After three months of planning the day has come for the #TrippinASEAN14 to happen, and we are glad to be able to finally make our way to three cities, with Kuala Lumpur being the transit city.
FLYING TO SAIGON
From Kuching, we flew using Malaysia Airlines to the Kuala Lumpur International Airport (KLIA), before taking our connecting flight to Ho Chi Minh City, beter known as Saigon among locals.
The flight itself was superb with the movie “Bride for Rent“, a Filipino romance-comedy available on MAS’s in-flight entertainment keeping me well awake throughout the journey from KLIA to Saigon. The cabin crew of MAS was excellent on both flights and didn’t show the slightest sign of worry despite the fact that there are dark clouds haunting their airline.
Anyway, the arrival to Tan Son Nhat International Airport in Ho Chi Minh was smooth and welcoming as the contrast of culture and language was too contrasting to ignore.
The lack of warmth at the immigration counter made me wonder if Vietnam was really worth the money, but I was more keen to see what this communist country had to offer in terms of lifestyle and culture.
As far as tourist attractions are concerned, my pocket has its limits, and hence why I will only visit what I can afford.
BALI BOUTIQUE HOTEL, SAIGON
Our ride to Bali Boutique Hotel in District 1 was all smiles upon greeting us, and that gave a good impression of what could be expected from the hotel and the city itself.
Nonetheless, the hotel room wasn’t ‘dirt cheap’ as I expected because for about RM120 a night, it was adequate and mimics one of those mid-range budget hotels in Kuala Lumpur.
The bed was adequate, and there were enough facilities to get you by for your stay. Unfortunately however, the street below can be loud at times, so those having problems ignoring busy street sounds might want to stay away from this hotel. In addition to that, the breakfast was poor although the customer service at the hotel is great.
Regardless, it is smack in the centre of where everything is happening with everything including food and nightlife just minutes away. Later during our stay, we realized that the place we were staying was the ‘back-packers area’, so that explains the ‘disorganized charm’ it offers.
CURRENCY EXCHANGE IN SAIGON
Interestingly, despite its small size, the hotel offers currency exchange services, but the rates aren’t favourable. Local banks seem to offer better rates, or if you are wiling to ask around, some shops do offer better rates compared to the hotel.
The weird part about exchanging money in Saigon is that the rates are not displayed well, and one could literally change money at any store, as long as they offered such service. The key to know if they offer such service is of course asking them. Using Dong is difficult, but it is cheaper than using other foreign currency such as Ringgit (MYR) and US Dollar. Nonetheless, some traders do accept USD for their transactions.
FOOD IN SAIGON
Well, since we arrived at about 12 in the hotel, we opted to take lunch at a nearby cafe (Can’t recall the name), and had our first taste of what Vietnam had to offer for food.
To be really honest, I didn’t favour what was served because there was so much greens, and meat was no where to be seen. To add that up, the prices were high, and several sites online also suggested that food is not cheap in Saigon, unless you plan to eat street food. I realized that I was spending an average of RM20 per meal, including drinks, and this was no where near what I was spending in Kuching.
NIGHTLIFE IN SAIGON
Despite the many bars and clubs around where we stayed, none seems to have a live band and this was not something I liked. A bar named Go2 had a pool table, and so we settled there for the first night entertaining ourselves with the pool table. The food was ridiculously expensive and poor.
Our first night in Saigon however revealed something very interesting about the culture of the people here. Unlike Malaysia, Thailand (Bangkok and Phuket) and Indonesia (Bali), the people here seem to have a thing for dining at the road side pavements, and seating on tables and chairs which are barely 30cm in height. Even more interesting is that the crowd grows larger as time neared midnight with restaurants and bars which had proper seating indoors seen moving their tables and chairs outside to cater for those loving this culture.
I tried sitting on these small sized chairs but it was too uncomfortable for an overweight person like myself. Within 15 minutes, my legs were shouting for more room.
The second night in Saigon saw us head on to this lounge called Thi Cafe which had acoustic performances. The bar was simple and the live performances started a little after ten.
Drinks were okay, but we didn’t stay too long as there it was late. As a conclusion, nightlife which includes a live band performance in Saigon wasn’t great, unless you are willing to splurge in places similar to Planet Hollywood. I was also told that the best nightlife in Saigon was not in District 1, but in some other District. Perhaps the best bands were in District 12, like in ‘The Hunger Games’.
WALKING AROUND & SAIGON ATTRACTIONS
Saigon is blessed with a massive amount of landmark buildings which date to the colonial era. Museums are found in abundance but if you are not a fan of museums like I am, only one is worth the visit, which is the War Remnants Museum. The museum has real war time machinery and planes, akin those miniature models I used to play with when I was small. The inside of the museum was also interesting with the famous Vietnam war depicted through the eyes of the Vietnam people. However, if you are a US citizen, you might want to avoid this museum because the information provided can be pretty hurtful.
Another place worth to mention and visit is the Ben Thanh Market, which is basically a wet market combined with everything else. Here, you need to be smart in bargaining because it can be the difference of you walking away with three tshirts at USD10, or one tshirt at USD20. Just in case you are interested to know, I managed to get one of those ‘Saigon’ tank top for only RM9 (less than USD3). Buying in bulk might put you at a disadvantage however when bargaining.
Other than that, the rest of the days were more towards sight seeing with places like the Notre Dame Cathedral, Saigon Square, visiting several parks which really looked out of this world, and braving the crazy Ho Chi Minh traffic.
If money was not an obstacle, there would be more to see and do outside the city, but well, we enjoyed only what we could afford.
TRICKS AND GETTING CHEATED
Be wary of people trying to take advantage over you. English is not widely spoken, so it may be a bit difficult to negotiate deals. One of the common ones we experience were from street vendors such as those selling sun glasses. We badly needed some shades, and decided to buy them cheap. Unfortunately, our purchase came at a price with more sun glass vendors stalking us while persuading us to buy one of theirs too. As funny as it seems, these sun glass vendors actually become more interested to sell you one once you already own one.
The second caution would be regarding cyclos. They may look attractive as an alternative way to get around, but be sure that only one person rides on one cyclo, even if the cyclist insist that he could bring more. More than one person seated on a cyclo would mean that you will be dangerously navigating the busy streets of Ho Chi Minh with an old cyclist huffing and puffing all the way.
Be also extra careful when asking them for a photo, in which they might offer you to take the cyclo riders seat and pose. We were not careful after he assured us that he is used to take photographs, and what you see in the photo below was the result of that carelessness on our side. To make matters worst, the cyclo owner asked for a huge tip after he did us the favour.
The third trick which we realize is common also involves street hawkers. Tourist tend to walk around in Ho Chi Minh, and easily get attracted to street hawkers carrying their trade such as the coconut fruit. If the hawkers spot you capturing their image on camera, they might offer to take your photo with their trading materials. At the end of your ‘photo-shoot’ these hawkers tend to ask for a tip, and sometimes offer you a drink which will be premium priced after you have finished it all up.
Well, Saigon wasn’t that bad, but the problems finding local food we loved kind of made it less memorable for the first destination of TrippinASEAN14. Despite that, the next stop was Hanoi, and hey, I’ve heard great things about Hanoi,
so stay tuned to the next post to find out if its really true! Next post is out, check it out here.
For more photos, please visit THIS LINK.