From authentic street food to an ancient fortress, renowned entrepreneur Quang Dai shares his list of must-see places in Vietnam
There is so much more to Vietnam than the Vietnam War,” says Quang Dai, a Saigon native and renowned entrepreneur and model. “From the north to the south, you can experience a rich variety of food, culture and natural beauty. In fact, even within Saigon itself, there are many surprises to be found.”
Despite its reputation for being noisy and chaotic, Quang Dai asserts that Saigon has a quiet, traditional side that not many people know about. Hao Si Phuong Alley in District 5 is one such place. “This alley is lined with old and colourful houses, and has been home to the Chinese community in Saigon for over a hundred years. This is where you’ll find Chinese characters on almost every shopfront, people speaking to each other in Chinese and listening to Chinese music,” he shares. “No matter how busy the rest of Saigon gets, you’ll always experience a slower, gentler pace of life when you step into Hao Si Phuong Alley.”
Another favourite of Quang Dai’s is Tran Hung Dao Street, which he fondly calls “the cultural alley”. Here, you’ll find several socially conscious establishments, including Noir, a restaurant where patrons are invited to experience life as a visually impaired person by dining in the dark, and Flowers Speak, a social enterprise that employs people with disabilities in guest-facing roles. “To me, this neighbourhood is a great place to gather, chat and share socially meaningful experiences,” says Quang Dai.
It’s clear the seasoned traveller has plenty of affection for his home country, and why not? Bordering China to the north, Laos and Cambodia to the west, and home to the 15th largest population in the world, Vietnam has plenty to offer. Here is Quang Dai’s list of must-see places when you pass through the Land of the Ascending Dragon.
There are many tombs housing the bodies of the Nguyen Dynasty kings but Quang Dai says he’s always been the most fascinated by the tomb of Emperor Tu Duc. “To me, the unique architecture and how it carefully blends in with its surroundings speaks a lot about the emperor’s personality and vision,” he shares. The tomb complex also has a quiet and calm vibe – perfect for spending a contemplative afternoon.
Trang An is considered an “outdoor geological museum” because it features a dramatic landscape of towering mountains edging the plains and limestone rocks close to the sea. Archaeological explorations have found traces of human activity here over a continuous period of over 30,000 years. “It gives us insight into how prehistoric humans adapted to major climatic and environmental change over time. This place truly helps us grasp the indelible link between humans and nature,” Quang Dai muses.
Water puppet shows have been around in Vietnam since the 10th century, and are integral to the country’s culture. “One of the best places to witness this ancient art form is at the Thang Long Water Puppet Theatre,” Quang Dai says. “The performances make history come alive.” Accompanied by a rousing Vietnamese orchestra and the use of colourful lights and fireworks, each performance is a lively re-telling of local folklore and legends.
Formerly a prison for Vietnamese revolutionaries during the French colonial period and later for American prisoners-of-war during the Vietnam War, this place has seen plenty of strife and hardship. Today, it gives visitors a fascinating insight into the past and serves as a reminder to ensure history does not repeat itself. Quang Dai says, “It may be a cliche to say, ‘Spread love, not war’ but after visiting this museum, you will see the deeper meaning behind the quote.”
Quang Dai insists that Vietnamese cuisine is “so much more than pho and banh mi”. If you’re craving for authentic Vietnamese street food, make a beeline for this popular market located in District 1. Amidst the stalls selling fresh produce, meats and textiles, there are also small food stands selling all manner of delicious local food. Quang Dai says, “Do check out Anan Kitchen & Bar, which serves Vietnamese street food with a twist and was listed among Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants in 2021.”
Quang Dai recommends setting aside at least one day to experience the enormity and grandeur of this ancient fortress and palace. Located within the former imperial capital of Vietnam, this is one of the country’s seven Unesco World Heritage Sites and is “an outstanding structure that feudal palace lovers should not miss”. The sprawling complex is surrounded by a moat and features a series of monuments, including temples, pavilions and lush pleasure gardens.
“This is definitely something everyone who visits Vietnam needs to experience at least once,” Quang Dai declares. “It is an intricate process, nothing is random here.” Hop on a boat and get up close with river culture, discover how the locals adapt to their environment and how they maintain their way of life even amidst the rising tide of modernisation. Sit back, relax and enjoy fresh fruit, piping hot food and other local produce from the many boat hawkers plying their trades along the busy Cai Rang River.
Vietnamese model and travel blogger Quang Dai shares how travellers can contribute to a greener tomorrow while exploring his homeland.
It’s no secret that Asia is one of the biggest contributors of plastic waste. According to analysis from 2021, 81% of the world’s plastics that enter the oceans come from Asia. Southeast Asia, in particular, is a major contributor to plastic waste – 6 out of 10 ASEAN member states generate a combined 31 million tonnes of plastic waste annually.
Thankfully, there is a growing awareness of environmentalism and the importance of sustainability in the region, with grassroots organisations working in tandem with conservationists to turn the tide. In Vietnam, entrepreneur and model Quang Dai is one of those championing a greener lifestyle. The intrepid traveller has taken part in several environmental movements, including WeDo 2019 and Earth Hour 2020.
“The planet and its supply don’t just belong to us but to our future generations,” Quang Dai says. “We are always taking from the planet so as much as possible, we should also give back by recreating, reusing, and recycling. Our present actions ensure a future and a healthy habitat for all species.”
For those planning a visit to Vietnam, you’ll be pleased to find out that the eco-friendly spirit is alive and well in the country of almost 100 million people. Here are Quang Dai’s tips for an eco-friendly trip through Vietnam.