What’s the Buzz in Vietnam?

The First Starbucks in Vietnam, New World Hotel

The First Starbucks in Vietnam

Well, it has happened – Starbucks has finally opened shop in the coffee capital of Asia!  You may be wondering how Starbucks will survive in the strong coffee culture of Vietnam.  How will it compete with the long standing Trung Nguyen Coffee or Highlands Coffee?  Will it hurt local coffee shops or will people continue to frequent roadside coffee stands?  These are questions that will be answered only with time.  In the meantime, let us teach you a little bit about coffee production in Vietnam and, more importantly, how to make a perfect Vietnamese coffee at home!

Fun Facts:

  • Vietnam is now the number one C. Robusta exporter in the world, beating out Brazil in 2012!
  • Vietnam specializes in crap coffee!  Yes, you read that right… perhaps you have heard of weasel coffee?  The weasel eats the finest coffee fruits and excretes the bean.  It has a definite distinct taste and “weasel coffee” or “ca phe chon” is a delicacy enjoyed around the world!
  • Vietnamese grown coffee beans are a major component in most grocery store instant coffee brands.
  • Coffee producers in Vietnam are making an effort to grow the finer and more expensive C. Arabica in order to make Vietnam a coffee production powerhouse (if it isn’t one already).
  • Ca phe sua, coffee with condensed milk on the bottom Vietnamese style, is delicious!  Condensed milk was originally used in place of fresh milk because of difficulties with milk storage in a tropical climate, but we just think it’s genius.  🙂
How it all begins... a weasel enjoying delicious coffee berries!

How it all begins… a weasel enjoying delicious coffee berries!

Coffee beans in weasel excrement before being roasted and packaged...

Coffee beans in weasel excrement before being roasted and packaged…

From Farm to Home:

Vietnam primarily grows the C. Robusta variety of coffee. The berries are manually picked during harvest season, which is usually November to February. In the "dry method" of coffee production, the berries are directly dried without removing the fruit. Workers will sometimes walk over the drying fruit to press them down and turn them. The dried berries go to the mill to remove the outer layers until the bean is exposed. Vietnam mostly exports "green coffee", which is the dried inner bean that has yet to be roasted.

Vietnam primarily grows the C. Robusta variety of coffee. The berries are manually picked during harvest season, which is usually November to February. In the “dry method” of coffee production, the berries are directly dried without removing the fruit. Workers will sometimes walk over the drying fruit to press them down and turn them. The dried berries go to the mill to remove the outer layers until the bean is exposed. Vietnam mostly exports “green coffee”, which is the dried inner bean that has yet to be roasted.

 

How to Make the Perfect Cup of Vietnamese Coffee:

These are things you need to make Vietnamese coffee: a special kind of coffee filter called a "phin", really strong and bitter coffee (traditionally the C. Robusta type of coffee is used which is naturally more bitter than other coffee types), and sweetened condensed milk.

These are things you need to make Vietnamese coffee: a special kind of coffee filter called a “phin”, really strong and bitter coffee (traditionally the C. Robusta type of coffee is used which is naturally more bitter than other coffee types), and sweetened condensed milk.

  • Add 1-2 tablespoons of condensed milk at the bottom of the glass.
  • Put the chamber of the phin on top of the glass and add 1.5 tablespoons of filter coffee.
  • Place the press on top and push/screw it down to the level of the coffee grounds.
  • Add a little bit of hot water to allow the grounds to swell.
  • After a minute, add hot water up to the top of the chamber and put the lid on to keep everything hot.
  • After 3-5 minutes of brewing, remove the whole phin and stir your milk and coffee creation.
  • Enjoy your coffee piping hot or add a bit of ice for a hot summer’s day!
Give the coffee a few minutes to brew completely through the phin filter before enjoying a hot cup of coffee. Or, pour it over a cup of ice for a cold drink on a hot day!

Give the coffee a few minutes to brew completely through the phin filter before enjoying a hot cup of coffee. Or, pour it over a cup of ice for a cold drink on a hot day!

