One fine evening in the city of Ho Chi Minh, five pretty girls dressed in traditional Vietnamese costumes fetched us from our hotel, using their scooters. Warmly greeting us, the petite XO Tour guides helped us don our helmets and paired us with each of them. Fil with Tuyen, I’m with Ni, my mom with Anh, George with Nga, and Elaine with Hoang.
I felt like we were part of Hunger Games. But instead of fighting tributes from different districts, we set off with our partner on one scooter each, and our target was to visit several districts and eat their food. Ha!
Off we go to our first stop: to eat Bun Bo Hue in an alley less than five minutes from our hotel in District 1.
The alley, being an alley, appeared to be dirty. But if that was not your first day in Vietnam, you would remember that eating in alleys and drinking outside the open streets are what Vietnamese people practice! We were given a chance to try what the locals actually love to do. Mr. Tung, the director of XO Tours, greeted us. Other people from the tour started showing up. Coincidentally, a Filipino group also joined us in the tour. I also got a chance to chat with Michal, a nice Jewish woman.
I mentally tried to eat only a little of what was served, and saving my room for the other meals to come (This was a foodie tour after all), but my chopsticks had other ideas. It was so surprisingly good that I finished it all.
Not to worry, because XO Tours clearly planned the trip well. We took the long way around town to see the sights and arrived at our next destination: Cho Binh Tay in District 5, Cho Lon. Only a few shops were open, so we had the opportunity to have our pictures taken in front. This area was were most Chinese live – and where there are Chinese, there are businesses!
To go to our next destination, we passed through the long shopping street of Nguyen Trai. At night, this area looked like Hong Kong’s Nathan Road (on a smaller scale), though it mostly boasted of clothing stores (I do not have a picture of this, sorry).
We arrived in District 8, also known as their Hotpot district, but we didn’t eat Hotpot. Instead, the girls grilled food for us. We tried Goat breast barbecue with Vietnam Basil, Grilled Okra, Shrimp Barbecue with Coreander, Banana Wine, Saigon Beer, and Frog – not its legs, but the whole frog! A lot of locals were dining in the area. Apparently, that was what they normally do: work, go out and eat with friends or lovers, and then go back home and sleep. There were also tons of establishments that offered KTV, and my guide mentioned that karaoke singing is one of their favorite ways to celebrate special occasions.
We ate until we could not. We now rode off to District 7, the area of the rich. Most people who live there were expats. There were also beautiful condos left and right, most of them empty. Mr. Tung told us that rich people in Vietnam invest heavily in real estate, and almost always, those empty condos were bought for investment purposes. Visit District 7 and you will have a strange feeling, as if you have been transported to another country already…to Singapore, maybe. It was completely different from the other Districts, and normal Vietnamese people dream of living in such a place one day (I do not have a picture of this, sorry).
From the richest area, we now went to one of the poorest area in Ho Chi Minh: district 4. People were not usually nice to tourists here, therefore it is best if you go here with a big group. This district however, boasts of one major perk: Seafood. People came from all over town, just to have seafood at this particular area. We devoured the following: Clam with morning-glory, Quail (not quail eggs), Crab, Balut or duck egg with fish sauce and coriander, grilled beef wrapped in beetle leaf (eaten with rice paper and vermicelli), scallop with peanut and onion sauce, Coconut Jelly, and Flan cake with caramel. Our drink? Sugar cane with a hint of lime.
I like our version of Hunger Games: more eating, less violence. This extraordinary tour also made me realize that appearances could be deceiving. We just experienced a tour of the ordinary, a glimpse of every day occurrences, and we had the time of our lives.
Here are the pictures that XO Tours took, and they were kind enough to email them to us:
For your touring needs, contact XO Tours:
You can also check out other stuff I wrote about our Vietnam Trip:
Here also is a video of our tour: