A review of our “Foodie” tour by a renown New York Chef

Here is an excerpt from the food diary of Mario Tolentino, a New York Chef and winner of The Food Network’s “Chopped” in 2010.  Mr. Tolentino, a street food fanatic, decided to take part in our “Foodie” tour on August 6th, 2011.  He was kind enough to send his review of “The Lunch Lady” and our very own Foodie tour to me, and to say that we are flattered and ecstatic about his remarks would be an understatement!  Thanks Mario!

Here is what he wrote about our foodie tour:

New York Chef and winner of The Food Network's "Chopped" in 2010.  Mr. Mario Tolentino

New York Chef and winner of The Food Network’s “Chopped” in 2010.  Mr. Mario Tolentino

Nighttime foodie tour

I want touch on 2 eating experiences

1- lunch lady day 2

I started my day at the War Remnants Museum, it was a big eye opener to not only see the Vietnamese view of the war but also just to learn about this epic failure of a war, the parallels of our current Afghan war are undeniable. As they both were wars against terror, meaning only terrible things happen. I left the museum shook, sad and disturbed so there was only one remedy, LUNCH LADY!!

I arrived right at 11am, when she begins serving and there were around 10 people waiting for her “secret ingredient” soup. She greeted me with a huge inviting smile I almost felt like she remembered me from the day before. I take my seat and it was like she was sending me an amuse for having to wait and the fresh shrimp spring rolls hit the table with it’s sweet spicy peanut sauce. The roll itself has vermicelli rice noodle, a herb called morning glory, garlic chives, cilantro, lettuce and steamed shrimp. The peanut sauce is not like the kind you get in the states with your satay. It is heavy with the tamarind paste and has pickled carrot & daikon, crushed peanuts and crushed chilies. Great start!! Since I arrived last of the early guests I observed what the soup contained a Thick “macaroni” like rice noodles with a pink hue in a light but flavorful pork broth, blood cake, sliced ham, steamed sausage, pink plump shrimp, quail egg and various herbs. The ecoutremants are lettuce leaf, and this very light, airy and crisp fried breadstick, intended to be used to sop up the broth, lime and fermented spicy shrimp paste.  Absolutely ethereal! The pork and shrimp combination is very common in SEA and the rich porky broth only enhances this combo. The blood cake is much more mild then I anticipated and the irony slightly bitter taste actually serves an important purpose to cut the intense flavor. I throw in the “croutons” and they soak up the liquid like a sponge while still retaining it’s texture and integrity. Slurping up the thick noodles also give the soup a fun aspect. At my feet are exotic chickens and rooster, I look up and take notice to something, what’s that I hear?!? NOTHING! Only the quiet slurping of soup and noodles. Fully satisified I pay my tab and zoom off. Already thinking about my biggest treat of my stay, a night time foodie tour.

Mario Tolentino and Nga, tour guide, grill seafood, saigon

Mario Tolentino and Nga, his tour guide

The company is called XO tours and is rated number 1 in every genre for things to do in Sai Gon, My guide Nga, pronounced Nee-yah promptly arrives at my hotel to pick me up. It has been raining for the past 3 hours and I considered canceling but decided to man up and brave it in the rain. It was cool to be on the back of a moto and not have to worry about navigating. I jump on with a plastic poncho and off we go into the smoky soaked Saigon streets.

Our first stop is laterally 2 blocks from my hotel!?!! I was like, what the hell!?! Great another SEA scam, they’re not going to take us anywhere good! But they served us a bowl of soup, it was good, but nothing compared to my earlier experience with the lunch lady. As I’m slurping away the other guests on the tour arrive, I can’t remember their names but it was a British couple and their two Vietnamese scooter hostesses and the owner of the company Tung. They sit down we introduce ourselves and I can’t believe my ears, Tung has an American accent! He grew up in Texas it was actually comforting as traveling alone I really haven’t met or spoken with many ppl from the states.

Side note – travelers I have met and chatted with German, British (largest group), Thai, Canadian, Dutch.

My hostess Nga, confessed that Tung was very nervous for me to go on the trip, I asked why? She said, oh he looked you up and say you very famous chef. I laughed!! I said no I’m not famous, just a chef. Actually, when I first booked my reservation Tung was adamant about clarifying that this wasn’t fancy food and we would be dining on street food. I replied to him yeah I know that’s what I’m looking for! I always forget about the auto signature at the bottom of my emails.

Ok back to the food tour, it was fun to be on the back of the moto, I was able to take videos. Our second stop is in Chinatown, it was raining so we weren’t able to get the full experience of the night market but it was cool to ride thru, Nga told me how everything is on sale at this night market and only on sale at night. It was about a 30-40min ride from stop 1-2. Tung, then told us that are next stop was going to be a popular hotpot spot that is only frequented by locals.

And all 3 of us are excited. As I’m riding along, Nga is very informative, bright, funny and witty! She tells me about all the things we are riding by. We also talked about other foods and she mentions that one of her favorite things is bulot! (Baby chicken embryo) **edit: it’s actually duck embryo**.  I asked her if I would have the opportunity to try it. I think the girl thought I was kidding but I didn’t let up and after riding for 30-40min she pulls over to a small cart on the side of the road and gets 2 chicken eggs and 2 quail eggs! We ride another 5 min or so and we arrive at the spot. We are noticeably the only westerners in the place, as the moment we duck under the tent all eyes turned too us. Especially the British couple the lady was tall, blond hair, blue eyed and stuck out like a sore thumb. But they quickly put our table together and bring us beers, set up the little habachi grill and load the table with their specialty goat. Yup goat, not lamb, not mutton, straight up goat! But before I can dive into the specialty of the house I must eat the quail egg and bulot while it’s still hot. Quail egg is no problem because it is so small, so on to the next.  Nga gives me a demo, first you take a spoon and crack the wider end of the egg and peel away just a bit of the shell and drink the liquid inside. Ok…… so I go for it and it was absolutely delicious!! It tastes like chicken consommé light in texture and heavy on chickeny flavor. Well this is a great start!! My beer arrives right on time! Moments before it is time to tackle the rest. Nga sets me up with a mixture of salt, pepper, crushed chilies and lime juice also thai basil and a commonly used  amazingly complex herb named morning glory (it has a minty, cilantro, lemony, bitter taste) I begin to peel away the hot shell and can see the chick clearly now take a spoonful of the mixture and take a bite……not bad, got a good amount of yolk, familiar taste, and a livery type tast, also familiar. But I still have a large amount to go, take a bite of basil, morning glory and a swig of beer to prepare for the next bite. There is no real way to take a bite, I douse it in salt mixture and pop the whole thing in my mouth!! WOW!! Flavor this time is more livery and the texture is of rubber!! And since I took such a large bite I had to stop take a breath, stuff basil in my mouth… man up and chew, and chew, and chew half way thru I’m like what have I gotten myself into!! I take another spoonful of salt mix and a few more herbs and finally get the rest of it down! This was the only time I can remember in my life that I ate something that gave me that level of adrenaline! I conquered it the table applauded and I’m ready for my goat! The flavor o the goat is odd not at all like lamb, but unmistakably red meat. It actually had almost a bacony type quality and of course the char was my favorite part.  Tung explained to us that this is the breast of the goat.  They also brought us shrimp in a delicious chili marinade. We set off to our next destination.

