Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Day 6 - Our trip to Vietnam

Ugh. 4:30am wake ups are NASTY. Especially since I went to sleep after midnight. We had to get up, shower, pack and pick up my sister's friend along the way to the airport. Stuffing whatever food we could stomach down our throats, we hopped into a cab and was at my sister's friend Rachel's place within minutes. From there, it was a 15min drive to the airport with no traffic whatsoever.

We check in with over 17kg of luggage between the 2 of us, whilst Rachel had 5kgs. Talk about travelling light!! We quickly do some duty free shopping before boarding. I made a big move not to bring my laptop. But when I got to the airport, I had a panic attack that 9gigs worth of memory wouldn't be enough for the 4 days I'm gone for. I ducked into a duty free shop to grab another 4 gigs of memory when I heard a Jetstar paging for a Rachel. I thought we were late for our boarding call and ran through the airport with my sister and Rachel behind me. We got to the gate only to see a massive line trying to get through security.

We get on board without much issues, except for the fact that the Jetstar international flights are INCREDIBLY tight and uncomfortable. I felt like I sat there with a rod shoved up my butt the entire trip. Luckily, we land in Ho Chi Minh City in 2hours time. Otherwise known as Saigon.

We grab a cab and off we went to the airport. 2mins into the traffic, and my sister is almost hyperventilating from the chaos. Me? After Italy and Turkey, plus countless trips to China, I'm not that fussed.

These are considered "neat" power lines

Most people have to wear masks when riding because of the pollution

Surprisingly, it only took us 20mins to see our first accident.

The 2 women in the photo was going the opposite direction to us, when she did a U-turn right infront of our taxi. Another scooter comes tearing up the side of our taxi, and plowed right into them. However, they all got up, patted themselves down and off they went. No screaming or ranting and raving. Very civilised actually.

We pull into our hotel, the Park Hyatt and we're greeted by 5-star service. You know how you need to lug your suitcase into the lobby and then the bellboy takes it up to the hotel room for you? Nope. We get out of the cab, the concierge opens the boot and asks us if thats all our suitcases and gives us a ticket. He's going to unload and deliver the bags to our room. As we walk towards the entrance of the hotel, the double doors are swung open simultaneously, just like they do when you enter a large grand ballroom.

We check in at reception, where we're told we're given a whole host of complimentry stuff (Not really considering how much we paid for the hotel). The receptionist then walks us up to our room, then gives us an explaination as to the service and features of the room. Which includes complimentry fresh fruit every day and bottled water. Bathrobes and slippers. Toiletry of all kinds, including toothbrushes. Can't forget the complimentry tea and coffee etc. Something you don't get in Europe, even in the 5-star hotels.

We unpack and lock our belongings in the safe, and off we went in search for breakfast. But first, we had to learn how to cross the road. The one thing that confuses me in parts of asia is how they drive on the other side of the road and I don't know which direction to check when I'm crossing. Not that it matters in Vietnam. Line markings mean nothing. A red light is a SUGGESTION that you should SLOW DOWN. And the footpath is also the road. The first street we crossed saw 3 chicks, grabbing each other whilst squealing across the road. By the 3rd street we had to cross, we had it down pat.

There are 2 basic rules of crossing the streets in Vietnam.

1. Don't run
2. Avoid eye contact

Basically, look for a "break" in the traffic. Once you spot the break, keep your eyes looking forward and cross SLOWLY. AVOID EYE CONTACT. If the driver sees you making eye contact, you've acknowledged their existence, and it is your responsibility to avoid getting hit. When you put on your tunnel vision, the driver will have to avoid hitting you, IF you don't run. Keep at a slow constant pace. Run, and they miscalculate and run you over.

We were exhausted after a few streets and we were all ravenous. The plan was to go into the first Pho place we find, and the first one we find was Pho24! haha Pho24 is a massive chain of restaurants throughout Vietnam and internationally. What a great chance to try it out.

