Life in the Fast Lane


The Heat is on in Ho Chi Minh (Part 3)

By 4:51 PM , , , , , , , , , , , ,

(See Day 1 entry here and Day 2 entry here.)

Our last full day was the longest one given that our flight back to the Philippines was still past one in the morning of the following day. We woke up relatively late, then made our way to the famous Nhà Hàng Ngon for brunch.

Nhà Hàng Ngon, from what I heard (especially because my contacts on Twitter told me to check it out; thanks, friends!), allows diners to sample various dishes from every province/region of Vietnam. There are satellite areas within the restaurant where you can check out the food and order. Or you can do it the usual way and order à la carte.

I loved the ambiance. You can choose to stay outdoors and get that feeling of eating in a European-style roadside restaurant. We chose to stay indoors, though, and bask in the interesting play of cozily-lit interiors.

We ordered way too much, but surprisingly, we finished every single thing. The food was amazing, and given its quality, you would think that we ate at a semi-high-end restaurant. But like most Vietnamese restaurants, the bill didn't shock us to our graves at all.

Jino did most of the ordering, since he's practically become a true blue Vietnamese. Great choices! We had happy tummies, but because Vietnamese food is generally healthy, we didn't walk away feeling bloated.

We've since come to appreciate the fine art of wrapping spring rolls in fresh greens. (As of this writing, we've already had two dinners at home which attempted to replicate the whole spring-rolls-in-fresh-greens vibe.)

I just felt frustrated, though, that I couldn't communicate properly with the Vietnamese waiters. At one point during the meal, several of us ordered ice cream. Needless to say, there was a mix-up with the orders, and this took around twenty minutes to sort out. This ice cream below was the product of back-and-forth attempts to negotiate in broken English.

Still, I decided not to let this incident ruin my good mood. What was ice cream anyway in the grand scheme of things, right?

The plan was to go to the War Remnants Museum next, but we found out that we'd arrived thirty minutes too early. So we killed some time at a nearby café and finally took this complete group shot.

From left: Jino (what a face!), yours truly, CJ, Anna, Cooky, and Chuck.

Finally, after a last round of cà phê sữa đá (Vietnamese coffee), it was time for the War Remnants Museum.

Growing up, most of our Asian History classes would have us look into the Vietnam War from the point of view of Americans. Most especially here in the Philippines, given that we were under the American occupation for a couple of decades.

Walking into the museum, I didn't know what I was getting myself into. I had no idea that I would walk away feeling pretty downhearted, enlightened, humbled, and amazed at the idea of human resiliency in the face of adversity.

To understand what I'm talking about is to visit the museum yourself. Especially the Agent Orange section. Really sobering as well as, well, downright depressing.

Needless to say, we all left with heavy hearts, questioning the reason behind war and feeling sorry for the injustices done to all those innocent lives.

We needed a change of scenery — badly — and so we went to Saigon Square. 

And, for around two hours, I felt I was somehow back in Bangkok.

Saigon Square is famous for its dirt-cheap prices of bag brands like Samsonite, North Face, Crumpler, Kipling, and the like. A lot of the stuff they carry are overruns since Vietnam is one of the manufacturers of these brands.

Just to cite an example, I got a rolling travel duffel bag for my dad. In Manila, I would probably spend around 4K in pesos. The one I got cost less than 1K when converted to pesos.

CJ got himself a backpack which cost him the equivalent of 800 pesos. In Manila, the same bag usually costs around 3K.

Clothes- and shoes-wise, though, Saigon Square is not the place to be (although they do have clothes and shoes there). Personally, though, I'd rather shop for those things in Bangkok or Hong Kong any day. 

For dinner, Jino took us to a Korean restaurant near his place called Đệ Nhất Sườn Nướng.

Again, amazing Korean food. Fresh greens, tender beef, and every bite was filled with flavor.

Then we killed time again at the Crescent Mall (which I mentioned in my Day 2 entry) before heading off to the airport.

Probably the highlight of the night was being able to sign a credit card receipt worth more than a million Vietnamese dong. So rockstar!

In reality, though, this only translated to about 3K in pesos (my sister and I found some clothes that we really liked from an H&M-esque shop. Unfortunately, I forgot what it was called! Sorry about that).

Before we knew it, we had to rush to the airport, say goodbye to Jino, the best! host! ever!, and say hello once again to Manila.

In a nutshell, Ho Chi Minh has an eye-opener for our historically-not-as-attuned minds, a great foodtrip, and a fun place to explore with friends.

Shopping-wise, not unless you're into sports bags (the likes of North Face, Crumpler, etc.) or Vietnamese bowls, plates, and other kitchenware, Ho Chi Minh may not be the place for you. I wouldn't call it a fashionista's paradise, so if you're looking to buy shoes or clothes, consider Bangkok or Hong Kong instead.

Except for transportation (most of the time, you'll be taking a cab around the city, which can rack up quite a bill), everything else is cheap. Especially the food. 

The language barrier can be a problem at times, but not everywhere (which was what I heard prior to going there). Most vendors can understand if you break down your phrasing into very basic English and do a lot of gesturing.

Still, Chuck and his girlfriend Anna, Cooks, CJ, and I were glad that we went. It was our first international trip together as siblings, and with Anna. 

Many thanks go to Jino for being such a great host and tour guide, too!

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

Nhà Hàng Ngon
160 Pasteur Street, District 1, Ho Chi Minh Vietnam 

War Remnants Museum 
28 Vo Van Tan, District 3, Ho Chi Minh 

Saigon Square 
77-89, Nam Ky Khoi Nghia Street, District 1, Ho Chi Minh 

Đệ Nhất Sườn Nướng 
S11-1 Hung Vuong III, Tan Phong ward , District 7, Ho Chi Minh

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