How to find your Saigon smile in Vietnam

By Jennifer Dickson, a Travel Enthusiast

Read more on Vietnam.

Overall rating:4.0 out of 5 (based on 2 votes)
Recommended for:
Food and Drink, Adventure, Budget

Visit Uncle Ho's Palace, explore the chaotic streets and then drink a 30p beer or glass of weasel poo coffee (it's what you think it is!). Insane Saigon tantalises your senses... and your tastebuds

"Good morning Vietnam!" These immortal words will be ringing in your ears as the plane descends into the craziness you clearly see below. So you've watched all the movies, learned a few words, including crucially ”Khong cam on, di bo" which means “No thanks, I'll walk”.  You're ready, well as ready as you ever will be... so jump on bus seven and head into the Old Quarter, the heart of the classy, chaotic but above all very, very cool city of Hanoi.

Don’t panic about accommodation -  there is literally a hotel at every turn and one to fit every budget, and your potential host will find you and not vice versa.

The perfect begining is to find a cafe and grab a kaafa sua (coffee with condensed milk). If you're a bit hot and flustered, a kaafee den (coffee with ice) should do the trick.

Just sit and watch for a moment, be amazed by the sites and overwhelmed by the feeling that yes, I am in Vietnam, it’s insane and do I really have to try and cross that road? As daunting as this seems, remember two words “courage” and “trust” and walk all the way to Ho Chi Minh's Mausoleum complex.

He does indeed have a whole complex, and why not? This is the man dubbed “Uncle Ho”, the father of modern Vietnam. The area around the complex is especially impressive. The French architecture is alive and well, as is the vegetation. Walking along the tree-lined streets will satisfy any Francophone.

The mausoleum will hit you like a sharp shot of Vietnamese coffee, the brick structure resplendent against the greenery and guarded so vibrantly by the soldiers in white. To some the mausoleum is an eerie anti-climax, as Uncle Ho liked the simple things in life.

Take some time as the house on stilts is lovely, as is the Ho Chi Minh museum; it documents his life in explicit detail minus the scandal of course (two secret wives, one who mysteriously disappeared and at least one love child). Draw your own conclusions from that but just don’t discuss it with a government official.

There is a big museum scene so if you’re not big on propaganda, war paraphernalia, and torture devices or if you’re American, I’d give them a wide birth.

All the expat bars and foreigners' haunts are located in the old quarter, and with beer at the absurdly cheap price of 8000d (30p) you can drink yourself into oblivion.

Avoid the temptation, and if you’re up for a cultural challenge, there’s the alarmingly named "weasel poo coffee." I feel an explanation is necessary. The bean is fed to the poor unsuspecting weasel which excretes it and then it is made into a fragrant and ever so tasty drink, mmm.

For dining you're spoilt for choice but in my experience some of the finest (and cheapest) Vietnamese food available is found on a miniature plastic chair on a street corner. Pho (noodle soup), is the staple and is bubbling away on the spot, with lashings of fresh ingredients. Just look for hordes of locals and you know you're on to a winner.

Good things can also be said about The Brother's Cafe, an eatery in the rear of an elegantly restored temple (26 Nguyen Thai Hoc).

A must is the water puppetry show, created by the farmers in the northern rice paddies and is performed daily at the Municipal Puppet Theatre. This art form has spanned the ages and is still popular, only now the artists wear wellies to avoid water-borne diseases.

Beyond the city your options are endless, head to Halong Bay and be amazed by the limestone islands ascending the placid waters. Cruise south to the lesser known Ninhbinh, and be paddled around phenomenal rice paddies. Then be peacefully ushered north into the hill station of Sapa or surf in Mui Ne.

Vietnam is such a vibrant and diverse country, it penetrates every pore. Sitting in a park observing scooter jenga or cruising through the mountains on the back of a Harley, it literally energises the spirit.

Vietnam has survived, and it’s unashamedly bold, brash and proud. For me drinking a cup of weasel coffee, perched on a plastic chair, helps me radiate my very best Saigon smile.

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More information on How to find your Saigon smile in Vietnam:

Jennifer Dickson
Traveller type:
Travel Enthusiast
Guide rating:
Average: 4 (2 votes)
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First uploaded:
31 July 2009
Last updated:
5 years 20 weeks 1 day 11 hours 20 min 14 sec ago
Destinations featured:
Trip types:
Adventure, Food and Drink
Budget level:
Free tags / Keywords:
food, museums, culture, bars, Cruising

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Community comments (2)

0 of 0 people found the following comment helpful.

Hi Jennifer,

This is an excellent overview of Hanoi, somewhere I'll be going soon so you've really whetted my appetite.

I was a bit confused about the reference to Saigon in the intro though, when you didn't mention it anywhere else.

Don't forget to recommend at least one hotel and write a brief paragraph about it - this will help the reader to emulate your trip, and earn you more cash via click-throughs. You can also add youtube videos to guides to boost their "inspirational rating".

Please update your profile so we know a little more about you, and I hope to see more guides on Simonseeks from you soon.

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0 of 0 people found the following comment helpful.

Hi Jennifer
I really enjoyed your guide. Lots of vivid detail and colour that gave a true sense of Saigon life. The best guides to far-flung backpacker destinations like Saigon include lots of personal recommendations and local insight – the type of useful information you may not get in an official guide book. So writing about kaafa sua and weasel coffee and visiting The Brother's Cafe is more beneficial than including deatils about the usual museums and touristy places. Also, you say there is “literally a hotel at every turn,” but it helps to suggest some you’ve stayed at to readers that are really good... or warn them away from the bad ones. Also, please add a hotel in the recommendation box.

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