Vietnam 2017 – Trip Report 13

14 October – HCMC


Managed a bit of a sleep in.  Not much of one, but certainly up later than I had been over the last week and a half.

Anyway, needed it, and Lisa certainly did, too.

We head downstairs, and on the way, we meet Tung’s dog, Winnie.

She’s a cute little dog, and she gets really excited when she meets people.  This is good, but it does present a small problem.  When she gets excited, she has a tendency to lose control of a particular body function.

This results in small puddles being left where her peak excitement levels occur.

Lucky paper towel is cheap….

Outside just after 8.00am and we’re quickly in the street I was in last night where I had my beers.  And just opposite where I was sitting, is a lady doing banh mi oplas.  (bread roll and fried egg)

Our banh mi opla lady.

Decision quickly made; two banh mi oplas, along with small sausages, ordered.

We take a seat while it’s all cooking, and it’s not long before our breakfast is in front of us.  Interestingly, and we hadn’t had it like this before, the roll was cut up for us, rather than the egg just being put in the roll.  Made it a bit more meal like, than snack like.

Breakfast of (Vietnamese) champions….

Anyway, so simple, but also so good.

While we were eating, a 1.5 litre bottle of Sprite lemonade appeared on our table.  I’m not really sure how, or why, that happened, but it appears we may have inadvertently ordered it.

Not normally a big lemonade drinker at the best of times, and even less so at 8.30 in the morning.

But, seeing as we now have it, we may as well have a crack at it.

A couple of young girls, perhaps around ten years old???, were sitting at the table next to us.  We tried to chat with them, and while I think they wanted to talk with us, they were a little shy.

Breakfast done, we leave the girls with our remaining Sprite – which may not have pleased their mothers…. –  and headed over to fix up our banh mi lady.

60 000 Dong, including our surprise drink.

We head off, continuing our exploration of where we’re living for the next couple of days, and eventually come to a more main road.

And on the other side of this road, I can see a market that’s been set up down a narrow side street.

And with markets being another of my favourite things in Vietnam, we just have to head over for a look.

And any good?

Oh yeah!

So vibrant, so busy, so local, so authentic.  And no one else there that looked like us.

And you could pretty much buy anything that you could possibly need.  Fresh fruits and vegetables, meat, seafood, shoes, clothes, kitchen utensils, whatever….

Vegetable section.
Meat, or more specifically, pork, section.
Dried seafood section.
Rice section.  And I thought rice was rice….
You can also learn about the anatomy of certain animals…..

Oh, and nail clippers as well.  Which I splashed out on and purchased a set for 10 000 Dong.

Bargain!  I think…..  But not really knowing for sure, seeing as I’d never bothered to price nail clippers in Vietnam, before.

Then again, I’d never bothered to price them in Australia, either.  Anyway, at about 70 Australian cents, I thought it was probably worth taking the chance….

Market fix achieved for the day, we find our way back to the main road we crossed, and then head back to our ‘block’.

Realising that we’re yet to have our daily caphe sua da, that becomes our priority.  And it’s not long before we achieve our goal.

Caphe sua da’s ordered, we take a seat on the footpath to begin people watching.  And that never gets boring.  I just find it fascinating.

Caphe sua da time!

The guy who sits down next to us and borrows another guy’s cigarette lighter.  No please, no thank you, no acknowledgement.  Was weird….

The fifteen to twenty guys, all in uniform, standing around chatting.  They looked a little like police, but weren’t as formal looking.  I don’t know if they were some kind of security, but if they were, it wasn’t terribly obvious as to what they were ‘protecting’.

Whatever it was, they seemed to be having a good time doing it.

Caphe sua da sipping and savouring prolonged for as long as possible; quite possibly the best 40 000 Dong you can spend, and with iced tea thrown in; and we head back to Tung’s to cool down.

Tung has plans for us, and that includes showing us areas of HCMC that we, along with the vast majority of visitors, wouldn’t normally see.

And today, for lunch, he’s taking us to District two.  Having been told, as well as having read, a little about what some of HCMC’s districts have to offer over the last three years, but remembering very little of that information, (yep, that attention span on important things….) I have no idea what to expect of District two.

Tung orders an Uber, and we’re soon on our way.  Through the usual sights of the city that we’ve become accustomed to, and then to an area where it appears there’s a bit of road construction going on.  But, it could also just be an area that has been a bit neglected.

We turn off, and very quickly, the landscape changes.

The roads are well made, and there are lots of houses.

Not apartment type houses in multi-storey buildings, but houses.  Houses like you find in the suburbs of Melbourne.  But not your typical houses that you find on every second street.

These were very large, very ornate, and very expensive looking mansion type houses.  It looked nothing like anything that, up until now, we’d seen in HCMC.

A very different HCMC.