Mario Tolentino trying the Balut foodie tour

Mario Tolentino trying the Balut on our foodie tour

Our ride continues off into areas unknown to most foreigners. Another 30min until we reach our next destination. Tung explains that this place has his favorite dessert, we would be sampling 2 types. 1 – coconut gel served in the shell. 2- a creme caramel with ice and Vietnamese coffee. The coconut dessert had two layers, the top was white thick fatty and rich, while the bottom was very dense and jelly in texture but clear and light in flavor. I love coconut so this dessert is right up my alley. I love flan! An this creme caramel was no exception what made it unique was the crushed ice and strong coffee. I must also note the silky, creamy texture, was perfection and an obvious expert created this dish, I loved them both but preferred the flan.

Tung informs us too save room we still have our seafood stop!! We enter the next district and it is back to the densely packed streets. We arrive at our place and we are all excited for what is to come. Oh yeah, after hearing Nga speak so highly of her favorite dish I have requested the grilled chicken feet, common in these parts. The first dish is chili crab, small freshwater blue crab claws, wok fried with a lot of chilies and garlic!! Perfect!! Then we get a steaming pile of small razor clams in gravy with the sauted stalk of the morning glory! Unbelievable taste, as this surf clam has the intensity of the sea, mixed with the richness of the gravy, and complex herbaceous quality of the morning glory. Another home run!! Then my favorite dish of the evening, small scallops grilled in the shell, with butter scallions and crushed peanuts!! This dish had it all buttery scallop, bright oniony flavor, great texture with the peanuts, simple but so incredible!!  I turn to look at the grill an seeing the cook fanning and stoking the coals and meticulously rotating the chicken feet to grilled perfection. I’m not kidding, these feet blow chicken wings out of the water!!! I’m going to make this when I get home to eat, it’s the best part of the chicken, it’s basically grilled chicken skin, gelatinous fatty minute amounts of meat and just an intense chicken flavor. I could taste the marinade which I deduced was the same chili marinade the other place used on the shrimp so it must be standard.

This tour has been one of the highlights of my entire trip! They really bring you to tucked away hidden gems you would never know to go and definitely wouldn’t be able to reach on your own. The guides, mine in particular, are charismatic, funny, informative, personable and safe easy drivers! Tung has hit a home run!! Put it all together and it is no surprise that it has been so well received. It really doesn’t matter if your a newbie trying to push your boundaries, a hardcore foodie, or even a highly trained chef, this tour can and should be enjoyed by all!!

Mario Tolentino
Can Cook Cuisines


At XO Tours, rather than district 1, we strongly believe that there is a lot more to explore the city. Joining our Foodie Tour could provide you with the best way to discover many various districts besides District 1 and eat great street food at the same time. Please visit our Blog frequently for more Vietnam Travel Tips.

TOP 5 Day Trips from Ho Chi Minh City

 Day trips from Ho Chi Minh city

Featuring the Top 5 day excursions from Ho Chi Minh city

 

 After you have done a tour of Ho Chi Minh City(at least notice some tube house style architecture) and if you have an extra day in your travel itinerary, short outings are a great option and incorporated themselves in your Vietnam day tour

*We recently put together for you an itinerary for exploring Ho Chi Minh City as part of our Custom Itineraries for Vietnam series.

Fortunately, outside the city, there are several places where you can go to get away and experience a different environment.  Just hours away from Ho Chi Minh City, you can find beaches, jungles, swamps, islands, rivers, villages, and more.  Whether you are traveling alone, with kids, or in a group, there is a unique experience near HCMC for everyone!  Here is our take on the Top 5 places to go from Ho Chi Minh City. 

Top 5 destinations from Ho Chi Minh City:

  1. MEKONG DELTA
  2. CAN GIO ISLAND
  3. CU CHI TUNNELS AND CAO DAI TEMPLE
  4. VUNG TAU
  5. HO TRAM BEACH

 


 

1. MEKONG DELTA

The Mekong Delta is the fertile region south of Ho Chi Minh City where farmers grow the majority of Vietnam’s supply of rice, durian, and other fruits and vegetables.  The Mekong River, which starts at the Tibetan plateau, flows into a series of 9 small tributaries which finally empty into the sea.  The delta region is home to farmers and small business owners who live a relaxed pace of life. 

rual life in mekong delta

This region is incredibly vast, but fortunately, it doesn’t take too much time to really get a feel for the area.  The waterways and canals in the delta are what predominantly connect one area to the next, so much of the exploration in the delta is centered around the waterways.  Some activities you can take part in are fishing, canoeing down the canals, and eating fresh fruit from floating markets.  A trip on a sampan boat (a type of canoe) down the backwaters is especially fun because the surroundings are incredibly peaceful and mystical.  Many tours will also take you to durian orchards, rice paper factories, fruit candy factories, rice fields, and local markets.  Another site that you may want to visit in the Mekong Delta is the ‘fish toilet’.  In this unique example of the ‘circle of life’, the fish toilet is a specific outdoor makeshift toilet where humans go to the bathroom in the river, and then the bottom feeder fish digest the excrement.  Ironically, river fish are an essential part of the human diet in this region… 🙂

The Details:  The Mekong Delta has many small towns where tourists can visit to get a feel for the region.  Some are closer to Ho Chi Minh City than others, while some offer more of an authentic experience than others.  For instance, Cai Be is one of the locations where you can do most of the Mekong Delta activities and is considerably less touristy than My Tho or Can Tho.  If you take a tour to the Delta, they will arrange a bus or car transport for you.  The best way to explore this area is through a tour so that you can experience all the unique activities there, and you can easily do many of the activities in one day.  The drive from Ho Chi Minh City to the general delta region will be around 1.5 to 2 hours.  Take a look at our recommended unique tour companies that will take you out to the Mekong Delta.  

