10 TEN QUESTIONS / SAIGON

We’ve teamed up with Active Asia. We wanted to rediscover the romance and freedom of travelling, to encourage others to get off the tourist trails and to uncover a city in a totally unique way. So, we’ve put 10 questions to the locals to help mould your own, unique journey, and to enable you to uncover all the local secrets. Places you may not find on google.

Where’s the best place to grab a bowl of Pho?

Pho Minh is the place to go for your quintessential Vietnamese pick-me-up breakfast Pho, a tiny & the oldest restaurant serving only Pho. I’ve hesitated to tell about Pho Minh before, since the owners are very happy with their long-time local business. They only buy enough ingredients for the day & when they run out, they’re done for the day! (normally by 10am) This tiny restaurant has no menu, full of locals which means no English is spoken. Just sit and go with the flow & enjoy!

Where’s the best place to go for a leisurely stroll?

Head to Book Street and take a stroll through the charming little street with locals, heading towards the iconic Notre Dame Cathedral stopping and enjoying the unbelievable treasures at the bookstores. Ask a passer-by where they think is the best place to go for a coffee.

Where’s the best place to immerse yourself in the coffee culture?

One of Vietnams oldest cafes, Cheo Leo has been traditionally brewing the best coffee for almost 90 years with a romantic, historical set up – with not a lot of stand room, go out on the road side with little stools and enjoy the local bantering that goes on.

Where’s the best place to go for nightlife?

When in Saigon, do as the Saigonese do & head to Nguyen Hue Street, a buzzing walking street that is as laid back by the day as it is lively by night. There is more than enough to keep you here for a full day, from dawn till dinner & into the early hours-this is the epic centre of Saigon’s nightlife. Ask a local what their favourite bar is and grab a drink there.

Where’s the best place to sample Banh Mi?

The thick, sweet and impressively strong beverage is a staple found through Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi. If you’re a curious coffee Huynh Hoa does the best Banh Mi around. You’ll know you’ve arrived at this little hole in the wall sandwich bar by the scores of motorbikes out the front. Grab a classical Banh Mi, arguably the best one in town. Ask the person behind you in the queue where’s the best place nearby to sit and watch the world go by, then go there, Banh Mi in hand.

Where’s the best place for echoes of old Saigon?

To get under the skin of Saigon’s past head to Jerome and Juliette late night bar, or as we know it today Saigon Saigon rooftop bar. The beloved high-society bar at the Caravelle Hotel is adorned with illustrations by many famous identities, including comedian Bob Hope, director John Fred, Noble Prize-winning author John Steinbeck and Richard Nixon, who stayed in 1964. This is the place to step back in time to the pre-war Saigon era.

Where’s the best vegetarian restaurant?

For the most deliciously vegetarian dishes, Tin Nghia has some mouth-watering creations that you absolutely must try. Think fragrant, spice infused dishes inspired by far flung corners of Asia – this is one very special family restaurant. Tin Nghia chefs don’t use recipes or measuring tools to cook their dishes, they’ve had 100 years of practice to make it perfect.

Where’s the best place to get a manicure?

Taking nail artistry to a whole new level MERCI nails in Saigon is arguably the best place in Vietnam to experience waterless manicure & pedicures.

Where’s the best place to browse for antiques?

Cho Ve Chai market is buzzing every Sunday   morning. Head there early to find a little gem and talk with antique dealers while they are setting up for the day. Think rows of stalls selling vintage military surplus from the Vietnam war, jewellery, homewares & collectables – it’s hard not to spend hours browsing. Ask a vendor where the best art gallery is and then check it out.

Where’s the best rooftop bar?

Cho Ve Chai market is buzzing every Fast becoming one of Saigon’s top haunts, head to The Lighthouse on the 6th floor of a multi-storey building for a fun, chilled out vibe, cocktails & 360-degree views of the city – especially stunning as the sun goes down.

We’ve also made it super easy for you to take these tips away with you!
View online for a more environmentally friendly way to travel or download the 10 Ten Questions / Saigon printable pdf.

A helping hand when printing:
Just change your printer settings to print on both sides of the paper and flip on the short edge. Fold in half and enjoy!

Pop your email down below to see more 10 Ten Questions. We’ll send you new questions and answers from our friends and partners in Asia to help you unlock the best kept secrets of some of the most amazing cities in Asia. We always encourage starting conversations and discovering where they will take you.


