Travel black book: Colonial air, street food

Travel black book: Colonial air, street food

Who: Czech citizen Tomas Laboutka, 29, is co-founder and chief executive of HotelQuickly, a last-minute hotel-booking mobile phone app which offers discounted rates for three- to five-star hotels in AsiaPacific.

Favourite destination: Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam

Why: For its French colonial architecture, coffee culture, food and rooftop bars, which are incredible.

Favourite hotel

Location matters, hence the Sanouva Hotel (, a lovely boutique hotel that is only a short walk from the historic Ben Thanh market and close to many central office buildings. It is a great choice for those who are always on the go. The staff deliver excellent service as well.

Best morning activity

Be sure to wake up early and go to where the rich aroma of coffee brewing leads you. There, at roadside coffee shops, you will see people from xe om (motorbike taxi) drivers to office workers sitting on small chairs, reading the newspapers and enjoying their drip-filter coffee.

Favourite restaurant

One of my favourite restaurants for meeting business partners downtown is May Restaurant and Bar ( It is near the beginning of Dong Khoi Street, next to the renowned Maxim Club and Majestic Hotel.

Its smoked salmon crepes, tuna tartare, grilled lamb rack and May fried rolls are highly recommended. You can get a good selection of dishes, including starter, main course, dessert, tea and coffee, for around $13. The crew is extremely kind and helpful.

Favourite museum

In District 10, about 20 minutes away from downtown Ho Chi Minh City is the Museum of Vietnamese Traditional Medicine (, where I learnt about the history and benefits of herbal medicines and tea for the mind, health and fitness, something I take great interest in.

I was also able to buy a small bottle of herbal oil that effectively soothes and relieves muscle pain and bites for less than $2.

Favourite tourist sites

The Cu Chi Tunnels are fascinating and an easy half-day trip that one should not miss out on. They are about 40km north-west of Ho Chi Minh City and going with a guide makes the trip more meaningful as he will be able to explain the significance and history of the tunnels. Some of them had lived in the tunnels so you get to hear about their struggles in wartime Vietnam.

The tunnels date back to when Vietnam was still under the influence of French colonialism. The level of sophistication and sheer size of the structure - 250km of tunnels built by hand - is stunning.

No less astonishing is the fact that there was a whole generation of families who grew up in the tunnels during the seven years of the Vietnam War.

If you prefer not to travel out of the city, you can take a walking tour of historical buildings such as the Opera House, Notre Dame Cathedral and Saigon Post Office.

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