 

How to Spend One Day in Ho Chi Minh City – Custom Itineraries for Vietnam

If you had unlimited time in Vietnam, you would surely be able to explore every facet of what makes this country unique.  Unfortunately, many people who travel here have limited time and want to make the most of it.  As part of our new “Custom Itineraries for Vietnam” series, we will guide you through the various cities in Vietnam and help you experience the country to its fullest.  We will also show you how to get off the beaten path and see the country in a unique way.  The first of our “Custom Itineraries in Vietnam” series – Ho Chi Minh City!

Tourists often transit through Ho Chi Minh City before moving on to a packed itinerary in Vietnam.  Though Ho Chi Minh City has a lot to offer in terms of attractions and cultural experiences, it is difficult to take part in everything when you have limited time here.  We have compiled a thorough itinerary that helps you maximize your time here.  If you only have one day in Ho Chi Minh City, we recommend that you…

Eat Soup for Breakfast

Vietnamese people love their noodle soup dishes.  You may already be familiar with pho, but there are countless more noodle soups that are in fact not pho!  What’s more, with a generous helping of various meats, veggies, and noodles, these soups are a breakfast of champions.  So start your day off Vietnamese style and devour a bowl of Pho, Banh Canh Cua, Bun Bo Hue, or whatever the guy next to you is having.

Recommendation:  Ben Thanh market has a huge section in the middle with food stalls.  The turnover is quite high here so it is usually a safe place to eat.

Eating inside Ben Thanh market is safe, exciting, and delicious!

Eating inside Ben Thanh market is safe, exciting, and delicious!

Visit Ben Thanh Market

Ben Thanh market is the iconic central market in Ho Chi Minh City.  It wouldn’t be a complete trip to the city without seeing this wonder.  They sell everything from souvenirs to kitchen supplies to groceries and meat.  It’s a one stop shop!  Or, just a great place to people watch.  This market is not air conditioned so it gets hot and muggy here during the day.  And the sellers can be quite aggressive with both tourists and locals – that’s just the nature of this market.  Having said that, it’s important to give this place a chance.  It is more than just a tourist grab.  Even for people who live here, the market sells things that are ordinarily hard to find otherwise.  The market is a lot bigger than it seems so make sure you leave some time to navigate through and really explore all that it has to offer.  Be aware that the prices here are very marked up so be sure to negotiate.  If a sign says ‘fixed price’ and the seller is hesitant to budge, you will most likely find the same items at another stall.

Marvel at the Architecture

The architecture in the city is a mish mash of new skyscrapers, old tube houses, and French colonial buildings.  The old colonial buildings in the centre of the city have a lot of character and hold a lot of history.  Fortunately, they are all quite close together so a short walk offers you the opportunity to enjoy most of them.  If you walk between the Notre Dame cathedral and the Saigon River along Dong Khoi street, and wander around Nguyen Hue and Le Loi streets, you will be able to appreciate many of the beautiful old buildings of downtown Ho Chi Minh City.  If you have time, walk into the main historical post office for a closer look at colonial style architecture at its best.

Colonial architecture in Ho Chi Minh City. The Notre Dame cathedral, the Saigon Opera House and the Post Office are some of the most popular tourist sights.

Colonial architecture in Ho Chi Minh City. The Notre Dame cathedral, the Saigon Opera House and the Post Office are some of the most popular tourist sights.

Sip Some Coffee

Vietnamese people really pride themselves on their coffee and there is no shortage of coffee shops in Ho Chi Minh City.  Coffee culture was huge here well before Starbucks and other big name coffee brands arrived.  If you’ve been walking around the city for a while,  sipping on coffee and people watching is the perfect break from the hustle and bustle.  Fortunately, most coffee shops have excellent regional fare.

Recommendation: One of the coolest coffee shops in the city is L’Usine at 151/1 Dong Khoi.  The entrance is through an alleyway and up two flights of stairs.

Get a Massage and Hair Wash

Ho Chi Minh City may be chaotic but Vietnamese people sure do know how to provide a serene escape to the chaos.  Cheap foot massages can be found everywhere and for $5-10, you can achieve complete relaxation for an hour to 90 minutes.  If you are in the mood for a more authentic spa service, get a hair wash (Goi Dau).  This isn’t a regular run of the mill hair wash – a proper Vietnamese hair wash includes a head massage, face wash and mask, and a shoulder massage!  They will even blow your hair out and style it for you after.  Read our blog on massages in Vietnam to understand the ins and outs of getting a massage here.

