Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, Mar 30- 31, 2015: Two Days in Saigon

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I embarked on this trip with 3 other ladies from my symphonic band. We managed to reunite when we played for Raffles Winds last December. No regrets at picking up the flute again after 10 years- I got to hang out w thr best people who are loyal to a fault. 🙂 Anyhow I digress. Since it will be awhile before JD and I will get to travel together again – here’s an entry on HCMC.

Ho Chi Minh City’s the capital of Vietnam and was better known as Saigon. It was pretty appropriate that I got to explore Saigon with the band folks as Selections from Miss Saigon was one of our favorite pieces to play.

1st June Monday was a holiday, we decided to take a pampering chillax weekend trip to HCMC for cheap on Jetstar Airlines.

GETTING THERE AKA YOU CAN TRUST VINASUN AND MAI LINH TAXIS!
We took an evening flight out of Singapore and arrived at Tan Son Nhat International Airport close to 10pm. Knowing that we will be arriving late, we arranged for airport.transfer. A taxi would have been at least 5 times cheaper. However, I didn’t want to have taxi touts clamoring over us like they did in Siem Reap and Lombok, which is really annoying. It turned out that there were no taxi touts at the Vietnam airport(yay!) and it would have been relatively easy to get a taxi. We were forewarned by friends and online reviews that Vinasun and Mai Linh are taxis with running meters you could trust.

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SLEEPING
We did really good with our accommodation choice! We stayed at a huge 2-bedroom serviced apartment at Somerset Chanceller Court smack in the middle of HCMC. It was near to everything and had a mini-mart, swimming pool, gym and a children’s playground.

The apartment was fab! It had a huge living area and a full-sized kitchen with a stove and fridge. We didn’t cook anything but we totally could have! There’s no room service but there was delivery service from a pho shop nearby. We also really appreciated the washing machine so that we didn’t have to pack too many stinky clothes in the bag, and the safe where we kept all our valuables. I shared a king sized bed with another friend, and the other two ladies slept in the two single beds of the other room. Sorry that we didn’t take any pictures!

For both mornings of the trip, a friend and I visited the gym. It was functional and clean but wasn’t very well equipped. Two of the four treadmills were down and one of them had a very scary looking torn belt. Imagine running at 10kmph and having the belt crumple under you! I had to think up a workout routine for the second day, which I hate to do because it takes alot of willpower to go through with it, and there weren’t too many equipments to play with. I am glad I stuck through with the workout routine, which only happened because I had my friend encouraging me.

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SHOPPING!- A LESSON IN HAGGLING AND IGNORING THE MEAN VENDORS
This is Vietnam. Alot of sports goods and apparel are made in Vietnam. Nike is really big here. So it turned out that the markets in HCMC were chock full of sports stuff that are off-factory. There might be some fakes out there, so we had to look really carefully. My friends and I managed to get Nike shirts and capris at USD$8 each, all with their Nike tags still on. All the $$ we pay for retail Nike goes to the marketing, sales and endorsements.

We visited Ben Thanh market, Luu Vaan Lung street and Saigon Square. There’s also Binh Tay market and Ly Chinh Tang street, which we missed but would have visited if we had more time.

My spoils included running shorts, yoga pants and a pair of Aasics shoes, which I can’t tell if they are off-factory or not. I guess I gotta take a run in those shoes and see if they are still good. But I tested the cushioning and the shoe frame and it seems pretty ok. Anyway I needed a pair of running shoes and got them for USD$35 so I’m not gonna complain too much.

Now, all these prices came with a fair bit of haggling. You MUST MUST haggle in Ben Thanh market. The vendors there mark up the prices sometimes up to 10x too high! We noticed that the Ben Thanh vendors are generally ruder than those in the off streets like Luu Vaam Lung. They also have ridiculous prices compared to those in the off-streets. In retrospect, we should have gone to the off-streets first before going to Ben Thanh so that we have a good sense of price before starting any haggling.

Haggling need not be an unpleasant experience. In our case, it was kind of fun! We were parked in a shoe shop on Luu Vaan Lung for 30 minutes because it was absolutely pouring! The four of us ladies started haggling over shoes – me over a pair of Aasics and the others over pairs of really spiffy Nike gym shoes. The guy serving us was really sweet- we cajoled, pleaded and whined and he was very friendly with us. We managed about a 20% discount on all the shoes. After all sales were concluded, we even had a chat with him and also asked him for directions to the nearest famous pho eateries around. This sort of friendliness also happened at a stall and a coffee seller in Ben Thanh market, all while we were trying to cut prices by about 75%.

Unfortunately, we did run into our fair share of mean and rude vendors, who didn’t get any business from us at all. It doesn’t pay to be pushy.

We made a promise to exercise more, since we bought so much sports stuff. Let’s hope we do!

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EATING – YUMMY
We set out with a few must-try Vietnamese foods and these are Pho, Bahn Mi, Bahn Xeo nd Com Tam.

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We had pho at Pho 24, a local franchise, Pho 2000, a super famous eatery in the Ben Thanh area and at the airport. I thought the pho at the airport was the best. It could have been us completely missing out on the spicy msg crystals at Pho 2000. We were trying to be healthy and decided to skip out on it.

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Bahn Mi we had at the Ben Thanh area while we were doing our nails. It was sooooo good. It’s unfortunate that none of us could replicate the sound of the shop’s name but it sounded like ‘Wen Hua’ or ‘Vuong Hoa’. The pate was so so so so good, we were tempted to go back for more.

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We had Com Tam aka broken rice at Pho 24 and it was very easy to eat. It was okay and well seasoned. We also had Bahn Xeo aka pancakes at Bahn Xeo 46A and it was very gooooood! Crispy and filled with shrimp, meat and veges, it made for an awesome brunch!

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We also had a mysterious dish that we tried at Ben Thanh market because the locals were q-ing up alot for it! It was a kind of dumpling dish and cost us only USD$0.90. It was very good and the plum juice we ordered with it was v v refreshing as well!

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My favorite food stuff has got to be the Vietnamese coffee with condensed milk. It was really smooth and tasted heavenly. I’m not a coffee person because I am sensitive to that bitter ugh aftertaste of coffee and I don’t like milk in coffee because I believe it’s a way to mask that ugh taste. Vietnamese coffee drunk black, however, was so easy to drink! It was an absolute delight!

SIGHTSEEING

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We took a dinner river cruise along the Saigon river and managed to catch the night river skyline. It was definitely sparser than the bigger cities but there’s a lot of construction going on, so more skyscrapers will bdcoming up. We were midly entertained by the Vietnamese dancers. We also got to visit the City Hall area and the statue of Ho Chi Minh. Lots of history exchange was going on, and we have to applaud a friend who became our history textbook before we realized she was guessing most of what she was saying! Lol!

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This isn’t really a sightseeing thing but we decided to get a mani-pedi in the Brn Thanh area. The pricing was awesome!  We went to Fame Nails, and the ladies were top notch and super nice! They got us food and offered us touristy advice. I will let the pictures speak for themselves!

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LET’S GO BACK AGAIN!
All in all, it was a short and fun weekend trip. I would go back again to eat, shop and see more stuff since we missed some major sights and districts!

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