I am not going to go into the history of Vietnam, because frankly, I don’t know enough to do it justice. But the history is one of the reasons we were drawn to Vietnam. Both my husband and I were born after the war ended, and just like in Cambodia, we wanted to get up close and personal to the historical place. Our time in Saigon was very history oriented, with a visit to the Cu Chi Tunnels and the War Remnants Museum.
In case you are wondering what to call this city, Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC) took the place of the name Saigon in 1975 after the name of the first leader in the north. That being said, while in the city, it is often still referred to as Saigon, granted this depends a little on which side of the war you fell on (what we call the Vietnam War is known in Vietnam as the American War).
Side note: Independence Palace, the War Remnants Museum, Ben Thanh Market, the Central Post Office and Notre Dame Cathedral are all within blocks of each other.
What I ate
First, we were on a tour and only here for 2 days, plus we mostly ate with our group. For a much more thorough guide to eating gluten free in Saigon, read THIS guide by Legal Nomads and then make yourself a little food tour list! I didn’t find this before I went, or I would have tried to eat a lot more food!
72-74 Tran Phu Street Nha Trang, Vietnam
Our first day in Saigon we had lunch at Ben Thanh Market – our G Adventures tour guide took us to his favorite place and ordered their special for most of us which turned out to be bun thit nuong cha gio and one of my favorite meals on this trip. To break it down, “bun” is the type of rice noodle, “thit nuong” is grilled meat, “cha gio” is spring roll. You can get this with or without the spring roll. It was served with nuoc cham, a ridiculously delicious dipping sauce. Although I was assured it was ok as is, I do recommend it with using a gluten free card. (see more info below in the To See section below)
They also made fresh fruit smoothies that were really good (be wary of smoothies with local ice, I broke my rule and had one here and felt fine).
What We Did...
A surreal tour of the tunnels that hid the Vietnamese during the war. Although the site has been made pretty touristy, I still found it very worthwhile and impactful. Our tour guide was a war veteran who translated for the Americans in this part of Vietnam. He was a kind, gentle elderly man who gave quite the tour and was open to answering any questions we had. At the beginning of the tour you get to see a video of thorough propaganda to get you started.
You are able to crawl through a portion of enlarged tunnels, not to be done if you are claustrophobic. The middle picture below is of an enlarged opening that you could climb in on and put a cover over your head to show how well hidden the tunnel entrances are. On the left is an image of the on site shooting range where you can shoot guns from the war. You can hear gunfire for the entire tour. If you suffer from any sort of PTSD where gunfire is a trigger, I highly recommend considering this, it is loud and non-stop.
And...since this is a gluten free blog - on the right is a snack we were served of steamed yucca root with crushed peanuts (all gluten free) and a surprisingly yummy snack!
28 Võ Văn Tần Phường 6 Quận 3, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam
If you are open to experiencing a view point of the Vietnam War that you likely haven’t come across in the US, you’ll want to tour this museum. Although this museum definitely expresses anti-American sentiments, (Vietnam is a place full of Communist propaganda after all), the explanations are eye-opening and offer a view rarely seen in the US. We were especially disturbed/moved by the exhibit on Agent Orange – although I would highly caution bringing children to this particular exhibit.
Central Post Office & Notre Dame Cathedral
Two beautiful pieces of architecture that sit right next to each other. Plus, the post office is fully functional if you do need to mail something (and has a gift shop with post cards).
72-74 Tran Phu Street Nha Trang, Vietnam
This large market is well worth a look. You can get everything here, it is where locals do a lot of shopping. You’ll find tons of food as well. We did eat lunch here successfully BUT…while walking through the market after eating thankfully…we also came across many scurrying cockroaches. Not necessarily what you want to know – but honestly – in an open market in this kind of heat, I’m not surprised. Although the market looks confusing at first, but it's really just a ring around the building with two major intersections.
Check out the section To Eat above to find out, well, where we ate in the market.
You might also be interested in my posts on Can Tho, Nha Trang, Hoi An, Hue, Halong Bay and Hanoi! For specifics on each city, check out each post! Or find basic information and tips for traveling gluten free in Vietnam HERE.