Cu Chi Tunnels: a half-day tour from Saigon

Cu Chi Tunnels are one of the most impressive tourist attractions in Saigon area and in Vietnam. The underground tunnel area is located about 70 kilometres north-west of Saigon. This over 120 kilometres long tunnel network served as a base of communist guerrilla troops, Viet Cong soldiers during the Vietnam War – or the American War as the locals call the war. There were living spaces, kitchens, meeting rooms, hospitals and storage rooms in the tunnels. From here Viet Cong organised and started the attacks to Saigon, also during the Tet Offence fifty years ago at the end of January 1968.

How to get there?

My husband and I have always been interested in history and for us the Cu Chi Tunnels were a must-see attraction. We made this excursion one year ago, in February 2017.

There are dozens of tour operators in Saigon and it may be difficult to choose between them. I recommend that you don’t choose the cheapest one. Read some reviews in TripAdvisor before making your decision. We bought the trip package from Kim Travel, a tour operator, which had its sales booth at our hotel. We chose the “Go by Luxury Speedboat, back by Bus” –package. The price was around 40 euros per person, including lunch.

The bus arrived to pick us up at 8 in the morning and took us to the pier by the river. The boat trip took about an hour and was a perfect beginning for a very interesting day! It appeared to be a very good choice:  we arrived at Cu Chi well before the buses and crowds.

What is there to see and to do?

The walking tour in the Cu Chi area was made in a tight group. Our tour guide took care that no one was left behind. It is actually not even allowed to walk around there just on your own. Our guide was a nice and fellow – just a right kind of a person for a job like this! His English was good and his stories were very interesting and lively, in some cases perhaps too funny. There is nothing funny in the history of this area. On the contrary – life in the tunnels during the wartime was dangerous and the conditions were just terrible. It was hot and humid, there were many diseases, poisonous animals and continuous fighting against the enemy.

Today, the area is a well maintained, very popular tourist attraction. All the activities are effectively organised. There can be several hundreds of visitors at the same time, but the area is large and the tour guides know when and where to take their groups to avoid the biggest crowds.

There are several tunnels, which have been widened for tourists to walk – or actually crawl! I strongly recommend a short walk underground to get a better picture of the conditions. However, going into the tunnels is not compulsory at all. You can visit, explore and experience the area without getting into the tunnels. The pathways in the area are easy to walk.

There are also many interesting exhibit areas with pictures, films, booby-traps, weapons, typical clothes of the guerrillas etc. There are also at least two restaurants or cafes with souvenir shops and toilets. After the tour we had lunch, which was included in the price.

We returned to Saigon by bus, which was also a very interesting experience. On our way we saw many small villages, fields and rubber plantations. We arrived in Saigon around 5 pm, so there was still enough time to relax and have dinner in the City.

This trip was one of the best trips we have made in Vietnam. For those who are interested in history, Cu Chi Tunnels are really worth visiting!

4 Vietnamese restaurants in Saigon

Saigon offers a huge selection of good restaurants, but it is not easy to find them when you are visiting the city and just walking around. Many restaurants are located in the upper floors and all you can see from a street is a modest entrance and maybe some stairs up.

Nothing is more frustrating than trying to find a nice restaurant when you already are hungry and tired of walking in the heat. I help you to avoid this by giving you four recommendations for Vietnamese restaurants in Saigon.

These restaurants are not the cheapest ones in the city and they are not the best ones for filling quickly your stomach on a tight schedule. They are nice places for a longer lunch or an enjoyable dinner after a long day of sightseeing or shopping. However, the price level is not high for a Western traveller.

When having a meal in Vietnam you enjoy it more if you know how to use chopsticks. In the most authentic Vietnamese restaurants there may not be forks or knives available at all.

Vietnam does not have a tipping culture so you are not expected to give any tip in restaurants.

SH Garden

Address: 98 Nguyen Hue, District 1

SH Garden is right in the heart of the city, in the middle of the hotel area and main sights. However, unless you know the location of the restaurant, you will probably just walk by and not notice it at all. There is a narrow entrance and stairs, and a hundred years old elevator, which brings you up to the restaurant.

This restaurant serves mostly foreign travellers and there are seldom any local customers. Service is friendly and efficient. The menu includes Vietnamese dishes with a modern twist.

SH Garden in the heart of Saigon (in the bottom left corner)

Secret Garden

Address: 158 Pasteur, District 1

This other “Garden” restaurant is very popular among foreigners, but it still has a very local atmosphere. At weekends, it is crowded and it is difficult to get a table without a reservation, even for lunch. The restaurant is worth its name – its entrance is hidden in a small alley and difficult to find even if you have the exact address in hand.

Would you believe this is the entrance of a very popular restaurant?

To get into the restaurant you have to climb some stairs to the fourth floor of an apartment building, through all kinds of stuff. But it is worth it and an important part of the overall experience!

The menu has great variety and everything looks very delicious – there are pictures of the dishes in the menu. One example of Secret Garden’s dishes can be found in the main picture of this post.

