Wednesday, 30 January 2013

Miss Saigon

I've joined the working world as a fresh graduate (or rather, fresh blood for the mosquitoes to suck on) for the past 3 to almost 4 months. I'm officially finished with classes (as you know from my Bangkok + Krabi post), but yet to attend the graduation ceremony.

On 11th January 2013, I officially graduated from Singapore Institute of Technology (SIT) and my boyfriend and I decided to travel to Ho Chi Minh (or Saigon as popularly know by the Vietnamese) as a short getaway, break and reward from all the stress of school/work. 

Date of Travel: 13th Jan 2013 - 16th Jan 2013


Asian Ruby 3

Address: 100 Le Lai St, Ben Thanh Ward, Dist 1
Ho Chi Minh City, 

Telephone: +84839251555

A friend recommended Asian Ruby 4 hotel located at 277 Le Thanh Ton St.. However, after much research, we decided to stay at Asian Ruby 3 as it was closer to the backpacker's alley (Bu Vien). We wanted to be able to walk to the backpackers area for bookings of tours, bars, and all that the street could offer.

We really couldn't complain much for the price we paid for the room (SG$53/Night) . We were contented enough to have air-conditioning, hot water and clean sheets. The room was rather small and cramped (27sqm), but it was enough for 2 persons and our small luggages. There's even complimentary WiFi for all hotel guests! 


Street Food
Don't be afraid or intimidated to try their local street food! It may not be the most comfortable or sanitary dining experience to some, but to me, I LOVE STREET FOOD! It's cheap, it's good, and it's done properly, the local style. For me, I always always try to eat and enjoy the local cuisine. What can you expect from a foodie like me!

Street Food Noodles

We were walking around Bu Vien, the backpacker's alley, when we chanced upon this street stall with a friendly looking Auntie selling noodles. Hungry and wanting to try local food and just after touching down, we settled at this place. We had Beef Pho and Fried Noodles. The soup of the Beef Pho was so-so, with a lot of coriander taste, as you can see from the picture, it was flooded with that and some other herbs. The fried noodles on the other hand was to die for! It looks like the regular Mee Goreng (without chili) here in Singapore, but it's sooooo different! It's not too oily and the beef slices were rather generous for the price we paid! I think we paid a total of 73,000Dong for the 2 dishes and 2 bottles of coke. That's about SG$4+!

Banh Trang Nuong - Ricer paper pancake

If you're lucky enough to find this, you gotta try it! It's a rice cracker/paper topped with minced meat, spring onions, and some red spices. A quail's egg (or two, if you like) is cracked on top and together with a bit of butter (I think?), everything is mixed and BBQ-ed over charcoal. Finally, some special sauce is squirted on and it's folded in half.

It's a light, tasty treat on the go! However for me, the sauce was sticky and trickling down my arm as I slowly savored every bite. After a few days of passing by this place where I found the banh trang nuong stall, I realized that this place, outside the Notre Dam Cathedral, was only bustling on Sunday and eerily quiet during the weekdays that I was there. I am not sure if it is as bustling on Saturdays and it's a norm for people of all walks of life and nationalities (very distinguished accents and languages) to gather and sit on curbs and enjoy their snacks and drinks.

I believe it's not easy to find a peddler that sells banh trang nuong anywhere else, as I was craving it the next few days, but I could not find any! Perhaps I was not looking hard enough.

Fried Skewers

Also around the Notre Dam area, there were several peddlers that sold BBQ cuttlefish and deep fried 'stuff' on skewers. In Singapore or Malaysia, it's commonly known as Lok Lok. The only different between Lok Lok and this, was that it was all fried in oil while Lok Lok was sometimes cooked in gravy, deep fried or barbecued depending on the type of ingredients you choose. 

We got quails eggs, ladies finers, and sausages. Very simple, yet uber delicious. All the curbs had colour coded cardboard placed on top and patrons usually tend to sit on such 'reserved' places only after they've placed an order. I found it very amusing actually.

Banh Mi - Baguette sandwich

As we were walking along the streets of Ho Chi Minh, we saw a lot of peddlers selling this Vietnamese Baguette Sandwich. However, different stalls or peddlers sold different types of ingredients inside the sandwiches. Some served cold cuts and hams, others served BBQ meatballs. 

I was so intrigued by the thought of having BBQ meatballs in between my baguette bread, I dragged Gilbert to get 1 for us. Inside each toasted sandwich had 5 fat and juicy meatballs, a few strands of (what looked like Japanese Udon) noodles, fresh sliced cucumbers, coriander, some special sauce and chili. After assembling everything, the lady used a piece of small paper, wrapped it up and tied it with a rubber band so that the contents don't spill out while tourists like us swing our plastic bags around.