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FIVE THINGS I DIDN’T KNOW ABOUT VIETNAM

After years of stepping onto the tarmac at Noi Bai International, I’ve learnt a thing or two about the land of the Ascending Dragon. Vietnam continues to surprise me. Five things I didn’t know about Vietnam until last month.

1. Who would have thought how much I would have loved staying at a homestay?

I don’t like to let go of my creature comforts when travelling in South East Asia, so when a homestay was mentioned for my latest Vietnam travel adventure, I was like” no way”. But I was pleasantly surprised by my first homestay experience. It was so damn good I never wanted to leave!

The lodge is tucked away in a deep valley, about 150 km South east of Hanoi somewhere between Mai Chau and Cuc Phuong national park. It is set between two mountains sculpted by terraced rice fields and covered in jungle. By the lodge, is a stream of clear water that flows into endless cascading pools. The lodge consists of a main building, a traditional wooden house on stilts. Large wooden posts overhung by a thick roof of palm tree leaves. The interior is beautifully decorated with a blend of French meets Vietnam inspirations. If this is what every homestay is about then I have been converted.  I do believe what I experienced was special. Our host family offered the most genuine Myong ethnic hospitality you could ever wish for. You are in for gastronomic pleasure, it is a family affair in the kitchen and the food blew my mind. I didn’t do a lot of talking that night – I was too busy eating my way around the table. Every single dish was delicious. 

What I didn’t know is the idea behind this homestay experience is to make the pace yours. Avid trekkers or adrenaline seekers, you may want to look at another destination. This stay is a place for epicureanism and a good life.  Tread lightly across the valley, enjoy spontaneous meetings with locals, get your hands on trying some seasonal farming work, read a book in your private Sala overlooking the river, take a swim in the natural swimming pools shaped by the stream, take part in cooking the meals and soak up some real genuine Myong ethnic culture. My first homestay experience was really like taking a step out of time and simply enjoying a very good slice of life in Vietnam and adding to what is possibly the best time to visit Vietnam.

2. The Galaxy caves in Son Ha Commune, Ninh Binh is home to thousands of bats and large dragon flies.

If I had known this beforehand, I probably would have decided not to enter and would have missed out on these three impressive dry and water caves. Archaeologists have found traces of ancient Vietnamese mollusk shell, rare pottery pieces, animal bones and tortoise shells. These caves are such a little gem of a find. It is such a quiet area and may not be on everyone’s must do list while in Vietnam.  We had to wait until someone turned on the lights before we entered! You will be overwhelmed by the illuminated, enchanting world of stalactites. We glided by boat winding our way through the ‘Galaxy’, with endless layers and layers of stalactites and shimmering colours, lost in a Fairy like realm.

3. During any Vietnam travel, from the south’s frenetic Ho Chi Minh City to the urban maze of Hanoi in the north, the streets of Vietnam are paved with snacks.

Ordered by locals across Vietnam, I didn’t know street food revealed the breadth of the country’s culinary ingenuity so well. Trying different street vendors is what we are passionate about. Pho is the most famous dish travellers know about but that is merely a drop in the country’s noodle-soup ocean. For a bowl crammed with colours you must try bun rieu. Bun means noodles, while rieu refers to a crab-based broth blended with tomatoes.  Add pork, deep-fried tofu cakes, a spoon of chilli paste, slices of pickled garlic and you have your self-one delicious meal.  Another love of mine is searching for the best Banh Mi in Vietnam. I am pleased to say my search is over. BINH BA 25 is the place you should go if you find yourself hungry for street food in Hanoi whilst on one of your Vietnam holidays. Sitting down with your Banh Mi goes hand and hand with watching the world go by in the Old Quarter of Hanoi.

4. From street vendors to finding the best mouth-watering array of world class gastronomic experience in Vietnam.

When the wine list is bigger than the menu, you know you are in for a treat.  When it comes to things to do in Vietnam, discovering Green Tangerine is certainly a wow moment. The perfect blend of the climax of French haute cuisine with the gentle touches of distinctive Vietnamese tastes. With a peaceful ambiance and enchanting décor this French-colonial villa dates back to 1928. Listening to a smooth melody of Jazz and sipping a prestige wine, while savouring mouth- watering dishes, my soul was pampered. Dining at Green Tangerine is truly a unique culinary experience. I didn’t know I would find my all-time favourite restaurant on one of my Vietnam holidays.

