Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam 2006

My first vacation outside of KL after becoming a mother. A very much needed getaway for hubby and myself. Surprisingly by day two, our thoughts had returned back to our little toddler whom we had left at home with his grandparents in Singapore. We vowed then never to leave home without bringing our children with us.

HCMC | 28.09.06

As my company was sponsoring a trip for its employees to Ho Chi Minh City, I couldn’t resist the offer to head to Vietnam, the country which I had strong impressions about since my Uni days. I had requested to go there a day earlier with my boyfriend turned hubby so that I could have more time to explore the place.

Upon touching down, we took a cab into the city about 30 min away. When I first entered HCMC, I was immediately seized by the number of motorcycles and scooters that populated the streets. Based on our tour agent later, there are about 11 million bikes here, almost competing with the population itself.

I counted that there would be a beep every 6 seconds. The motorcyclists and cyclists themselves were governed by their own traffic rules. Needless to say that crossing the road in HCMC takes a certain level of guts. The idea is to take the first step and never stop or look back because the motorcyclists will make their own maneuvers around you. Stopping instead might cause them to knock you.

After checking into our hotel Huong Sen at Dong Khoi Road, we headed straight for the backpackers are Pham Ngu Lam to book our trip to visit the Mekong River the next day. Don’t be conned into booking the trip online because for the same package, it cost USD 50 online but only USD 8 when booked locally.

We went to Sinh Cafe to book our trip. Both Sinh Cafe and its neighbour Kim Cafe are most well known in the area. Thereafter we had a local meal at the cafe which was really cheap and then went on to the Ben Thanh Market. Thank God Theo is good with directions. The night market, as is with most other night markets, offers a selection of locally produced goods but what was most popular is probably the branded Adidas or Nike sports apparel that were over produced by the factories. A shirt costs only about SGD 7 and a skirt SGD 5.

Mekong Delta | 29.09.06

We woke early this morning to join our tour group. But before that we had a good breakfast offered at the hotel. Particularly good was a beef pho. The soup was very refreshing with its nice blend of local spices. We took a 2-3 hrs bus ride through the countryside to a small port town where we hopped onto a motorised ferry for our tour of the Mekong River.

I have heard so much about the Mekong I wasn’t going to miss this experience. I had to see for myself the floating market. Unfortunately when we reached there, it was already late morning so most of the trading, if any, had already been conducted. What we saw were several trading vessels clustered on the river.

The locals will tie the products they are selling on a bamboo pole and hoist it up high so that the people living on the river banks can see what is being sold. Types of goods include sweet potato, tomatoes, bananas etc. I wonder how they hang up the heavier foods?? The tour guide then brought us to several home factories to see the livelihood of some of the locals who use traditional primitive methods to make food stuff like rice paper, rice crackers, coconut sweets etc.

I realised that the locals here use a lot of rice, coconut and longans in their production. The food stuff may be slightly pricey going at USD 1 for everything but tastes really good. The Mekong Delta is one of the rice basins of the world so its high usage of rice is no surprise. Later we were brought the home of a musical group where they served us a home cooked lunch (honestly was not enough but good to eat). We also got to hear a short performance by the group which later requested for donation to keep them going. No problems with that.

We then hopped back onto the ferry and headed to Vinh Long where we spent an hour walking around before getting back onto the bus for HCMC. Nothing much to look at in Vinh Long, just a typical market place where the river folks come sell their wares too. We tried one of their local delicacy though, french loaf wrapped in several types of pork salami, topped with their famous fish sauce, salt and pepper for only SGD 1. It was good and cheap. Heh. It was a very good tour package considering its cost.

HCMC | 30.09.06

Today I joined my colleagues for the day trip round the city. Prior to that I went to one of the local tailor shop to buy an Ao Dai. I have a fetish for collecting national costumes. The total price of the altered Ao Dai and two other blouses cost me USD 80! Later found out that I had gone to one of the more well known tailors. You can actually get Ao Dai off the shelf for much lesser but I guess it was worth it.

I realised there are two parts to the Ben Thanh market. There are government shopping centres inside where prices marked are what you have to pay. No bargaining allowed. Other than that, you can pretty much bargain off up to 50% of the opening price.

The tour round the city wasn’t very exciting, we visited the smaller scale Notre Dame Cathedral and the War Remnants Museum. The museum was educational but I never quite like places like this. It saddens me to know that to this day the effects of the orange agent used during the civil wars are still being felt today.

We also made a trip down to Cholon, the Chinatown. And was also shown an lacquerwood factory. I’m not sure if Vietnam is famous for this. Then it was more and more shopping because the things here are really good and cheap. One of the best shopping experiences for sure.

Our company actually brought us to two nice restaurants for dinner and we were looking forward to a five star feast but was very sorely disappointed. The quality was lacklustre and they never seem to serve enough. =( But Vietnamese cuisine is good and cheap too if you find the correct places.

Overall HCMC is a nice weekend stopover and I bring back with me the memories of the neverending beep beep of the millions of motorcyclists and the warmth of the locals. Don’t miss out trying the pho.

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