From the Ground: New Hotel – Fusion Suites Saigon

By Jay Austin

The new boutique Fusion Suites Saigon is now open!  We are excited to offer this new Saigon hotel option to our guests, as we also book their sister property, the Fusion Maia in Danang.  This property includes a unique ‘all-inclusive’ and restorative philosophy, so all of the rooms are suites, daily spa treatments are included with each stay, and the Fresh Restaurant and Zen Rooftop Restaurant offer healthy, fresh and delicious food and beverage options with great service.  (We love their breakfast menu!) In keeping with the relaxing and restorative concept, calming music plays down each hallway.

This is a great mid-range hotel option for young couples and families on a budget.  Although the property doesn’t have a swimming pool, they have a Family Suite which has a bedroom just off the parents’ room with bunk beds for younger children – a very unique feature in Southeast Asia! The suites also include a kitchenette with spacious and bright rooms.  This property overlooks Tao Dan Park and the Bitexco Financial Tower, and the property offers good views of the fireworks shows from their rooftop.

From the Ground: New Saigon Artistic Tour

We are excited to announce a new artistic tour in Saigon.  You will enjoy a day of guided exploration of the city’s vibrant art galleries and museums, as well as special request visits (if made in advance) to one or two of our favorite local artists who keep the skills and traditions of Vietnamese art alive from home. You will gain an appreciation for the artistic side of Vietnamese culture and also enjoy the opportunity to learn and apply some techniques for yourself firsthand to take home with you. With a diverse program offering unique experiences, it is perfectly suited for either fine arts aficionados or travelers with a general interest in arts and culture.  This tour not only introduces the blossoming art scene in Saigon, but also allows travelers to personally meet the artists themselves. The artistic house visited as part of this tour is the highlight of the trip, and here you will have the opportunity to participate and learn a thing or two, to really round out the experience.

Vegan-friendly Dining in Southeast Asia

By Courtney Ridgel

Vegans Rejoice!  Chiang Mai, Saigon and Bangkok have been named among the top ten Vegan-Friendly Cities in Asia by PETA.  After seeing the article, we sent our team out to see if we agreed.   We asked our team about their favorite vegan meals and where to go:

Travelers can find a variety of fresh vegan dishes in Southeast Asia – Photo credit: Michelle & Khoa Nguyen

Joy & Chris, Thailand: “Our favorite vegan dishes are stir-fried mixed vegetables, Thai Fresh Spring Rolls with spicy sauce, Vegetarian Pad Thai with Tofu (ask for no egg and no meat), and Vegetarian Som Tam.  You can find these delicious local dishes almost anywhere!”

Lotus Rice (Com Sen) – rice and vegetables with cooked lotus seeds – Photo credit: Michelle & Khoa Nguyen

Michelle & Khoa, Southern Vietnam:   “The Loving Hut is a great place!  It closes at 9pm except for vegan/vegetarian days of the Buddhist calendar when it stays open a bit longer. It is a great location, but you will need a car or motorbike taxi to get there and English-speaking skills are limited so we recommend having your guide assist you.   The food is hot, delivered quickly and delicious, and the menu has a lot of variety.  For kids and less adventurous visitors, there are even options such as vegan burgers, pizza and Spaghetti Bolognese versions.   Some of the items we liked were the sea nuggets rolled with seaweed, the Vietnamese-style papaya salad, the Kumquat & coconut juice, and hot soya milk.”

‘Sea Nuggets’  – Photo credit: Michelle & Khoa Nguyen

We also recommend Hum Vegetarian, Cafe & Restaurant and 3 Lá Vegetarian and you can find dishes such as lotus rice, “vegan pork” in clay pot, and fresh “vegan beef” rolls dipped in pineapple and mushroom sauce.

Vietnamese-style Papaya Salad (Goi Du Du Viet)  – Photo credit: Michelle & Khoa Nguyen

Remember, if you have dietary preferences, requirements or allergies – be sure to let our team and your guides know so that we can have translation cards made for you and so we can recommend the best restaurants for your needs.

Fresh vegan spring rolls with peanuts  – Photo credit: Michelle & Khoa Nguyen

Traveling by Sound – Traditional Vietnamese Music

By Courtney Ridgel

Booking Coordinator, Courtney Ridgel traveled to Vietnam last May and reflects back on her interactive experience at The Truc Mai Music House:

Courtney tries her hand at playing the Ðàn Klôngpút, a rare instrument from the mountains of Vietnam
Courtney tries her hand at playing the Ðàn Klôngpút, a rare instrument from the mountains of Vietnam

Taking the time to listen and watch traditional music being performed is one of the best ways to really gain insight into a local culture.  For the Vietnamese, many stories and melodies are passed on and nurtured as part of their cultural identity.