mekong delta canals

mekong delta canals

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2. CAN GIO ISLAND

Also known as Monkey Island, Can Gio Island is actually a series of small islands just jutting out from the mainland near HCMC.  This nature reserve comprises of 80,000 hectares of mangroves and water coconut forests.  During the Vietnam-American war, this area was severely deforested by agent orange, resulting in a vast decline of native flora and fauna.  Today, a Vietnam’s UNESCO recognized biosphere, this swampy mangrove forest is home to hundreds of monkeys and crocodiles.  Inside the nature reserve is Lam Vien Can Gio, the crocodile sanctuary where the island’s crocodiles live together.  Although this area is fenced so that the crocodiles can’t escape, the barriers don’t keep the monkeys out.  The interaction between the native crocodiles and monkeys can be quite unique; naturally, these creatures are this area’s main attraction as well.  

crocodile sancturary

The monkeys here are comical at times but quite mischievous.  They steal anything from anyone if they can, and they enjoy taunting the local salt-water crocodiles.   In the forest reserve, you can feed the crocodiles with eels or small snakes which may sound creepy but ends up being an interesting experience.  You can also fish for crabs, watch bats, and feed monkeys.  Can Gio island is also a historical site, as the mangrove forest was an important guerrilla base.  Many life-size models are dispersed throughout that show you some of the activities that were performed there during the war.  Finally, though there are beaches and a few beach resorts there, they are not especially noteworthy.  They may be worth a visit if you want to relax and get away from the heat, but they are hardly the best beaches that Vietnam has to offer.  Be sure to take plenty of insect repellent and sunscreen, and be careful not to have food or drinks as the monkeys may be tempted to snatch them away from you.  

monkey island

Details:  Can Gio island is one of the best single day travel ideas from Ho Chi Minh City, but it is fairly straightforward so it can be easily visited on your own, as long as you are comfortable with the idea of public transportation in Vietnam.  To get there by public transportation, you need to take bus #20 at the Ben Thanh bus station (in front of Ben Thanh Market) to Nha Be district.  After about 45-50 minutes, you will arrive at the Binh Khanh ferry terminal.  This ferry ride across the Nha Be river will bring you to Can Gio district.  From there, in order to enter Monkey Island and the mangrove forest, you need to take bus #90 to Can Thanh.  The bus will pass mangrove forests on both sides and you will need to get down at Lam Vien Can Gio.  This is the entrance for the main attractions.  The entrance fee is 30-35,000 VND per person.  In order to visit the guerilla base, you can take a canoe ride which goes down the mangrove forest canals and takes about 10 minutes.  It will cost around 500,000-600,000 VND for 6 people. 

can gio mangrove forest canoe ride

Can Gio mangrove forest

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3. CU CHI TUNNELS AND CAO DAI TEMPLE

Throughout the Vietnam-American War, the Viet Cong built an enormous network of tunnels that were used as meeting points, hiding places, supply routes and more.  The Viet Cong (north Vietnamese fighters) often spent many days or weeks at a time in the tunnels, speaking to their sheer strength and will power.  Not only were the tunnels elaborate, but the traps and unique weapons that they used in conjunction with the tunnels were astoundingly innovative.  Ultimately, their ability to use the tunnels as a means to house troops and move supplies greatly contributed to the eventual withdrawal of American troops.  

Cu Chi Tunnels

Today the Cu Chi Tunnels are a big tourist attraction near Ho Chi Minh City.  At the tunnels, tourists can get a greater insight into life in the area.  They show you how the residents and soldiers repurposed war materials to make everyday items, how they survived for long periods of time in the tunnels, and even how they passed supplies to soldiers within the tunnels.  They also have a shooting range there where visitors can shoot the military guns used at the time. The tunnels are a great way to spend half a day understanding an integral part of Vietnam’s history.  On the way there or back, you can make the trip a little longer and stop at the Cao Dai church. Cao Dai is a new religion created in Vietnam but already has a massive following. They have built a beautiful temple in Tay Ninh near Cu Chi, which is also the main centre for the religion.  If you time it right, you can view a service where hundreds of monks pray at one time.  It is quite a sight! 

Cao Dai Church

Details:  To get to Cu Chi, you have a few different options.  You can take a private car, open tour bus, or public bus.  If you prefer a full tour of Cu Chi tunnels and the surrounding area, many tour companies offer a car or boat tour, but keep in mind that tours to Cu Chi are offered for free as well.  When you arrive there if you are not part of a tour group, a tour operator that works there will herd you into a group and give you a free tour, which is the exact same as the pre-booked tours although the operator’s language skills may be better in the paid tour.  Many of the open tour buses leave at 8 am and will cost around $5 for both the ride and a tour of the tunnels.  Or, if you want to go by public transport, you can take bus #13 from the BẾN CV 23/9 bus station (between Lê Lai and Nguyên Thi Nghia streets) for about 7000VND per person.  The last stop on the route is Cu Chi, which will take about 1.5 hours to get to. Once you are dropped off at the Cu Chi bus station, take bus #79 which is the bus will take you to the tunnels. It takes about 45 minutes to get to the tunnels using the #79 bus and costs 6000 VND per person. Make sure you tell the bus driver that you want to get off at the tunnels. Note that there are two tunnel sites – the main one is Ben Dinh and the other one is Ben Duoc.  Most tours will take you to Ben Dinh, but the public bus stops at a T-junction where you will get off and walk to the right to get to Ben Dinh.  It’s about a 20-minute walk from the junction to the Cu Chi ticket counter. Admission to the tunnels is 90,000 VND per person.

At the Cao Dai church, a mass is held at 6 am, noon, 6 pm and at midnight.  Most tourists go to the midday service.  They have built a balcony that overlooks the main service hall so that you can get a really good view of the ceremony.  Many tour companies, especially the open tour bus companies, offer a complete tour that takes you to Cu Chi, the Cao Dai church for the midday service and back for around $7-10.  Most tours in Vietnam start early around 8 am so if that doesn’t work for you, a private tour may be the best option.

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4. VUNG TAU

Vung Tau has historically been an important seaport for Vietnam, especially during the French rule.  It was also a strategic military base during the Vietnam-American War. Interestingly, Vung Tau was one of the epicentres of the Indochina Refugee Crisis in the late 70s because of its access to the sea and its proximity to other countries in South East Asia.  This area was the launch point for many of the ‘Vietnamese Boat People’, the local residents who fled to neighbouring countries after the end of the war.  Despite its controversial history, nowadays Vung Tau is a small, yet bustling, coastal community and an important centre for Vietnam’s offshore oil drilling industry.

Vung Tau Coast

Only 2 hours outside Ho Chi Minh City, many locals visit Vung Tau as a quick beach getaway.  If you have been to many international beaches, the beach itself in Vung Tau may pale in comparison as it can often be dirty and littered.  That being said, Vung Tau is quite the charming town with plenty of other activities to fill your day besides a beach visit.  There are small mountains that surround Vung Tau and are a quick hike up.  If hiking is not your thing, there is a gondola ride up the biggest mountain for a great view of the bay.  And if you’re a foodie, Vung Tau is a great place to try out local specialties like ‘banh khot’ that can be hard to come by elsewhere.