It was, I don’t know, a bit strange….

Tung explains that it’s an ‘expat’ area, and a lot of the ‘mansions’ are leased by big companies for their executives.

All quite impressive, but a million miles away from what I consider the ‘real’ Vietnam.

Our Uber pulls up outside a restaurant that sort of just pops up out of nowhere.  Now, if last night’s restaurant was up there, this restaurant was on another level.  It actually backed onto the Saigon river, and even had its own gardens!

There was also a guy walking around the restaurant playing a saxophone.  But not a ‘normal’ saxophone; an electronic saxophone!

I found that surprising.  Not that he was playing an electric saxophone, but because I just had no idea that such a thing existed….

Yep, probably more than a million miles from anything we’d seen or experienced in Vietnam.

And the food?

Yeah….., good!  Excellent, in fact.

Tung and I shared a couple of seafood dishes; Phu Quoc prawn rolls and Phu Quoc battered squid.

This was good on two counts; one, having never been to Phu Quoc island I kind of got to experience a little of it, and two, being seafood meant that Lisa wouldn’t be tempted to steal our food.

Not being a seafood eater, she settled on a burger.

Yep, a burger.

Oh the shame…..

Regardless, it was a lovely way to spend a couple of hours.  And you certainly couldn’t fault the setting, with a view overlooking the Saigon River and the skyline of the city in the background.

Lunch overlooking the Saigon river.

And while it was again a restaurant that we wouldn’t ordinarily seek out, partly because I had no idea it existed, I was really appreciative of Tung showing us something so different.

It was also nice to relax and chat in the relative peace and quiet that you sometimes struggle to find in HCMC.

Lunch done, we headed outside through the gardens to our awaiting Uber.

A few minutes later we were back in the HCMC that I know.

Slight contrast?

Ummm, yeah, just a little….

Headed back to Tung’s for an afternoon recovery session, which included watching a group of kids playing badminton out in the street.

You just don’t see that in Australia….

Who needs a net, when you have a bike….
Kids being kids.

Soon, the calling of the beer became too strong to resist, so I bid farewell to Lisa.

Out on the street, I had a job to do before the beer thing.  And that was to find an ATM.

Being in fairly narrow laneways, and having not actually noticed any ATMs in the vicinity of where we’re staying, I headed out to one of the more main streets.

Eventually found a Techcom one and fed it my card.

Two million Dong limit, along with an ATM fee of 66 000 dong.

Yeah, no thanks, almost shoving my hand down it’s greedy mouth to retrieve my card.

On to the next one….

Just down the road I spot another.  Looks promising, but the fact that there’s a local guy standing in front of it with a rather frustrated, even angry, expression on his face, kind of puts me off.

I don’t know if he was just angry at how much the machine was telling him he had in his account, or if the machine decided that it liked his card more than he did.

Either way, I decided it wasn’t worth the risk.

Round the corner and onto another fairly main road.  Walk a bit.  And then walk a bit more.

No visible ATMs.  And, now really, really hanging out for that beer.

I keep walking.

One thing that keeps my mind off my dilemmas, is the number of dogs in this area.  Not roaming the street or anything; they’re all pet dogs either on leads, or in their ‘houses’.

And they weren’t just mongrel type breeds, there were a lot of pure bred ones as well.

One was even a Dalmatian.  A Dalmatian!

I reckon I could count on one hand the number of Dalmatians I’ve seen in my life.

Anyway, finally…., success.

An ACB ATM!  Which, according to Google, is the Asia Commercial Bank.

And, again according to Google, ACB has its headquarters in District 3, HCMC.  Who would have thought….

Anyway, 3 million Dong with an ATM fee of 55 000 Dong.  Because I’m sick of walking, and I need a beer, that’ll do.

Transaction done, and I head back in the direction of ‘home’.

I’m soon back in the lane where my beer place is and my beer lady’s young son spots me.

“Beer!?”, he yells out with a big smile on his face.

“Yes please!”, I say nodding, also with a big smile on my face.

He turns and calls out something that sounds like ‘Mum!’, and his mum looks up from behind her cart and smiles at me.

I love it.  We have a relationship, now.

I take a seat, and a mug with ice and a beer quickly arrive.

24 hours later; same, same, but different.

Back in my happy place……

The old guy from next door then comes over and shakes my hand.  I love it!

He disappears, and then a few minute later he returns with his stainless steel bucket that masquerades as a beer mug, full of beer.

We then do the ‘Cheers / Yo!’ thing.

Oh geez, how I love this!

An older woman then sits at the table beside me and a mug of ice and a can of Coke then appear.  Nothing unusual there.

This is then followed by two cigarettes and a lighter on a plastic plate.

Hmmm, haven’t seen that before.

