Editor's Note — This story, and several others on Ho Chi Minh City, complement the CNNGo TV
series. See more of the show here: www.cnn.com/gotravel
(CNN) — CNNGo sets its sights on Ho Chi Minh City. Formerly known as Saigon, the largest city in Vietnam is in the middle of balancing a growing, modern economy with an intense desire to hold onto its history. Our adventure:
-- We set off our journey with Vietnam Vespa Adventures, which zoom us around to see snapshots of local life and nightlife hot spots on two wheels.
-- Rapper Suboi take us to places with a hint of old Saigon, including an incredible family-style meal at Cuc Gach Wuan.
-- Historian Tim Doling explains the changing face of the Ho Chi Minh City and shows us a hidden part of history in the middle of the city.
-- Finally, to get away from the hectic pace of the city, we take a quick hop down to the island of Con Dao.
Vietnam Vespa Adventures
Enjoy the ride as much as the view.
The traffic in Ho Chi Minh City consumes all of your senses -- rather trying to beat it, it's best to join in. Vietnam Vespa Adventures is a tour company that lets you cruise around the city on vintage Vespa bikes. You won't actually get to drive a Vespa yourself in the city, but for many visitors it's more enjoyable to not worry about navigating through the chaos and just enjoy the ride.
Secret Cellar 'B'
Cu Chi: the revolution will be tunnelized.
Most Ho Chi Minh visitors make the hour-and-a-half trek out to the Cu Chi Tunnels, an immense underground network used as a wartime hideout. But there are many other revolutionary secrets hidden in the city's nooks and crannies.
Built in 1952, what's known as Secret Cellar "B" is the place the Viet Minh, the anti-imperalist party, printed information to let the South know what was happening in the North during the fight against French occupation. It's not part of the normal tourist trail, so you'll need to make special arrangements to visit. Historian Tim Doling offers tours around the city and is a great guide.
Cuc Gach Quan
Cuc Gach Quan is like home, complete with a grandma doing the cooking.
With a design meant to feel like a traditional Vietnamese house, Cuc Gach Quan might be the closest you'll come to a homemade meal without getting invited to a local's home. It's a breathtaking space that fuses traditional touches and modern comfort. The meal provides a true taste of Vietnam, moving past the obvious food choices. A fennel soup with clams was one of the most surprising and delightful things we tasted.
Cuc Gach Quan, 10 Dang Tat, Ward Tan Dinh, District 1, Saigon; +84 8 3848 0144/ +84 16 5710 1010
Need a vacation from your vacation in Ho Chi Minh City? Con Dao is the place.
Even with its peaceful atmosphere and pleasant accommodations, Con Dao Island is one of the lesser known islands in Vietnam. Six Senses Con Dao is now the only luxury hotel name here. Other hotels on the island provide basic, yet acceptable rooms.
Eight abandoned prisons are the most fascinating part of the island -- many revolutionaries were imprisoned here during the French occupation. There's also a protected Marine Nature Reserve near the island. Larry Bernier from Dive!Dive!Dive! provides English tours for divers (rare on the island). Booking tickets while in Vietnam or through a Vietnamese travel agent saves you from getting hit with higher prices.
Housed in an old colonial French building, L'Usine is part restaurant, part boutique shop. The restaurant is a modern bistro. Seats on the balcony are highly recommended -- they have an unbeatable view of the Opera House. The shop sells local designs and cute housewares, including pillowcases decorated with traditional Vietnamese scenes.
L'Usine, 151/1 Dong Khoi St., 1/F, District 1, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam; Cafe +84 8 6674 9565, Shop +84 8 6674 3565