Vung Tau Jesus statue

Christ the King – a famous statue of Jesus in Vung Tau

Details:  To get to Vung Tau by bus or coach, many of the open tour bus companies run 12- to 16-seater air-conditioned vans which run every 15 to 30 minutes and drop you off in the centre of the town.  Many of them will even give you a free bottle of water for the trip.  Alternatively, you can hire private transport vehicles from the main taxi companies in Ho Chi Minh City (Mai Linh and Vinasun) or your hotel can easily arrange a private car for you.  The drive takes roughly 2 hours.  Until recently, there was a very convenient Hydrofoil that ran between the harbours of Ho Chi Minh City and Vung Tau but a fire on one of the vessels in February has suspended all hydrofoil travels.  

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5. HO TRAM BEACH

Also located in the Vung Tau province, Ho Tram beach is possibly one of the best beaches within close proximity of Saigon.  The area where Ho Tram is located was originally known as a sanatorium where the diseased would be taken for holistic treatment.  Nowadays, it is simply a small fishing and tourism town with pristine beaches and very few hotels.  With renewed plans currently underway to increase development in the area, many speculate that the Ho Tram area will become the next Nha Trang.  Recently, a Canadian development company built the magnificent hotel The Grand Ho Tram Strip, a Vegas-style resort and casino, the only one of its kind in Vietnam.  

Ho Tram Strip view

Luxury view of the Grand Ho Tram Strip

Currently, Ho Tram is visited mostly by wealthy Vietnamese as a quiet retreat and by tourists looking for an escape from the bustling cities.  As a result, the Ho Tram beach and nearby Ho Coc beach are immaculately clean.  In fact, The Grand Ho Tram resort has flattened their proximate beach area quite far out so not only is the water clean but also relatively safe as you can go quite a ways into the water and still only be waist deep.  If you are traveling with kids on a Vietnam family holiday, this resort on Ho Tram beach is a safer choice since the beaches in Vietnam are generally unmanned.  

Ho Tram Beach

The peaceful beach in Ho Tram

Details:  Ho Tram beach is more remote than Vung Tau, so getting there can be arduous by public transportation – in fact, you would have to go to Vung Tau first and then find your way to Ho Tram from there, but it is still a 45-minute trip from Vung Tau.  The easiest way to go to Ho Tram beach is by private car or shuttle.  The hotels in Ho Tram can arrange a shuttle or car for you from Ho Chi Minh City.  If you have a room booked, the shuttle is free of charge.  Without a booking, the prices vary depending on which mode of transport you prefer.  The Grand hotel even offers a helicopter pick up if that’s your style!!  By road, Ho Tram beach is 1.5-2 hours away from Ho Chi Minh City. 

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We hoped you enjoyed these tips for exploring outside HCMC. Remember, if you are short on time and want to explore HCMC, we offer a Forbes acclaimed tour of the sights of Ho Chi Minh. Check it out!

13 Things You Must Do in Vietnam – Vietnam Bucket List

From exploring the depths of a mysterious subterranean world to bargaining in a Mekong market, from sleeping under a bamboo roof in the mountains to scaling waterfalls in the Central Highlands, Vietnam is bursting with exciting things to do. In this XO blog post, we outline the most amazing activities across the country – from the thrilling to the serene – in order to create your ultimate Vietnam bucket list and perfect Vietnam itineraries.

Vietnam bucket list

Vietnam bucket list

TOP THINGS TO ADD TO YOUR VIETNAM BUCKET LIST

Click on the links below to jump directly to the activity :


1. CANYONING 

Scaling waterfalls in Dalat

Dalat might be famous as a former French colonial hill station in the Central Highlands, but these days it’s becoming the extreme sports capital of Vietnam. The rugged, mountainous terrain, forested hillsides, and mild temperatures make it perfect for outdoor activities: in particular, canyoning. Regular rainfall creates dozens of rivers and waterfalls in the area: canyoning essentially involves following the course of a river: clambering over boulders, climbing up rock faces, being taken along by the current, and – most thrillingly of all – abseiling down waterfalls.

Walking on waterfalls: canyoning in Dalat

Walking on waterfalls: canyoning in Dalat

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2. STREET EATS

Take a food tour in Saigon

Street food is a highlight of Vietnam, and Saigon is the street food capital of the country. Every night, thousands of informal eateries, serving hundreds of dishes, grace the city’s streets. The variety and choice are dizzying. But don’t worry, street food tours do all the hard work for you, and XO’s Foodie Tour is the original and voted the best Vietnam food tour by Forbes magazine! As the neon lights of the city flicker on, we roll our guests out on the backs of our motorbikes, and head to the lesser-known districts, where all the best street snacks are found. From the classic to the unusual, our all-female staff will guide you through a culinary adventure of Vietnamese flavours, textures and colours.

XO Food Tour

Street Eats with XO Tours

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3. HIGHLAND HOMESTAY

Spend the night in a stilt house 

A night in a traditional wood, bamboo, and palm-thatched stilt house, perched on a mountainside or in a verdant valley of rice fields, is unquestionably the most romantic accommodation in Vietnam. Nestled in the Tonkinese Alps of northern Vietnam, homestays offer a genuine glimpse of rural life, and the chance to interact with Vietnam’s significant population of ethnic minorities. Prices are typically around $10 per person and include delicious home-cooked meals. Sapa and Mai Chau are famous homestay hotspots, but for a bit more authenticity, we recommend branching out into nearby Pu Luong Nature Reserve.

Highland accommodation: a homestay in northern Vietnam

Highland accommodation: a homestay in northern Vietnam

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4. SKY COCKTAIL

Drink at a rooftop bar in Saigon

Saigon is Vietnam’s biggest, busiest, most intense city: a cauldron of noise, food, construction, people, and pollution. But seen from the top of a multi-storey building – with a Martini in hand – the city is beautiful and serene. Many new high-rise buildings host uber-cool bars on their rooftop. Take advantage of sunset happy hours and sample a slice of the high-life. We recommend Glow Skybar and OMG Bar.

Highlife: enjoy a 'sky cocktail' in Saigon

Highlife: enjoy a ‘sky cocktail’ in Saigon

In case you are done for the night, you can always use a massage to recover and get ready for the next day. Make sure you spend few minutes to read XO Tours guide to massages in Vietnam before you go to any massage parlor. Once your energy is replenished consider adding some of these exciting, day trips from Ho Chi Minh City.