It gets me thinking, though.  A packet of cigarettes sells for about 20 000 Dong, so I wonder what they get sold for on a ‘per piece’ basis?

And is the hire of the lighter included in the cigarette price?  Or is that separate?

Yes, I know, I think too much….

Getting close to 6.00pm, and still none the wiser on cigarette lighter hire fees, I head off.  I’m supposed be back by six so we can head out to dinner with Tung and Vy, but I’m not really sure why we’re needing to leave so early.

On the way, I call past my ‘cold beer’ place from last night to pick up a few take aways.

The woman isn’t there, but her husband is.  He’s been sitting out the front with a few mates enjoying a couple of beers.

As I walk towards the fridge, he jumps up and grabs a plastic bag.  As I start putting them in the bag, he counts them.

“Five”, he says.  And then, “Fifty-five!”, he follows up with.

He looks like he’s had a few beers, but there’s nothing wrong with his maths.

Quickly remembering the less important thing I need, I say, “Water?”.

He has a puzzled look on his face, and doesn’t seem to know what I’m after.

Delving down deep into the dark recesses of my brain, I try to remember the Vietnamese word for ‘water’.

And surprisingly, I think I have it.

“Nuoc?”, I say, hoping that first of all that’s the right word, and second, that I’ve said it well enough that he can understand it.

“Ahhh, water!”, he responds, obviously saying it far better than I had just a few seconds earlier…

“10 000”, he says, before then saying, “65 000!”

I know I’ve said it before, but I just love this place.  And it’s these interactions that mean so much to me.

Transaction complete, and with a story to tell, I give him a ‘cam on’ and bid farewell to him and his mates before heading back.

Showered, and ready to go, the four of us are in an Uber by 6.30pm.  We’re having Vietnamese, strangely, but that’s all we know.  Eventually we pull up in an area that bears absolutely no resemblance to the area that we had lunch in.

Which is good, as I’m keen to get back to my ‘normal’ HCMC feel.

The restaurant is an ‘inside’ restaurant, but there is certainly nothing upmarket about it.  We head upstairs, and by the time we’re up there, I already like it.

Tung does the ordering, and it turns out it’s a kind of DIY rice paper rolls place.

Plates of rice paper quickly appear, followed by several small plates of various meats and greens to fill the rice paper.

I’ve said before that I’m more an eat to live, rather than live to eat, type person, but seriously, I could eat these things every day for the rest of my life.

Oh, wow!, they were delicious!!!  So fresh, and just so tasty.

And, quite possibly for the first time, I started to get an idea of why people rave about Vietnamese food.

Hey, I’ve always enjoyed it; liked it a lot, even; but never really felt like there was this huge party going on inside my mouth.

Tonight, my eyes have been opened just that little bit wider.

Sublime dinner done, we’re on our way again.  Not sure where, but Tung mentions something about a ‘show’.

This is the first I’ve heard of this.

Back into another Uber, and once again we’re off into the dark HCMC streets.  And once again, I would not have a clue where we are.

We finally get there; wherever ‘there’ is, and we walk down a lane or a driveway that I probably wouldn’t even walk down in daylight.

“Bet you couldn’t find it if you were on your own”, Tung says.

“Nope, not a chance”, I say, but also thinking I probably couldn’t find my way back to the car if need be.

We finally make our way upstairs and then enter a rather eccentric, or eclectic?, lounge type room.  I really don’t know how to describe it, but it’s filled with couches and chairs.

Smoothies, ice cream, and a caphe sua da are ordered, and then we wait.

I finally find out it’s a place where musicians come to play and sing.  I would generally regard something like this as, well……, maybe not my worst nightmare, but certainly not a very nice dream.

But, I’m going to watch and experience this whole thing with an open mind!

Tung mentions that a particular tour operator brings their customers here during one of their tours.

Hmmm, that would be, ummmm….., interesting, I think….

Eventually, a guy on piano, and a guy on the violin begin.  They’re then joined, over the next 45 minutes or so, by two different female singers, as well as a male.

And what did I think?

Well, they were very, very good.  Very talented.

And yes, I enjoyed it.  It was interesting to see, and I’m very glad to have been given the opportunity to do so.

I probably now don’t need to see it again, but I’m very glad that I did.

It was also interesting to see the tour guides turning up with their customers.  Some really got into the whole thing, while a lot just sort of, well…., didn’t.

We called it a night after the third set and headed back to Tung’s place.

A couple of beers on the bed, but for some reason, I’m really tired.

Must have been having to deal with Lisa for a full day, which was the first time in almost two weeks.

She can be hard work….

Anyway, a fairly early night.

Our last day in HCMC awaits tomorrow, and all going well, we’ll get to catch up with Pierre, who we stayed with when we were last here in May 2016.

Hopefully we’ll also get to meet his wife, Kim, who was away the last time we were here.



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