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Wednesday, December 9, 2009


Ho Chi Minh is known for being populated with more motorcycles than humans.

Upon arrival, i immediately had a dislike to the city. The air pollution was bad, the sound pollution was worse. It was however, a new experience in visiting a third world country. I would think it's a "upper-class" third world already. After all, it does has the basic comforts that you will need.

I stayed at Cat Huy motel in Pham Ngu Lao (backpacker's area). For a budget place (25USD a night for 2), it's quite impressive with a flat screen TV and 60 cable channels. Every morning, we sit outside having the breakfast provided (beef noodles or omelette, menu never changes) and watch the locals do their marketing.

Various parts of the pig being sold. Guess which part is it, that long thin thing sticking out. 3rd item from the right.

My mum said this was exactly how Singapore looked like. Sadly, the country is not developed enough to have everyone knowing how to speak English there. Therefore, we couldn't eat the roadside stalls due to the lack of understanding of the menu (actually, a menu doesn't exist), and also we wouldn't know how much it costs. Although, if you're really adventurous, you can just point to whatever the people are eating and the seller will just take bills out to show you how much it costs. It shouldn't cost more than 20,000 dong (SGD 1.50) for the roadside stalls.

We bought 2 pink pears (or are they gauvas. They're very very nice) for SGD 1 plus each. We either got cheated by the street fruit hawkers or i had the misconception that Saigon would be dirt cheap. We paid SGD 2.50 for 7 mangosteens!  It costs SGD 3 per kilo here. An ang moh tourist who saw us buying told us the going rate was SGD 0.30 for 4 mangosteens. But we were so confused with the large numbers on Dong notes and conversions (we are so bad at mental calculation), that we just paid without thinking.

At places that are populated with tourists, you cannot avoid the street hawkers. But the ones in Saigon are not as pushy as in Thailand or Bali. They respect your "No, thanks" and leave. I thought this helpful sign in a restaurant was funny. I never did figure out how to pronounce Vietnamnese though.

Cu Chi tunnels was well, not thaaaaat exciting but was an activity to fill your afternoon. I suggest you to watch the movie Tunnel Rats (based on the Cu Chi tunnels) before going. That might excite you more as the  movie plays out exactly how it was like during the Vietnam war. It helps you understand better with the gore and all. Cu Chi tunnel is famous because of the Cu Chi people who dug the tunnels with just a shovel and a basket. They created an entire living quarters 60 feet below and put up traps for enemies. You MUST go into the tunnels though. Some people didn't, after the guide warned of it being suffocating and once you enter, you cannot exit. The tunnels are already expanded for tourists, but still is a dark tight squeeze. It's not true that once you enter, you cannot exit for the next 100 metres. Every 10, there's an exit. So you can just go on down to experience a little of the claustophobia.

The afternoon ended with some tea and tapoica that the attraction provides. I booked the tour from Sinh Cafe (now renamed as Sinh Tourist), a very popular tour booking agency in Pham Ngu Lao. It costs USD 5 per person for the half day Cu Chi tour.

Potent potions. Costs about SGD 3 each. Was tempted to buy just for souvenir's sake, but was afraid too as they made my hair stand. Was also afraid it i accidentally brought some black magic home with me.

They're apparently for treatment of (deciphered by me) rhumetism, fatigue, weak knees, fainting spells, parkinsons, impotence, erectile dysfunction, premature ejaculation and WET DREAMS!

Seems like drinking the juice of all these poisonous creatures will cure you of the excessive masturbation you've been doing that leads to the problems!

Ngoc Anh at 36-38 Nguyen Cu Trinh Str, Ward Pham Ngu Lao, D1. Tel: 84.8.222 02133 offers 1 hour massage at 150,000 dong (SGD 10) with free use of jacuzzi and steam. Such luck. This was the spa that i copied down from a forum recommending cheap and good (not sleazy)only to have that address listed there wrong. We chanced upon the new location after wandering around!

We had the 90 min hot stones massage for SGD 16. It felt abit weird getting naked with your mum, but i was so looking forward to a much needed massage, i didn't care! They can't speak English though. We asked to use the free facilities, only to have them take us to the male's facilities! I saw naked asses in there. After much gesturing, i figured they were trying to say the female's is spoilt, but we can use the male's and they will usher them out after they're done whatsoever. We declined to use the male's facilities anyway.

Singaporeans, it's mandatory to tip them after the massage. They give you a tip voucher to fill up. It's ok to tip them 3 USD. But the girls were really good. Its very rare i felt SO relaxed after a massage, and they did that for me.

If you are planning to go to Suoi Tien Theme Park, DO NOT WASTE YOUR TIME.

We took an hr plus taxi ride to District 9. Saigon is famous for slow moving traffic, you take 30 mins to get to a 15 mins destination. The taxi ride costs about SGD 15. The entrance fee was SGD 3. Cheap, but wait!
You've to pay an additional SGD 0.50 for each attraction within! Attractions like "King's Palace", "The Lost Tomb", "Crocodile Park", "Dolphin Show" etc etc. It was a DEAD town in there. Like our Haw Par Villa when it started dying. I suppose it will be superb if it's like Disneyland with all these rides and NO queues. But there's only one major rollercoster inside (you pay extra SGD 3) which my mum advises not to sit because she's not sure about third world country's machines.
The entire park is very much influenced by their Buddhism culture. Alot of gold, alot of lotus palms, Lady Mercy and all that sort.

