After our time volunteering with rescued elephants & visiting the temples of Angkor Wat in Cambodia, we headed to Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City), Vietnam for 3 days & Vung Tau Beach for 4 days. I had no idea what to expect from Vietnam! I've heard mixed reviews from travelers along the way (everyone has an opinion to share). I don't want to spoil the story, but overall, Vietnam was our favorite place! On the next Travel Diary, I'll talk about Hoi An, a charming ancient town that we adored and Hanoi, the capital in the north of Vietnam.
This Travel Diary focuses on Ho Chi Minh City, which is still often referred to as Saigon - especially by the locals that we talked to.
I cover the southern beach town of Vung Tau, which is interesting in it's own way. It was definitely a rich cultural experience.
There aren't many places that I want to return to immediately while on my travels, but Vietnam was one of those places. I'll definitely be returning - read on to find out why!
- Gorgeous, clean cities & beaches.
- Amazing VEGAN food EVERYWHERE!
- Convenient & cheap transportation (including cheap Ubers & internal flights).
- Charming people & sights.
- Not as "touristy" as other parts of Southeast Asia (not being sold at every moment).
Check out the photo galleries below of our time in the southern part of Vietnam!
Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City)
Saigon is now one of my favorite cities in the world, & definitely in Southeast Asia! We quickly fell in love with the vibe, the culture & the FOOD! Don't get me started on the food - take me back!!! We enjoyed the most pho-nomenal Pho & other local treats.
We stayed in a private studio inside a communal building right outside of District 1. I found the place on Airbnb and it was great - had everything we needed. The building was nestled down an alleyway a few streets off the main road. We were definitely the only tourists around the area, and it was obvious to us by the amount of staring that went on (not in a rude way). Not many US tourists visit Vietnam because of the history with the war. For us, it was a magical experience overall.
Crossing the Street in HCMC
The first night, we walked to grab dinner and didn't realize we'd have to cross a major intersection in Ho Chi Minh City. Apparently, crossing the street is known for being insane, which I wasn't aware of. The traffic doesn't really "stop"... you just walk across at a steady pace and the scooters and cars go around you. If you run, you're in danger, because then the motorists can't judge where you'll be accurately.
Well, I didn't know that the first night and got stuck! Click here to visit my personal Facebook page to watch the video I uploaded. It was quite the experience.
War Remnants Museum
Pete and I visited the War Remnants Museum which displays the horrors and injustices of the Vietnam War. Although it was heart-wrenching, I'm glad I was able to learn more about the devastation of the war on the Vietnamese people and to see things from the other side.
Check out the photo galleries below (click on a photo to enlarge it & read the description).
Vegan Food in Saigon
1. Khai Minh 1 - This family-owned, macrobiotic restaurant specializes in food made with heirloom red rice, such as pancakes, noodles, teas, desserts, and crackers. There's no added sugar or MSG. It's cozy & simple
We walked here from our place to first night and ordered a few dishes. In addition to the My Quang shown in the photo, we ordered the Cha Gio (spring rolls) & Bun xao (pan-fried brown rice noodles with vegetables and legumes).
Overall, the food wasn't our favorite. It's not the flavorful, cultural experience we were hoping for but that's our fault. We didn't realize how strict the menu is. If you are a fan of pure macrobiotic foods, this place is for you!
2. Pho Chay Nhu (we ate here 3 times) - This hole-in-the-wall Pho place was by far our favorite Pho in all of VietNam and one of our favorite meals ever. Huge bowls of vegan Pho for less than $1.50 (32000 dong) and you also get these crispy Vietnamese wontons that go in the soup and are delicious. The broth was the best that we had anywhere on our travels. It's the perfect bowl of Pho! I want to go back RIGHT NOW! We went 3 times total because you have to savor the good stuff when you find it.
3. Bong Sung Vegetarian - This fine-dining restaurant in the heart of District 1 is a favorite for many. We tried it for breakfast because another place we wanted to go was closed. We also had dinner plans there so we figured we'd check it out.
I was craving a really good nut-milk latte as decent espresso was hard to come by in Thailand & Cambodia. I tried to order one but they were out of espresso (broken machine, perhaps?) and only had condensed cow's milk so I was left with black Vietnamese coffee. It's a rather sweet tasting coffee (I believe sugar is already in the mix before it reaches you) and it's very strong & concentrated. So it's like... bittersweet.
We ordered two different soups - a spicy Thai-style soup & a Vietnamese-style breakfast soup. Both very delicious and unique - see the photos above and click for more details.
We enjoyed the food at Bong Sung but decided not to come back for dinner as the menu wasn't very exciting.
4. Kay Vegan Bistro - Pete & I met a couple, Michelle & Garry, for dinner at Kay Vegan. I met Michele on Instagram (@travelbug.yogi), as she's a fellow traveling vegan yogini. Our paths crossed for a day so we had the opportunity to check out Kay Vegan together & share travel & vegan stories. It was a blast.
We enjoyed various teas, curries & appetizers, though I didn't take many pictures as I didn't want to be the annoying girl that photographs strangers' food! The dishes were fresh & flavorful and they rotate often on the menu, as the owner/chef is always creating new vegan dishes.
