Tag Archives: sightseeing in vietnam

VD1: Our Tiger Tour

5 May

I really didn’t have any idea on what to do in Vietnam, plus I also didn’t have the time to plan our itinerary. But on the week prior to our departure, I decided to read up on places to visit in Ho Chi Minh City. I looked at the HCM posts of ByahengBarok, FB photos of friends and Trip Advisor articles. I think it was in Trip Advisor where I read about Tiger Tours.

Another “movie in my mind” I had of Saigon is motorcycles. I remember reading about a presidential speechwriter tweeting about how crossing the “motorcycle laden streets of Hanoi” being the quickest way to die. We weren’t going to Hanoi, but it’s still Vietnam. I also remember one of Barok’s Vietnam photos captioned: “Dare to cross the streets of Vietnam?”. I had medical and travel insurance, but I wouldn’t want to meet an accident in Vietnam so I was really worried on how I would go around the area. I even planned on jogging around, but decided against it when I remembered all the warnings.

Then I saw this article about Tiger Tours and realized, if I can’t beat them, then I should join them! I rode a bike in the Netherlands and took the tuktuk in Thailand, then I should ride the motorcycle in Vietnam, just as the locals do. I immediately sent an email to them and was promptly replied by Loan Tran, the owner. At first I wasn’t sure on her gender and was relieved when she told me that she’s a girl and that all their tour guides are girls. It took little coaxing on my part for my companions to take the tour on a bike, I was a little scared too but being scared is good because it’s where the excitement comes from, right? After getting confirmation from all my companions, I proceeded to email Loan confirming Tiger Tours for 6 of us. She was also very helpful in referring us to places where we could book the Cu Chi Tunnel tour and also offered to bring us directly to the theatre where they held the Water Puppet Shows to buy tickets.

On their website, they had a lot of tours. I was especially attracted to the Food Tour (of course), but on such short time in Vietnam, I knew that I had to squeeze in everything on one tour. Good thing they had the Custom Tour, in which one can combine the good points of all the other tours. I just gave my specs to Loan: we wanted to taste good Vietnamese food, we wanted to see the perfunctory sights and we only had a short time in the city and she planned our custom tour for us. Our custom tour was a five-district tour of Vietnam, passing through 18 locally famous streets, popular landmarks, a cruise by the river, a flower market and stops at three yummy Vietnamese outdoor restaurants. Exciting, huh? All for VND1,100,000.00 (roughly P2,250.00/pax). It seems a little steep for a quick ride around town, but let me tell you about it more.

After looking for the elusive authentic Made in Vietnam North Face bags, we took the cab going back to our hotel to freshen up.  At 6pm, we were promptly approached by a very professional-looking girl in heels and a suit, she’s Loan, the one I was corresponding with through email. Before our tour, she showed us a map detailing the places we would go to. She then brought us outside and introduced us to 6 orange-clad girls and their motorbikes. One for each of us. I was assigned to Lien, having visited the Tiger Tours website a couple of times earlier that week, I was quick to recognize her, for me, she’s the face of Tiger Tours. Later I would find out that she’s one of the pioneers of the company that is why her photo is always included in the website.

It was raining a little so they gave us plastic ponchos to wear for the tour, then they helped us put on our helmets, took our group photos and of we went. At first I clung on the Lien for my dear life, before we took off, Loan warned us not to take photos, videos or just take out our cameras as it was very dangerous (there were snatchers everywhere, a lot of Vietnamese would warn us). So for the first few destinations, we left the picture taking to Loan, who was riding with another Tiger, bravely taking videos of our tour with her GoPro camera. But after a while, we get used to riding the bike (look, ma! no hands!) that we defied Loan’s instructions and just started taking videos with our cameras. The experience was just too hard core not to be recorded in motion.

The ride was exhilarating. Like any ride, when enjoyed with eyes wide open, it was literally breathtaking. Our Tigresses look frail and young, especially in their orange ao dais but they know how to expertly maneuver their way in the fast and furious streets of Saigon and relaxedly tell you stories on the side as if you were just having coffee at Trung Nguyen.

The sights: People’s Committee Bldg., The Opera House, Notre Dame, The Post Office and some street.

Looks very European, right? Withdrawing money from an HSBC ATM.

We stopped by the People’s Committee Bldg., The Opera House, Notre Dame; went inside the Post Office (where I withdrew money from an HSBC ATM) and later, at the Bin Thay Market in Chinatown (which was already closed). We also passed by opulent hotels and the tallest building in Vietnam and the river. Lien was telling me that at night, the motorcycles would all come out because usually, couples, seeking privacy together would just ride their bikes and cruise around the city together. “That’s how we are, to have private time, we go out in public places”, Lien said. This is because most homes in HCM have extended families and one rarely has alone time.

The trip and the sights were awesome, but what really drove us crazy was the food. FOOD! Oh I fell in love with Vietnamese food!

marry me!

We only went to 3 outdoor restaurants for this tour, I’m sure in the full blown food tour they go to fancier places. But these three places were enough to make me love Vietnamese food. I only remember one time eating at Pho Hoa, a local Vietnamese restaurant in Manila and don’t remember loving the food. But on this day, from breakfast to our Bon Bu Hue lunch to the stuff we had on this trip, they were enough to make me fall on my knees and ask me to marry them. Vietnamese food was seriously delicious.

