72 Hours in Saigon, Part 1.


Ze family had been planning an out of the country excursion for a while. There were several opportunities, of course. First, we had that four day weekend in October or August, I don't remember. And then it was Sembreak (between camps and birthdays, there wasn't much time). When the holidays rolled around, I knew Mom and Dad would be too busy to plan the trip down to its tiny details, or its big ones (Thailand? Singapore? Vietnam?) between all the inaanak gift-shopping, deal-closing, high school batch partying etc. SO I took it into my own scrawny hands to plan us some out-of-the-country family fun, picking Vietnam (for the food, and for the Vespas) and so it was.

Tito JJ: Vietnam??

Mom: What are we going to do in Vietnam? Stare at the rice paddies?

I responded by frantically googling 'Things to do in Ho Chi Minh City.' Why HCMC instead of Hanoi? I haven't the faintest clue, actually. HCMC seemed more alive to me back then.

After spending hours on Agoda and TripAdvisor (vaguely entertaining, in a way I cannot qualify at the moment) and emailing various hotels who thanked me for my 'interesting' in their establishment, we finally launched into the air on a budget flight in the dead of night, on our way to the Land of the Lotus.

An aside: CebuPac, never again. Not on international flights, at least.

We woke up the next morning at Duxton Hotel, and after a pretty good breakfast (roti, fried rice, grilled tomatoes, orange juice, veal sausages, tea = I'd like to live here) started walking the streets of District 1, which is HCM's posh, touristy area, and home to most of the city's sights.

Tourist-wise, the place was crawling with white people and Japanese. We glimpsed a couple of Filipinos, but that was about it. What was fun was that everyone had their own touristy look about them--flowy dresses, long skirts with sneakers, miles of scarf wrapped around a white neck, sandals, socks with sandals, sunblock smeared on red cheeks, etc.

Abigail took this photo with her back to the Notre Dame Cathedral. That's the Vincom Center on the left, which is one of the newer malls in Ho Chi Minh City (it doesn't hold a candle up to the Ayala Malls though) and on the right is the New World Hotel. The newstuff/oldstuff look of HCM produces a charming visual effect, which Manila also has, minus a lot of the newstuff, and the dirt and grime. One thing I liked about Saigon (D1 at least) was that the air wasn't choked with pollution.

Thousands of motorbikes. Crossing the street took a little bit of getting used to, but if you're a commuter in Manila (like me!) then it's not as bad as it is for the other tourists (like my mom!). One thing I'm glad we skipped out on during our stay was signing up for a city tour. Our hotel provided a handy city guidebook for us in each room, so we used that instead. Pretty good alternative to sweating it out in a tourist bus, I say.

(L-R, top: Notre Dame Cathedral, War Remnants Museum, Reunification Palace, Saigon Opera House. Bottom: Cathedral, Post Office, War Remnants Museum, a Temple we saw on the way to Ben Thanh, Chestnuts vendor, Ben Thanh Market.)

In between all that walking, we stopped for lunch at around 2pm (Vietnam time is 1 hour later than in the Philippines). We ate at Quan An Ngon 168, which was suggested by Dad's friend.

I ordered Beef sauteed Ngon style, which came with a heap of vegetables (bean sprouts, basil leaves, lettuce, tomatoes) as most food here is wont to do. The beef was spicy, the vegetables refreshing, accompanied by vermicelli noodles instead of rice. I had orange juice, too, which was the best--made out of Mandarin oranges, according to dad. Sort of a cross between normal oranges and dalandan.

Dad had his french press coffee, and it was good and strong.

After lunch was the extremely depressing War Remnants Museum, all guns missiles and mangled bodies. And sweaty tourists, always. We skipped over to Ben Thanh Market, which is HCM's tourist-price version of Divisoria. They sell absolutely everything: souvenir shirts, table runners, candied everything, fake bags, etc. The downside is that it's hot and cramped in there, and you get a headache after a while. We haggled for a bit, had some sugar cane iced tea, and then decided it was time to head back to the hotel. The sky was deep blue. Dad and Pat bought chestnuts from a street vendor for 100,000 VND a kilo. We took a cab back to Duxton, and after resting for a bit, headed to the nearby Wrap and Roll for dinner.

And ordered a lot. Highlight was Pat's order and mom's--beef roll wrapped in vines, and the Hanoi sampler, respectively. I ordered banh xeo, which is the giant folded-over pancake thing you see in the photo. It's stuffed with beef and shrimp and bean sprouts. It was all right. The sauce made everything better, as did the cold jasmine tea.

One of the waiters had ridiculous gelled-up hair in three directions.

Walking back to the hotel, we passed by Brodard, a bakery named after a much older one along Dong Khoi which as since been replaced by a Gloria Jean's (Source: Saw it meself/ Our Newlyweds by Linh Dinh).

Adventurous people that we are, we bought a Viet version of Lengua de Gato. It wasn't as sweet or as crumbly as ours, but it was okay, for a biscuit.

[To be continued!]

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