Saigon, a spin around Saigon downtown on a scooter

Day 2,  SE Asia trip, Feb 2011
Saigon, Vietnam: day 2

I spent the morning in the hotel waiting for a room change. My mom’s bed made so much noises that she couldn’t sleep, so I was told. I was still exhausted from the jet lag and working (remotely) the night before that I slept so well and was not aware of my mom’s challenge.
This is how our room looks like, less the laptop electrical power cord. Thanks to Mr. B’s converter set, the huge converter/adapter paid itself a zillion times over. Thanks Mr. B 🙂

I walked down to the reception and asked for a room change. I intentionally walked down from the 4th floor in lieu of using the elevator. It’s much easier to walk down stairs then up stairs, in my experience.Here is the URL to the hotel. The front desk clerk told me room change will happens sometimes after 10 am, when room availability is updated after house keeping is done.
To kill time, I hopped on YIM and happen to see Mr. B. We catch up and he asked me about my trip. He felt sorry for me for not having gone anywhere yet and got stuck in a hotel. He asked me if I need him to reach-out to his contacts in VN so they can keep me company and show me around?I thanked him for his offer and asked for a rain check instead because I don’t want to inconvenience him. I said taxi are dimes a dozen so I can go down to SG’s centre anytime I want.I told him about the wait, the room exchange, blah…blah. I waited until past noon and still no call from the front desk. Mr. B kept insisting that I should go down to Saigon’s central market aka Bên’ Thành’smarket, I should not miss it blah…blah….during our chat session earlier. I told him I already knew how it looks like and I lived here for about 10 years in my prior life so it’s nothing new to me. Plus, it’s too hot and humid outside. Perhaps my resistance is my defense mechanism to save myself the disappointment if I’m going to see drastic changes, especially BT’s market, one of SG’s icon/landmark.

It’s now past noon and still no call from reception. Had to walk down to the front desk and remind them again about the request and we got moved to 7th floor instead. We got an exact duplicate room to the one on the 4th floor. I did ask for comparable features and number of beds when making the request.  View from our new room, at the 7th floor. This is a better arrangement as you are not confronted with the neighboring’s homes and their back walls and the noises don’t seems to travel as far up.

One of the staff offered to help move our stuff but I was in the middle of working so I told her I will move everything on my own. We only had a few articles of clothing and personal care items with us. The rest were my work laptop and it’s related accessories so there were not much to move. Plus, I just didn’t want anyone tampering with my stuff as I like to personally organize and know where my stuff is?

I told Mr. B I’m going to walk back to my aunt’s home. Oh yah, got a phone call from the front desk around noon ish, asking us to pay our room’s fee.  I was baffle at the call and it’s content.I told her I don’t know anything, and she needs to speak to my mom when she’s back.Tip:In Vietnam, hotel will ask for your passport as a form of identification and collateral. They will hold on to your passport and return it to your upon checking out – if you’re an international tourist.

Domestic customers pay for the hotel everyday. In our case, we got a call from reception to pay because:

  1. Mom spoke Vietnamese so they thought we were domestic customers
  2. My aunt (domestic) booked the hotel on our behalf so they used her local ID.
  3. No fault of the hotel for asking me to pay so I’m no longer upset about the practice once I recognized there is 2 different system.

I walked back to my aunt’s home and met dì Giang, my mom’s BFF. We chat for a while and since my mom was still tired from jet lag and with the lack of sleep, dì Giang offered to take me down to Bên’ Thành, the central market.

Asia is growing and Saigon, Vietnam is neither an exception. With so much constructions going on around the city and growth & expansion at lightening speed, I spot some historical landmarks I can still recall from my childhood. I quickly snap pix of landmarks I happen to recognize so here’s a spin of SaiGon through my camera lens. Pardon some of the cut off images as I was taking the pix via 1 hand from the motorbike’s backseat (the other one is to use to hold on to the driver).

