Cruise down the Saigon, Ho Chi Minh 2013

I was still in a food coma from our delicious lunch at Nhà hàng Ngon, but somehow it was already dinner time. Signet arranged a “cultural” cruise for us down the Saigon River: we were to dine on Euro-Asian food and feast on traditional music and dance.

the cruise ship

We boarded an ornate, rose wood ship and were greeted by women in light blue áo dài who led us to our table. Waiters whipped around the deck with cocktails in hand. Chilled and only lightly alcoholic–just enough to whet the appetite.


An hors d’oeuvre of baguette slices were served with a dollop of vegetable slaw or meat slaw (is that even a thing?). Baguettes are clearly French influence, but the slaw may just be a Vietnamese take on what they think foreigners enjoy slapping on their bread. :p (Extra) salty peanuts slid in alongside the plate of hors d’oeurvre.

As we sat waiting for our table to be called to the buffet, we were treated to the first traditional dance of the night. I’ve struggled to find the name of this; but it was a very lively and airy dance with a lot of swishing of dresses and twirling.

vietnamese dance

Then we were finally unleashed unto the food. A seafood buffet that the others in our group had been itching to dive into.

My mom and my meals were specially ordered for us, since there were very limited vegetarian options. Since it would be a while before we were served, I decided to throw convention to the wind and start with dessert first. And a glass of wine.

dessert and wine

A table of shot glasses filled with white chocolate and milk chocolate creme piqued my interest–or should it be the flan? I did fancy the cream puffs as well, and the glazed donut holes…there’s no shame it trying it all, now is there?

We grew antsy with the slow service and took matters into our own hands by making rounds at the buffet. There were a few dishes at our disposal: vegetable vermicelli that was a bit too wet and a spinach and feta pastry that was much too dry.

buffet food

When we sat down with our pickings, the rest of our dinner was also finally ready. A bowl of pho to start. Noodles went down smoothly, but the broth tasted distinctly of MSG.


Sushi was next. Too much rice, and rather odd fillings chosen for the roll: mushroom, celery, carrot, and tomato. Cucumber, pickled vegetable, and avocado would have suited me better.


Then came a small bowl of curry with a plate of baby, buttery baguette-bread-not-really-baguettes. The vegetables were chunky, meaty, and soaked up the curry well. I liked this one the most.

curry and baguettes

And then–a plate french fries! Gotta include some vegetables for those vegetarians. But wait! What if…what if we drop handfuls of these fries on the sides of a plate of cucumber salad?! Yes, that’s perfect. The American tourists will love this.

french fry salad

Let’s throw in a bowl of pumpkin soup too. They like that creamy, buttery stuff.

That’s what I imagine was running through the chefs’ heads as they drummed up dishes for us. It was quite an amusing meal; I guess they just don’t have many vegetarian guests :).

I don’t know about you, but I have this quirk where if I don’t particularly enjoy what I’m eating–even if I’m served a lifetime’s worth of food–I’ll continue looking for things to eat. I was definitely full by this time, but I simply wasn’t satisfied.

banh xeo

So I found a bánh xèo [Vietnamese crepe] station and ordered one with vegetable filling. This was just satisfying enough.

Those who didn’t spend over an hour waiting for their food to arrive had finished and were dancing on the floor to some swing music. I desperately wanted to join, but alas, the food in me would not have it.

bamboo dance

The dance floor emptied to make way for múa sạp tây bắc, or the bamboo dance. Múa sạp originates from the Northwest highlands of Vietnam. Four to six people hold two sticks of bamboo each while 8 other dance in and out of the bamboo in a 4/4 rhythm. The audience was invited to join in, but most were too shy.

music and dance

The rest of the night was filled with dances from different countries–Spain, the Phillippines, and even Russia. A fabulous Filipina took the stage and filled the air with sonorous notes of Latin love songs.

view from saigon river

I think the cruise ships had more lights than all of Saigon’s buildings.