5. Egg coffee might not sound like the most palatable caffeinated drink but approach it with an open mind.

The thick, sweet and impressively strong beverage is a staple found through Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi. If you’re a curious coffee drinker looking to broaden your palate with more exotic variations than what we get at home, then ordering an egg coffee is the fastest way to get there. A must-have when you’re on one of our Vietnam tours, let me know when you are going so I can tell you where to go to have your shot of happiness.


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SECRETS OF THE SPICE ISLAND

The stunning island of Sri Lanka, affectionately known as the spice island, offers a vast range of sights and experiences and we have picked 5 of our favourites that are on the ‘must do’ list.

The Secret Garden Experience offers a Kandy garden visit with a twist. An hour travel will have you arrive at your hosts’ enchanting hill top estate, where the ancestral home, built in the mid-19th century by the hosts grandfather awaits. You will be greeted by your host at the retreat and then enjoy a guided walk through the 45-acre estate, exploring the historic plantations of cinnamon, vanilla, pepper, rubber, and spice, as well as the chance of seeing some of the local forest animals, including wild boar, macaque monkeys, barking deer, and porcupines. The day is wrapped up with a Planter’s lunch cooked on an open fire and washed down with a cool G&T.

Located 188km north-east of Colombo, Ritilaga is known for its rich history in Buddhism, in fact there are 700 acres of monastic areas in this region. Ritilaga Mountain sits at 766m above seal level and is covered with dense jungle, making an ideal habitat for its local residents of wild elephants, leopards, and bears. On your guided walk you will hear the secrets of the forest dwelling monks who once inhabited this extraordinary landscape.

The Elephant Freedom Project focuses on providing a sanctuary for captive elephants who have previously been exploited for tourism or hard labour. A small family run operation, the emphasis is on caring for the elephants, not a money-making tourism business, so the number of visitors per day is limited in order to maintain the relaxed and peaceful atmosphere for the elephants.  A visit here will allow you to experience these beautiful animals up close, but be forewarned, there is absolutely no riding of the elephants.

The Leopard Research Station and Udawalawe Elephant Transit is located in the Udawalawe National Park in the south of Sri Lanka. Regarded as possibly the best place in Sri Lanka to see elephants year-round, the park is home to a few hundred elephants and you can frequently witness a herd of females bathing in the wild. The Elephant Transit Home is a sanctuary to rehabilitate elephant calves before returning them to the wild. Approximately 30-40 rescued orphan elephants are homed here until they turn upon which they can be returned to the wild.

No trip to Sri Lanka would be complete without experiencing the culinary delights. Two of our favourites, easily, are King of the Mambo in Colombo and Ceylon Tea Trails. King of the Mambo is a seaside restaurant known for its superb Mediterranean cuisine, Cuban soul, cocktails, and of course dancing. Ceylon Tea Trails, which sits at 1250m above sea level in the Ceylon tea region, is part of the Relais & Chateaux group and offers a unique tea infused dinner, a signature of this fine dining restaurant.

We also have three new packages added to our Sri Lanka tours. The Dilmah Resplendent Ceylon package offers the “best of Sri Lanka” circuit and provides the upscale traveller a range of authentic cultural experiences. Featuring three distinctively different resorts, Ceylon Tea Trails, Cape Weligama, and the Wild Coast Tented Lodge, these are Sri Lanka’s only members of Relais & Chateaux. This tour is luxury at its finest. Learn more here.

Next Stop: The Best Train Journey of All Time! This 18 day trip takes you from Colombo to the historic cities of Anuradhapura, Dambulla, Polonnaruwa, and Sigiriya, while staying in some of the most beautiful hideaways and visiting one of the Eight Wonders of the World. Find out more here.

Tasting Notes. Sri Lanka is renowned for its spices, and the culinary delights of this amazing island showcase them beautifully. As you travel the island you will experience the gastronomic delights of Sri Lankan cuisine. Learn more about this tour here.

Sri Lanka is easily one of our favourite places on earth and we have an abundance of tour options for this stunning island. Contact our Sri Lanka expert, Lance.


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