Red Butterfly Travel Series: Vietnam

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Vietnam. The land of… motorbikes!

My friends and I went to Ho Chi Minh City (also known as Saigon) and stayed there for 3 nights. It was so hard to cross the streets especially during rush hour because of the crazy number of motorbikes there. Out of 7 million people living in Ho Chi Minh City, between 3-4 million own motorbikes!

We stayed at the Ngoc Minh Hotel. We arrived around 1 or 2am. I think… I’m not so sure because I was so sleepy at that time. We thought we wouldn’t be able to check-in because the place was closed. Thankfully, a girl in pajamas opened the door to let us in.

Since some of us haven’t had dinner yet, we just dropped our bags in our rooms and went out to eat some noodles!

We were able to find an open “karinderia” (small local restaurant) a short walk away from our hotel.

While they were preparing our noodles, they served us sliced jalapeño peppers with lime and something that looked like gigantic “togue” (monggo sprouts) that tasted like “singkamas” (turnip). We weren’t sure if they’re supposed to be appetizers or stuff that you would put in the noodles. We wanted to ask the waitress what we’re supposed to do with them but it’s just so hard to understand her English, we decided to just eat some and put some in our noodles.

For only 30.000 VND (90 PHP or 2 USD) you’d be able to enjoy a huge bowl (good for two, if you don’t have a huge appetite) of really good beef noodle soup! A lot better than the noodles they serve at Pho Hoa here in the Philippines and so much cheaper!

After a satisfying (very) late dinner, we went back to our hotel for a much-needed sleep! (And yes, we disturbed pajama girl’s sleep once again. We really apologize for that.)

We only had a few hours of sleep because our tour for that day starts at 8am. We had breakfast at the rooftop of the hotel where they served us a baguette, a green banana, an egg and a choice of coffee or lemon juice (they serve really good lemon juice by the way).

We really enjoyed our stay at Ngoc Minh Hotel. Here are some reasons why we would go back there and why we would recommend it to other people:

  • Nice and friendly people/staff.
  • Clean.
  • There’s a TV, a small refrigerator and a small balcony.
  • Fresh towels everyday.
  • Large room and bathroom.
  • Free Wi-fi.
  • Cheap room rates! We were 10 in the group and we only paid around 1,500 PHP (32 USD) each which was already good for 3 days!

The only negative thing I could think of about this hotel is that they serve the same breakfast everyday which we didn’t mind because we really liked their lemon juice.

Ngoc Minh Hotel

283/11-13 Pham Ngu Lao Street, District 1.
Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam
Phone: 84-8-3 837 6407 / 84-8-3 836 5215
Email: ngocminh.hcm@gmail.com

If you plan to stay at this hotel, just make sure to remove your shoes/sandals/flip-flops first before going inside.

WHERE TO EAT:

  • Pho Quynh – located near the Ngoc Minh Hotel. I have no idea how to pronounce this but this is where we ate when we arrived and also when we were about to leave Vietnam. The noodles were very tasty. However, they’re not exactly the cleanest people in the world. When we ate there before leaving Vietnam, a fly decided to dive into my friend’s lemon juice which was still untouched. Instead of replacing the juice, they just removed the fly and replaced the straw. I don’t know why, but we kinda expected that to happen. Of course, my friend didn’t dare drink it anymore. And so as not to waste it, one of their staff did.

  • Pepperonis – We spent around 1.2 million for dinner at this place. 1.2M VND. That’s 3,600 PHP or around 77 USD. If you’re “mathematically-challenged” (a condition where in you get nosebleeds when computing numbers greater than 10), you need to have a calculator with you always, especially if you plan to shop in Vietnam (which I highly recommend). Anyway, back to Pepperonis. The food was ok. It was like eating at Italianni’s . Their ribs were huge though! The medium-sized one is good for like 2-3 people.

  • Ben Thanh – Actually, this place is a market. Located along the sides are small restaurants where you can buy fresh food that they can cook for you (much like Dampa here in the Philippines). The food is delicious and the price is not bad. Around 150-250 PHP (3-5 USD) per person.

We ordered hot pots, BBQ, fried fish, rice, shakes (which they pronounce as shaq) and… I forgot the other one.

  • Thai Basil – located at the food court of Eden Mall. The food’s really spicy! (Some of my friends ordered food from Little Manila)

  • Sidewalk Sandwiches – located everywhere you go. If here we have fishballs, “tukneneng” (egg) and lugaw (congee or porridge), there they have sandwiches, rolls and noodles.

For only 10.000 VND (30 PHP or less than 1 USD), you’d get to taste one of Vietnam’s popular street foods.

PLACES TO GO TO:

There are many places to go to in Vietnam. You can go around the city or you can book a tour. We booked 2 tours at The Sinh Tourist.