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5. GO UNDERGROUND

Explore the Phong Nha-Ke Bang Cave Systems

In central Vietnam, a spectacular landscape of limestone mountains covered in jungle, straddles the border with Laos. In 2009, led by a Vietnamese farmer, named Ho Khanh, a British expedition discovered the largest cave system in the world here. Son Doong Cave is on a biblical scale: great hangers carved out of the limestone by underground rivers. Inside there’s a remarkable subterranean world of strange rock formations. Extremely exclusive tours spend days trekking through the cave. If this doesn’t suit your budget, the area boasts many more extraordinary caverns: trek to Hang En, an equally impressive cave with its very own beach and turquoise water; take a subterranean boat ride through Phong Nha, the Cave of Teeth; walk along the plank-way and admire the sparkling stalactites of Thien Duong, Paradise Cave. Oxalis and Phong Nha Farmstay offer excellent tours.

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6. MASTER CHEF

Take a cooking course in Hoi An

Increasingly famous throughout the world, Vietnamese cuisine owes much to the freshness of its ingredients, but don’t underestimate the obsessive attention to presentation, and the sophistication of preparation, involved in rustling up some of the country’s most popular dishes. Cooking courses in Hoi An give you a chance to try your hand at making a classic Vietnamese meal. Starting early in the morning at the local market to find the best ingredients, you’ll learn plenty of culinary tricks to take back home with you. Check out Green Bamboo Cooking School for more details.

If cooking Vietnamese food gives you a craving for more excitement in Hoi An, look to our Hoi An Custom Itineraries for a day for additional ideas for your itinerary. For travelers who only have time for a short trip in Vietnam, we also offer advice for spending 1 day in Ho Chi Minh City and/or 2 days in Ha Noi.

Master chef: learn to cook classic Vietnamese dishes in Hoi An

Master chef: learn to cook classic Vietnamese dishes in Hoi An

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7. HIT THE ROAD

Take a motorbike road trip

An icon of Vietnam, the motorbike is the nation’s preferred mode of transport. With over 40 million and counting, motorbikes are one of the first things that any visitor to Vietnam notices. Get involved and get in the saddle: take a xe ôm (motorbike taxi) in the middle of Hanoi rush hour to experience the impossible jigsaw puzzle that is Vietnam’s urban commuter traffic; hop on the back of an Easy Rider for a tour of the Central Highlands; or go solo and hit the road on your own set of wheels, venturing into the spectacular scenery of the northern mountains. Check out Tigit Motorbikes for bike rental and tours.

Hit the road: tour the mountains on two wheels

Hit the road: tour the mountains on two wheels

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8. A NIGHT AT SEA

Spend a night on a junk in Halong Bay

As one of Vietnam’s most popular attractions, Halong Bay can get crowded with tourists during the day. But at night, it’s peaceful and calm. Avoid the booze cruises, and spend a night aboard one of the elegant wooden vessels, known as junks, floating among the limestone islands in the moonlight. In the morning, watch the sunrise from the deck with coffee and breakfast. Check out Indochina Junk and Bhaya Cruises for cruise information.

Serenity: a night afloat on Halong Bay

Serenity: a night afloat on Halong Bay

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9. TOMB RIDER

Cycling the Royal Tombs in Hue:

The last royal dynasty of Vietnam ruled from the imperial capital of Hue. After their deaths, the emperors were laid to rest in extravagant mausoleums on the outskirts of the city. Set in beautifully landscaped gardens along the Perfume River, the royal tombs are strewn over a large and scenic area, best explored by bicycle. Pedal your way through history as you ride from one emperor’s resting place to the next. The most elaborate is Minh Mang’s mausoleum, but the most mysterious is Emperor Gia Long’s forgotten tomb, reached via a wooden boat across the Perfume River.

Royal grandeur: Tour the emperors' tombs by bicycle

Royal grandeur: tour the emperors’ tombs by bicycle

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10. SHOP LIKE A LOCAL

Bargain in a Mekong market

Local markets still play a central role in most Vietnamese people’s daily lives. The Mekong Delta is home to the most colourful, bountiful, frenzied markets in the country. Prices are rarely fixed so bargaining is a rule, and this is a great chance to really act like a local. Learn a few numbers – it’s not that difficult – and try your hand at bartering. Pick up some exotic-looking fruit, ask how much it is, and let the contest begin. Be polite and keep a smile on your face – bargaining is expected so there’s nothing rude about it: in fact, it’s great fun! Our tip: settle for roughly 60% of the original price offered, and keep it friendly and good-natured.

Hard bargain: bartering in a market is as local as it gets

Hard bargain: bartering in a market is as local as it gets

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11: MAKE A SPLASH:

Swim in the East Sea

With a coastline stretching over 3,000km, you’re never far from the beach in Vietnam. The East Sea is balmy and blue year-round. Fine sand beaches, rocky coves, rugged islands, and hedonistic beach towns abound: pick a spot, and take a plunge. We recommend the white sand and cobalt blue waters of Doc Let, just north of Nha Trang.

Take a dip: Vietnam has plenty of beach to go around

Take a dip: Vietnam has plenty of beaches to go around

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12. INTOXICATION

Ride the high with locals

Whether it’s caffeine or alcohol, getting your fix in Vietnam is easy, and it’s a great way to meet local people. Coffee is typically strong and sweet, and cafe culture is thriving in Saigon. Pop into one of the many cool local cafés to get your buzz; or join locals for cà phê bệt – essentially street coffee, where students sit in public parks, socializing in the cool hours of evening: try the park near Saigon’s Notre Dame Cathedral. Beer is cheap and plentiful. In Hanoi, bia hơi (fresh beer) is served in small glasses for a fraction of a dollar, and it’s the fuel behind many a great night out: try Hanoi’s ‘Bia Hơi Corner’. Rượu (rice liquor) is especially popular in highland areas, where locals say it keeps you warm. Like a fire in the throat, rice liquor is potent stuff: it’s offered to foreigners as a prelude to socializing, especially during homestays with ethnic minorities.

Get a buzz with locals: beer, rice liquor & coffee are plentiful

Get a buzz with locals: beer, rice liquor & coffee are excellent social lubricants

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13. TRAIN IT

Ride the railroad along the coast

The train has always been a romantic way to travel, and in Vietnam, it’s no different. Stretching north to south – Hanoi to Saigon – the Reunification Express is a great way to travel between destinations on the coast, and it’s an experience in itself. The trains are in decent condition, clattering along at a leisurely speed, allowing time for passengers to watch Vietnam rattle by through the windows. It’s far more scenic and comfortable than the buses, and you’ll get the opportunity to interact with Vietnamese passengers. In the Great Railway Bazaar, Paul Theroux travels the world by train, and Vietnam makes a deep impression: “Of all the places the railway had taken me since London, this was the loveliest.”  Check schedules and fares at vietnam-railway.com

A romantic way to travel: take the Reunification Express along the coast

A romantic way to travel: take the Reunification Express along the coast

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We hope this bucket list of the top 13 things to do in Vietnam helps add some fun and excitement to your Vietnam itinerary. If you travel to Saigon, and you find yourself looking for something fun to do, please check out our 4 acclaimed scooter tours.