I felt that the baguette was a tad too tough for my liking (aren't all baguette hard on the outside anyway!), but the meatballs were juicy and complemented well with the sauce which tasted a bit like a Vietnamese version of BBQ sauce.

Xoi - Colour sticky rice

Colourful Xoi

If you've been to HCM, you will be able to see many peddlers selling Xoi right off their bicycles or motorbikes! They are not hard to miss with the vibrant coloured rice in the steamers. I understand there are two types, the savoury and sweet types. During my trip, I only manage to try the sweet colourful ones. Gilbert and I shared a packet which contained a mixed variety. It was topped with coconut shavings and condensed milk. Very delicious and filling as well. Some of the flavours had peanuts in it, and I am not a big fan of peanuts.

It is a yummy dessert, bearing in mind that it is very filling and it is suitable if you have someone to share with. I did not even finish my half of the packet before I waved the white flag.

 Hot Vit Lon - Half developed duck embryo

Vietnamese and Phillipines Delicacy - Hot Vit Lon/Balut

Hot Vit Lon, or Balut as people in the Philippines call it, is a rather dark and gruesome delicacy to try. Basically, the duck embryo was allowed to develop halfway before it is being boiled or steamed. Some of my friends who used to intern in one of the resorts in HCM as well as a very close Vietnamese friend of mine told me that Hot Vit Lon is easily found along the streets. I beg to differ.

We did not find a stall until the 3rd night when we were desperately looking for one. The vendors and peddlers of Hot Vit Lon did not display obvious signage, and you have to keep your eyes peeled out for one who sells shellfish. Some vendors display a row of white duck eggs and that's your cue!

I've always wanted to try Hot Vit Lon ever since I confirmed my plans for HCM. Friends who tried it loved and the rest condemned it. The egg I got was a little more cooked and less developed (I guess it's a good thing?) as the ones I researched online. The eggs were placed on top of a little egg holder and you're supposed to use your spoon and crack the top of the shell. After removing the small piece of cracked shell, you're to drink the liquid/soup/juice that's inside the egg before enlarging the hole and scooping the solid contents out. You can see how developed the embryo is as you could see tiny feathers, bones, wings, and in my case, an imagined head of a duckling. 

You need a little bravery, courage and an open mind to fully enjoy Hot Vit Lon. To make it easier, use your spoon to break up the solid parts so you do not really see what (or which part of a duckling) you're scooping out. The embryo part consisted of only half of my egg, with the other half, like a normal duck's egg white. 

To be honest, I quite like it while Gilbert was so disturbed after trying it out. I've found a video of Anthony Bourdain on YouTube trying Hot Vit Lon and look how disturbed he was while smoking! 


Apparently, 2 out of the 3 proper restaurants we went to are Pho Restaurants. Pho (Pronounced as FUH)  is a Vietnamese favourite and can be considered as their national dish or icon. Pho consists of rice noodles, broth, either chicken or beef, herbs and lots of bean sprouts!

Beef Pho

Pho 2000

Pho for the President!

Cho Ben Thanh 
1-3 Đ Phan Chu Trinh (opposite Ben Thanh Market) 
District #1 Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam 
Tel: (84.8) 822 2788 

Le Thanh Thon 
26A Le Thanh Ton 
District #1 Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam 
Tel: (84.8) 829 2612

Pho 2000 is most famous for the visit of then US President, Mr. Bill Clinton. He visited the shop at Cho Ben Thanh in 2000 (Propably that's the reason why they changed their shop name to Pho 2000) and their slogan ever since was "Pho for the President." 

Every bowl Pho came with a plate of garnishes which consisted of several herbs, bean sprouts, lime, and chili. The beef broth was light  and everything blended well with each other. However, I felt that the beef was not as tender as I imagined or how many people raved about it during my research for reviews. 

Garnishes for Pho
It is rather expensive as you are able to get better Pho or noodle soup along the streets at half the price. I would say, just try it once, for experience. 

During our meal, there were some commotion near the entrance of the restaurant. Turns out, there was a LARGE rat running around! The waiters were actually attempting to kill it with a broom while the waitresses shrieked and ran away terrified. By attempting, I actually meant, them, chasing the rat around the restaurant with the broom, hitting it occasionally and continue to chase it around again; oblivious to terrified and disgusted diners within their vicinity. 

