Saturday, March 11, 2006

Sunday, 4 Dec 05: Day 1

Ah, nothing like a buffet breakfast to start the day off. Served at the hotel's cafe, Chez-nous, the spread included:

  • Rice porridge with assorted Vietnamese-style condiments (fish floss, deep fried ikan bilis etc)
  • Assorted cold cuts
  • Cheese platter
  • Bread
  • Corn flakes and muesli
  • Stir fried noodles
  • Grilled tuna
  • Beef stew
  • Pork in mustard sauce
  • Stir fried vegetables
  • Assorted fruit including longan
and powerful coffee to boot, none of that dishwater American-style rubbish. Then off we went to HCM's famous central market and tourist attraction, Ben Thanh Market, for a look around.

Housed in a French-colonial style building, Ben Thanh Market, while not quite as eclectic or as extensive as Bangkok's Chatuchak, had a similar charm. You could jostle with the crowd and haggle as much as you liked over the smallest knick knack or the largest durian.

We also saw many of the same products that were available down on Dong Khoi, but cheaper, possibly poorer quality versions. However, not having shopped around sufficiently, we decided to hold off doing any major shopping and contented ourselves with taking in the sights, especially of the fresh produce section. We didn't escape totally though, leaving eventually with two custard apples and a giant chiku, fruit that normally cost a bomb back home in Singapore but only cost 30000 dong (SGD $3.20) here.

seafood galore

all lined up and ready to go

luscious veggies

picking the best

if it's possible to get hungry looking at raw produce, this was it

preparing and packing fruit for curious tourists

everything seemed fresher somehow

mmm mmm, cawfeeeeee.....

ah ha, the famous weasel coffee. did we dare...?

We wandered along the side streets outside the market, where there was an abundance of food on sale as well, and more to see.

pre-packed nangka for sale

there was lots to eat...

... although we weren't all that brave.

HCM City's only Hindu temple, a rare sight in predominantly Buddhist/Cao Dai Vietnam

Our first Vietnamese cat... and a Hindu one at that!

a close-up look inside

how familiar - this could be Singapore!

We had started off early enough in the morning, so the walk up Dong Khoi Street and then left along Le Loi had been pleasant enough. By this time, it was almost noon, not the best time to out on the streets. It was hot, dusty and the incessant honking from a million motorbikes was driving us crazy.

We walked hastily back to the Dong Khoi area and hid out at Cafe Brodard, at the corner of Nguyen Thiep (soon to be our favourite street) and Dong Khoi.

a delicious Provencale sandwich - tuna, anchovies, capers, olives

our first goi cuon (vietnamese rice paper roll) - unfortunately a little dry

inside Cafe Brodard

The bill came up to 143220 dong (SGD $15.30) which felt a little expensive, even with a chai latte thrown in. Incidentally, the chai latte was quite yucky to say the least. We stuck to the coffee after this.

To get the taste of the chai latte out of our mouths, we toddled up the street to get a snack from the Brodard bakery, not that we needed an excuse to stuff our faces really. We had an excellent almond croissant and what I think was a mince puff. The pastry for the latter was a little too thick, being akin to a giant curry puff, but the mince was lovely. At 22000 dong (SGD $2.35) for two pastries, it was not expensive. Clearly, the average Vietnamese patisser was quite skillful indeed.

After that, it was back to the hotel, to get out of the mid-day sun. A snooze (me) and a swim (HM) was in order, after which we partook of our recently purchased custard apples and chiku.

spoils from Ben Thanh Market

When the sun finally set, we went to check out the shops in the area. There were a number of large department stores and shopping centres which were nothing different from those in Singapore and Malaysia, where one could find Roxy and Victoria's Secrets. In fact one of the newest was a Parkson, complete with blasting r&b music.

We much preferred the smaller shops, especially the stand-alone boutiques that seemed to cater predominantly to a Japanese clientele. Not only were we greeted with "konichiwa", the customers all seemed to be fond of chanting "kawa-eeeee!!!!". The boutiques were all prettily decorated and carried a good range of fashion, hats, handbags and shawls, more often than not hand-stitched and embroidered.

one of the many boutiques

while HM shopped, I entertained myself

a high end Vietnamese designer

entrepreneurship spilled onto the street

HM ended up with the following:

samfoo top from Shoko (US $25/SGD $42.50)

dress with embroidery from Anna Bui Silk (US $59/SGD $100.30)

It was finally dinner time, and time to head to Lemongrass.

the facades were all a little twee...

scrumptious charbroiled beef with lemongrass

sauteed prawns with caramel sauce

The food was tasty, yet light, and surprisingly not oily. We had:

  • Charbroiled beef with lemongrass (59000 dong)
  • Soup of cabbage stuffed with minced meat (45000 dong)
  • Sauteed morning glory with roasted garlic (33000 dong)
  • Sauteed prawns with caramel sauce (79000 dong)
  • Steamed rice (5000 dong)
  • Jasmine tea, for two

The total, after taxes, was 255255 dong (SGD $27.30). Eating well was quite quite affordable for us.

After dinner, the night still felt young. We had had an early dinner, because the sun sets earlier in HCM than in Singapore. It seemed too early to turn in. Moreover, HCM City seemed like a nicer place without the glare. Traffic too seemed to have eased off, so we took another turn around Dong Khoi, this time taking in the tourist attractions.

the monumental Municipal Theatre

Vietnamese Catholicism at its devotional best

the Post Office, believe it or not

finally, the man himself - Uncle Ho, as he is affectionately known there

All of a sudden, at around 9 p.m., traffic became heavy again. Why on earth were the million bikes back on the streets? We beat a hasty retreat to the nearest cafe, Givraly's, which turned out to be a prime spot for watching the "show".

where was everyone going to?

inside Givraly's

nothing like a good cuppa to end the day

and that's where we ended the night.


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