Exploring Ho Chi Minh City with Locals

Happy Travel Tuesday friends! As usual, don’t forget to link up at the bottom of the post.

Back in July when I posted about my expativersary (or however you spell that made up word) I got an e-mail from a man named Jack about his own expat experience with his family in Vietnam. He had read on the blog about our upcoming trip and reached out to see if I would be interested in working with his company, Endeavor Vietnam. He offered to help us plan experiences in Hanoi and Hoi An, as well as partner us up with some of his friends living in Ho Chi Minh City to get us a unique first hand experience of the local culture with actual locals (that aren’t tour guides by trade).

Since we could use all the help that we could get in the planning department and I loved the idea of spending time with locals in their city, we jumped at the chance.

Between multiple e-mail exchanged and a Skype call, Jack hooked us up different places to eat in all of our stops and ideas for activities to do as well. Since we had nothing lined up for our time in Ho Chi Minh (or Saigon, as it is often still referred to) he set up a full day of activities with his friends and former students, as he was an English teacher there for many years.


We arrived in the city Friday evening and relaxed at our hotel pool before venturing out to find some dinner. After a failed hanger induced decision to stop at a tourist trap once again (I know, I know- when will I learn?!) we wound up across the street from our hotel at the most legit Pho place I have ever been.


The next morning I told Travis that we had to be up and ready to go at 6am to meet Jack’s friends. We struggled but we did it, and then just as I was about to walk out the door I decided to check the itinerary (I had been working from memory until then) and much to my surprise we actually didn’t meet them until 8am. Whoops! So we just creeped over to a different Pho place and ate our body weight in noodles for breakfast while sipping on my favorite- Vietnamese iced coffee.

//platform.instagram.com/en_US/embeds.jsAfterwards we headed back to the hotel where we met up with Hoa, Tri and Van. We hopped on the back of their motorbikes and headed to a pagoda to watch morning prayers. DSC_0598 DSC_0608 DSC_0610 Then we got back on their motorbikes to check out a different pagoda. This one had ponds with turtles in them outside. DSC_0620 DSC_0623 If you want to know what it’s like to ride on the back of a motorbike through the streets of Ho Chi Minh. It’s a lot like this…

After Travis took this video, our new friends advised him to put his phone away because iPhone snatchings are common on the streets. This was advice we got from several locals over the next few days. Next, we visited the War Remnants Museum. I had been warned beforehand that this museum was pretty controversial and quite anti-American. It’s mostly just photographs, extremely graphic ones at that (I wouldn’t bring children) with captions that made us want to put on our best Australian accent. Speaking to my Vietnamese friends at home and the new ones we made it was clear they were aware of the bias, and they, like us, took it with a grain of salt. No matter what your beliefs are on the Vietnam War, the effects and aftermath in the country were devastating to look at in the exhibits. We stopped for lunch (more Pho) and then they dropped us back off at our hotel for an afternoon nap. Apparently this is common in Vietnam, but we aren’t big nappers on vacation so we hit the pavement for more exploring. First stop was their very own Notre Dame Cathedral. DSC_0626 DSC_0638 Where we creeped on a wedding that was taking place. We weren’t the only weirdos taking pictures, don’t worry. Then we we hit up this picturesque post office where we sent my BFF Alicia and her husband (and unborn child) a pretty pop-up card we had purchased. You should have seen how many stamps they smacked all over the envelope. DSC_0633  After our stroll, we cleaned up and our friends picked us up for a traditional Vietnamese coffee shop experience. IMG_0371 Obviously not us, but theres a kid eating a cheeseburger on the back of a motorbike so that’s noteworthy. Coffee shops are a big part of the Vietnamese culture and you always see people gathered with their friends at coffee shops on every corner. We had a great time talking with our new friends and really learning about their lives. It was so interesting talking with people the same age and stage of life as us, but with very different upbringings and living in a completely different part of the world. I especially found it interesting since many of my students when I taught in Houston were Vietnamese. It gave me so much insight into their culture.e This was my favorite part of the day because everyone (including us) started to feel more comfortable and the conversations were flowing non-stop. After a couple of hours we hopped back onto the scooters to head to dinner. They wanted to take us to Nha Hang Ngon, which was perfect because we had actually read about the restaurant online and wanted to try it. The restaurant has a unique vibe where the seating is in the middle and you order as you would at a traditional restaurant, but around the borders of the dining room are food stalls set up with chefs from all over Vietnam cooking up their regions specialties. You can walk around and scope everything out before ordering.

We let the locals order a little bit of everything for us and it was absolutely delicious. We continued our conversations from the coffee shop and made sure to have a waiter snap our picture before we left. IMG_0663 We spent the rest of the evening walking through an outdoor night market before saying our goodbyes at the hotel. Facebook accounts and hugs were exchanged before we bid our friends farewell. Hopefully we will get to see each other once again! I would 100% recommend this experience to anyone visiting Vietnam. Taking tours are one way to see a new place, but getting to spend a typical day with locals and learning about their lives is even better. Not only do we have souvenirs and memories from our trip to Vietnam, but now we have new friends as well (so sappy, I know).


Anyways, back to the usual Tuesday business…

Now it’s time for the Travel Tuesday Link Up with Bonnie from A Compass Rose!
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24 thoughts on “Exploring Ho Chi Minh City with Locals

  1. This is so cool. There’s nothing quite like meeting new people to connect you to a place, especially people who know it well. Sounds like you had a unique trip, not just tramping the usual sights. Although I have to say, I’d have definitely gone straight back to bed at 6am upon discovering my mistake, despite not being a midday nap person either I’m definitely not a morning person! I’m impressed at your perseverance!

  2. Spending time with the locals definitely sounds like a one of a kind experience! I especially love the fact that they picked out the restaurants for you to eat at because that’s the best way to try some of the best restaurants of where you’re visiting.
    I love the fact that y’all had pho for breakfast one day! I could seriously eat pho all day everyday too!

    • I thought it was so weird at first that they eat Pho for breakfast but then I realized that there really is no distinction between breakfast, lunch and dinner foods in Asia. All the hotel breakfast buffets we had included friend rice, Dim Sum, Pho… all things we think of as being dinner food.

  3. I loved reading this, Courtney. EndeavorViet is proud to know you and share your passion for travel! You are a wonderful illustration of what it is to be a member of the global community. My Vietnamese friends were quite happy to have had this time with you. Thank you for being an example of embracing cultural diversity. You are the beginning of something special in Vietnam and around the world.

  4. I love exploring a new place with locals!! Makes the experience that much more authentic and enjoyable! Especially somewhere so different from where you’re from! It probably helped to much to have people showing you the ropes! And getting a local’s take on food? What could possibly be better?!

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