Why choose XO Tours?
  • 1st motorbike food tour in Vietnam and still most acclaimed food tour in Vietnam. Voted 1 of the top 9 food tours in the world by Forbes magazine. Listed in Lonely Planet, Rough Guides, and Fodors.
  • 1st motorbike tour with all female drivers, providing Vietnamese women with previously unafforded opportunities to work in tourism
  • 1st motorbike tour in Vietnam to provide accident insurance for all guests
  • 1st tour operator in Vietnam with security/support staff following every tour
  • 1st tour operator in Vietnam to provide free tour photos to every guest
  • To learn more about all our fun tours in Ho Chi Minh City and Hoi An, please visit out the rest of our travel tips.

How To Spend Two Days in Hanoi – Custom Itineraries for Vietnam

Beware! XO Tours DOES NOT operate in Hanoi. If you book with a tour operator in Hanoi that claims to be XO Tours, you are being defrauded! But don’t you worry, we have a list of things to do in Vietnam and in Hanoi for you to make it up!

things to do in Hanoi

Hanoi, the capital city of Vietnam, is an intriguing city for many reasons.  Though Hanoi is the second largest city in the country after Ho Chi Minh City, it is far less cosmopolitan and traditional Vietnamese culture is much more apparent there.  In fact, aside from a recent construction boom in Hanoi, much of the colonial and post-War era infrastructure is still in use. The wear and tear on old buildings and streets are what gives Hanoi its rustic and quaint character, and the relaxed lifestyle of the people there almost feels like you are stepping back in time. That, coupled with Hanoi’s rich history, makes a trip to Hanoi a multi-faceted experience.

Hanoi is also the travel gateway to Northern Vietnam. There are many day trips from Hanoi and if you plan on visiting the northern rice fields near Sapa, Halong Bay or Ninh Binh province, it is convenient to travel through Hanoi.  Although many travelers simply think of Hanoi as a quick transit city, we urge you to stop in Hanoi for at least two days in order to truly appreciate all the cultural things that this city has to offer.  Here are our things to do in Hanoi suggestions for what to do and see if you have two days in Hanoi as part of our Custom Itineraries for Vietnam series.

Our Hanoi points of interest:

Day 1:

  1. Explore the Old Quarter
  2. Enjoy some Bun Bo Nam Bo
  3. Walk around Hoan Kiem Lake
  4. Sip on (Egg) Coffee
  5. Eat at BBQ Chicken Street
  6. Explore Hoan Kiem Bia Hoi

Day 2:

  1. Visit the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum
  2. Visit the Hoa Lo Prison
  3. Eat Lunch at Cha Ca La Vong
  4. Go Souvenir Shopping at Dong Xuan Market
  5. See the Long Bien Bridge

 


 

DAY 1

A - The red bridge at Hoan Kiem lake, B - The infamous Egg Coffee; C - Bia Hoi Corner; D - Bun Bo Nam Bo; E - The Old Quarter in Hanoi; F - BBQ Chicken Street

A – The red bridge at Hoan Kiem lake, B – The infamous Egg Coffee; C – Bia Hoi Corner on Ta Hien street; D – Bun Bo Nam Bo; E – The Old Quarter in Hanoi; F – BBQ Chicken Street

1. Explore the Old Quarter

things to do in Hanoi

Old Quarter map

The Old Quarter in Hanoi is one of the most popular destinations in Hanoi.  It is an old merchant area of the city where the layout and many of the streets have been preserved over decades.  This part of Hanoi is what gives Hanoi the charming, old world feel.  It is a mish-mash of French colonial and ancient Vietnamese architecture, manic streets with thousands of motorbikes, power lines above the head that resemble giant birds nests, narrow merchant streets with shops selling the most random things, and other unique characteristics that make this area so lovable.

One of the best ways to see as much of it as possible is to simply walk around.  In fact, staying in this area gives you an opportunity to experience the Old Quarter fully.  One particular remnant of old Vietnam that you should take notice of is the street names.  Many of the streets in this part of town are named “Hang _____”, “hang” meaning something pertaining to selling.  Because this area was an important trading centre, the streets were named according to what was sold there.  For instance, “Hang duong” was sugar street, “Hang vai” was fabric street, and so on.  Some streets have kept on selling the same thing while others have transformed to meet today’s consumer needs… of course, they wouldn’t change a street’s name to “Metal household racks street” or “Imported toys from China” street, but these streets exist!! 🙂

Besides Ha Noi, Hoi An ancient town is a place will blow your mind with its beauty. One-day Custom Itineraries for Hoi An will be perfect for you if you’d like to visit Hoi An but on a tight schedule

things to do in Hanoi

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2. Enjoy some Bun Bo Nam Bo

things to do in Hanoi

When it comes time for lunch, a great way to continue your Things to do in Hanoi experience is to eat something that is true blue Hanoian.  This dish, Bun Bo Nam Bo, is said to have originated in Hanoi.  It consists of perfectly marinated beef in a sweet and salty concoction, round and thin noodles that don’t get soggy, crunchy peanuts and fried onions and a few other things that make this dish absolutely delicious!  Now, this dish can be found throughout Vietnam, though we can tell you with fair certainty that it tastes different in the North.  A must try!

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3. Walk around Hoan Kiem Lake

things to do in Hanoi

Legend has it that the Golden Turtle God claimed a magic sword from an ancient emperor, an important symbol of his fight against the Chinese Ming Dynasty.  This emperor named the lake “Hoan Kiem” meaning “Lake of the Returned Sword” and a small tower was erected on an island within the lake (Turtle Tower) to commemorate this event.  Today, large and rare turtles inhabit the lake, though there seems to be a controversy as to how many specimens there are in the lake.  One giant turtle, in particular, is said to be the direct descendant of the original turtle that claimed the sword and is affectionately called Cu Rua (great-grandfather turtle).  What’s more, if we follow the current understanding of this giant turtle’s biological classification, then it is one of 4 remaining specimens of its kind in the world!

things to do in Hanoi

Many activities in Hoan Kiem Lake

 

Around the lake, you’ll have an opportunity to see many vendors, small shops, people walking or running, and kids playing.  It will give you a different perspective on life in Hanoi, one that is a stark juxtaposition to the hustle and bustle in the rest of Hoan Kiem district.  A walk around this lake is a perfect escape from some of that chaos in Hanoi.  While you’re there, make sure to check out the red bridge around some of the small statues and temples around the lake.  The red bridge, in particular, makes for a great photo-op.   And remember to look out for giant turtles! 🙂