The food was decent and was enjoyed the romantic atmosphere of the quaint restaurant.
5. Hum Vegetarian Lounge & Restaurant - This chic lounge is high-end - we were totally under-dressed in our backpacking attire. There's a couple different locations and the one we went to is a lounge, as well. We ordered a couple of fancy cocktails (a whisky sour and a star-anise margarita), and a couple of dishes to share.
The Thai-style hot pot was delicious and fun. The server assembled it for us and instructed us on the proper way to wait and eat it. It was great!
We had the Pad Thai with no egg - it was lovely but not the best Pad Thai I've ever had.
Overall, the food was decent, the service was outstanding, the ambiance was incredible, and the pricing was about right for what you get. We definitely had better food for cheaper in less-chic restaurants in town, though. However, it is nice to have options (like here and Bong Sung) where one can get dressed up and enjoy a fancy vegetarian/vegan meal.
Vung Tau Beach
After our time in Saigon, we packed up and hopped on the hydrofoil to get to Vung Tau Beach, which is south of Saigon. Vung Tau is a small beach town that is known for a large statue of Jesus Christ, in addition to being a popular vacation spot for Vietnamese people. It took us about an hour and a half to get there and then we made our way to the hotel Pete found, The Green Hotel. We arrived on a Saturday and the beaches were INSANE. We heard that it gets crowded on the weekends as it's so close to the city. On the weekends in the summer, everyone flocks to the beach and then it's a ghost town in comparison Monday through Friday.
The first day, we tried to walk around but the beaches were literally too packed - there were people EVERYWHERE. Additionally, we were the only Western tourists so the staring increased exponentially from what it was in Saigon. There was even pointing & yelling - it was intense! Some locals asked to take photos with me - see below!
There's a photo gallery below (click on a photo to enlarge it & read the description).
Vegan Food in Vung Tau Beach, Vietnam
One of the great things about being a vegan is that we get the opportunity to explore the places we're visiting more than a typical "tourist" might. In order to find vegan restaurants, we had to go off the beaten path many times - in Vung Tau especially! We had to take a taxi each time we wanted food as there wasn't much in walking distance. However, we got to see many side streets and local businesses that we otherwise would've missed if we just hung around the hotel and surrounding restaurants.
All of the vegan/vegetarians restaurants (com chay) are intended for locals - they're not your typical, trendy vegan foodie joint. In fact, each time we walked into a new spot, we got strange looks from the patrons and owners, as if to say, "How did you find this place?". The answer is Happy Cow! I love that app so much. I simply buy a SIM card wherever I go so I have data, I open Happy Cow, and I navigate towards to nearest veg food mecca, which in Vietnam, is always somewhere nearby! It's such a treat! We ate at all the ones we could find and we even found two more spots that weren't listed on the app (so I added them).
The places are all fairly similar in terms of food offered. Pete and I had our own preferences on which Pho broth we liked best. Most of the food was delicious but wasn't photo-worthy so I didn't snap as many Pho-tos as I should've. Here are the places we tried:
1. Ngoc Dinh - One of the spots I added to Happy Cow.. it was also one of our favorite. We loved the broth. All we tried was the Pho but they also have a buffet line where they serve rice and various faux meats and vegetables. The broth was very flavorful. They add vegan shrimps and various faux meats that aren't necessarily my cup of tea, but Pete enjoyed it. They were very kind to us and seemed to get a kick out of us being there! We went 2 or 3 times.
2. Thanh Tac Trai - This place was Pete's favorite in Vung Tau and I enjoyed it as well. We tried the Pho and a veggie plate which came with too many faux meats for my taste. I prefer veggies and brown rice (which is hard to come by, at times!). Photo of the Pho is in the gallery above. We went there twice. They also serve homemade goodies like a version of peanut brittle and a sesame seed sweet cake - both very delicious.
3. Lien Tranh - We visited this place twice successfully and twice unsuccessfully. The first time, it was closed between lunch and dinner, so we asked the taxi for another "Com Chay" and he took us to Ngoc Dinh (that's how we discovered that place). We came back for dinner and they close early so they only had soup left (fine by us!). We ate rather quickly but it was quite tasty. I liked the noodles, especially.
We came back another time and they were closed during lunch hours, then we tried once more and had a better experience. We tried one of their veggie plates (again, lacking on nutrition in my opinion, as it's mostly a plate of white rice with a few cold veggies and a lot of faux meat). We also tried the Pho again (we can't get enough!) and they serve soy (or rice?) milk to drink. We don't usually drink soy or rice milk as a beverage by itself (we saw many people in Asia enjoying it this way) so we gave it a shot and it was quite good! It helped to quell the spice of all of the peppers I added to my food.
4. Thuan Duyen - This was the other place I added to Happy Cow that we discovered while walking around town. We ate here once. It's buffet style - the meals are pre-made and you are handed a bowl of rice. You add whatever you want on top. I tried a variety of the vegetable dishes - they had a potato plate that was yummy - almost like vegan scalloped potatoes. They serve a bowl of soup on the side that was pretty bland (and cold). It wasn't our favorite spot.
Once we were Pho-filled, we tried Indian food and Italian food, both at places that weren't vegan nor worth writing about.