Recommendation:  Get a 70 minute foot massage at 118 (adequately named since its address is 118 Pasteur) for $7 including tip and then go around to Jasmine Spa (45 Ton That Thiep, at the corner of Pasteur and Ton That Thiep) for a relaxing hair wash.

Go on a Motorbike Tour

Soon after arriving in Ho Chi Minh City, you will notice that motorbikes are the vehicle of choice.  What better way to see the city than to experience it on the back of the bike?  XO Tours is a leading motorbike tour company in the city.  We have a range of motorbike tours to suit your taste, but by far our most popular is The Foodie.  Not only does it take you to several different districts of the city that are not generally visited by tourists, you will also have the opportunity to try the best street food Ho Chi Minh City has to offer.

The Foodie Tour takes you to see and eat in 4 other districts besides District 1.

The Foodie Tour takes you to see and eat in 4 other districts besides District 1.

See the Backpackers’ Area

Ho Chi Minh City is a popular destination for backpackers because it is relatively cheap to travel around here.  Over time, this small area around Pham Ngu Lao and Bui Vien streets has become a magnet for budget accommodations, colourful restaurants, and lively watering holes.  Even if you aren’t traveling as a backpacker, this particular area in the city is a tourist attraction in itself.  It is quite lively at night when hundreds of people sit on child sized plastic stools, drink local beer and mingle with the crowd.

Get a View

The city has very few tall buildings so going to the top of one of these buildings gives you an excellent view of the city.  Luckily, there are a handful of bars on really high floors so you can enjoy the view and sip on a drink at the same time.  After a long and activity filled day in the city, this is the perfect way to end your night.  It is mesmerizing to look out onto the streets hundreds of feet below and truly appreciate how the city moves.

The different kinds of nightlife in the city - backpacker style with watering holes on the street and upscale rooftop bars with an amazing view of the city.

The different kinds of nightlife in the city – backpacker style with watering holes on the street and upscale rooftop bars with an amazing view of the city.

Recommendation:  The Heli Bar in the Bitexco tower (52nd Floor, 2 Hai Trieu) is one of the highest viewing points in the city, but the perspective is much better from Chill Skybar (AB Tower, 76 Le Lai).  Both these places have a strict dress code and shoe policy.

Our recommended locations within District 1 to visit during your action-filled day in Ho Chi Minh City. For sights outside D1, we recommend taking a motorbike tour.

Our recommended locations within District 1 to visit during your action-filled day in Ho Chi Minh City. For sights outside D1, we recommend taking a motorbike tour.

We hope you enjoyed the 1st part in our “Custom Itineraries in Vietnam” series.  To help you make the most of your time in Ho Chi Minh City, XO Tours offers many day tours with the most professional tour guides in Vietnam.  To learn more about our tours, please visit our main tour page by clicking HERE.

The best time to visit Vietnam

Weather and climate can often affect how much you enjoy your vacation and what activities are feasible during your travels.  In Vietnam especially, this is a huge consideration.  With more than 2000 miles between the Northern and Southern tips of the country, the weather in Vietnam in incredibly varied.  Fortunately, regardless of when you visit the country, you can maximize your time in good weather.  Use these Vietnam travel tips to find the best weather during your time here.

A simple chart showing the dry and wet seasons of Northern, Central, and Southern Vietnam.

A simple chart showing the dry and wet seasons of Northern, Central, and Southern Vietnam.

The Best Time to Visit NORTHERN VIETNAM – Sapa, Hanoi, Halong Bay

The mountainous regions of the north are characterized by wet and hot summers and dry and cold winters.  The dry season lasts from October to the end of March (average 20C, although in the far north the average is much lower) and the wet season from April to September (average 28C).  Come prepared for chilly weather in December and January – you may even see snow in the far mountainous North!  Although the temperature drops in the dry season, it is much more pleasant to visit Northern Vietnam during this time.

Travel Tips

Halong Bay:  Wet season marks for occasional storms in the Bay so cruises are frequently cancelled or cut short when there is a storm warning.

Sapa:  Sapa can be scenic in both wet season and dry season.  Early spring (April) is when many of the flowers are blooming so the scenery can be very colourful and lively.  However, the rice fields around Sapa only have one harvest a year so if you want to see the lush green rice terraces, you have to visit around October.