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4. Sip on (Egg) Coffee

things to do in Hanoi

After making a round of the lake, we recommend that you take a quick break and enjoy one of Vietnam’s most profitable exports: coffee!  We have mentioned before on our blog that Vietnamese people love their unique take on coffee, and coffee culture has always been a huge phenomenon here.  In the north, Hanoians take coffee to another level altogether.  A particular type of coffee you must try while in Hanoi is Egg Coffee.  No, ‘egg’ is not the codename for milk or sugar… it’s actually ‘egg’!  Egg coffee is a unique blend of chicken egg yolk, coffee, sweetened condensed milk, butter and cheese.   Mr. Giang, the creator of the infamous egg coffee, developed it due to the scarcity of milk decades ago.  The tempered egg yolk acts as a substitute for milk because of its ability to thicken and add creaminess to the concoction.  Mr.Giang’s son now runs a small cafe called Cafe Giang in the Old Quarter where they serve authentic Egg Coffee.  As strange as it may sound, we urge you to give it a try!

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5. Eat at BBQ Chicken Street

things to do in Hanoi

People always say that Vietnam has a specific street for everything, and for the most part this is very true!  Case in point – barbecue chicken street!  That’s right.  This street specializes in one thing and that is barbecued chicken.  A great dinner option, you can go there and specify exactly which part of the chicken you want and they’ll grill it up with an amazingly sweet, salty and sticky coating.  You can also order the most delicious flattened and grilled bread and some roasted sweet potatoes to round out your meal.  A few beers and some great food is the perfect way to start your Hanoi nightlife trip!

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6. Explore Hoan Kiem Bia Hoi

things to do in Hanoi

The Hanoi street beer scene is infamous!  A trip to Hanoi, or Vietnam rather, would be incomplete without spending some time sitting on small plastic stools and drinking the cheapest beer in the world (we’re not joking… a glass of beer will cost you about $0.15). The beer is quite light, about 3-4% alcohol, and light in colour as well.  This beer is made of 50% rice to keep it nice and clear, and best of all it is preservative free.  Throughout the night, you will see trucks pulling up to each beer establishment and delivering barrels of beer.  Not surprisingly, this beer is usually finished by the end of the night.  Otherwise, it has to be disposed of since it doesn’t contain preservatives to help it last past 24 hours.  Although these small beer ‘shops’ can be found throughout the city, the liveliest place to witness this interesting beer culture is at the corner of Luong Ngoc Quyen and Ta Hien streets, also known as Bia Hoi corner.

Don’t forget to check the weather of Ha Noi prior to your visit. We have a chart for this in this post Best time to visit Vietnam so you know what to prepare for a wonderful Vietnam Trip

Day 1 Hanoi - Bun BO Nam Bo - Hoan Kiem Lake - Cafe Giang - BBQ Chicken Street - Bia Hoi Corner

Day 1 Hanoi – Bun BO Nam Bo – Hoan Kiem Lake – Cafe Giang – BBQ Chicken Street – Bia Hoi Corner

 

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Day 2

A - Changing of the guard at the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum; B - Sunset at Long Bien Bridge; C - Aerial view of Hoa Lo Prison; D - Dong Xuan Market; E - Cha Ca La Vong

A – Changing of the guard at the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum; B – Sunset at Long Bien Bridge; C – Aerial view of Hoa Lo Prison; D – Dong Xuan Market; E – Cha Ca La Vong

1. Visit the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum

things to do in Hanoi

Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum

 

Vietnam has a vast and elaborate history, and there are plenty of museums and monuments in Hanoi to learn all about it.  With limited time, you wouldn’t be able to see every historical place but one place we recommend visiting is Ho Chi Minh’s mausoleum.  The embalmed body of the infamous leader Ho Chi Minh is on display here.  If you visit here, you have to abide by the rules, of which the most is to be respectful – no shorts, no tank tops, no drinking, no smoking, no hands in pockets, and no photography.  You will be ushered in by the guards in two straight lines and will only be allowed to see him from the moving line.  You cannot stop and see the embalmed body.  Though it seems like a tedious procedure to go through for a few seconds of viewing, it is still nonetheless an interesting experience.

If you travel to Ho Chi Minh, the economic city of Vietnam, we have a guide for you to spend 1 day in Ho Chi Minh City

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2. Visit the Hoa Lo Prison

things to do in Hanoi visit the hoa prison

Hoa Lo Prison (Hanoi Hilton)

 

The Hoa Lo Prison is another historical sight worth visiting if you are trying to find things to do in Hanoi.  This prison was first built during the French occupation in Vietnam and then later used for American prisoners during the Vietnam War.  Over the years, it gained the nickname “Hanoi Hilton”, named by the American POWs held there.  Although there isn’t much to see at this prison now, it held a very relevant role during the war so it offers a unique perspective and feeling in comparison to a museum.  An interesting fact is that US Senator John McCain was held at this prison for sometime when he was an American POW during the war.

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3. Eat Lunch at Cha Ca La Vong

things to do in Hanoi eat

Cha Ca La Vong

 

After a heavy morning full of learning and reflecting, you will be just about ready for lunch.  Close by, you will find “Cha Ca” street, which is a street named for a famous dish invented there.  About a hundred years ago, a restaurant was established here that served up a unique type of fish dish, which featured fish marinated in turmeric and pepper and fried with dill, green onions, and other greens, all served over rice noodles.  Seems simple enough but this particular dish is so famous that it was even featured in the New York Times!  Many restaurants serve this special dish now, especially on “Cha Ca” street, but the original restaurant is still there.  Keep in mind that they are well aware of the appeal of eating this dish at the original spot and therefore charge 3-4x as much than the other restaurants on the street.  However, there is a certain charm to eating at the original spot if you can look past the occasional mouse or rat crawling around your tables.  It is, after all, an incredibly old building which has seen very little in the way of restoration over the years!  And if you think you can go there just to take a look and maybe order something small, think again – there is only one item on the menu and sharing one portion is not allowed! 🙂

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4. Go Souvenir Shopping at Dong Xuan Market

things to do in Hanoi

 

Dong Xuan Market is the biggest and most central market in Hanoi.  For anyone who is unfamiliar with Asian markets, it can be a unique experience.  It’s chaotic, hot, sweaty, loud and full of people.  This market sells everything under the sun – anything you need you’ll find it there.  Unlike Ben Thanh market in Saigon or other markets throughout Vietnam, Dong Xuan market doesn’t pander as much to tourists so souvenir stalls make up a very small portion of the market.  You may find a souvenir to take home there but if you don’t, you’ll still walk away with a unique experience.  If you don’t have any luck with souvenirs at the market, take a look down Hang Gai or Hang Hom streets.  For a detailed list of what to buy in Northern Vietnam, check out our previous shopping guide blogpost.  Remember to bargain!