Our first stop was a nondescript hole in the wall at District 3: Quan An Co Lieng. If this were Manila, eating here would not be an option. There we were served rice wrappers (translucent paper like thing, looks thicker than a wax paper), rice noodles and an assortment of green leaves and meat and fish cooked in different ways:

When I asked Loan to give me a list of what we had, she gave me a list and from it, I’m guessing that we had these:

1. Bo Nuong La Lop (betel leaf or Hawaiian lot leaf wrapped beef)
2. Bo nuong Mo Chai (ground beef and pork with five flavors a misture of aromatic plants)
3. Nem nuong (grilled pork meat roll)

But two of these four photos are fish, so I don’t know what they are, maybe one of them is 6. Ca loc chien (Fried snakehead fish)? When Loan reads this, I’m sure, she’ll identify them. Basically, we just wrap everything together: first the rice paper, then one kind of leaf, layered with the rice noodle, some picked vegetables, meat, then topped with more green aromatic leaves – wrap them all together, dip them in the yummy nam nem (they say it’s fish sauce, but it doesn’t taste like our patis), take a bite and be thrilled by the explosion of flavors that will happen inside your mouth.

rice noodles, green leaves & pickled vegetables (photo not mine, JudyJoy’s? Ynah’s?)

the spread + the yummy dipping sauces (photo not mine, maybe JudyJoy’s)

wrap them all together (photo by JudyJoyNunez)

Quan An Co Lieng is located at this corner in District 3.

their signage.

Our second stop was another outdoor restaurant, this time in Ho Chi Minh’s Chinatown in District 5 at Bau Sen Restaurant. This is where we had the two unusual fares: grilled goat’s udder and wine made from deer antlers, along with banh xeo (Vietnamese pancake) and Tom Nuong Muoi Ot (grilled deep fried shrimp with special chilli salt).

Bau Sen (Cholon, District 5)

Banh Xeo (fried Vietnamese crepe with shrimp and togue, to eat wrapped in green aromatic leaves)

Tom Nuong Muoi Ot (grilled deep fried shrimp with special chilli salt) – so yummyyyy!

Vu De Nuong (Vietnamese Grilled Goat Udder with okras)

The Vu De Nuong tastes surprisingly good, if I can just get over the fact that these are goat’s nipples I’m eating. I think this place we went to was a grilling place, the Banh Xeo was not originally from here, they just bought it somewhere because I mentioned to Lien that I wanted to try it (that’s how considerate they are). The deer antler wine wasn’t so bad, except that they also said that it had a “viagra” effect on men, and on women? I didn’t want to find out so I only had one shot. The most fun part of this stop was learning how to say cheers or kampai in Vietnamese, it’s “mao… hi… ba… YO!” The grilled shrimp dipped in special chili salt is just divine. So simple, makes me wonder why didn’t think of it here.

happy tummies? photo by… (not mine)

In this stop, my Tigress Lien seated beside me and kept removing the soft shell of my prawns for me. So thoughtful. They really make sure you have a fun time in Saigon.

Our last stop was a seafood restaurant in District 4, I really don’t know specifically where because the place we went to were just tables lined outside. Still bursting from goat nipples and grilled prawns, I was about to suggest to Loan to just order small servings in the last restaurant, as we were all full and already tired. With heavy steps, we walked to our table with these yummy scallops welcoming us with a smile:

So Diep Nuong Mo Hanh (scallops with green onion and peanuts) – this one is seriously so very good.

Seriously, these food that we’re eating look and taste like they’re concocted by world class chefs and not served in tacky plates in a dingy place, but they are. These scallops are really good, I’m ready to marry them. Here we also got to taste Cang Ghe Rang Muoi Ot (crab claws fried with chili salt) and Mong tay xao rau muong (fried bamboo clam with morning glory and garlic).

crab claws

bamboo clam and kangkong (aka morning glory)

At first, I was afraid to try these as I was not familiar with bamboo clams. First I was afraid of food poisoning, but then I realize that we’re on our last stop and second, I was afraid I might be allergic to these yummy babies. But I wouldn’t know unless I try, so I did. I’m not really a fan of clams, but I did like the sauce the morning glory (that’s kangkong, right) came with, sweet with a hint of spicy. I love it.

All the savory flavors inside my mouth made me yearn for something sweet, so I was looking forward to having one of those chocolates Ynah brought with her, but of course the Tigers thought about dessert and as a sweet ending to this magical night, they brought out the Banh Plans:

Banh Plan Dua (green – aloe jelly) and Banh Plan Cafe (brown – coffee jelly) = both yummy

After almost 5 hours of riding in the motorcycle, hopping out for a photo at a tourist spot, eating and hopping on the motorbike again, our Tigresses brought us back to our hotel. Before leaving us, we all took a picture together and Loan made sure that we knew how to go back to the places we’ve been to by marking the places on a special map she left with us. Each tigress exchanged emails with their partner to make sure that we continue staying in touch with our “new friend”.

This tour is worth VND1,100,000.00 but it may be the best million bucks I will ever spend on a tour. It’s all worth it. This will go with all the things I will go back to in memory when I’m old and sitting on that rocking chair. I highly recommend this tour to everyone who wants to have an amazing time in Vietnam. 🙂

Watch the video I made of our Tiger Tour below: