denominations of 1,000, 2,000 and 5,000

WHAT THE PLASTIC NOTES LOOK LIKE

money in Vietnam

500,000VND Note front

money in Vietnam

500,000VND Note Back

500.000VND = 21.95 USD | = 29.07 AUD (May 2018)

money in Vietnam

200,000 VND Note front

money in Vietnam

200,000 VND Note back

 

money in Vietnam

100,000 VND Note front

money in Vietnam

100,000 VND Note back

 

money in Vietnam

50,000 VND Note front

money in Vietnam

50,000 VND Note back

 

money in Vietnam

20,000 VND Note front

money in Vietnam

20,000 VND Note back

 

money in Vietnam

10,000 VND Note front

money in Vietnam

10,000 VND Note back

 

As you can see, there are lots of zeros. And that can be a little confusing at the start. Adding to the confusion is that some of the notes are of a similar colour, so make sure you are aware of which note you are handing over, as well as any notes you are receiving.

THE LOWER VALUE PAPER NOTES

money in Vietnam

1,000 VND Note

money in Vietnam

2,000 VND Note

money in Vietnam

5,000 VND Note

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You will receive the lower denomination paper notes quite often as change, and while they are worth very little, they do add up when you have a lot of them. These smaller notes can be very handy for low-cost items such as bottled water, either off the street from a vendor, or one of the many small convenience stores you’ll see on your travels. Which brings us to which are the notes that you always want to have on hand? While the 500,000 dong notes are great for larger purchases, like accommodation and paying for tours, they’re not so ideal for every day purchases like drinks, food, souvenirs, and even taxi fares. Many of the day to day things you’re likely to be buying will be less than 100,000 dong, and if that’s the case, then handing over a 500,000 dong note for a 50,000 dong purchase can be problematic when it comes to receiving change. Always try and keep a few 20,000, 50,000 and 100,000 dong notes in your purse or wallet for those smaller purchases. And if you’re finding yourself running low on those denominations, look for opportunities to ‘break’ a 500,000 dong note. Those convenience stores mentioned earlier, can be handy for that.

So, with a bit more of an understanding about your options when it comes to money, hopefully now you’ll have the confidence to go out and really enjoy Vietnam.

If you want some help in making the most of your time in Vietnam, you might consider booking one of more tours with XO Tours in Ho Chi Minh City or Hoi An. XO Tours was recently named one of the top 9 food tours in the worlds by Forbes! You can learn more about all the tours XO offers by clicking HERE.

Day Trip to Can Gio – Visiting a UNESCO Biosphere

Can Gio – The UNESCO Protected Mangrove Biosphere Reserve was mentioned one of our previous blog posts (Top 5 day trips you can easily go from Ho Chi Minh) as one of the top Ho Chi Minh City day trip for travelers who would like some fresh exotic nature outside of bustling Saigon, XO Tours will get bring to you a comprehensive guide so you can DIY your Can Gio – Ho Chi Minh City day trip

In this article, I have provided some updates, more detail, and also some insights( mangrove forest and Monkey Island) and a few other interesting local spots so that you can tailor the day out to your liking. I suggest reading the previous blog post first as a primer.

The reserve core lies pretty much in the center of Can Gio and consists of some 7% of its surface area (Can Gio is one of Saigon’s 24 districts). Roughly the same amount of land to the core’s south-southwest was declared a forestry park (Lam Vien Can Gio). The rest of the surroundings is the buffer zone, where very few people live.

The remaining land consists of transition zones away from the core and is shown in beige and white on the map below.

Zonation of Can Gio Mangrove BioSphere reserve Can Gio - Ho Chi Minh City day trip

Zonation of Can Gio Mangrove BioSphere reserve

Can Gio - Ho Chi Minh City day trip

Credit: Unesco 

 

These communes are sparsely populated (not unlike the far rural areas of the country), except for the town of Can Thanh – the district seat – in the coastal southeast of Can Gio

The main road (Rung Sac) starts at the Binh Khanh ferry in the north-northwest, slices through the district – slightly to the west of the core area – and ends at Duyen Hai road (the main coastal thoroughfare that runs east-west). As noted in the above map, the red lines designate the major roads in Can Gio.

There’s a host of Can Gio – Ho Chi Minh City day trip tour operators offering a variety of combination of transportation method to visit the biosphere reserve: shuttle van, bus, bicycle, motorbike, junk boat, or canoe from Saigon. Many of these tours include motorized boat and/or sampan ride while inside the reserve

How to get to Can Gio without joining a tour

If you like to DIY, you can take bus no. 20 from the station at the 23/9 Park (near the backpacker area in town), at the new central station along Ham Nghi Blvd. (in front of the Ben Thanh market), or at any station along the route. Ferry and Bus fares go for practical peanuts.