The Best Time to Visit CENTRAL VIETNAM – Hue, Hoi An, Da Nang, Quy Nhon, Nha Trang

Central Vietnam is more varied in temperature from city to city.  Nha Trang and Quy Nhon are more south so they have a much longer dry season from January to September (average 28C).  In contrast, Hue, Da Nang and Hoi An have a dry season from January to August at best (average 25C).  Hue’s weather is known to be notoriously bad in that it stays gloomy and drizzly for the greater part of the year due to its unique location within a mountain range.  Just on the other side of the mountain range, Hoi An and Da Nang tend to stay hotter and drier.  Keep in mind that the wet season in this part of Vietnam often brings typhoons and nasty rain storms.

Travel Tips

Nha Trang and Quy Nhon – Early September is an ideal time to visit this part of central Vietnam – the weather is still nice enough to enjoy the pristine beaches with little rain and the cities are not riddled with tourists, as peak tourism season in this area is from June-August.  However, the beaches are at their best and most beautiful in April!

Hue – The Phong Nha caves near Hue are a popular tourist destination and a must see if you will be traveling in this area.  One of the most unique experiences here is to be able to swim in the river that runs through the caves but this is only possible in the dry months.  During wet season, the water level is too high and there is too much sediment in the water to permit swimming.

The Best Time to Visit SOUTHERN VIETNAM – Da Lat, Mui Ne, Ho Chi Minh City, Mekong Delta, Phu Quoc

The cities in the south also vary considerably weather wise but the climate here is more temperate than Northern and Central Vietnam (25C -35C year round).  The wet season lasts from May to November and the remainder of the year stays mostly dry.  Although the temperature remains nearly the same, the humidity varies a lot throughout the year.  Be prepared for peak humidity between February and May.  Fortunately, during the wet season, you can expect heavy rainfall usually only once a day for short period of time.  Farther south, Phu Quoc gets more rainfall than other parts of south Vietnam and the waters are less blue and more choppy during wet season, although Phu Quoc is highly visited year round.  Da Lat is quite different than other places in the South because the city is perched in the highlands.  It can be cold in the winter, around December and January (average 20C), and really wet and humid from June to October.

Travel Tips

Phu Quoc:  the island is still developing so many of the roads are not fully built.  If you want to make your way to the other beaches on the island during wet season, be prepared for a very muddy trip!

Da Lat:  Da Lat is known for outdoor adventure sports like canyoneering and whitewater rafting but many outfitters will cancel excursions in the wet season if the water levels are too high or if the current is too strong.

 

We wish you dry weather and sunny skies during your time to Vietnam, and remember to pack appropriately for your trip.  Have questions for us about our tours?  Check out our FAQ page and see if other customers have had similar inquiries.

 

XO Tours NOT in Hanoi

fake XO Tours

This is not XO Tours!

XO Tours does not operate in Hanoi, and it’s unlikely we ever will. So why the misleading blog title? We felt the need to write this blog post to protect our brand, so that when our valued guests search for XO Tours they will know that XO Tours only operates out of Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) and will not be tricked into booking onto a substandard and unsafe copycat tour in Hanoi or other cities in Vietnam.

We’ve always had many tour companies copy our tours, but it’s gotten especially bad in the past year with many new fly by night tour businesses actually stealing our website content, photos, and even our logo. Our website content is copyrighted and we have also trademarked our logo which has allowed us to file lawsuits against many of these tour operators and put many of them out of business. But it seems that for each of these copycat tours we shut down, a new one will pop up.

Although we cannot patent the concept of  female motorbike tour guides, we do object to companies that blatantly steal our name, logo and website content with the intent to use our hard earned reputation as a way to make a quick buck.

The companies that have been stealing our company name and website content are all poorly run businesses. These companies are also operating illegally and are not safe in our opinion. Instead of working hard to build a sustainable business and brand, they prefer to use deception to trick guests into believing that they are XO Tours.

If you’re in Hanoi and you want to book with a trustworthy and reputable tour operator, you should consider booking a tour with Vietnam Awesome Travel. Vietnam Awesome Travel, offers great walking food tours, cooking classes and even motorbike tours. You can contact Vietnam Awesome Travel by clicking on the link below:

http://www.vietnamawesometravel.com/

Please tell them that XO Tours recommended you.