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Our hosts played a duet on bamboo xylophones, also known as ‘T’rung’ 
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The stone lithophone, or Ðàn Ðá, is an ancient instrument that is believed to date back more than 3,000 years

One of the most unique and personal experiences for us in Vietnam was a visit the Truc Mai Music House in Saigon.   This family specializes in traditional Vietnamese music and performs all over the world.  They have a large collection of traditional instruments such as the monochord zither, bamboo xylophone, and stone lithophone in their home.  We were warmly welcomed inside and served hot tea, which we sipped while our hosts performed a private show for us in their living room.  This family studies and performs melodies from all across Vietnam and they really enjoyed explaining the origins and significance of each instrument.  As both of us come from a musical background, we were blown away when our hosts offered to let us try out the instruments ourselves after the performance!

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Evan tries out the monochord zither or Đàn bầu

Bright Lights, Big City With my Guide Luc

Jill Higson is a guest who traveled  to Vietnam and Cambodia with Journeys Within over the holidays (you can see her itinerary here) and has blogged about it to share her experience with family, friends and future visitors. Here she talks about her time in the busy metropolis of Ho Chi Minh City and her bond with guide Luc…

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From ​motorbikes ​coming in every direction​ to​ pedicab and cab scams (which I fell for despite prior warning —  that ​is what the heat and​ no sleep will​ do to you!), exploring Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam’s largest city, can seem overwhelming.

Traveling with Journeys Within Tour Company, I was ​fortunate​ to have Luc as my​ trusted ​guide for the majority of my time exploring this buzzing city. He ke​pt me safe, while smiling and enjoying every minute we spent together.  From racing around the city’s streets on a motorbike to gobbling down our favourite shrimp rolls at every restaurant to paddling down the countryside’s river in a sampan boat!

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Jill and Luc hitting it off!

Being with someone new is never easy, especially in a foreign country and for two days.  However, Luc’s kindness, easy going manner and humor, help put me at ease and start my journey off on the best note.

Our time together started in the evening with a private concert at the Truc Mai House, where stories were told by the beautiful and talented Mrs Ngo and her son using traditional Vietnamese instruments.  After enjoying the performance, we even got to try the instruments and though we failed miserably at mastering this new talent, we had a good laugh!

Musical instruments
A lesson in traditional Vietnamese music with Mrs Ngo and her son.

The show was followed by a delicious dinner of fried spring rolls (a popular food in Vietnam and served at most meals), rice and​ ​other tasty vegetables, sauces and all the extra condiment’s that accompany a traditional Southeast Asian meal.​

​Day two in the city was ​enjoyed from the back of a motorbike ​with Khiet as my driver and Luc by our side.

We  stopped and saw some classic historical sites such as ​China Town’s bustling ​​Binh Tay Market, where locals stop to shop and eat. We also took in the beautiful Holy Lady Temple, along with an Oriental Medicine Museum, local pagodas (​tall, ornate buildings used for religious worship, with each floor having its own curved and decorated roof) and N​otre-Dame Cathedral, where​ we congratulated a bride and groom after their wedding!​

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The only way to really see Saigon is by motto!

We ended the day with a traditional ​Vietnamese  coffee (individually filtered by cup with thick cream added — a delicious treat that became a favorite drink of mine​!) and drive along the Bach Day river side as the sun set.

After two days in the city, we drove 2 ½ hours out of the city to Cai Be Village in the Mekong ​Delta.  We took a private traditional Vietnamese boat to explore the Cai Be Floating Market​, one of the largest in the world​. We watched rice paper and candies being made and of course got to sample them too. I got in the spirit of shopping and not only bought the homemade candies and honey, but some other non-handmade beauty products as well.​​  The local hawkers made a killing ​from​ this New Yorker that da​y, who paid​ ​ full price no less!​​

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A quiet boat ride is the perfect way to relax after the busy streets of Saigon.

To recover Luc and I were rowed in a traditional sampan boat to a private lunch in a local garden house​.  We were treated ​to local dishes including Elephant Ear fish rolled in rice papers, pancakes and some exotic fruits and vegetables from the garden, all of which we enjoyed. Our host also celebrated doing a few shots​ of homemade Logan win​e with Luc​!  It was a memorable and enjoyable day spent on land and water, one I won’t soon forget thanks to the bond I developed with my Vietnamese guide Luc.