We had planned to stop over in Ho Chi Minh for a couple days on the way back from our honeymoon last year. That plan was thwarted. (Side note: While you can get a visa upon arrival, you actually have to organize that in advance…usually. It seems to vary per traveler. We learned our lesson the hard way!)
So I was thrilled when I was hired by Semester at Sea and found out I would finally be seeing Vietnam after one missed attempt and many years of wanting to see a country so beloved by travelers.
But here’s the thing: People—many people at that—had told me Saigon was, well, less than awesome. So I wasn’t so stoked to visit the city itself. In fact, I made other plans to go everywhere but Saigon–Cambodia, the Mekong Delta, maybe even Halong Bay. And then I arrived in Saigon to find that everybody had been lying to me all this time because Saigon is, in fact, awesome.
I adored every last thing about it: the food, the crowds, the traffic, the shopping, the people. I’m not really sure how one can go to Saigon and not like it.
The first day we got into port was the first day I didn’t have to work in a long time. So we set out with two of our favorite couples on board, Layne and Brian and Andrew and Jane, in search of what every first timer to Vietnam seeks: a quality tailor. We even had a list, made by a former local. But after a wild goose chase and several missed attempts at getting directions from locals—Vietnam tip #1: don’t always listen the locals when it comes to directions in English; while they’re very friendly and attempt to be helpful, they often directed us to places that didn’t exist!—we finally just wandered into a random one on Pasteur Street where the dudes all had suits made.
In subsequent days, SVV wound up having two suits, three dress shirts and two ties tailor made, while I designed and had five dresses whipped up. More on that process here!
By then, we were famished—shopping is a laborious undertaking, y’all—and we shuffled down Pasteur to this open-air Vietnamese restaurant, Quan an Ngon, we had passed on our missed tailor attempts.
Naturally, we washed down our meal with some Vietnamese libations. When in Vietnam, y’all.
I love how, even in a nice restaurant in Vietnam, you can get a starter, a main course and a drink for the whopping total of $6. I had some variety of bánh mì curry, which would become my dish of choice for every meal in the coming week.
Layne’s sister Abby and her cousin Kate were flying in from San Francisco that afternoon so we killed some time at Bến Thành Market before meeting them at their hotel. Then, the dudes decided to branch off to His Salon where they each purchased spa treatments and got their collective pamper on. While SVV is quite the spa veteran—he gets a massage or two every week on the ship! such is the life of a SAS dependent—it was Andrew’s first time. Let’s just say he didn’t know what to expect, and a massage in Vietnam is vastly different than a massage in the United States.
Vietnam tip #2: If you’re a guy and at a (legit) spa and a woman ushers you into a room and does obscene gestures because her English is less than stellar, she’s likely offering you tea rather than a…well, you get the picture.
As His was off-limits to the ladies, the five of us headed to Jasmine Spa instead, where we all opted for massages, too. Jane, Layne and Kate were escorted upstairs first, while Abby and I were made to wait in the lobby for a half an hour. When they were ready for us, two therapists ushered us up a narrow staircase…and into a room with two side-by-side tables. I wasn’t sure what to do as they didn’t speak English and I assumed they would be directing one of us to another room, so I looked at Abby for guidance. She gave me a blank stare back, as one of the therapists followed behind and motioned for us to take our clothes off. Not only would we be getting a “couples massage”—as it turns out, most treatments in Vietnam are done in rooms with other people beside you—but she wanted us to strip down to our birthday suits in front of each other, her and the other therapist, not even a towel for privacy.
I looked at Abby once more and shrugged, as we took our clothes off. That’s one way of getting to know someone you’ve just met. Luckily, each of us had lived in San Francisco long enough to shed any ounce of modesty we’d been born with.
Vietnam tip #3: If you’re not comfortable with nudity—or getting naked with someone you don’t know—then maybe a spa treatment in Saigon is not for you!
Each of our hour-long massages were about $24 each, which is considered “expensive” for Saigon. Still, I went to an even cheaper place the following week, and I’d say pay a little more to get better results. SVV and I tried out this place called Oasis the last day, and I had a 60-minute deep tissue massage plus a manicure and pedicure and he a 90-minute treatment, and our grand total was $61, but I won’t say either of us felt particularly relaxed after the treatments.
Vietnam tip #4: Fully expect your therapist to climb up on the table, straddle you, and use her knees, elbows and sometimes even feet to work out the kinks. I’d like to think it’s because the Vietnamese are so petite, they really have to get their full body weight in there to make any progress.
From there, it was back to the ship to clean up before a night out on the town. And that was just our first afternoon in Vietnam, too. I would constantly be impressed by how many activities we could cram into each daylight period while in Saigon. It’s as if the days were longer there, which is something I’ve always said I would wish for should I stumble upon a genie in a lamp during my travels.