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5. See the Long Bien Bridge

things to do in Hanoi

 

After a short afternoon stroll through the market, we recommend that you take a trip to Long Bien bridge before sunset.  Just a short taxi ride away from Hoan Kiem, this bridge connects two parts of Hanoi and goes over the Red River.  This bridge has a very interesting history – it was designed by Gustave Eiffel (of Eiffel Tower fame) and built by Dayde & Pille of Paris during the French occupation of Indochina.  It was at that point one of the longest bridges in Indochina and an architectural marvel.  Many parts of the bridge were destroyed during the Vietnam War and some of that damage can still be seen today.  Restoration efforts have been ongoing for many years, but the bridge has remained in use almost the entire time for small vehicles and pedestrians.

What’s more interesting about this bridge is that the surrounding area is one of the poorest areas of Hanoi.  Impoverished people live on boats underneath the bridge.  Many of these people come from other parts of Northern Vietnam looking for work in this urban capital.  The lifestyle is unique and completely different from what you see in the centre of Hanoi or even elsewhere in Vietnam.  The best time to visit the bridge is just before sunset and then stay for sunset before heading back.  That way, you get to see some of the surroundings in daylight and then get some beautiful pictures of the sunset over the Red River.  It is a breathtaking sight in more ways than one, and a perfect way to round out your Hanoi experience.

 


 

Day 2 in Hanoi - Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum - Hoa Lo Prison - Cha Ca La Vong - Dong Xuan Market - Long Bien Bridge

Day 2 in Hanoi – Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum – Hoa Lo Prison – Cha Ca La Vong – Dong Xuan Market – Long Bien Bridge

I hope you enjoyed this Vietnam travel guide by XO Tours.  We currently do not offer any tours in Hanoi, however, if you are in Ho Chi Minh City and would like to go on fun and unique city tour, please check out our “Sights” city tour.

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Breaking Down the Banh Mi (Vietnamese Sandwich)

As a traveller in Vietnam, Banh Mi is one of the safer street foods you can enjoy (take a look at our previous blog post for more tips on food safety).  Most of the fillings are cooked, cured or pickled and there is no water involved.  Banh Mi, which is the name for both the bread and the sandwich, is also the quintessential fusion Vietnamese dish – the ingredients have roots in old Vietnam, French colonial Vietnam, and New World cuisine.  Banh Mi is the perfect street food when you are visiting Vietnam. We encourage you to try this sandwich concoction in Vietnam, at least once. 🙂

banh mi,sandwich, vietnamese

The infamous banh mi sandwich

That being said, many people find the Banh Mi a little daunting because the fillings and condiments are often things that foreigners can’t find in the food truck back home.  Vietnam is definitely a land of exotic foods and Banh Mi fillings are no different, but we want to explain all of the intricacies of the sandwich so that you know exactly what you’re ordering!

It’s All About the Bread

Banh mi Bread

Banh mi Bread

Although they call it a baguette, it’s not your traditional French baguette.  The Vietnamese baguette is a combination of French baking and Asian baking.  The bread is baked using the classic technique, making the baguette crispy on the outside and soft on the inside.  To throw in a bit of Asian flair, the Banh Mi bread is made with half wheat and half rice flour to give it that light and airy feel.  The bread is really the vessel that brings all the flavours of this sandwich together so make sure you notice and appreciate the bread when you bite into your Banh Mi!

What’s In It?

all the fillings in Banh Mi

A guide to recognizing all the fillings in Banh Mi

Here is an explanation of all the fillings you are most likely to see at the Banh Mi cart:

Cha or Cha Lua (Pork Roll) – Ground pork is rolled and packed into a banana leaf and then steamed or boiled.  The roll is then sliced before adding to the sandwich.  This is probably one of the most common Banh Mi fillings.

Thit Nguoi (Cured Cold Cuts) – The literal translation is ‘cold meat’ and that’s exactly what it is.  This is a composition of cured pork and fat and cut into class cold cut-type slices.

Gio Thu (Headcheese) – You may have noticed that pork is an extremely popular meat choice but this particular product might be very unfamiliar to you.  Headcheese is a processed product made from tendons, pig ears, skin and other pork head products.

Thit Nuong (Grilled Meat, usually Pork) – More pork!  Marinated pork is grilled and sliced thin.

Xa Xiu (BBQ Pork) – Small pieces of barbecued pork having a distinct coal smoke flavour.  The particular cut of pork varies.

Bi (Shredded Pork Skin) – This filling can be a bit dry because it’s thinly sliced pork skin.  This filling is usually combined with another product.

Xiu Mai (Meatballs) – Once again, pork. 🙂 These are spiced, ground pork meatballs and have a distinct tomato flavour.

Nem Nuong (Pork Patties) – These are also ground pork, but shaped into a patty with infused garlic flavours.

Ga Nuong (Grilled Chicken) – For those who are not a fan of pork, don’t worry – there are other options!  This is marinated and grilled chicken, usually chicken thigh.

Ca Moi (Packed Sardines) – You may notice little red coloured cans at your nearest Banh Mi stand.  These are packed sardines in a tomato sauce.  They make for a great sandwich filling but they are definitely just out of the can.

Pate – Pate is extremely popular as a Banh Mi filling and is often combined with other fillings.  It can be made from pork, duck or chicken liver.

Trung Chien or Op La (Fried Eggs) – You will see eggs at a Banh Mi stand quite often.  Banh Mi Op La is an extremely popular breakfast snack in Vietnam.

The Filler

A sandwich isn’t a sandwich without the little something extra that makes all the flavours pop!  Here is a list of classic Banh Mi condiments –

Pate – Yes, pate is also used as a condiment to moisten the sandwich.

‘Mayo’ – We put mayo in quotation marks because this isn’t Hellmann’s Mayo out of a jar (although sometimes it is, which is unfortunate).  Traditionally, the mayo used in Banh Mi is actually cut with butter to add that melty feel and nutty flavour.

Fresh Herbs – Most often, it is sprigs of cilantro but other herbs are common as well.

Pickled Vegetables – Finely shredded or julienned daikon and/or carrots are pickled in a vinegar concoction and add the perfect amount of sour punch to brighten the flavours of the sandwich.

Chillies – The slices of chillies may be thin but they are quite spicy here!

Cucumber – Self explanatory. 🙂

Soy Sauce – a little dash of it, although some drier fillings like pork skin require a bit more.  Don’t be afraid to ask for more if you think it needs it!

Bon Appetit!

We hope you enjoyed this tip on Vietnamese food!  To learn more about how you can enjoy Vietnamese delicacies with XO Tours, check out our Foodie Tour!