Your Local City Guides - Off the beaten track

James Pham
Travel blogger, Saigon
James is an office administrator by day and obsessive travel planner by night. To date, he has travelled to more than 20 countries, cataloging his experiences on FlyIcacusfly. He has been featured on MSNBC’s Today Travel Photo of the Day and commissioned by various travel brands in Vietnam to write on the subjects of travel and food.

Saigon: Off the beaten track

Get off the beaten path with intrepid traveller James Pham who will guide you into the authentic Saigon experience with his Top Ten quirky things to do! Located just five minutes away from Tan Son Nhat International Airport and Tan Binh Exhibition and Convention Centre, PARKROYAL Saigon is the perfect starting point for both business and pleasure.

Highest Tea

Highest Tea

Skip the expensive Skydeck on the 49th floor of the 68-story Bitexco Tower, Saigon’s highest building, and head straight to Strata on the 50th floor where a cappuccino only costs VND 100,000 plus you get a bird’s eye view of the sprawling city.

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Get Schooled in Clay

Get Schooled in Clay

Take a half-day ceramics class and find out how deceptively hard this Vietnamese craft is. You get clay, instruction, painting and firing for about USD 7. For a cheaper, quicker family fun activity, head for the crafts corner at all the government-owned bookstores around town. Projects start at USD 0.50.


Monkey around the Market

Monkey around the Market

My favorite spot in Ben Thanh market is actually the market's shrine set one floor up, through an unmarked passageway in the south corner and up two flights of rickety stairs. A great vantage point to look down on the buzzing aisles below.

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Three Regions, Countless Meals

Three Regions, Countless Meals

Vietnam's distinct regions mean countless dishes. One of my favorites is banh xeo, hands-only pancakes stuffed with pork and shrimp, rolled up in a lettuce leaf and dipped in fish sauce. Snack size variants are VND 3,500 each. Order six for USD 1 and you’ve got yourself a meal.


Learn and Eat Local

Learn and Eat Local

Take a street food tour with Saigon Street Eats that leads you into shops selling Buddha statues, betel nuts and wedding dresses. Now, imagine that turning into lessons on Vietnamese religion and customs all against the backdrop of experiencing local food, like learning what all those interesting herbs are for!


Not Just For the Birds

Not Just For the Birds

Free concerts of the avian variety happen every day in Tao Dang park in the early morning hours. Expect to see up to 100 cages hung up on wires, placed on the ground or on the tables, with songbirds of every variety chirping in.

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It’s Not Over Until the Skinny Lady Sings

It’s Not Over Until the Skinny Lady Sings

There’s no way to see the inside of the gorgeous Saigon Opera House built in 1897 other than by taking in a performance. You can enjoy an eclectic variety of shows ranging from modern ballet to classical Vietnamese music.

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Vive la France!

Vive la France!

Explore the French influence in Vietnam as seen from the pale yellow buildings with white trim, to the beef bourguignon-like bo kho, with the Vietnamese addition of cinnamon and herbs, to the local penchant for not-too-sweet cakes. Visits to the French-inspired Post Office and the Notre Dame Cathedral are a must.


Pamper Yourself: Vietnam Style!

Pamper Yourself: Vietnam Style!

Get pampered at the local barber’s. With a haircut and shave averaging about USD 1.50, splurge and get your ears cleaned. Armed with an arsenal of picks, brushes and a miner’s lamp, the barber will dig out every trace of earwax, leaving you with bionic hearing.


Country Roads

Country Roads

If you can’t make it to the Mekong Delta, explore Thanh Da island instead. Just 20 minutes from the city center, you’ll find meandering lanes with small one-story houses where people still raise ducks, plant rice and work in fruit orchards.