After a half-century marred by war and economic stagnation, Ho Chi Minh City-a.k.a. Saigon-has come into its own with a tireless energy few places can match. (Just watch out for those scooters.)
A fruit vendor
Image – Michael Turek
DAY TWO Wake up early and dress light-today you’re going biking. Catch a cab down to Bach Dang Pier, where you’ll meet a speedboat from Saigon River Express. It’ll carry you deep into the Mekong Delta, slaloming through water hyacinths, wood rice boats and traditional fishing vessels with red-rimmed eyes painted on the bow.
Once you disembark, you rendezvous with Vietnam Bike Tours, whose experienced guides outfit you with a mountain bike and lead you on a winding 10-mile trip to My Tho (1) along the Mekong River. As you travel, you’ll pass yellow- green rice paddies dotted with shrines and family tombs. Wave back at the people who whoop at you; that’s a Vietnamese greeting, not a catcall.
After the long ride, enjoy a banh mi sandwich on the boat back. Ask the captain to take you to Thao Dien Village Hotel (2) across the river from the city center, and take advantage of the resort’s day spa for a much-deserved hot stone massage.
Thien Hau Pagoda
Image – Michael Turek
Limber and relaxed, you hop a boat back across the river and hail a scooter taxi up to the Emperor Jade Pagoda (3) on Mai Thi Luu, arguably the city’s most interesting Taoist/Buddhist temple. Ask the driver to wait for you, or it’ll be a long walk home. Once you’ve checked out the turtle pond (a symbol of good luck) in the tree-lined courtyard, buy some incense and light it by the giant wooden statue of the God of the Heavens inside.
Time for dinner. Ask your scooter driver to take you over to An Vien (4) on Hai Ba Trung. Look for the octagonal entryway tucked down an alley by Dien Bien Phu. The restaurant, built in a former French villa, has an Old World elegance: Red velvet curtains, oriental rugs and vintage leather couches dot the dimly lit interior. Avail yourself of their fantastic wine list. For dinner, stuff yourself with spicy river fish soup, eel rolls, fried sticky rice cakes with pork and morning glory stems with roasted garlic. Try not to nod off on the scooter ride home.