Wednesday, April 9, 2014

A Saigon Story: Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam (Day 1 and Day 2)

✽ It is the Motorcycle Capital of the World. Just kidding. Or is it really? There are many motorcycles and scooters everywhere.
✽ It brims with street vendors, portable food carts, shops, coffee shops, and French colonial structures.
✽ It is warm in Vietnam, pretty much like the Philippines. 
✽ I was not looking forward to shop here, but I enjoyed going to Saigon Square each day. I scored a number of clothes.
✽ Haggling like a pro in Vietnam is ~seriouz buzinezz~. It is perfectly acceptable and expected even to haggle in Vietnam. I will tell you more about this below.  
✽ I absolutely loved Vietnamese food and the freshly made sugar cane juice. A trip in Vietnam is definitely not complete without experiencing and tasting the street food. 
✽ I am a millionaire in Vietnam. $.$ *kaching kaching*
✽ Philippine time is 1 hour ahead of Vietnam.
These are the things that I remember about Ho Chi Minh City formerly Saigon; they renamed it after the war in 1975.
While walking, we saw a hawker coconut vendor. He sold us one coconut for VND 250,000 which is 10 times more than the legit price. Ugh.
He opened the coconuts right away (usual tactic even in the Philippines) so we didn't have a choice, but to get them.
Beware of such opportunistic vendors when walking around touristy areas and streets in Vietnam. 
Coconut in the main parts of Ho Chi Minh City just costs around VND 25,000-50,000. 
We walked right in the heart of Ho Chi Minh to visit
Notre Dame Cathedral (left) and Central Postal Office (right).
It's so beautiful inside the Central Post Office. I felt I was in ~Europe~ for a while minus the fact that I was shedding sweat because it was hot. I felt I was more-like in a train station than in a post office. ;p
There are souvenir shops inside. We bought two books about Vietnam among others. For trinkets and other stuff, I suggest you just buy in Ben Thanh Market since it's cheaper there.
For instance, mom bought lacquerware here and it was cheaper in Ben Thanh Market. Vietnamese fan costs VND 80,000 at the Central Post Office while it retails for VND 50,000 in Ben Thanh Market.
*Photos of Central Post Office from Pinky Parra*
After, we walked and walked and stopped by:
(1) Coffee May - a random coffee shop just near the Central Post Office and Notre Dame Cathedral. We had fried spring rolls and drinks (traditional Vietnamese coffee, grape shake, and lime juice).
(2) Random hole-in-the-wall shops and bookstores which caught our attention.
(3) Vincom Center which is located just between Central Post Office and Notre Dame Cathedral. It is the newest mall in District 1. It is an 8-storey high-end mall.
Inside Vincom Center, we saw and ate at Wrap and Roll which is known for their spring rolls.
Wrap and Roll has 7 branches in Ho Chi Minh City, 2 branches in Hanoi, and 3 branches in Singapore. I loved the food.
(4) Lastly, Nha Hang Mon Hue where we had dinner. It has 8 branches across Ho Chi Minh City. Verdict: I tasted better Vietnamese food. We ate here only because it's near the hotel.
No. 1 rule when choosing a place to eat when you are out of the country: Eat where many locals eat.
There were a great number of locals eating here and it did not disappoint. We ate here almost everyday.
These photos were taken during our 2nd day; the 2nd time we ate here.
The vendors do not understand English, though. We had a hard time when we ordered the first time.
We didn't know what to order; they do not have a menu. Thank God someone helped us and ordered for us.
So, this time around, we just pointed our orders out.
We always order dry noodles or rice noodles served without soup here namely bun thit nuong (rice noodles with grilled pork) and bun cha gio (rice noodles with deep fried spring rolls). 
This is located in Durong: Nguyen Trung Truc street. It is near the intersection/stop light. It is the last food stall before you cross the highway going to Le Loi street or Caffé Fresco in #121 Le Loi, Q.1, Tp. It is adjacent to the street going to Saigon Square. *Phew* I hope my directions are clear enough. ;p
After eating, we went to Saigon Square. #shoppingtime
Then, we went to Luu Van Lang which is referred to as the shoe street. It is a small alley right next to Ben Than Market.
Next, we went to Ben Thanh Market and bought coffee maker with coffee beans (but was cheaper in Co.op Mart), bracelets, Vietnamese fans, wallets, peanut candies in red wrapper (VND 80,000 per kilo) for pasalubong. We got those peanut candies in particular since Dingdong Dantes buys that for pasalubong too. ;p It's actually good.
We went back hrhr to Saigon Square afterwards.

