Friday, May 8, 2015

Fie x Saigon: Hello, Ho Chi Minh

Beginning my journey to Saigon, Ho Chi Minh City with donuts accompanied by my best friend was a nice kickstart to the upcoming adventures that awaited me. No, I never got my J-Co nor did I get Dunkin, but I guess simply glazed Krispy Kreme donuts is a pretty good equal.

Checked in pretty early, and the walk from the departure hall was really long. Exceptionally long, considering it was my first solo trip.  I think it took about ten minutes? With the use of travel-lators, mind you.

I remember the mixed feelings I had. The excitement of visiting yet another country with miles of culture just oozing out of the ground coupled with the anxiousness of traveling solo for the first time.

My advice is to always opt for a window seat, because the transition from home ground to a whole new environment is the first taste of a new experience. It’s fascinating to spot the difference in land planning, the various tributaries, endless rivers and the small squares that turn into little houses as the plane draws closer to the ground.

Amazingly, the sky was extremely beautiful that day. Although ridiculously hot, I just plopped my shades on and left the window shade wide open just for the almost luminous sky. It was almost alien-esque in colours. The sea reflects like a soap bubble – at times when the sun hits it in the right places, I see shades of glossy purple and green on top of its already translucent blue.

The change in clouds made me really wish that i did a timelapse video. The clouds went from fluffy white, and then the sky went cloudless, before we passed a heavy rain cloud.

It was a pleasant flight into Tan Son Nhat International Airport, and a smooth transition through to immigration. What really fascinated me was how the ladies wore their ao dai for their uniforms. I mean, national costume, but I don’t see myself wearing a cheongsam, sari or baju kurung to serve yogurt or anyone else sitting at the airport check-in desk in Singapore wearing our traditional costumes. A whole new perspective on tradition in Saigon.
There were helpers to lift our luggage off the luggage belts and they put them aside ready for the passengers collection, which I really appreciated.

This beautiful girl (Mai) was waiting for me as soon as I exited, and she yelled my name out loud and started jumping up and down and waving madly.

We hailed a taxi, and made our way back to her house where I would be staying for the next few days.
It was a change, not booking a hotel room and staying with a friend and her family because I got to experience how they live and their way of life.

Since I arrived close to dinner time, we made it home and changed before heading out for dinner. One of the best parts of my trip was actually getting to ride a motorbike everywhere. I absolutely loved the feel of the wind through my hair (despite the helmet), and the traffic was r-i-d-i-c-u-l-o-u-s. Traffic lights really don’t matter there. The intense honking of the horns became music to my ears after the few days I spent there.

Mai took me to savor one of my favourite Vietnamese dishes – pho. Of course.

The broth was rich in beef flavour, the beef slices were tender and they pulled apart beautifully. It was such a hearty dish, and the perfect welcome for me. It changed my perception of pho completely especially compared to the various pho dishes I’ve tried in Singapore.

Pho le
303 – 305 Võ Văn Tần, P. 5, Quận 3, TP.
Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam

Surprised by two of my favourite people, Bell and Anu, which made my trip all the more worthwhile. Knowing the locals is the best way to travel in a country because they really show you the heart of their hometown.

They helped me with getting a SIM card (totally worth it), but I only got one for just data which is what I mainly used. Not sure how much it was, but it keeps adding data to the card for some reason. Since everything was in Vietnamese, I have no idea why I had an excessive amount of data addition. Not complaining though!

The boys brought Mai and I for dessert after.

We had quite a few dishes, one of them being braised papaya, maybe black grass jelly, and beancurd with gingko nut. Their desserts weren’t overly sweet, and had a huge chinese influence. They were refreshing, and was such a delight to eat especially in humid weather like Ho Chi Minh’s.

Back to the bikes, and off we went to District 2, if I remember correctly, to visit the Thu Thiem Bridge. This bridge actually links downtown Ho Chi Minh to the Thu Thiem new urban area and is a really popular night spot. It’s also the best place to catch both sunset and sunrise, as well as enjoy the lights of Saigon.

