Dad and I recently traveled to Southeast Asia together, including 3 nights in Saigon. Using 50,000 Alaska Airlines miles each, we flew Cathay Pacific business class from New York to Hong Kong and continued on to Saigon – it’s a killer redemption from the US to Asia. It was my first time visiting Vietnam, and I truly enjoyed taking in all that Saigon had to offer.
Once we landed, I purchased a SIM card to use during my stay for $10. Though the phone companies at the airport advertise 4G/LTE speeds, you’re really only getting 3G, realistically; however, it’s silly to complain, considering you can get 30 days of unlimited mobile data usage for just $10.
We hopped in a taxi and were soon our way to the Park Hyatt Saigon. Just a word of caution about taxis in Saigon – there are so many taxi scams and even fake taxis at the airport.
As seasoned travelers already know, do not agree to take a ride for a flat-fee or believe it when the driver says the meter is “broken”. Counterfeit taxis in Vietnam are not necessarily dangerous, but they can be annoying to deal with, so it’s best to be prepared and do a little homework beforehand. I recommend you only use Vinasun or Mai Linh taxis- the two biggest taxi companies in Saigon.
As we headed to the Park Hyatt Saigon, I enjoyed all of the sights and sounds of the city, especially the morning “rush hour commute” on motorbikes.
Allow me to share some of my favorite highlights from our trip:
Stay at Park Hyatt Saigon
Aside from this hotel being a mini oasis within the center of the city, the Park Hyatt Saigon is one of the few gems on the Hyatt award chart, and offers an even better value if you have top-tier status.
The Park Hyatt Saigon and the Andaz Papagayo take the top spot as my favorite category 4 properties. I used 2 annual category 1-4 free night certificates from the Hyatt Visa for the first two nights here, and then redeemed 15,000 points for the last night. Our room was really nice and the service was impeccable. There’s not a single thing I could even think to improve about our stay.
At the time, I was a Hyatt Diamond (now Globalist), so we were able to enjoy an amazing breakfast each morning in the main restaurant. Everything is cooked from scratch on premises (the croissants were to die for), and it truly was one of the most impressive spreads I’ve ever experienced at a hotel- with fresh exotic fruits and juices, coconuts, hot foods, and beautiful pasties made hours before.
For Diamond members, in addition to the buffet, you can order any of the ala carte items from the extensive menu without limits. All of the local Vietnamese dishes on the menu were phenomenal, especially the pho!
Take a Day Tour to Cu Chi Tunnels
As an American visiting Vietnam, I was really interested taking in as much history as possible. In my opinion, there’s no better way to get an understanding about the world we live in than by visiting and experiencing the history with your own eyes; that’s why I always argue that traveling is the best investment in education you can give yourself [and kids].
I really don’t recall much of what I was text-book taught about the Vietnam War in school, so it was an incredible experience to get what felt like years worth of history lessons in just one day from a local guide.
Dad and I booked a 5 and half hour tour of the Cu Chi tunnels from Viator for $39 each that included a 7:30am pick up from Central Post Office and a drop-off right at our hotel afterwards.
Taking the tour allowed us to experience “the world of the Cu Chi freedom fighters first-hand with a visit to their famous underground tunnel system”, as described in the tour description. You are even allowed to go into the tunnels, and they get narrower and narrower the further you go. I am a tiny person and I felt like I barely fit!
Even if you’re not a history buff, I highly recommend this tour.
Visit the War Remnants Museum
For more history, I highly recommend a visit to the War Remnants Museum. Maybe it was an exceptionally hormonal day for me, but I truly could not finish all of the exhibits. There was a point where I had no choice but to sit down a bit and let my dad finish on his own. It was especially intense for me, and I felt somber for the rest of the day, quite honestly (there were times where I legitimately fought back tears).
While not getting political, the museum shows the war from a different set of eyes than what see/hear/learn in America. If you can handle uncensored and heart-wrenching stories and images and are interested in expanding your mind about the history surrounding the Vietnam War, a visit here is unquestionably worth it. It’s walkable from the heart of Saigon and most attractions, and you can take in as little or as much as you want at your own pace.
Saigon on Bikes Street Food Night Tour
Switching to more positive gears now, let’s talk about the ULTIMATE highlight of our trip! I’m about to share one of the most fun paid-excursions I’ve ever done with a local. Saigon has long been regarded as one of the best cities for [unique] street food in the world. What better way to sample it all than by hopping around the city for a few hours with a local who can introduce you to foods that as a foreigner, you probably would never have an idea about other wise?
We booked our Saigon on Bikes night food tour at the last-minute and were super lucky that there just happened to be 2-spots available; but our situation was not the norm- booking in advance is highly recommended, as these tours fill up quickly. For $59 per person and starting at 6 pm with a pick-up from your hotel, you’ll honestly be sampling and eating insane amounts of food (unlimited beer and other local non-achololic drinks included) at a total of 5 spots, including one for dessert. I’ll say that the places our guides too us were truly local, and out of the touristy areas (some were even in hidden alleyways).
When you book your spot on the tour , you will have to email a copy of your passport because $5,000 worth of accident insurance is also included in the price, but don’t worry too much about safety – the guides, like most locals in Saigon, know how to expertly drive these motorbikes.
Aside from all of the delicious food, the best part is being part of all the action on the back of a motorbike, zipping around all off the attractions and learning anything you want to know about the city from an insider’s point of view. The university-student guides are truly knowledgeable and so passionate about their city. It was truly thrilling. In the beggining, I felt like I was holding on to dear life as we weaved through hundreds of motorbikes and crossed huge intersections, but after say… stop 3, I was riding like a local – with a beer in hand ;).
Get a Massage / Have a Spa Day
As a woman, I knew there was no way I’d be spending time in South East Asia, where spa services are so affordable, and not dedicating a good chunk of time towards pampering. To help with the jet lag after a long flight from the US, I treated myself to two massages, a facial, and nail services- all for a fraction of the price that’d I’d pay for a massage that isn’t nearly as good in the States.
There are tons of massage and spa places all over Saigon, and the services were phenomenal and affordable, so it was a guilt-less splurge for me!
Saigon is currently my favorite city in Southeast Asia that I’ve traveled too, and I really see a bright future for the city- it’s truly emerging. I found the city to be very walkable and easy to get around, but I’m excited that in a few years there will be an underground metro in place, making Saigon more accessible overall.
Aside from continued development with high-rise buildings and luxury living, there is also a major direct highway connecting Laos, Cambodia, and Vietnam in the works. I predict Saigon being the next “Bangkok” before we know it, but for now it is so nice to appreciate the city and it’s authenticity as it remains presently.
I’d go back in a heart beat.
Have you traveled to Saigon recently? What were some highlights from your trip?