Day 1: Cao Dai Temple & Cu Chi Tunnels Tour

Price: 140,000 VND/person (420 PHP or 9 USD). This includes AC Bus + Tour Guide. Plus an additional 75,000 VND (225 PHP or 5 USD) for the tunnels entrance fee. Tours usually start at 8am and ends around 6-7pm.

They give out free hand wipes and bottled water.

  • Cao Dai Temple – located just outside Tay Nihn, 60 miles northwest of Ho Chi Minh City. Our tour guide, Tam, told us that Caodaism is the best religion in the world because it combined all the good things from all the different religions – Confucianism, Buddhism, Taoism and even Catholicism and Islam as well.

To be quite honest, I found the temple a little weird (no offense to people who believe in this religion). There were so many elements and the temple itself is so colorful it was so overwhelming (it felt like I was being attacked by a rainbow, but that’s just me of course). Even the priests were color-coded. Yellow for Buddhism, blue for Taoism and red for Confucianism. Those in white are “trainees” I think, if I understood our tour guide right (I could be wrong though). Tam also told us that the main instrument they use to commune with God is the Ouija board. I’m all for combining the good things about different religions but I’m not really a fan of Ouija boards so that creeped me out a bit. Of course, there are a lot of people who believe in this religion and I respect them. I believe in the saying “To each his own”.

After that we had lunch and spent around 100-200 PHP or 2-4 USD each. I had Pho Ga (chicken noodles) which I forgot to take a picture of due to hunger.

The food was good. I forgot the name of the restaurant but it’s where the bus stopped over for lunch. After that, we went back on the bus and headed to the tunnels.

  • Cu Chi Tunnels – located 70 km northwest of Ho Chi Minh City. This is where the Vietnam War took place. Our tour guide, Tam, herded us to one of the huts for a quick lecture on the Vietnamese’ view of the war. The tunnels, he told us, were the main reason why the  Viet Cong (VC) were able to defeat the much stronger and better-equipped American soldiers. They knew that they wouldn’t be able to defeat the Americans face to face so they attacked from behind using the tunnels. The tunnels also served as their shelter (where they cooked, ate, slept, made and stored weapons and ammunition, and everything else you could think of). After that, he showed us a video which was clearly a propaganda against the Americans (lol).

After that, he toured us around the area and showed us the different (scary) weapons the Viet Congs used against the Americans.

The last part of the tour is going inside the tunnels. The Vietnamese widened the tunnels so that foreigners could fit inside.

The “Cu Chi Tunnels” is a series of interconnected tunnels. One wrong turn and you could get lost inside. My friends and I were the only ones in our group brave enough to go all the way to the end of the tunnel (100 m). Most people in our group went up after 20 or 50 meters. It was dark and stuffy inside. When we finally got out, everyone was waiting for us (some of them were already thinking that maybe we got lost inside). We were all sweaty and dirty but it was worth it! It is not advisable to go inside the tunnel though if one has a heart condition, pregnant, woozy, drunk or is over 6 feet tall.

Day 2: Mekong Delta Trip – Cai Be & Vinh Long

Price: 210,000 VND/person (630 PHP or 14 USD). This includes AC Bus + Tour Guide + Boat trip + Vietnamese Lunch.

  • Cai Be Floating Market – can be seen along the Mekong Delta (part of the very long Mekong River). Nothing much really happened here. I thought we would be able to buy some stuff but our motorized boat just passed by. Had an Ondoy flashback because of the color of the water.

We docked somewhere to go see some of the locals make rice crispies, coconut candies and other Vietnamese delicacies which they sell.

After that, our boat brought us to another place for free lunch (which wasn’t good) and to enjoy some traditional Vietnamese music.

  • Vinh Long Market – The last stop of our tour. I don’t know why we were so tired (even if we didn’t do anything on this trip). We skipped going to the market and decided to just relax and sit down somewhere. We found a restaurant nearby so we went there and ordered our “favorite” lemon juice.

Unfortunately, it didn’t taste as good as we expected. It had Longgan bits and was too sweet! We wasted 30.000 VND (90 PHP or 2 USD) for that crap.

It was such a boring tour. I won’t recommend it to anyone.

The Sinh Tourist

246 – 248 De Tham Str., Dist.1, HHCM
Tel:  +84.8.38389593
Fax: +84.8.38369322
Email: info@thesinhtourist.vn

Day 3: Shopping Day!

  • Saigon Square – located near Le Duan Boulevard. This was our first (and sixth) stop. I love this place! Bought a lot of bags here. It’s like Greenhills. You can even haggle with them. After buying tons of stuff there, we went back to our hotel to drop off our stuff then had lunch.
  • Ben ThanhIf you want to buy souvenirs, this is the place for you.

Other places to go to:

My friends and I still have 6 places to go to in Vietnam. We will probably come back here to shop again. Cambodia anyone?

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