I wished I got the chance to catch sunrise or sunset during my trip, but I didn’t really have the chance to. :/ Ended the night with an addictive cup of Oolong milk tea from Luxe. It was so addictive I had it for three days straight. Well, alternating between earl grey and oolong; both equally as good.

Woke up to an early breakfast, yes another noodle dish – Mi quang.

It was accompanied by some rice cracker side dish. I didn’t really have much of an appetite for the first few days I was in Ho Chi Minh, until I tried the amazing congee (which I will get to in awhile)

After breakfast, I spent my time risking part of my life taking photographs on a moving motorbike. It’s quite an adrenaline giver, but I suggest keeping your cameras around your neck/wrist (if you’re using a compact), and your bags on your lap if you’re attempting “motorbike photography” especially in places like Vietnam.

Made our way to the city post office, and god forbid, it looked like a train station more than a post office. The weather was completely unforgiving that day.

The interior was bustling with more tourists than locals. Souvenir shops were scattered everywhere, and I went mad buying postcards, and cards and keychains and what not. I really wished I had gotten a few art pieces; namely the embroidery or the pottery, because they were so unique to the culture there. (I was worrying for my luggage space)

It’s the first time I’ve actually seen gears and screws being made into little sculptures. Honestly I found it pretty unique, maybe because I’m that ignorant to local artists or artists in general. Woops.

Just across the road from the post office was this beautiful red brick church, that would probably have fit into any Hogwarts scene.

And the most exciting thing that happened all day was that I actually experienced a day-gig by this heavy metal band, promoting for the movie ‘Mad Max’. The crowd was just gathering around this mini van thing that opened up to reveal the band, and it was seriously hardcore. Fans were everywhere, taking selfies with their band-mascots and enjoying the vibe. I’ve obviously never been to a hardcore gig in broad daylight, so it was just a so-so experience for me. I prefer the whole dim light atmosphere thing.

After that slightly intense daylight gig, we walked, yes walked in the blazing sun to City Hall. The french influence was everywhere, especially in certain prominent architectural buildings and tourist spaces.

The best thing about Ho Chi Minh, and most possibly Hanoi, would be that tourists are everywhere, so it was easy for me to ask for help with picture-taking.

After the endless walk around, us stragglers made our way to Phuc Long cafe for a spot of tea. Yes, more tea, and water because we were all dehydrated beached whales by that time.

Met some of my friends for lunch at this Vietnamese restaurant, and oh god what a spread they ordered. I didn’t even really eat that much. I drank alot though.

And then after a horrendous really vain spam of photographs with the whole crew, said goodbye to a few, and the rest of us walked back to where we parked our motorbikes.

Mai and I decided we needed to shop. Like it was mandatory. She brought me to Saigon Square, somewhat similar to our Bugis Street but in mall form. We got a few things, and settled down for drinks at Tea & Coffee, this cafe on the top floor.

That cranberry drink (the one on the left) tasted like cough medicine and I had to order a coke and a bottle of water to wash down the taste. Yikes!

I managed to grab some good deals; a denim jacket for just $20, a F21 inspired dress exact to the one I bought from F21 for just $7?!?!?! Mad. MAAAAD.

Made our way back to her place, and we fell asleep cause we were so exhausted. The only other thing we did that evening was to go to this family run business for dinner. And oh my goodness, the best thing I had there was the amazing amazing oyster congee. I could have eaten like four bowls of that. One huge bowl was slightly over 1SGD?!?!? Like why. WHY. I should have bottled it up when I had the chance.

More spring rolls and we had the small and medium pancakes as well, which were pretty good.

Of course we had to end our day with a visit to Luxe; my now favourite place for damn good coffee/tea. Basically that sums up my first two days in Saigon.

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