Day 2 was a beautiful and bright Sunday, except for the brief bout of showers in the evening. The girls slept in after their little visit to Apocalpyse Bar in the middle of the night.
Someone tried to snatch Sarah’s handbag on the streets while they stopped to look at the map, but it was a half-drunked failed attempt as Sarah’s bag was still slung onto her arm. Still, at all times in Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC), please hold on tightly to your handbag and carry your backpack in front too, unless you have no valuables in there.
We decided to leave the one-day tours out of the city (ie. to places such as Cu Chi Tunnels and Mekong Delta) to the later part of our trip and so we went exploring HCMC on foot.
Turning left from our hotel Tan My Dinh, there are some interesting sights and shops:
This boutique hotel looks nice and I might consider staying there on my next trip to HCMC
A motorbike repair shop at a street corner to cater to the endless streams of two-wheelers that threaten to shorten your lifespan when you try to cross the roads
A cute shop selling infant and toddler clothes
This is Ben Thanh Market which I wrote about in my first HCMC post. It reminds me of Chatuchak in Bangkok, just that this is open every day and not on weekends only. At night, some of the stall vendors from Ben Thanh Market set up shop along the small lanes next to the market – like a pasar malam (meaning night market in Malay).
Near the Museum of Ho Chi Minh City is the People Committee Hall…
… which is near the Rex Hotel!
We wanted to stay at the Rex Hotel but it was fully booked!
As we neared the Opera House, the area became more upmarket with flagship stores of luxury brands and really grand hotels. This is the Opera House on the left with the Caravelle Hotel on the right:
Diagonally across the Opera House is Louis Vuitton…
Directly opposite the Opera House is a garden…
To the right of the Opera House is the pretty Hotel Continental Saigon…
… which has a sweet coffee house that Meijuan initially suggested having brunch at, but it was dampening on the wallet so we gave it a miss and carried on walking.
I bought a severely overpriced ‘multiple-hand’ (not second-hand) book from the lady above. It wasn’t a book that I really really really wanted but it was a romance novel that caught my eye and I like the feeling of ‘old’ books.
Behind Hotel Continental Saigon is Parkson Departmental Store (yes, Parkson as in Malaysia) and then across the road from Parkson is Vincom Centre which has an Emporio Armani Caffe!
We were in the vicinity of the Notre Dame Cathedral, so we encountered more art galleries in the area…
… as well as book stores.
The books at this nice store were quite cheap and I would have bought some, but I didn’t wanna add on to my already-heavy luggage. There were these trishaw-looking tricycles that we did think of trying but never did. One of them actually offered to take all three of us on one! What?!
Ahhhh… we reached the Notre Dame Cathedral!
This is the winning photo of the trip:
Opposite the Notre Dame Cathedral is the Central Post Office…
After all that walking, we were getting famished as we didn’t have breakfast. Meijuan wanted to try pho and we found Pho 24, a chain store.
Both of them had pho – Meijuan’s one with chicken and Sarah’s with meatballs – and they were quite disappointed with the standard. This is our appetiser plate:
That spring roll thing in the middle gave me the runs the next two days! I bet it was the mint leaves.. Meijuan also had slight diarrhoea and tummy pains as she took one bite; Sarah was spared because she didn’t eat it at all. I had broken rice (I think it’s their term for our economic rice) and the chicken was so good! Like a Vietnamese version of chicken teriyaki…
We spent the whole trip looking for avocado shake which is apparently damn good in HCMC, but none of the restaurants we ate at had it – the waiters told us it was unavailable. Not the season maybe?
After lunch I was all ready to engage in more walking but we discovered Regina Coffee – a Starbucks rip-off – a few doors down from our lunch place and the girls suggested some post-lunch coffee.
Great ambience, cosy feel and totally reminding me of Starbucks:
We ended up not ordering any coffee and instead had some banana and chocolate cake, as well as ice cream.
Our next stop was the Independent Palace, which is now known as the Reunification Palace, which costs only VND 30,000 per adult ticket.
