My Version of Roughing It, Culture Shock and the Best Seafood Buffet!

Ho Chi Minh City Travel Blog

 › entry 13 of 24 › view all entries
My first picture in Saigon - motorcycles everywhere!

I stayed up late packing for Vietnam - had to leave all my Bali loot at V's in Singapore and taking a smaller bag for the remainder of the trip.  Then I was too excited and only slept for about 3 hours.  Tried blogging but had difficulties connecting to travbuddy.  Tired, cranky...

Said goodbye to J, C and V (sniff).  Will miss them.  But A and I headed off on the 2nd half of our journey.  We had agreed to go more budget in Saigon since we've been spoiling ourselves at V's penthouse and in the villas.  It was the first time either of us have ever stayed at a hostel.  I could only hope tripadvisor had accurate reviews (cross my fingers!).

The flight to Saigon was quick - about 2 hours.  But I quickly learned that there was an astonishing lack of respect for personal space and queuing.

Heading towards Bich Duyen - our hostel.
  While waiting to check in, this couple and their friend were trying to cut - the line only had about 5 people and we were way early for the flight so I couldn't even understand the urgency.  The woman was literally breathing over my shoulder - when I turned to stare at her, she just gave me an insipid smile.  I asked her if she was with the gentleman ahead of me - she nodded and tried to cut.  Based on the man's complete disregard for her, I figured she was lying and blocked her.  She then tried a different tactic and had her friend lean and push on A from the other side.  It was terribly rude.  It's one thing to have tolerance for another culture but an entirely different thing to tolerate outright rudeness.  They finally gave up when they realized we were not having it.
Our room - clean and serviceable - but on the 5th floor (no elevators!).
  I can give pretty mean glares when required.  Then while going through security I was waiting for the man ahead of me to go through so I could put items in the bin; an elderly man behind me tried to push his way ahead of me.  What is wrong with the people on this flight???  Most Asians I know are very polite, so I'm just appalled to meet Asian people who don't even understand the concept of etiquette.  OK, I'll stop ranting now...

Visa for Vietnam - you can get a visa before you arrive, or arrange (usually through your hotel) to get a preauthorization letter.  For the pre-authorization letter, when you arrive you need to go to the "Landing Visa" window, provide them the letter, your passport, a passport photo and $25US for a 30day visa.

My first pho in Vietnam at Pho Bo Bo Kho.
  Pretty easy process if you know where to go and what you are doing.

V had told us that in Vietnam, when crossing streets - just walk ahead with purpose and at a steady pace, no sudden movements.  We didn't really understand what she meant until we were being transported to our hostel.  The mad mass of motorcycles and cars, seemingly driving with no lanes, lights or traffic rules is quite a shock to the system.  The persistent and consistent honking is terribly jarring, especially compared to the peace of Bali.  I had a friend who visited Saigon last year and he hated it; now I see why...  The city is not particularly attractive and is loud and trafficky.  Generally, the people ranged from being reserved to wary and suspicious.

Beef pho.
  It isn't a particularly welcoming city - at least upon first impression. 

(Note - apparently the locals still call the city Saigon, although the official name has been changed to Ho Chi Minh City.  Out of respect to the locals, I'm using "Saigon" for my blog.)

We arrived at Bich Duyen - the manager (Chanh) greeted us and showed us to our room (5 flights up, no elevator - I guess I'll work off all the food I ate in Singapore and Bali - lol!).  (Random note - the manager was quite amazing - he was literally everywhere and did everything - he was the manager, receptionist, bellboy, concierge, cook - all rolled into one.

My artsy attempt - didn't work so well...
)  The room, much to our relief, was clean and air conditioned, which was all we were really hoping for.  It was only $22 USD per night, including breakfast.  I guess this is my version of "roughing it" - I'm very impressed by people who can backpack around the world - I'm too old and wimpy for such things... Since we had missed lunch, we went to the corner pho place and had our first bowl of pho (beef broth and rice noodles) in Vietnam for about $1.50 per bowl.  Pretty good - but service was barely passable. 

And then, we crossed our first street.  You can laugh, but it was quite a feat.  You'll understand if you ever come here.  (The "just keep walking and hope they swerve around you" does work but it takes getting used to because they only miss you by an inch or so.

Yeah! We crossed our first street in Saigon!
)

We had wanted to book some private tours - mainly because we were so miserable landing in this loud place and because my ankle was now swelling (yes, it was my foot before; now the ankle) so we wanted to be pampered.  We read that Ann's Tours was reputable so, with a handy little hotel map, we headed out based on the address provided by my Frommer's Guide ... turns out it had the wrong address (for Hanoi, not Saigon - but both cities had a street by the same name....) and because of that we circled the main part of the city twice.  It wouldn't have been so terrible except it was dreadfully hot and loud.  We were finally provided the correct address by the rude concierge at the New World Hotel, who couldn't even be bothered to talk to us because he was "too busy" - instead his colleague (total sweetheart who spoke no english) felt bad for us and got us directions despite him yelling at her (big jerk that he was).