Young coconut juice

Herbs for the Pho

Pho Duc Biet (Combination Pho Special)

Spring rolls

The pho was much better than I expected, especially after talking to friends who comment on how the flavour isn't as strong in Vietnam compared to what you get in Sydney. True, the meat wasn't as good quality and a lot fattier, but it still tasted really good. I cleared the whole bowl! My only thing with the Pho24 pho is that they us a thin rice noodle, almost as thin as vermicelli. I much prefer the normal rice noodle you get in Sydney and other pho shops.

We were planning on walking to the Ben Thanh Markets, but of course, no one would listen to my directions and we got completely lost on the other side of town. We decided to just hop into a cab to get to a tour agency not far from Ben Thanh. Through the recommendation of a few friends, we booked a 1 day Mekong and floating market tour with a company call Sinh Cafe. We ducked into a close by coffee shop for a glass of Vietnamese Ice coffee.

This was absolutely delicious. But it was 90% ice and 10% liquid. I literally finished all of this in 3 sips. After loading up on the caffiene, we went straight to Ben Thanh market for SHOPPING!!!!!

Ben Thanh Markets

We literally made it into the door of the Ben Thanh markets before we started shopping. The stall RIGHT next to the door make a heap of money off us. I did keep telling my sister that the prices INSIDE the markets are cheaper and lets you negotiate. Does she listen? Pffffft. We still got a good bargain though. Especially once we got further into the market, you can actually start bargaining.

It was a real challenge at first, trying to convert the Viet Dong to Aussie Dollar. I decided to go with the Singapore currency, where 10,000 Viet Dongs is 1SGD, vs 14,000 Viet Dong being $1AUD. The only problem was, we kept thinking 10,000 dong = $1. And when you ask the shop keeper how much things are, they always try to give you the USD price, which is in dollars. So a few times, my sister will bargain with them in "dollars", except they're talking USD and she's talking SGD. I had to step in a few times, especially when one woman was trying to charge me 14,000 dongs and my sister barges in and goes "I'll give you 100,000 dong!!". *smacks head* It also took her the entire day to sort out the differences between the notes. I almost had to confiscate her money at one stage because she was getting dangerously out of control!


Fruit stalls

"Food court"

Look at all the tropical fruit!

Big plump durian!

A woman getting her baby hair shaved off - Just like in China

Shopping only last about 1.5hrs because we actually ran out of money. This is after we exchanged money for plenty of Dong. We needed more money and fast! On our way back to the hotel to get more money, we went past an ice cream place where we had a pit stop.

Cold lotus tea

Logan ice cream

Iced ginger milk tea


When we got back to the hotel, we took turns have a nice loooooong hot shower to completely relax and de-grime.

We decided to head back to the Ben Thanh Markets at night as the streets are closed off and turned into a night market. We also went to the hotel reception and changed mass amounts of money for shopping!!

Me and my sis

Noodle stall on the streets

We got to the night markets, where we walked up and down until we spotted a restaurant full of locals. Looking at the menu, some dishes sound familiar, some we've never heard of. So we basically took a stab in the dark and ordered a few random dishes and a few favourites:

My favourite pennyworth drink

Viet Iced coffee

Round 1 of summer rolls

Round 2 of summer rolls

Sugarcane prawns

Fried spring rolls

MmMmm fried spring rolls.... *drool*

Grilled spicy fish with mint salad

"Glutinous vegetable with garlic" - I think its Chinese spinach??

Our mystery spicy and sour soup - with a whole fish served with noodles

Glutinous rice ball - completely hollow inside

After we finished eating, we walked back outside past the grill section where they were busy cooking meals for the rest of the customers. My sister pointed at these hanging frogs. I stepped closer to take a photo, and just as the flash went off on my camera, the frogs all twitched and struggled in unison! Scared the bejeeezus out of me! THEY WERE ALIVE!

We took a nice long walk later, where we bought quite a few things at rock bottom prices. Thanks to all the bargaining I've done in Hong Kong, China and Turkey, I'm a real pro at it! LoL

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