A pity though. Nothing is in English!Ok, not entirely. But the map wasn't in English, the explainations of the attractions wasn't in English. Here i am at the Zodiac Gate. I am supposedly be able to hear my Zodiac's fortune. First, i couldn't really tell the goat apart from the ox. Then i couldn't tell the rabbit apart from the dog. Last, they're all speaking in Vietnamnese!

I pity this tiger. It's so huge and so beautiful but encaged in a tiny enclosure. All closed four sides. It's too cruel. They can't run, they can't stretch, they can't hunt.

Look at the last line, " Crocodile meat is very delicious and is good for health." I found it amusing as it is the first time i see a zoo promoting the consumption of animals. Then again, this isn't exactly a zoo.

As you probably can tell by now, they can't really speak English which is quite frustrating to me sometimes. With regards to food orders. They don't understand "less sugar/no sugar", "fresh fruit juice" among other things. But i am not demanding them to be able to answer my every request also. Just frustrating because i try talking to them, they don't understand you yet being the polite "host", they try their best to understand you..then you try to explain again with hand signals until you're exasperated and give up. Then comes the awkard silence.

Buuuut, there is no problem in shopping! It's a universal language when it comes to haggling. We were in the midst of a raid. Thus my blur picture, i was afraid the police might see me snapping pictures and confiscate my camera! We were happily window shopping when suddenly there was alot of scurrying and shuffling. Shop keepers were hiding all the LV bags! Here's a picture of the police pointing to a LV hair clip. Guess he's going to confiscate it and give it to his gf! Hahaha.

Shopping was not too bad.

Ben Thant market was the touristy one. They're more eager for your business and they can speak better English. But some shops are ridiculous. Their starting price for a pair of shoes is already SGD 75. How to bargain like that! I felt even if you bargain down to half, it's still rather expensive when shoes can go as cheap as $20 here.

Hearing how cheap tailoring is in Saigon, i just walked into any tailor shop and showed them the above design. Quite frankly, i don't think tailoring will ever get you the design you really want. The idea is there, but it isn't 100%. Maybe just 50%. Wasn't elated with my end product, but it was ok. They quoted me USD 48 for making the dress. I bargained till USD 38 for the dress AND an A-line black fitting skirt.

In total, i spend $350 for all expenses including accomodation. Do the currency exchange in Vietnam. It gives alot more.

Vinasun, the maxi cabs are probably my choice the next time. The drivers can speak better English, and they always go by meter. Everyone told me taxis are cheap, i expected dirt cheap. It wasn't as i expected, but considerately cheap comparing to Singapore (you can never compare anything to Singapore. haha!) About $3 for a 15 min ride, $10 for a 45 min ride. Don't know why, but the way friends pre-empt me about dirt cheap taxi rides, i was expecting $1-$2. Haha, i know! I am so cheapo.

Vietnam is also famous for its coffee. Super sweet coffee. I don't usually like coffee, but i drink it everyday in Saigon. Just because it's famous. Typical Singaporean. Kiasu. Haha! But they put the coffee powder into the little pot and let it filter through as it slowy drips into your cup. It really gets on my mum's nerves because you have to wait patiently. So don't choose coffee if you're dying of thirst.

The ONLY museum i visited was the war remenant. After friends telling me that most museums are boring, i decided to just pick this one, after hearing there're foetus on display! Only to find it's just PHOTOGRAPHS! *yawn* It costs SGD 1.50 to go in and its just rows and rows of thought provoking photographs. Which is an activity to fill your afternoon. There're not many exhibits on display. But they do have the usual tankers, helicopters etc in the yard and a small area where they implicate torture chambers.

Buffets are another thing to do. We had a tim sum buffet in a nice hotel and it was only SGD 11.70 to eat all you want!

Talking about food, we kept eating Pho 24, the fast food chain because it seemd like everytime we want food, there weren't really much restaurant choices. My mum wasn't adventurous enough to try the street hawkers, so we had to look for restaurants. We didn't want fast food (they don't have Macs by the way), neither do we want Western food (which was plenty in the backpacker's place). Which leaves us with Pho 24, that has a proper English menu and costs about SGD 3 for a bowl.

They eat dough fritters (you tiao) with their noodles soup. I'm not sure if it's because Saigon is a third world country, or it's just this particular branch that does this. But i saw the manager taking the uneaten dough fritters from another table (customers have left), took out his cloth to wipe around the edges of the plate, add on 2 more fresh fritters to fill the plate and serve it to a new customer!

Quite frankly, when i was in Australia, i felt it very wasteful that we always throw untouched food (still edible! Don't look disgusting at all!). Maybe because i was a poor student, so i felt it even more. But my manager would never allow us to re-use anything. Once it's out, even if the order was made wrong, we were to thrash it. It's about hygiene, not about food wastage.

So sick of rice noodles every meal, i hunted high and low for the Broken Rice! I first had it in Perth and it was sooo good. Somehow i felt Perth's one is much better than the real one in Vietnam though. Grilled pork chop with rice and sunny side up.

Saigon is not my favourite holiday destination because of the air and noise pollution. Oh, did i say crossing the roads is rather daunting too? There're no pedestrian crossings, and you really just have to bite your lip and cross amidst all that on-coming traffic! Still, nothing beats going on holiday. I guess as much as i don't like Vietnam,

they don't like us too! Singaporean Smell.

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