This is definitely not something you'd see in a restaurant in Singapore, but I was unfazed as I wasn't afraid of rats per say, just afraid where in the restaurant or kitchens the rat has been and what viruses and diseases it brought along. What amused me the most was the look on the two Japanese ladies sitting behind us. They were so distressed, they were chasing the rat and the waiters with their eyes, barely touching their food. They immediately drew up their legs and brought out hand-sanitizers. They even put on masks, covering their nose and mouth and I could not really read their expressions anymore. At the end of all the drama, one of the waiter opened the door while the other chased the rat with the broom onto the streets. 

When we left the restaurants, the Japanese ladies' food were barely touched still. 

Pho 24
Pho 24!

No doubt Pho 24 belongs to a chain, having many stalls overseas (Indonesia, Hong Kong and Philippines , I would say it is one of the best Pho I've tried in my limited time in HCM. We bought a travel book before heading to HCM and there's one section where it claims that Pho 24 served the best bowl of pipping hot rice noodles.

We did not really plan on sniffing out Pho 24 stores, we just happen to chance upon the shop when were were walking around aimlessly (I wouldn't say lost). We just rounded a corner, and there it was, the bright green signage was screaming at us. It was a sign.

Now, Pho 24's menu has more variety as compared to Pho 2000. Gilbert ordered the typical Beef Pho while I had the deep fried Pho. We also order Pho 24's four seasons which was just 4 types of Vietnamese rolls.
Beef Pho, Deep Fried Pho and Four Seasons
The soup was savoury and slightly thicker than Pho 2000's. What sealed the deal was actually the Deep Fried Pho. It closely resembles Yee-Mee here in Singapore, but so much better!! If you've tried Yee-Mee, you know that the noodles itself is flavourful as it is fried. The same goes for Deep Fried Pho. The sauce was stir fried with onions, spring onions and beef and it produced such an amazing aroma!

My stomach just growled by thinking about Deep Fried Pho! =P

Hai Vuong

02 Nguyễn Thị Nghĩa , 
P.Bến Thành , Q.1
Telephone: (08) 6670 0511
On our last day, before heading to the airport, we walked past Hai Vuong and Gilbert was quite attracted to the large banner hanging outside which screamed cheap prices for a set menu. 

I ordered the beef steak with egg, which came sizzling on a hotplate with a loaf of baguette bread and a side plate of fries. Gilbert got a hotpot of salted fish fried rice. The price was good for budget travelers like us, but the food a tad too salty.

Vietnamese Coffee

Vietnamese Coffee or Ca Phe Da (milk coffee - cà phê sữa đá) is usually made with finely ground Vietnamese-grown dark roast coffee individually brewed with a small metal French drip filter (cà phê phin) into a cup containing about a quarter to a half as much sweetened condensed milk, stirred and poured over ice.

What makes Vietnamese coffee so unique and tasty? Well, when I was shopping around in the night markets, I smelt the coffee beans and it reminded me of chocolate or cocoa beans! I asked the vendor, why did it smell so delicious and heavenly, and he replied that it was roasted in butter! I was sold! I bought 1kg back home. There are other reasons contributing to its unique taste such as climate and roasting techniques, but I shall not bore you with all those details. You may visit this site to learn more about Vietnamese coffee!

Places of Interests

Reufication Palace

Hours: Sat, Sun - Closed;  Mon to Fri - 7:30–11am, 1–4:30pm 
Address: 135 Nam Kỳ Khởi Nghĩa, Bến Thành, Quận 1, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam 
Telephone: (08) 3822 3652
Ticket: 30,000 Dong per adult

Reunification Palace formerly known as Independence Palace, built on the site of the former Norodom Palace, is a landmark in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. There are several tanks and jet planes outside the palace. That was probably the most interesting thing about the palace. Inside, it's just rooms filled with tables and chairs and it looks really badly kept.

War Remnants Museum

Address: 28 Võ Văn Tần, phường 6, District 3, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam 
Telephone: (08) 3930 6325

The War Remnants Museum primarily contains exhibits relating to the American phase of the Vietnam War. It exhibits the gruesome pictures and stories about how the Americans tortured and murdered innocent Vietnamese children, women and the elderly. How true, I do not know, but the pictures shown here are really disturbing. This is more educational, albeit dark, as compared to the Reunification Palace.

Saigon Notre-Dame Basilica

Address: Bến Nghé, Quận 1, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam 
Telephone: (08) 3822 0477

Saigon Notre-Dame Basilica, officially Basilica of Our Lady of The Immaculate Conception is a cathedral located in the downtown of Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. Established by French colonists, the cathedral was constructed between 1863 and 1880.