Eh, that’s what I told myself when the petite woman straddled me and began using elbows, knees etc in Krabi (re: tip#4). 🙂 Vietnam is so on my list of places to visit and I’ll keep in mind that Saigon is a place worth visiting.
I have had a lot of spa treatments in my life, but that was definitely a first! Then again, I’ve also never opted for a Thai massage….
And to think mine wasn’t a Thai massage!
Can’t wait to see more of your dress designs.
The spa treatments sound divine. I’m not shy.
Oh yes! Dress photos and the tailor-selection process to come, for sure =)
Interesting tips about the spas. Tag team massages and getting naked in front of each other? Yes, I guess you do have to leave your decency at the front door! How much is a massage anyways? Oh, and let’s see a post on your dresses (er, new wardrobe). I’m curious (fellow fashion freak!).
Anywhere from $10-$25/hour depending on how nice the salon is. I recommend the nicer ones–you definitely get what you pay for, and $25 is still less than a quarter of what you’d pay in North America for 60 minutes!
First of all, I love that movie. Second of all, I had no idea that Saigon was known for it’s tailoring. Like, none. But I’m super eager to see the fruits of their labors!
Well, Hanoi and Hoi An are more the tailor towns, which is why I was shocked to find tailors were a dime and dozen and that they all performed better than I even hoped for!
Glad you had a chance to experience it and really enjoyed it!
Looks like so much fun here. I would love to go here sometime! I love seeing how much fun you have!
Great tips to know about visiting Vietnam. Yes it’s TOO HOTT for me! I bet the food is Good ! I like to see the dresses you had made too ! It sounds like a great idea to shop there and get dresses made . Sorry your massages weren’t good! I love massages too but when they suck it makes me crazy! Thankyou for sharing! 😁
I have also heard from fellow travelers who have had clothing made there for super cheap, so I am looking forward to pictures of your dresses!
The curry looks yummy, and I’m glad you liked it there, of course everyone will have a different opinion and its alright for everyone not to agree on liking the same cities, more room for others that do!
I like your perspective, Mica! I’m always shocked when people get so offended that I don’t like the same cities all travelers seem to adore (see: Antigua and Singapore), but they should be happy I’m leaving more room for them =)
They’ve probably been lying you to to keep it a secret!
You’re right, Steph: There are certain places you should keep quiet so the backpackers don’t zero in on them and drive the prices up, right?
Shopping, food and massages, all cheap? Where do I sign up?
I’m in Saigon right now! To be honest, I haven’t fallen head over heels just yet (but it has been less than 24 hours). That may have to do with the fact that I just came from Phnom Penh, which is one of my favorite cities ever! I’m wondering if I need to go pop into a tailor ASAP….
YES. You do! Get cool Anthropologie-like fabric at Chi Chi (the fabric store in the alley, not the actual boutique) and go next door to Pham Minh for the tailoring services (~$20 a dress).
Also, you really must go to Quan an Ngon for lunch and 3T (on Ton That Thiep, where you cook your own food) for dinner. Both delicious, local eats.
I absolutely loved the food there. We ate pho for breakfast nearly every day. Terrific stuff.
yay! you finally made it to my home country–congrats…especially after that failed attempt the first time. you just scratched the surface. a city is still a city. promise me youll return to ha long bay and sapa (north) and hoi an and nha trang (middle).
That’s a promise! You don’t have to twist my arm on that one =)
No twıstıng of any kınd ınvolved, dont worry! : ) Ill just steal that cute puppy of yours hehe
omg! ı just realızed that you dıdnt have any of the ıce cream! especıally exotıc fruıt flavored ıce cream…and those exotıc fruıts themselves. next tıme for sure!!
Okay, I haven’t even read your entry but I saw the title and rushed here to tell you that this is my dream country to visit. I researched it for months, MONTHS. When I was going to quit law for my MBA, Vietnam was what I used to get me through my full day as an attorney and then 7 hours of studying math till 2 am in preparation for my GMAT . I have so much random knowledge about the northern Vietnam travel trail.
Of course I never went on that trip. But! I have a full time offer with signing bonus no less and the chances are very very good that I will be going this summer. Hanoi and Sapa, Ha Long Bay and Hoi An, here I come
I want to see pics of SVV in his tailored suits!
I love spas/massages and have always thought if I could just find the clothes I create in my head, I would be in heaven. So it looks like I need to head to Vietnam!
I’m super impressed with how inexpensive everything is! I’ve heard before that it’s that way but had no idea had accurate it was. And I’m glad your husband can jump on the pampering train. Mine can too and has never been modest about his maintenance demands.
love that photo of SVV!
Vietnam is high on our travel wish-list, but I’ve heard mixed opinions on the country. I can get behind the massages and food, though. 🙂
That list tip can be used in Thailand, too! I had women walking on my back, stepping on my legs. It felt great!
Đẹp lắm ! ( it’s mean “Very nice”)
I’m from Vietnam 🙂