See the Christmas decorations? Weird, huh?
  With the correct info, we headed out again - tired and hot and slightly defeated.  When we found it, I must have had a pissed off look on my face because all the travel agents looked frightened.  After 3 beats, a brave man stepped forward to help us and we promptly booked a chu chi tunner/city tour and a mekong delta tour with a private driver and guide.  I think the first tour was $65 pp and the mekong delta tour was $60pp.  That includes a driver, a guide and air-conditioned car.

We decided to celebrate our accomplishment of walking the entire length of District 1 (twice) by having ice coffee at a local coffee place nearby.   The waitress didn't really speak english so we just sort of pointed.  At first she brought us a glass with ice and coffee flavored water.

Iced coffee - saigon style.
  I took a sip and was quite puzzled.  Then she brought us another glass with very dark fragrant coffee also with lots of ice.  We observed the locals and figured out you were supposed to drink the two glasses together ... odd, but it was good.  (Coffee in Saigon seemed better than coffee in Hanoi as we later discovered...very deep, smooth and thick but not bitter)

Another random thing we noticed while walking and in the cafe - there is a strange obsession with christmas here.  We kept seeing christmas decorations and signs up randomly.  Not sure if it's kitsch for tourists ... or I'm just missing something ...

Refreshed we cut across town (again) and visited the Ben Thanh Market - mostly souvenirs, bags, shoes, etc.

At the Ben Thanh Market.
  A bit cheezy and overpriced.  We saw the People's Community Center (?) and the Opera House.  We were getting better at manuevering through the throngs of people and vehicles.  I wanted to check out the Caravelle Hotel - one of the best hotels according to my guidebook - and thank goodness A talked me into going in because we discovered the most amazing seafood buffet there (at Nineteen in Caravelle)!!!  Sad to say but this was probably the highlight of my Saigon visit ... It was on the expensive side for Vietnam ($38 USD), but anywhere else it would have been a deal.  All you can eat seafood dishes, desserts, sushi, caviar, cheese, salads, pot roast, lamb roast - and the best - an array of fresh seafood and filet mignon that you can have them steam, grill, broil, sautee, whatever, for you plus all the wine you can drink.
At the Ben Thanh Market.
  It was phenomenal!  We tried everything until I was about to burst, and then there were the desserts - bitesized morsels of happiness!  I was so happy...

On our way back to our hostel we walked through a park and so many local people were out gossiping, enjoying the cool night air, playing badminton, etc.  There was something nice about seeing the city relatively untouched by tourism ... this will likely change soon.

By the time we returned we had a better appreciation of the city and its people - the bustling life packed on the busy streets; food stalls everywhere cooking up their delicious smelling streets; friends hanging out for hours refreshing themselves with ice coffees and teas; lovers parked on their motorcycles in the parks; families playing with their children .

More shopping - mostly touristy things here - I don't advise shopping here.
.. I think that will be my most vivid memories here (aside from the fantabulous buffet, of course)   :)

sybil says:
glad you guys crossed safely to the other side of the street! :D
Posted on: Apr 13, 2008
Join TravBuddy to leave comments, meet new friends and share travel tips!
My first picture in Saigon - motor…
My first picture in Saigon - moto…
Heading towards Bich Duyen - our h…
Heading towards Bich Duyen - our …
Our room - clean and serviceable -…
Our room - clean and serviceable …
My first pho in Vietnam at Pho Bo …
My first pho in Vietnam at Pho Bo…
Beef pho.
Beef pho.
My artsy attempt - didnt work so …
My artsy attempt - didn't work so…
Yeah!  We crossed our first street…
Yeah! We crossed our first stree…
See the Christmas decorations?  We…
See the Christmas decorations? W…
Iced coffee - saigon style.
Iced coffee - saigon style.
At the Ben Thanh Market.
At the Ben Thanh Market.
At the Ben Thanh Market.
At the Ben Thanh Market.
More shopping - mostly touristy th…
More shopping - mostly touristy t…
As cute little mask.
A's cute little mask.
People exercising and hanging out …
People exercising and hanging out…
The Peoples Community Center ... …
The People's Community Center ...…
My first plate at the Caravelle Ho…
My first plate at the Caravelle H…
Buffet.
Buffet.
More buffet.
More buffet.
More buffet.
More buffet.
And yet more buffet.
And yet more buffet.
A with her suckling pig head.  Sor…
A with her suckling pig head. So…
My mollusks steamed in coconut mil…
My mollusks steamed in coconut mi…
Hmmm... what next?
"Hmmm... what next?"
First dessert plate.
First dessert plate.
Second dessert plate.
Second dessert plate.
The aftermath!
The aftermath!
Satiated and happy - after a crazy…
Satiated and happy - after a craz…