 

Bus Route 20: Ben Thanh – Nha Be

  • Distance: 16.85 km
  • Vehicle type: 39 – 80 seats
  • Operation time: 04:20 – 21:00
  • Fare price: 5,000 VNĐ
  • Total trips: 328 Trip/day
  • Trip time: 50 minutes
  • Trip spacing: 4 – 20 minutes

This bus will take you to the Binh Khanh ferry in Nha Be district, on the other side of the Can Gio reserve

(Note: The bus authority is notorious for making changes to the locations of the stops and the operating time without updating its website; the same goes for occasions when they need to alter the route due to constructions or holiday road closure. For instance, at the moment of this writing, I notice numerous discrepancies between the English and Vietnamese versions regarding a number of bus routes.)

 

Route 90: Pha Binh Khanh – Can Thanh

  • Distance: 45.60 km
  • Vehicle type: 25 – 29 seats
  • Operation time: 04:45 – 21:30
  • Fare price:6,000 VNĐ
  • Total trips: 152 Trip/day
  • Trip time: 75 minutes
  • Trip spacing: 6 – 90 minutes

Once you’re on the Can Gio side, take bus no. 90 traveling southbound on Rung Sac road. The first major point of interest is just before the Dan Xay bridge (Cau Dan Xay). Make sure to tell the driver or show him the name in writing beforehand – say, like when you board the bus – as it is not an official stop. Unless he’s a rookie, the driver should be familiar with dropping off visitors here. Don’t forget that the bridge is particularly a good spot for photography.

There’s also bus no. 75 that runs basically the same route, but it makes several stops on this stretch – albeit not at this particular location either. Still, the adventurous souls may want to make a note of this bus if they wish to explore the local areas that I will talk about later on. Keep in mind, once again, that there are disparities between the English and Vietnamese version on the website.

 

Route 75: Saigon – Can Gio

  • Distance: 64.20 km
  • Vehicle type: 25 – 29 seats
  • Operation time: 04:00 – 16:30
  • Fare price:  30,000 VNĐ
  • Total trips: 6 Trip/day
  • Trip time: 140 minutes
  • Trip spacing: 167 minutes

At any rate, you have two choices at this stop: The various programs offered by the Vam Sat Ecological Tourist Center (Khu du lịch sinh thái Vàm Sát) mentioned above or those offered by the Dan Xay Mangrove Park (Khu du lịch sinh thái Dần Xây).

The Vam Sat Ecological Tourist Center 

The Vam Sat ETC is operated by Phu Tho Tourist and is geared more toward entertainment. They have a boat dock near the Dan Xay bridge to transfer visitors to the center (some 8km as the birds fly to the west.) The two main attractions here are the Vam Sat bird sanctuary (Tràm Chim – with its 28-m tall observation tower) and the Flying Fox Bat Habitat (Đầm Dơi). The best time for bird watching is the wet season from April through October. You will get to travel the rivers and canals by motorized boat and sampan.

Tourists are feeding Crocodiles at Vam Sat Center Can Gio - Ho Chi Minh City day trip

Feeding Crocodiles at Vam Sat Center

These are Other attractions and activities include:

  • Crabbing by setting traps from a sampan or with a pole.
  • Feeding the crocodiles from a metal floating enclosure.
  • Fishing in the ponds, particularly for the Gobiidae (cá thòi lòi), a native to the mudflats that are common near the estuaries from here on westward, toward the Mekong.
  • Working out your leg muscles in a paddle boat or testing your skill in a basket boat.
  • Walking the trails.
  • Visiting the wildlife preservation center (deers, monitor lizard, saltwater crocodiles, sea otters, etc.)
  • Joining in a mangrove forest tree planting session.
  • Testing your balance and skills on a suspension bridge (not for the faint of heart).
  • Catching some fish – Mekong-style – by wading in the mud to dredge a ditch, leaving the victim with nowhere to hide.
  • Enjoying your catch at the on-site bistro.

The two main affiliates of the Vam Sat ETC are Saigontourist (with multiple offices in the tourist area of Dist. 1 and 3) and the Dam Sen Water Park (in Dist. 11). You can get more information from them or the numerous Can Gio – Ho Chi Minh City day trip operators all around town – even if you decide to DIY.

(Note: Actually, Saigontourist is a giant state-run entity with listed current capital at 1.5B USD. Most of the names mentioned in this article, particularly the major ones, are operating under its umbrella one way or another. Their offices can be a good source of information. You definitely don’t need to use them; this is JFYI (just for your information) only.