Marie Curie high school
(yes, it is French. For those of you that don’t know, we were a colony of France)
Rare sigh of colonial buildings. I loved their wear and genuine old facade.
Lê Quý Đôn high school

I told dì Giang I wanted to get some mũ trôm which I believed is some type of tree sap that have a cooling effect or element, just like how a cucumber keep you cool on a hot summer day :-), rong biển chân gà, baking ware and vegetable carving set while I’m there. I am not into the mắm thingee (pickled fermented fishes loved by my mom) so we passed by it without me spending a dime in that area.


SaiGon’s preparation for TẾT, pronounce as Tedz………hehehehe….Aisa’s phonetic translation, lol (luna New Year) and flowers floats  for the TẾT parade (lunar New Year). In the Far East, Roman calendar New Year is recognized and somewhat celebrated but the lunar New Year TẾT, pronounce as Tedz is still strongly observed and traditionally pass on. Year end’s preparation and praying rituals are carefully and meticulously pass on from one generation to another.

After what seems like a 15 minutes ride on the motorbike, we got to Ben Thanh bazaar. It used to be open air and with the tropic’s monsoon season, things can get really wet and dirty, especially from the seafood and meat section as there’s no such thing as sewage system. The bazaar is still there but it’s no longer open air. Instead, it looks like a huge warehouse from the inside and each entrepreneur rent a stall and sell their wares. I’ve seen lots of knocks-off stuff and it made things really affordable if you’re into price comparison but made it a very very challenging task for gifts or souvenir shopping.

Iconic food/symbol for TẾT, pronounce as Tedz.
Left to right: water melon, sticky rice tube wrapped in banana leaf , sticky rice in square shape (which represent the earth, before they found out it’s round) based on folklore.
We walked around and look at the housewares section. I saw vegetable carving knife set, for about $40,000 VND, which is about $2.00 USD, I think. I saw lots of tart molds (the petite ones). I purchased most of my baking wares from Sur La Table, Sonoma Kitchen or World market in the US so I ended up NOT buying any of the bake ware stuff. I already own a decent inventory of petite tart molds and now moving on to Silicon molds so the $2.00 USD/set don’t really entice me at all. Plus, I really think you got what you paid for as the molds are not made from stainless steel at all. Whatever materials it’s made from, it does tarnish, change upon usage and cause discoloration as well as residue (which can be spot by the naked eyes).After browsing around the market, we’re now going for street food junk fixing for me.
Dì Giang and I sat down to one of the food stall and had roasted liver green papaya salad(gỏi đu đủ bò khô) which was alright in my opinion. The liver tasted very soft, more like roasted beef instead of liver and it lacks the julienne beef jerky strips, the heat and garlic often associated with this type of salad dish
One ingredient I don’t agree with is the amount or the over-use of sugar/sweetness with Saigonese’s food. The sauce tasted extremely sweet, even sweeter than a chè’s sweetness (Mr. L, it’s the kind of sweetness like Filipino’s Halo Halo) for my taste bud.
I then moved on to the gỏi cuốn aka spring rolls or salad rolls (2 rolls) with peanut/hoisin sauce dip. I was not at all hungry, but wanted to sample or searching for the WOW factor from Vietnam’s cuisine, which I haven’t found yet, as of date 😦
By the way, portion in Vietnam is extremely tiny. Therefore, food in the pictures appeared larger in real life, LOL.

I guess this must be one of the vendor’s son or nephew. He totally reminds me of Tony, Mr. J’s younger brother. I guess it’s all snack/junk food and since Tony and I agreed on enjoying such type of food, it’ll probably be even more fun eating with him.

The gỏi cuốn’s dipping sauce tasted a little less sweet than the papaya’s salad dressing but honestly, it wasn’t a home run for me at all. Dì Giang had a bowl of banh’ canh (Vietnamese style’s Udon) which I’m sure was just OK for her based on her facial expression. She did comments that these type of snacks are way better in -Da` Na(ng~. All the food places usually offer complementary tea/water. I normally do not eat and drink at the same time (unless I’m extremely thirsty) based on a life long’s habit. My dad often scold or discipline me when I was younger for having eating and drinking at the same meal so I carry this habit with me til now.