We visited on a Sunday, and there was Mass going on. Outside, there were many street vendors selling fried skewers, cuttlefish, rice paper pancakes and cold drinks. Such scene was only seen on Sundays. I am not sure if there's the same crowd on Saturdays. On weekdays, it was deserted and quiet.

Saigon Central Post Office

Address: 2 Công xã Paris, Bến Nghé, Quận 1, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam
Telephone: (08) 3829 6862

Saigon Central Post Office is a post office in the downtown Ho Chi Minh City, opposite Saigon Notre-Dame Basilica, the city's main church. The building was constructed when Vietnam was part of French Indochina in the early 20th century.

We went in when it was near closing. We still had enough time to purchase postcards, wrote letters, purchased stamps and post it. The whole design and architecture had a very French theme to it.

Cao Dai Temple

Just outside Tay Nihn and 60 miles northwest of Ho Chi Minh City is the Great Temple or Holy See, the center of the intriguing Cao Dai sect. Cao Dai is a syncretist Vietnamese religious movement that incorporates aspect of Buddhism, Taoism, Confucianism and even Catholicism.

The Cao Dai Temple (as it is more commonly known) was begun in 1933 in a unique architectural style that reflects its blended traditions. Most people visit on a day trip from Ho Chi Minh City.

Cu Chi Tunnels

Address: Phu Hiep, Phu My Hung, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam

The tunnels of Củ Chi are an immense network of connecting underground tunnels located in the Củ Chi district of Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, and are part of a much larger network of tunnels that underlie much of the country.

We bought a full day package tour which brought us to Cao Dai Temple first than to Cu Chi Tunnels. This tour was educational and very very intriguing. I've fired riffles before in different parts of Thailand, but never have I fired an AK-47 nor a Machine Gun. I WAS THRILLED! The bullet was the huge, authentic one, as compared to Thailand where they used the small bullets. The recoil from the AK-47 was totally unexpected given my inexperience with firing arms. Gave me quite a shock and a little bruising for my shoulder.

We crawled through the pitch black tunnels which was widened to twice the size. I managed to walk comfortably by just bending my back and knees a little, and Gilbert (who was obviously taller) had to duck-walk all the way. The Australian family in front of us on the other hand... They had a good time on their hands and knees and even had difficulty at some parts of the tunnel. It was quite a fun experience I would say.

Mekong Delta

At first I wasn't really keen on heading to Mekong Delta cos it'll take up one whole day and we'd be hounded by peddlers to buy their ware. So, on the first day, we were just walking through all the Travel Agencies around Bu Vien, and there were packages/tours heading to Mekong Delta but instead of heading to the usual Floating Market, this particular tour involved trekking, hiking, boat rides, and visits to farms. Something that would be fun and educational, and I also thought of Jeremy Wade's show on Animal Planet, River Monsters and recalled him catching a giant catfish in the Mekong Delta.

Seem legit right? Wrong. This was one of the most boring-est tours I've ever been on.

I've been to many tours in Krabi, Thailand, such as kayaking in swamps. What more can you expect from kayaking in swamps right? It was actually extremely educational and the scenery was so beautiful! We learnt about how the swamps sustained life for the sea and how the sea sustained the swamps. We learned facts and traits about the monkeys living there. Check out my post here.

Boat ride on Mekong Delta
One of the activities was a boat ride peddled by Vietnamese. The whole 10-15 mins ride, the boat peddlers from other boats coming in our direction kept asking for tips or "reminding" us to tip our boat peddlers. Of course I'd tip them, they didn't have to kept hounding us the whole ride. It was VERY unpleasant. I could not enjoy myself, even though the scenery was somewhat nice. I would NOT recommend you to go on this tour at all! Just thinking about it leaves a bad taste in my mouth.

Bee farm
Other pit stops were to a bee farm and they showed how they collected honey from the bees. Nothing really educational here too. Nothing about how bees sustained the environment, nothing about how the bees live. Zilch. It seems like they just brought us there to buy honey and snacks. The honey tea which they served was nice though. The products they offered were reasonable and affordable, if you would like to know.

Coconut candy
The next stop was to this coconut candy 'factory'. It's not really a factory, just an atap house where a family produces toffee candy from coconut meat and milk. Again, nothing really educational though the candy was nice to eat.

Seriously, I'd rather go to the Cu Chi Tunnel tour one more time than come to this tour. Although it was not expensive, I felt this tour could be so much better.


  1. Nice. I just can't wait to go Saigon after reading this

    1. Hi Nancy! You'll enjoy HCMC as much as I did! :)