Ho Chi Minh: Part 3

28 April 2014

Lunch at Viet Village

- Menu -

Deep Fried Prawn Cake

Fried Fish with Sweet & Sour Sauce

Roasted Chicken with Five Flavors

Sautéed Vegetables with Garlic

Fried Rice with Seafood

Flan Caramel

Our day tour was inclusive of lunch and the food was more than enough for two people. Overall, it wasn't bad, but the flan was drenched in strong coffee syrup so I gave my share to Abigail who enjoyed eating it.

We noticed that there was a constant stream of tourists with their guides coming in for lunch. It looked like the restaurant has been contracted by various tour operators as the designated food stop.

Reunification Palace

For what felt like an hour, our tour guide sat us down at the front of this building and gave us the history of Vietnam. Abigail appreciated it, but I just wanted the gist as I thought it was taking way too long. Of all the sites we visited though, I enjoyed this the most as the place looked like it got stuck in a time warp.

The South Vietnamese President's old desk and his rooftop helipad (which I like to think of as the getaway vehicle).

One of the war rooms in the underground bunker.

Jade Emperor Pagoda

Many sites online have advised that if you only have time to visit one temple in Ho Chi Minh, then this is it. Though technically a Taoist temple, there are sections that are devoted to Buddhist and Confucian practices.

Fine Arts Museum

This was our last stop of the day, and I must say a rather nice way to end it. The place is packed with local art and not surprisingly, the recurring theme is about the war. I would suggest to visit this museum either early in the morning or late in the afternoon as there is no air conditioning in the building, just electric fans.

Ho Chi Minh: Part 2

21 April 2014

For our second day, we booked a private city tour via the Indochina Odyssey Tours. I actually wanted to go with XO Tours, but my husband was concerned that going on a motorbike wouldn't be safe. It was just as well since it was so hot that the air conditioned car ended up being the better option. The tour was from 9 AM to 5:30 PM and cost us USD 142 for two people.

Basilica of Our Lady of The Immaculate Conception

Also known as the Notre Dame Cathedral, it has been around since 1880. The red bricks were imported from France along with the colored glass windows.

There's a corner in the church where people put up a plaque to give thanks if their prayers were answered. After a quick scan of the area, the oldest dated tablet I found was from 1922.

It's also a popular spot for newlyweds even if they didn't have the ceremony at the church. That morning we saw at least three couples having their wedding photos taken.

Saigon Central Post Office

Located next to the Notre-Dame Basilica, it was designed and constructed by Gustave Eiffel, the French engineer who also built the Eiffel Tower in Paris.

The red structure used to house phone booths, but have now been filled with ATM machines.

If you go further inside the post office, you'll see Mr. Duong Van Ngo - the last public letter writer in Saigon. He has been translating letters in English, French and Vietnamese for almost 70 years. I asked him to translate a note for me on a postcard that I sent to Earl. When I asked him how much I should pay him, he waived me off saying that none was needed. I gave him VND 10,000 anyway as token which he accepted.

War Remnants Museum

Basically, this museum is all about the horrors the Americans inflicted upon the Vietnamese people. It is divided into different sections, one of which is dedicated to the effects of Agent Orange. As many have pointed out, it is a one-sided story as told by the victors.

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Ho Chi Minh: Part 1

14 April 2014

Sài Gòn

I wasn't really sure what to expect, but one thing I didn't consider, despite all my research, was the weather - it was hot! Another challenge was the traffic. Motorcycles outnumber cars in this city and there aren't that many traffic lights, so crossing the street was a daily adventure.

The place itself reminded me of provincial cities in the Philippines - small stores, narrow streets and very few skyscrapers. On one hand, it gave me this feeling that a wonderful shop could be lurking just around the corner. On the other, I would have preferred that everything be grouped into one area as it wasn't a picnic walking under the scorching sun.

We were based in District 1 and there were hardly any malls. The ones that do exist are high end with very few shoppers. We also tried to find a supermarket comparable to what we're used to, but that too was not easy. The handful we found were small, had dim lighting and mostly empty shelves. Abigail and I were starting to get discouraged. We wanted to go shopping, but since most of what they sold is also available in Manila, we were pinning our hopes on supermarket finds.

When I'm in a foreign country, one of the first things I look for is a grocery store. To me, it's like a treasure trove of things that you can't find at home. Luckily, we finally found Siêu Thị Tax (Tax Supermarket) the day before we left.

I was able to buy coconut candy (VND 13,500) that turned out to be quite chewy, sugared lotus seeds (VND 29,500) and watermelon seed candy (VND 20,300). Of the three, I loved the sugared lotus seeds as they reminded me of the sweet beans from my childhood.

There was one thing the grocery stores all had in common - lockers located at the entrance. At the Tax Supermarket, we were not allowed to bring our bags into the store, just our wallets. I didn't understand this at first until the electricity died on us thrice in less than an hour - and the security guards came running down each aisle with flashlights pointed at the shoppers.

It also took some time to get used to large bills and no small change. For example, if your you're supposed to get VND 13,500 back, they will not give the VND 500 as they kept telling me that it's worthless. To me it's not - you'll never get to a million without that one cent - you'll only have 999,999.99. Also, since they keep skipping out on the change, it adds up to a figure that is worth something.

What I did like was that their restaurants and cafés had character - at least the ones we went to. I don't remember seeing so many nicely decorated venues in other places I've visited. I think it was due to the bricks - they were all decorated with brick walls which exuded a feeling of warmth thus making things seem quite cosy.

Golden Dragon Water Puppet Theater

Based on what I've read, water puppets have been the traditional form of entertainment since the 11th century, so of course Abbie and I had to see it for ourselves.

The puppets are controlled from beneath the water - how I couldn't figure out, and everything is in Vietnamese.

The theater is in dire need of updating and I'm thinking that they should be able to afford it. We went during the second showing on a weeknight and the place was packed. The earlier show also had huge tour buses parked outside.

For me, this is good to experience at least once.


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Ho Chi Minh: Nhà Hàng Ngon

07 April 2014

Almost all the guidebooks and blogs I checked recommended this restaurant. Our tour guide also mentioned this when we asked for the best place to go to in the city. The verdict? "Ngon" means delicious and it certainly was.

We were there on a Tuesday night for early dinner, and when we left at around 8 PM, the place was packed. Though I didn't see a queue so it's probably because aside from having an outdoor area, they also have two floors of indoor seating.

This is the first time I've ever seen cigarettes as part of the menu.

Bánh Hỏi Thịt Heo Quay Cuốn Bánh Tráng
Rice Vermicelli with Roasted Pork served with Rice Papers & Vegetables
VND 125,000

This I liked, though Abigail found the rice paper to be a bit tough to chew, so she preferred the dish below. But we both agreed that we loved the dipping sauce (Nuoc Cham). She even bought a bottle from the local supermarket to bring back to Manila.

Phở Bò Tái
Noodle Soup with Rare Beef
VND 56,000

We didn't notice the "rare" bit until it was served. Despite that, it was a very tasty soup.

Chè Sương Sa Hột Lựu
Jelly, Water Chestnut Tapioca Pearls & Coconut Milk
VND 28,000

Chè means "sweet soup" and it was a lot like the Filipino halo-halo, but not as sweet. It wasn't bad, though I would have preferred this with a little more sugar.