Yes, my girlfriends managed to drag me out of Singapore for a 4D3N chick trip to Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam! We were colleagues at L’Oreal once upon a time and then lost touch for 2 years before bumping into each other at Bikram Yoga class… The friendships were strengthened through the buckets of perspiration amid the neat rows of black mats and then Sarah kept pushing us for a trip.
We finally managed to squeeze time out of our schedules and it was Sarah’s suggestion to come to Ho Chi Minh City as she just returned from a trip to Hanoi and loved the Vietnamese culture so much. She’s more interested in the nightlife though – said she heard Ho Chi Minh City has some vibrant nightlife.. I’m not much of a clubbing or alcohol fan so let’s see what unfolds over the next few nights.
Ho Chi Minh City, previously known as Saigon, is the largest city in Vietnam and was the capital of the French colony of Cochin-china.
Meijuan and I didn’t sleep much the last few nights ’cause we were rushing work to come for this trip, but I still have some work due so here I am alone in the hotel room now as the two of them are out somewhere having coffee in a cafe.
Flying out on an early morning Tiger Airways flights at 7.45am (the return ticket cost like S$140 bucks per person plus taxes and surcharges) we landed in Ho Chi Minh City at 930am local time (they are one hour behind us on GMT +7). The flight was less than two hours!
We got a cab from the airport and paid with a pre-bought ticket of 10 USD, but we had to pay for some toll almost immediately out of the airport that cost 50,000 VND. We gave the cabbie 100,000 VND but he returned us 40,000 VND only – less than 10 minutes upon landing and we get cheated already.
After dumping our bags off at the Tan My Dinh Hotel, we got a map from the hotel and went exploring on our own since we couldn’t check in till 1pm. Sarah wanted to try the banh mi pho sandwich – a classic Vietnamese sandwich – so that was the first thing we bought, from a roadside stall.
Basically it is a French baguette (yes, the city was once under the French hence all the French influences) stuffed with the ingredients for pho, the sacred soup of Vietnam: beef scented with star anise and cinnamon, fresh basil and crunchy bean sprouts, as well as steamed pork roll (cha lua), seasoned with fish sauce, minced barbecued pork (nem nuong) with a sweet glaze, pickled carrots and daikon radish (do chua), cucumber, ham, pork liver pâté and a lot of other leafy stuff.
Can you also spot The Laughing Cow cheese logo in the picture above?
I think it cost us 15,000 VND, which is about S$1. The thing is – the Vietnamese, or at least those we have encountered so far, can’t really speak English. Not even basic English like telling us how much – they had to take out their currency and show us or their calculators.
It was quite a yummy sandwich but there was so much stuff in there that it got a bit confusing for the palates.
I was looking for water so we bought some mineral water from a shop.
We totally got cheated – the 1.5-litre Aquafina water was sold to us at 12,000 VND. I later saw that it was selling at 9,000 VND at the 24-hour K convenience mart. After I bought the 1.5-litre bottle, Sarah wanted two 500ml ones and the woman asked for 14,000 VND! Isn’t that ridiculous? Sarah got the 1.5-litre bottle like me instead. The 500ml Aquafina water was selling for 3,500 VND at K Mart btw. Well, I guess these small shops have to mark up a bit to make some profit right?
We walked along and found ourselves at the Ben Thanh Market. Ben Thanh Market (Ben meaning “wharf”, and Quy Thanh meaning “turtle citadel”) is a big marketplace in the downtown area in District 1. It houses a wet market as well as local handicrafts, textiles, and souvenirs, as well as local cuisine.
Meijuan wanted to try to food so we sat down at one of the stalls and this lady came to serve us. I didn’t like how they kept trying to hard-sell us their fruit juices and coconuts.
I think we got cheated again – they overpriced us like crazy.
Just for all of that above (minus the water), we paid 100,000 VND!! That’s like almost S$7!
There were a lot of people eating this noodle soup thing so we wanted to try it, but it turned out to be so-so. Nothing great about the soup and nothing great about the noodles either
I felt that the souvenirs sold there were overpriced too, so we didn’t buy anything from there and decided to get out of the market and continue exploring the streets. As we walked through the crowded market, the stall vendors would pull our sleeves or grab our arms/shoulders to get our attention and ask us if we would like to buy anything. I mean, approaching us is fine but to be touched is quite an intrusion of personal space and privacy… no? Even the men on those scooters for rental would reach out to tap us when we walk past.
The streets of Ho Chi Minh City, or at least in District 1 where we are staying, remind me of Bangkok. Crossing the roads here is quite a scary affair! The scooters and motorbikes come in droves and you have to boldly strut your way across the road or you’ll never get across! You just have to get used to it but please be careful… It’s quite an experience watching all these bikes coming towards you and trying to avoid you as they slow down. Sarah keeps hiding behind me so that if anything happens I would get hit first – what a great friend I have eh? We did consider going to Bangkok for our chick trip… until the floods thwarted all our plans. The Vietnamese language sounds a bit like Thai too!
Some of the inner lanes, especially the shopping alleys, remind me of Hong Kong for some reason (see picture above). There are also lots of pretty restaurants and quaint cafes like this one:
We walked on and found ourselves at a museum! It turned out to be the Ho Chi Minh City Museum, situated at the corner of Lý Tự Trọng street and Nam Kỳ khởi nghĩa street near Reunification Palace (formerly Independence Palace).
Entrance to the museum is 15,000 VND per person and we spent the next two hours there.
The Ho Chi Minh City Museum is a hot spot for wedding photography, we noticed.
During the two hours we were there, we encoutered at least five different bridal couples!
There was also an underground shelter that gave me a bit of the creeps! It’s funny how European history charms me to no end, but Asian history freaks me out!!
I think we spent more time cam-whoring in there than appreciating the historical artefacts, oops.
The cafe by the museum, called COSMO, is so enchanting.. It reminded us of some cafe in Dempsey! The classical car display was a visual treat:)
Ho Chi Minh City has a lot of historical and war museums to visit and this is only one of the many!
At the check-in counter this morning, I bumped into Shaun (fellow Singaporean) who has a business in Ho Chi Minh City and is here for the weekend. He said he has some time to take us round, hooray! Japanese food for dinner tonight he said…
For more photos, view my album here.