 

Com Nieu Sai Gon (CNSG)

Address: 59 Hồ Xuân Hương, District 3

There are several restaurants in the same CNSG group in the city. This one is closest to our home in D3 and has become very familiar to us during these months in Saigon.

The customers of this restaurant are mainly locals – we haven’t seen many foreign tourists here. You can get here easily by taxi from your hotel – it only takes 10 minutes from D1.

 

CNSG Restaurant in District 3

The menu is available in English. It has a huge selection of traditional Vietnamese food: fish and other seafood, frog, chicken, pork, beef, local soups, vegetarian food and some desserts. The prices are quite high for locals but still moderate for a traveller who looks for a little better Vietnamese restaurant experience.

Lâu Cá Kèo Bà Huyên

Address: 87 Bà Huyên Thanh Quan, District 3

This restaurant is next door to us and quite close to the War Remnants Museum. It is very popular among locals and almost full every night. The environment is authentic and very simple and the food very traditional Vietnamese food. The menu is translated in English, though. The personnel don’t speak English, but we have always succeeded in making our orders by just pointing the dishes that we want! So don’t be afraid to visit these local places just because you don’t have a common language!

Saigon – Ho Chi Minh City – My Crazy Home Town

Most travellers arrive in Vietnam through Saigon and spend a few days here, either in the beginning or at the end of their vacation. Saigon is the biggest and most modern and international city in Vietnam. Officially its name is Ho Chi Minh City, but many people still call it Saigon, which was its name before 1975.

I have lived in Saigon for three months now. Before moving here I spent here 10 days as a tourist, flying here from Hanoi where we lived back then. Based on my impressions and experiences from those days, I was not very excited about the thought of moving here. To my taste, the city is too big, too busy and too noisy. You cannot call it charming or beautiful. However, you may end up calling it exciting, exotic, dynamic and interesting. I sometimes call it “Crazy Town”.

Based on my own experience of three months, I give you here some tips for the most enjoyable days in this chaotic city:

Don’t spend all your time at District 1 tourist traps

It is very difficult to get a clear picture of Saigon in two or three days. To understand the city better, it is good to know that the city is divided to Districts, which all have their own special atmosphere and character.

Foreign travellers often spend their time in the heart of District 1 (D1). The main tourist attractions, hotels, restaurants and high-class shopping centers are located there. However, it takes not more than one day to visit the main tourist attractions. If you stay only in those hotel quarters, you miss the most interesting sight of the city: the local way of life.

One good way to see more local life is to walk or take a taxi along Hai Ba Trung -street to the west. There you can find stores and markets where the locals go shopping. There is also a very interesting “Pink Church”, Tan Dinh church on Hai Ba Trung, as well as Tan Dinh market, which is not so touristy than Ben Thanh market.

West from D1 is District 3, which is quite familiar to me since we live there. D3 is more authentic and Vietnamese – our apartment is only three blocks from the War Remnants Museum and we hardly ever see foreign tourists in our neighbourhood. Yet, we have only one kilometre to walk to the Main Post Office. Between D1 and D3 is the biggest park in Saigon, Tao Dan. It is a nice place to have a little break from the heavy traffic and noise.

Stay at a hotel with an outdoor pool

In Saigon, it is hot all year round. Walking around the city and seeing the main sights will be full of sweat. Staying at a hotel with an outdoor swimming pool makes a big difference to your days! There are plenty of these in Saigon, and often the pools are at the rooftop of the hotel building, with a gym and a bar.

Look up for nice restaurants

Saigon is full of nice restaurants: Vietnamese, Japanese, Korean, Italian and many others. However, it is difficult to find them if you don’t have the exact name and address in hand. One useful tip is to look up – the restaurants often are “hidden” in the second or third floor and have only a very modest and narrow entry at the street level.

Hotels often have nice rooftop bars with wonderful sights over the city. The most famous one is a rooftop bar of Rex Hotel on Nguyen Hue walking street. Liberty Central Saigon City Point Hotel has a very nice rooftop bar, too.

To get a different view of the city you can take a lunch or dinner cruise on Saigon River.

Use taxi or Uber

Public transportation in Saigon is very poor. To save your feet in the heat of over 30 degrees, I encourage you to use taxi or Uber. It is very cheap and you find them easily everywhere. Use Vinasun taxis (white cars) or Mai Linh taxis (green cars), they have a good reputation. Some taxi drivers speak some English and most of them understand the names of the main tourist attractions. You can write the address on a piece of paper and show that to the driver to avoid any hassle. Remember that taxis don’t accept credit cards and most of them are not willing to handle the biggest notes.

Taxi fares are around 20.000 – 50.000 VND for a short drive in the city center.

Be careful at the streets

Saigon traffic may be the craziest one in the world. For a pedestrian, it can be very frightening and seem dangerous. Yet you must cross the street many times during a day. It is easiest at the crossroads with traffic lights, but remember that not all motorcyclists stop at red light.

I would say that Saigon is not the best place for a relaxing vacation, but it surely is a fascinating and interesting city. It is worth visiting now, before it will loose its Vietnamese spirit and become too modern and international.