Friday, March 9, 2012

Ho Chi Minh City's Sea of Motorbikes

Date of Travel: 27 - 30 October 2006
Conversion: US$1.00 = 16,000 Vietnamese Dong VND
A typical scene anywhere in Ho Chi Minh city

Over 5 years ago, before AirAsiaX came along and we got bored with AirAsia's destinations, I brought mum on an adventure in Vietnam via Tiger Airways. It was a first for many of us. Back then, we had never stayed at a so-called "Boutique" hotel before. Our pre-booked Indochine Hotel ( turned out to be a wedge between shophouses. For US$25/night, I couldn't complain much. The first impression we had of Vietnam was: Motorbikes and Motorbikes and even more Motorbikes.

Taxi rate at the airport

Our room at Indochine Hotel for US$25/night

Almost every first timers to Vietnam end up being swindled by taxis. Flag fall of taxis at the time, was 15,000VND. Unscrupulous drivers often fix their meters to add an extra 0 at the back, making it 150,000VND or approximately US$10.00 for a mere 5 minute ride. With the confusion of exchange rates, language barriers, exhausted from the plane ride and the intimidating sea of motorbikes, it's no wonder anyone would get caught.

Pho (pronounced as Fur) was also really hard to come by in KL at the time. So we truly appreciated the Pho at simple joints like Pho24, which costs only 25,000 VND. Another staple but great tasting, is the french baguettes available at every street corner. Due to the French influence in Vietnam, this bread is consumed by locals for breakfast and at any time of day. Our favourite was at Sinh Cafe, who is also famous for tour bookings.

Another really popular restaurant is called the Quan An Ngon restaurant (138 Nam Ky Khoi Nghia Tel: 8257179). It was a classy garden restaurant serving local food. We found out that the majority of Vietnamese food was sweet, really really sweet.
Dining area inside Quan An Ngon Restaurant
Since mum is a diabetic, we had an emergency Google session and located a great restaurant Bo Tung Xeo. We had marinated beef BBQ-ed at our table, beef tail steamboat with lots of veg, fried spinach, and grilled carp, all for US$16!

My personal favourite would be to hop on a Cyclo tour. A cyclo is a single seater trishaw ride where the passenger sits in front of the rider. HH had a shock when the cyclo rider dropped his hat in the middle of an intersection, and let her in the middle of total chaos to go pick it up.

Another common tour is to see the Mekong Delta. After a 2-hour bus journey, we arrived Ben Tre and boarded a motorised boat to Phoenix Island, fit for all 35 of us. We watched rice paper making, and had an included lunch consisting of rice with BBQ pork, 2 spring rolls, and veg soup. Must try the elephant-ear-fish which is large enough to be shared by 4. It's about 1 foot long, and 20 cm high, with thorns on its body. Fish meat is wrapped in rice paper with veg and vermicelli, very yummy. After lunch, we boarded a smaller motorboat fit for 10 to Turtle Island. We saw honeycombs, tasted honey with rice wine and lime, and had free fruits whilst watching locals perform traditional music. We then went on an even smaller row-boat fit for 4, and went to another island to watch coconut candy making - chewy and sweet. Mum and aunty nessie had trouble getting in and out of this small boat with their leg problems.
Getting on the boat on Mekong Delta

Yes it's this muddy :)

Making rice paper

The Elephant Fish commonly found in this area

As we get into narrower rivers, we kept switching to smaller boats

During your free time, take a walk around town to soak in the unique architecture that doesn't quite blend with the rest of the city. There are post offices and government buildings that was obviously influenced by the French. The Notre Dame Cathedral looks very formidable, though not as grand as its counterpart in Paris.
The General Post Office

Notre Dame Cathedral

Overall, we had nothing to buy. Perhaps people may come home with
  • A Vietnamese hat
  • Ao Dai Vietnamese costume for the ladies
  • A handcrafted ship which was really cheap there
Typical indoor market

Many shops selling these ships
To give you an idea of how much things cost, this is what we spent on the first day
- Airport Pickup US$12 for a 7-seat van
- Pho24 meal for 4 VND144,000
- Swindled taxi ride VND150,000
- Packet of souvenir coffee and 2 strainers VND37,000
- 2 Cyclos to Sinh Cafe VND27,000
- Fresh Coconut = VND5,000
- Taxi to Chinatown US$4
- Sinh Cafe tour to Mekong Delta (MyTho) VND111,000 x 4 = VND444,000
- KFC Chicky meal (popcorn chicken, fries, drink) VND31,000
- Taxi back to town US$4
- Dinner Quan An Ngon for 4 = VND150,000
- Taxi back to hotel VND20,000
- 1.5L Water = VND8,000 x 6 = VND48,000

It is an eye-opener, an interesting place for first-timers, but not a place I would return to in my lifetime. I end this post with a video on the sea of motorbikes, once again.

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