HCMC Dining Guide

Saturday, January 21, 2012


As much I like living in Saigon, there is no doubt that the incessant noise, bustle, and pollution can fray one's nerves. With the Tet (or Lunar New Year) holiday approaching the city has been even more chaotic than usual, so yesterday my roommate Anthony and I decided to drive our motos down to the cleaner, quieter confines of the Mekong Delta for an afternoon. This turned into quite the adventure.

We left our house around 9am under azure blue skies and headed towards the expressway that heads down to the Delta from the city. When it opened two years ago motorbikes were allowed to use this roadway, and we simply assumed that that was still the case. As we approached the toll booth at the expressway's start, we noticed that the motorbike lanes were blocked off. Then, we saw a cop off to the right waving us over. We pulled over, and he proceeded to take out his ticket book while explaining that motorbikes are, in fact, not allowed to use the road. We hadn't seen any signs proclaiming such a rule and asked if he could simply let us turn around with a warning, but he demanded 150,000 dong from each of us and took down Anthony's name...which he said was 'Paul Roberts'. Hopefully there isn't anyone here that actually has that name.

Bribe paid, we turned around to head to Highway 1, the very crowded alternate route to the Delta. We covered the 60km between Saigon and the first town of the Delta, My Tho, in about 90 minutes. I spent a night in this town, which is the capital of Tien Giang province, when I spent two nights in the Delta in October of 2010, so I remembered the main roads. We pulled up to a beautiful cafe just across the street from the river and ordered two smoothies.
Outside, the town's Tet flower festival was in full bloom, leaving the street awash in brilliant displays of red, yellow, orange, and purple. Every town and city in Vietnam celebrates Tet with a flower festival and decorations, and My Tho was certainly no exception. The brilliant sunshine of the day helped create an incredibly colorful scene.

We also walked over to the broad Mekong to check out life on the river while fending off numerous men offering us boat rides to the islands in the waterway that are popular with tourists. We could also see the massive Rach Mieu bridge, which we would cross a little later on our way to Ben Tre.

We then walked past the aptly-named 'Tourist Bus Station', full of wheezing, overweight Australians and Brits, on our way to lunch. We plopped down at an open-front eatery specializing in hu tieu, a regional soup dish. The entire meal of two bowls of soup, two bottles of Sprite, and four fresh spring rolls cost $2.
After savoring the fresh air of the town for a little while longer, we got back on our bikes to head further south. We took a wrong road at first, but ended up looping back down a stretch of tarmac that cut through verdant palm plantations and quaint villages, a far cry from the concrete jungle that is Saigon. We finally found our way to the bridge which, at nearly 400 feet tall at its highest point, provided panoramic vistas over the Mekong and the surrounding lush countryside.

After another 30km of mostly open road and a few close calls with hurtling buses, we pulled up to another branch of the Mekong (the river actually splits into nine separate waterways in southern Vietnam) in Ben Tre, the capital of Ben Tre Province. Two children, one of whom was wearing a 'Rock Band' hat and a Power Rangers shirt, immediately approached us with a friendly "Hello!" We found out their names and ages in our basic Vietnamese, and then they simply watched us take pictures of the area, while an electronic version of "House of the Rising Sun" drifted out of a shop down the street.
Ben Tre bridge

A ruddy-faced British man then approached us, since he was apparently surprised to see two sun-burned Westerners show up on their own bikes. He brought us over to his wife's tea shop and we talked for a bit. His wife, who grew up in the town, was amazed that, as Americans, we weren't "too scared" to drive motorbikes. It was just after 3pm, and we needed to get back to Saigon, so we said so long to the couple and went back to our bikes. As we were putting our helmets on six more Vietnamese kids started talking to us. When Anthony said he was from the U.S. in Vietnamese they went nuts, although they preferred to practice their English, which was shockingly good. We bid them farewell and then headed back north. About two hours later we were back in Saigon.

We really couldn't have picked a better day to do this, since it had been sunny and breezy almost the entire time. Unfortunately, this means we are now quite sunburned, even though we were regularly applying sunscreen. It was great to get out of the usual routine of the city and see some open countryside, breath some fresh air, and meet some exceedingly friendly people. Perhaps we'll do these types of day trips more often in the future, since they really are quite easy to pull off.
our bikes
Just a note: I will be out of town until Tuesday, since everything is shutting down for Tet this weekend, so I won't be posting anything until I get back. I'll have a week from then until I fly up to Hanoi to start the H2H ride, and I plan to squeeze in a few more posts in those days. Chúc mừng năm mới!


  1. So cool because of beautiful photos and well-done text! I love this post.