Now, let me tell you about the crazy haggling culture in Vietnam: You should haggle when shopping for goods and even availing for services (like cyclo ride and vehicle rentals) in Vietnam. 
When haggling for goods, automatically slash half (50% off) the price they'll initially tell you. 
Haggle until you come to a good price. 
It helps if you know the market/going price before hitting the market. Try to slash 10%-20% off more than what you think you should be paying, and then work your way up from there.
Walking away can work too. There was one instance when the seller looked for us around just to tell us that she'll give the dress at our price. Walking away works most of the time, but not all the time. You can always go back anyway. 
It pays to be friendly and in good terms with the merchants. Build rapport with them. Enjoy the shopping and the haggling process that goes with it. :-)
For services, negotiate a price before the service is rendered. If not, you are generally responsible for paying whatever is asked. I think this is one general fair rule anyway.
Around 6:00 PM, we went to Golden Dragon Water Puppet Theatre to watch the famous Water Puppet Show (mua roi nuoc)
Vietnam's Water Puppet Show has won many international puppet awards. It is highly appreciated and was performed in Art Festivals in different countries such as Switzerland, Greece, Thailand, Spain, Portugal, Denmark, Hongkong, Japan, Australia, America, Brazil, Korea, Iran, France, and other more, and even in the Philippines in 1998. 
 Upon entrance, they will give you the Show Guide which come in handy since everything is delivered in Vietnamese. There's a live Vietnamese ensemble narrating and playing folk music using traditional Vietnamese instruments.
It is a 50-minute show. Some could find the show quite boring, but this is something you have to watch if you're interested in local culture.
What's so amazing about it, you say? Imagine and come to think of it, they control the puppets which are submerged in water from behind a screen.
Golden Dragon Water Puppet Theater
55 B Nguyen Thi Minh Khai street, District 1, Ho Chi Minh City
*Saigon Square facade photo and Water Puppet Show photos from google images. Ben Thanh Market photos and some Dinner Cruise in Saigon River photos below from Pinky Parra*
After the Water Puppet Show, we rode a cyclo to see the city at night. Our guide suggested that we give our cyclo driver an extra. We gave them VND 100,000 each as tip.
The cyclo dropped us off at the dock for our Dinner Cruise on Saigon River. Took snapshots of city lights and the panoramic view of the riverside of Ho Chi Minh City while on board. On one end, the city only becomes blinking lights as the boat moves further and further away from the dock.

We availed of a tour inclusive of the Water Puppet Show, Cyclo Ride, and Dinner Cruise on Saigon River at our hotel (we stayed at Thien Xuan, booked via for US$40.00 per person.

And that ends our day 1 and day 2 in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. I will blog about days 3 and 4 on a separate post. :-)

WHEN: November 4 - November 9, 2012

Related Posts: 
- about a walk in the streets of Le Loi, Le Thanh Ton, and Dhong Koi, Ho Chi Minh City People's Committee, Saigon Opera House, Ipa-Nima, Reunification Palace, War Remnants Museum, Pho No, and Ben Thanh Night Market.

A Saigon Story: Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam (Day 4 and *Regrets*)
- about walk to boutique shops in Le Thanh Ton to Le Loi street, Saigon Center, Pho 2000, Vietnamese 3D Greeting Cards, Vietnamese Painting from Kim Do Art Gallery, Regrets: Mekong Delta and Halong Bay


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