Our first glimpse of Ho Chi Minh City was from the back of a black Mercedes E Class sedan, having been whisked from the airport arrivals hall by our friendly hotel-provided guide and driver. This type of luxury is not usually a component of our travel itinerary, but as we were nearing the end of our journey, and the hotel were offering a bit of a deal, we took it (also, at the time of booking, we had no idea that while this deal was a bargain by European travel standards, it was not AS cheap by Asian travel standards!).
Our hotel of choice was The Caravelle, recommended by friends, and holding appeal for us as it housed the Australian Embassy during the war. It may not have the old Colonial feel of the Continental across the road, but it’s still lovely and luxurious, and provides outstanding service. Check in was slick and smooth, but we still got an apology for the computer being a tad slow!
With only one night here before popping off on our Mekong Delta cruise, we didn’t have much time to explore, but certainly had time to discover that we are in an ideal location. Not only are all the main attractions within walking distance and restaurants abound, but around the corner there is a decent sized gourmet deli ready to cater to all our beverage needs not necessarily provided for in the restaurants of this Eastern hub (so, of course, cognac and Lindt chocolate were purchased for our upcoming cruise!).
We literally had about 1 hour for our initial exploration of our district before being collected in the foyer for our XO Foodie Tour. I discovered this tour group on TripAdvisor, and we had a fantastic night out (XO offer a range of tours, ‘The Foodie’ is just one of them). These tours happen on the back of scooters in groups (or privately, if you prefer) and you are taken to various outdoor eating places throughout the city over a period of about 4 hours (with about 4 of the stops being eating stops). All the drivers are young women in traditional Vietnamese dress, all are excellent moped manoeuvrers through the crazy Saigon traffic, and our particular hosts, Thuong and Tram, were attentive, witty and fun girls who made the night so very memorable.
Our guide for the evening was Ben, the owner and tour manager; and his charm, humour and knowledge of this city and its food were spot on (and being vegetarian proved no obstacle – our needs were catered for). When booking this tour from Australia, we were tossing up whether to go with a group or on our own, but are really glad we did the group tour – being with a whole bunch of people fanging along on the backs of the bikes grinning, like dogs with our heads out the car window, was terrific fun!
During the various courses, our scooter drivers even acted as our personal servers, making sure we were getting the best pieces of food and plenty of it! They escorted us back to the bikes, holding our arms and watching the traffic like hawks so we didn’t stray into the path of oncoming vehicles after consuming too much local beer! We were definitely in safe hands!
An important thing to note is that security was very good as well – while the girls always keep a sharp eye open for any possible risk, there are several buff young men on scooters of their own as our guard. This company have thought of everything! For us, this was the perfect introduction to Saigon – in amongst it all, driving through many of the districts, seeing the sights and meeting new and interesting people while huddled over bowls and plates of an endless supply of delicious street food. Truly, the most memorable part of our visit to Ho Chi Minh City.
XO Tours is an excellent group to deal with, and they provide outstanding service and a great time!