The Reunification Palace was the home and office for the President of South Vietnam during the Vietnam War. It was also the site which marked the end of the Vietnam War during the Fall of Saigon on April 30 1975 when a North Vietnamese Army tank crashed through its gates. Before that a fighter aircraft bombed the palace but the damage was not beyond.
Language-specific guided tours are provided for free and the tour guides will approach you at the entrance. Don’t get frightened and think that they are trying to sell you something! The tour takes about an hour, from floor to floor, room to room, but we decided to walk around on our own instead. I can’t remember what the names of the rooms are, but here are some of the nicer ones:
I felt like I was walking through Chinese Swimming Club in Singapore, with all this ching-chong oriental decorum. The windows look like some hotel lobby though:
There are recreational facilities like a cinema, mahjong room, library and even a dance hall on the top floor.
The helipad is quite interesting -
We were taking a break in the dance hall (or ballroom if you prefer) when it suddenly started pouring! We sat around and waited for it to stop; thankfully it didn’t last too long!
By the time the rain ceased it was nearly 5pm. We didn’t know if the War Remnants Museum would still be open but we just tried our luck and walked over anyway, since it wasn’t too far away.
We made it…
We didn’t come back to the War Remnants Museum anymore – maybe on the next trip? There is a Chinatown in HCMC, called the Chalon area and I thought it would be interesting to have a look and maybe catch dinner there. It was indeed a way interesting experience…
Welcome to Chinatown@HCMC!
To be honest, it was more rundown than we expected. I guess Chinatown in HCMC is not a key tourist attraction? The poor living conditions was quite a shock to us…
This was the An Dong market where we got our freshly-grounded Weasel coffee powder:
The Weasel coffee is so fragrant! We bought 1kg each (VND 25,000 for 100g) and a free filter was given.
The stalls were packing up so we left the market. The market reminded me of People’s Park in Singapore’s Chinatown – local produce and food on the ground floor, textiles, clothes and everything non-food on the upper levels.
The sun sets at 6pm in HCMC and it was dark when we stepped out of the market. The Chinatown area is dimly-lit and there was an eerie feel to everything there so we aborted the initial dinner plans there.
We exited from the back of the market so we found ourselves in a back road that gave us the creeps.
We couldn’t get a cab and started to get a bit scared so we briskly walked to the main road, passing by this (shady) nightclub on our way down the street.
Once on the main road we got a cab fairly quickly (we only took VINASUN cabs the entire trip in HCMC) and headed back to District 1 for dinner. We spotted a French bakery and wanted to have some bread for dinner.
After dinner we chose to walk our way back to the hotel so we could look at more shops and I found the Hello Kitty shop!
I was so tempted to buy a Hello Kitty pink luggage bag that is SO cute (you can see it in the window display above) but the girls persuaded me otherwise, saying I’m too cool for that.
Because of my need to drink at least four litres of water a day, we bought two 5-litre jerry can-like bottles at the 24-hour convenience store near the Hello Kitty shop and lugged them all the way. I couldn’t find a 24-hour convenience store near our hotel (we found one on the last day of our trip) so being kiasu (Singlish term for scared to lose), I chose to buy the water from somewhere so far away and lug it back. I carried one while the girls passed the other one back and forth between themselves, oops.
We were going in the direction away from our hotel so we ended up lost! Ok not lost LOST, just on the wrong side of the long road. We were too tired to walk back down that same long road so we took a cab back. The girls wanted to go partying but Meijuan and I had sudden tummy pains – which I suspected was from the spring roll thing at Pho 24 which Sarah didn’t touch. How do I know? Because I spotted dark green leaves during one of the runs I had, completely undigested and gross.
We booked a tour to Mekong Delta for the next day anyway and had to leave the hotel at 745am, so just as well that we slept early!
Poor Meijuan and I had tummy pains
(This photo was taken in the morning at the start of our day, before we had our slight food poisoning.)
Sarah’s trying out my DSLR and complaining how heavy the 18-200mm lens is.