Cultural tip:

  • Vietnam, very similar to most Asian cultures, have a very communal, sharing based society/attitude that is considered normal. In the West, we go for individual setting.
  • I avoid having the complimentary beverage (since people tend to just quickly rinse the glasses/cups from the previous use. The restaurateur (street stalls) don’t really wash the glasses/cups so drink the beverage via their cups at your own risk. And no, they don’t use disposable cups as that cost money too.

We quickly moved on to a beverage stalls and I asked for nước mát (from my childhood’s memory). I was surprised to see the merchant giving me the jelly’s drink/desert (with green jelly, seaweed, etc…). Oh well, I’m afraid to send back the incorrect drink so I consume it with much hesitation. Since Dì Giang was paying for our food bill, even though it was nominal, I knew for a fact that she would not accept or allow me to pay as culturally, the older is to treat the younger one.

We sat and chat with the beverage’s stall owner for a bit. Since Bên’ Thành’s bazaar is SG’s icon/landmark, there is not a tourist that stopped by SG without checking out Bên’ Thành’s bazaar. The owner can speaks multiple languages, including English and some neighboring Asian’s ones, I recall he can converse up to 8-9 languages. Darn……he’s truly a born linguistic.
We left Bên’ Thành’s bazaar shortly after Dì Giang took me for another spin around SG. I asked her to stopped by a bookstore so I can browse and hopefully pick out some Vietnamese books. After a long while (poor Dì Giang), just like Mr. L and the (Japanese Daiso store’s incident), patiently waited for me outside of the bookstore. I pick up some Feng Shui books by Lilian Too (my favorite author) translated into Vietnamese for my câ.ụ Hun`g in the Netherlands, some db books for mom, some random books for me and friends (2 copies of each). The cashier was surprise and re-affirms if I meant to get 2 copies for each book? I answered YES. All the titles I selected were not cheap at all so I walked out, $700,000 VND (the equivalent of $35.00 USD) less than before I walked into the bookstore but were such a happy camper, perhaps it’s my comfort zone instead. I guess I’m considered a geek as bookstore always made me so happy after spending sometime there.

We went to the TAX plaza as I couldn’t find any half decent looking or none to be exactly VN’s inspired handicrafts/souvenir at Bên’ Thành’s bazaar. Tax plaza had a supermarket that stock plenty of things. So….for those that’s leaving the US and heading to VN for the first time and concerned about the lack of personal care items, worry NOT. It may not be a US brand we’re familiar with but plenty of Australian/New Zealand or European’s brand. If you wanted to travel light, stock up on your personal care essentials here when you get to Saigon.

It may not be the exact item, but they do carry a decent inventory in stock so Mr. J was totally RIGHT about just bringing $$$$ USD to VN instead. In case you’re reading this, are you happy now that you’re able to say: See, I told you so? OK, point taken and you’re right DEAR! Well, you’re only half right, since it is SG we’re talking about here.

If you’re going into the small villages or the remote province, forget-da-bout Supermarket that stock imported goods. “Bring Your Own Toilet Paper”rule still applies here! BTW, even high quality toilet paper here would sort of break apart when using so you also need to pick after yourself too, by picking up the small paper pieces/lint. Yike, I’m going into too much details here but that’s my true honest observation in case you get a culture shock.

Again, TAX plaza seems to cater to tourists with all the sales ladies wears ao’ dai` (traditional costume). The wares here are a knot above the bazaar but nothing caught my eyes as stuff from here are similar to stuff I’ve got from Thailand, Malaysia, India, etc….No more shopping or at-least I gave up the idea of shopping. I enjoy shopping at faire, festival in the States as that’s where you’ll found the most cute, unique stuff. Bên’ Thành’s bazaar or any bazaar in VN are very much similar to each other. You’ll have to dig through the stuff and everything is packed from floor to ceiling at each of the kiosh/stall to take advantage of inventory storage so it felt very over-whelming and stuffy. It’s just too much work for what seems like good value but oh well, you’ll get the according value for what you paid for the goods. We head back home as the night is falling and my mom must be up from her recuperation rest by now.
Total spent:
$35 USD on Vietnamese books (to bring back as gifts for family and friend in the USA & Europe).

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