The Dan Xay Mangrove Park

The Dan Xay Mangrove Park is operated by the Can Gio Mangrove Forest Management Board. It aims to provide an interactive learning experience and give visitors a more direct access to the core of the reserve as it is located right on its edge. This rather new entity (since 2014) also has a website, but their English version is practically worthless as of this writing.

It’s probably best for groups, but certainly not exclusive to the solo travelers or couples.

Some of its features:

  • An exhibition center.
  • A 36-m tall observation tower that allows visitors a close-up view of the core of the biosphere reserve.
  • A wildlife center (mainly wild boars and monkeys).
  • Motorized boats, kayaks, electric shuttles, bicycles.
  • Mangrove Forest tree planting sessions.
  • Ditch dredging for fish.
  • Guided trekking tours.
  • Camping facilities.
  • Homestay in stilt houses with forest rangers.
  • Your own lodge, Japanese-style, if you so choose.

At the moment, there’s no entrance fee. You will find a big sign complete with rates for canoeing, kayaking, among other things, on the ground. Its main affiliates are Dong Nam Tourist (Phu Nhuan District), Du Ngoan Viet – Viet Excursions (District 7) and Cho Lon Tourist (with offices in Dist. 1 and 5).

Monkey Island

Further south, bus no. 90 will make a stop at the Junction to the Monkey Island (Ngã ba đảo khỉ).

 

Tourist taking photo of monkeys Can Gio - Ho Chi Minh City day trip

Taking photos on Monkey Island

The “Monkey Island” is part of the Can Gio Forestry Park (Lâm Viên Cần Giờ), along with the Rung Sac Museum and the Vam Sat guerrilla base. Here, you can also find saltwater crocodiles, wild boars, sea otters, wild cats, monitor lizards, and if you’re lucky (or unlucky – depending upon your definition), a python or a cobra.

The real attraction here – at least to those that love nature – is the mangrove forest itself. After all, the political-correct name for the place is “Lâm Viên Cần Giờ”, which means Can Gio Forestry Park.

This area is under the management of Can Gio Eco-Tourism Company, a subsidiary of Saigon Tourist, which also runs the beachfront Can Gio Resort about 4km down the road.

(A quick note, as our previous blog had warned, is not to expect anything from the beach. The darkish soil here is rich with alluvium from the Dong Nai river system and the water is murky – though safe to swim)

if you’re looking for activities at the beach, XO Tours recommends you to take a look at 13 To-Do activities in Vietnam so you won’t be missing out the fun.

Don’t forget to pay attention to things on the road

So far, I had covered the “usual” stuff about Can Gio. Even so, you should find it quite unique on a normal weekday. As one travels from district 1 through district 4, 7, and Nha Be, the traffic thins out a little more and more – most usually.

Enjoy the ferry ride while it’s still there. In a few more years, the planned Binh Khanh bridge will render it obsolete. Already, one can see another bridge, the Phuoc Khanh bridge, going up a short distance away, across the Long Tau river – the eastern border of Can Gio.

The ride through the countryside along Rung Sac road is a pleasant one, though I heard recently that the road can use some maintenance.

During your Ho Chi Minh City day trip back from Can Gio, don’t forget to take a stop at a few bridges for the view and some photos.

Water Coconut

Enjoy some water coconut drink at a roadside stand. See if you can manage to find the young male vendor that is known to offer to fix bikers’ flat without charge. Or simply take in the sight and sound of it all at the various stalls (the prime season for water coconut is between August and October.)

A smiling woman selling Dua Nuoc on the road from Can Gio to Sai Gon during a Ho Chi Minh City day trip

A smiling woman selling Dua Nuoc on the road from Can Gio to Sai Gon from Ho Chi Minh City day trip

Credit:zing.vn

Hoang Yen Yellow Osaka Cassia Fistula Flowers.

If your arrival is between March and April, you can catch the spectacular blooms of the Hoang Yen Yellow Osaka Cassia Fistula Flowers.

Bougainvillea

Or perhaps, it’s the Bougainvillea that strikes your fancy, especially at the height of summer.

We hope you found this blog post about the Can Gio Biosphere Reserve helpful. Can Gio is just one of the many interesting day trips you can take from Ho Chi Minh City. Most travelers to Ho Chi Minh City use it as a base to travel to the Mekong Delta and Cu Chi Tunnels and it should be in your Vietnam Tour. For the best day tours to these 2 fascinating, you might consider booking with a company called Drive Vietnam. Drive Vietnam runs the most acclaimed private day tours to the Cu Chi Tunnels and Mekong Delta area.

 

If you stop by Ho Chi Minh City and want to discover Saigon through the unique view of our guides, please book our Sights tour.