Life in the Fast Lane


The Heat is on in Ho Chi Minh (Part 1)

By 3:26 PM , , , , , , , , ,

Everyone — and I mean, everyone — keeps tossing around the term "YOLO" (You Only Live Once) as if "Carpe Diem" was so last century. But since that philosophy of sorts seems to trend nowadays, people have started to imbibe it.

Well, that's kinda what happened to my siblings, my brother's girlfriend Anna, and me when the opportunity to go to Ho Chi Minh presented itself.

Our YOLO Day was back in early January of this year. In a matter of two or three hours, we had received an email about a promo fare, started instant messaging each other, confirmed our availability (and willingness to pay), then booked five round-trip tickets.

Where were we staying? We didn't quite know just yet, but thankfully, our churchmate (who was also one of Chuck's really good friends), volunteered his place. He's been staying there for a little over a year now for work and didn't mind having five of us take over his pad for a few days. Thank you, Jino!

So off we went to Ho Chi Minh for the first time in our lives on the 9th of May. Even if our evening flight was delayed — what else is new? — we made it in one piece.

Jino was the best host ever. We got to his pad and saw this note. 

Then we died laughing!

The following morning, we woke up to a breakfast of pancakes, which our gracious host prepared for us.

Jino had to go to work, so we were on our own. Our first stop? The original Pho Hoa for honest-to-goodness pho!

On each table are a set of greens, toppings, and bread that you can use to accompany your pho experience. Take as much of them as you like.

When our pho bowls were served, we hungrily dug in.

If the face of my brother Chuck is any indication (this shot was totally candid), that's how amazing the pho was. Every spoonful of soup was packed with flavor, the beef strips were tender and delicious. Before we knew it, we had finished our huge soup bowls (at least by our standards, though we only ordered the small sizes) in record time.

With stuffed tummies, we managed to roll out of the restaurant. We hailed a cab and made our way to the VietSea Travel Agency for our afternoon half-day tour.

Here are some photos I took while we were on the road to our travel agency.

Vietnam is known for the volume of motorcyclists on the road at any given time. 
I would say that the ratio of motorcycles to your average motorized four-wheel vehicle would be 6:1.

From VietSea, we boarded the bus with our tour group and made our way to the Reunification Palace.

If you're a history buff, you would know that the end of the Vietnam War took place here. 

I'm no expert on Vietnamese history (far from it), so I didn't appreciate the tour as much as I could have. The Reunification Palace consists of four floors filled with endless war rooms and banquet halls, which weren't properly labeled. Truth be told, after seeing a "red" war room followed by a "green" war room and so on and so forth, they all started to look the same. I wish there were write-ups about each war room that we could've read prior to entering the rooms.

At least my musically-inclined brothers enjoyed trying out the indigenous instruments. They even had a mini-concert there and entertained the souvenir shop owner as well as fellow tourists who had passed by.

After that, we were brought to the Handicapped Handicrafts Workshop. As the name implies, the handicrafts in that shop were all made by handicapped locals.

Their medium? Cracked egg shells. Amazing!

If you have a Vietnamese rice bowl or decorative plate at home, it most likely came from the hands of a handicapped Vietnamese.  I was really blown away by the intricacy of each pattern and the dedication it took to come up with all of these.

We left the place having purchased some things for our mom. Then we were off to our last stops for the day: the Notre Dame Cathedral and the Saigon Central Post Office.

I was told by friends and colleagues who've been to Vietnam that a lot of their architecture was French-inspired. The Notre Dame was one example of French architecture.

They were right.

Another example of French architecture was the cathedral's neighboring establishment, the Saigon Central Post Office.

It reminded me of the movie Hugo (which was set in a train station).

After that, we were off to the famous Ben Thanh Market, where we would meet Jino for dinner.

Most of the stuff at Ben Thanh were useful for the home. Lots of paintings, dishes, cookware, chopsticks, decorative ornaments, and the like. We were able to get stuff for our parents, officemates, and relatives. 

Clothes-, shoes-, and bags-wise, we learned that we would be better off at Saigon Square (more on that in my Part 3 entry). Or, to be completely honest, Hong Kong and Bangkok.

But my siblings, Chuck and Cooks, decided to turn Vietnamese. They just couldn't resist.

At around 7 pm, the shops in Ben Thanh close to give way to the Night Market. It then becomes a Vietnamese foodie's idea of heaven.

We feasted on spring rolls (to die for!) and lots of fresh greens. The best part about Vietnamese food, I think, is that their cuisine has mastered the art of balancing flavors while veering toward the healthy side of life.

You can keep on eating without worrying about overindulging.

With feet that were crying (after all the walking we did), it was time to head back. This pretty much sums up our action-packed first day in Ho Chi Minh.

Days 2 and 3 to follow. Please stay tuned!

For more information about the places we went to, please see below:

Pho Hoa 260C 
Pasteur Street, Saigon, Ho Chi Minh 

VietSea Tourist 
90/293A No.1st, Tan Binh Dist, Ho Chi Minh 

Reunification Palace 
135 Nam Ky Khoi Nghia Street, District 1, Ho Chi Minh 

Handicapped Handicrafts Workshop 
9 Bach Dang Street, Ho Chi Minh 

Notre Dame Cathedral 
Han Thuyen Street, Dong Khoi, District 1, Ho Chi Minh 

Saigon Central Post Office 
2 Cong Xa Paris, District 1, Ho Chi Minh 

Ben Thanh Market 
Le Loi, District 1, Ho Chi Minh

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