[Ho Chi Minh] ~ A day of boo boos, must-sees/eats/drinks


Even the scariest trip starters deserve turn-around before sundown, 04.16.14  


An interesting first day on a country I’ve always wanted to visit, gifted me with thought that while we do not always find ourselves in the best of situations, the beauty of it is knowing that when under the mindset of your relationship with a place being short-lived, it kind of pushes you to choose battles, be more forgetful and forgiving of unwise decisions and not let the mishaps ruin what could be quite a day.

Ho Chi Minh1 Collage

IMG_0990Took risk taking a flight bringing me to Vietnam at an odd hour of day – just a few minutes after midnight. Upon realization on that almost same day that I do not have my hotel booked on day of arrival, the plan was to sleep like a homeless person at airport – at that time fortunately what seemed to me as a check on one of many things I have been wanting to do.


Outlet whore. (Yes, this is what happens when you have a smartphone with the most hostile battery life)


A ghost town of an airport, however, ruined plan so I ended up risking going straight to my hostel – in high hopes that they would be kind enough to let me in that early or that I could kill time in any establishment likely still open as area where I was staying is where supposedly night is most alive.


Dead. I’m dead.



There’s some kick to being an instant millionaire, right?


I was then left with no choice but face task I was most scared of in this trip based on reading I did prior – getting a cab. Known for its taxi scams – especially in the airport, I did most reading and tried as hard as I could to keep mental note of things to be mindful of . These include reputable taxi operators (Vinasun and Mai Linh) and their uniformed staff to get you to the right ride. I kind of then imagined this scene when men mob-approached me as soon as I made an exit. I usually suck at rejecting such offers that I typically end up looking an easy prey but at that time, I felt I was at my best ‘I-know-what-you-were-trying-to-do-I-wouldn’t-let-you-get-away-with-it’ face.

There were few passengers at that time so there was no ‘crowd’ to follow that I ended up walking a bit and approaching a uniformed man behind a small booth. For a second, I was proud of what I thought was a wise decision only to realize later on that I may be scammed. Guy in uniform asked me whether I have this membership card to which I said “No” then he asked me to wait in a spot while he hailed a cab. Then strangely, he called one that bears logo of operator not one of two reputable ones. It was “Saigon Tourist Taxi” and right then I was like “uh-oh”, I may have gotten one of the wrong ones.

And then began one of the longest cab rides I’ve had abroad. It was late night, I think I was being scammed and if I get robbed or something, there were few (no, make that none!) to ask help from. I was nonetheless trying to psyche myself in not being a worry-wart so when we reached the Pham Ngu Lao road and there was nothing scam-y happening, I felt a bit relieved. Driver did not even give me a hard time making him understand where we were going. Apparently, the addresses in Ho Chi Minh are efficiently numbered that it is easy to find location as long as you have the complete address on hand.

IMG_0990It turned out my hostel was in a narrow alley but I was further starting to let go of my scam theory and quite thankful that he even carried my bag and guided me a few steps farther in the alley. Sadly, will later on find out that I lost about a million dong (roughly 2 thousand pesos) to that seemingly nice man.

My short walk to my hostel turned out scary. It was lined with houses converted into small hostels and there were locals (or were they tourists?) already drunk with one even calling out to me to say “hey lady, are you looking for a room?”. Of course, it could have been an honest question – but with their intoxicated state and my already horrified state, that question seemed loaded. Even women who could have been source of “it’s-okay” were giving me this stare. Again, it is possible that they were simply wondering what a person with luggage is doing in that alley at that time of day. Upon reaching my hostel’s gate, it was a bonus that it was another dead place, with gate closed and all lights at lobby turned off. Great. I stood there for a few minutes, not far from me an unconcerned man sitting on a motorcycle.

Hostel was in the middle of the alley but I made the decision to walk further to other end to check whether there was any establishment, I trusted my gut too that adjacent to the main road is this famous where they sell all those cheap beer. And then there was this fleeting turn-around from my first hour mishaps – a happy event finally. I was right. That indeed was the strip where I have been meaning to spend my nights at. Hello, Beer Street.

There were plenty of people that all plastic seats on each of the holes-in-the-wall were occupied I could find my spot, especially with the luggage I had with me. It was a quick hunt for that 24/7 place though. I just asked the magic question “Are you open 24 hours?” and then upon hearing yes, I immediately sat in one of the tables by the wall (and yahoo, there was an outlet for my almost dead phone!). But just when I was having less scary memories that early morning, that was when I also realized that I got scammed.


Not too many people.


I was counting my money when I realized I was missing a lot. I was half the millionaire I temporarily was. A lesson learned for me to actually exert effort to understand currency. I tried to recall the ride events and concluded that he may have gotten more than he should when we paid the fee as we were exiting the airport premises (I literally handed him my entire money) or when I paid (and yes, that was stupid of me to again just hand him my money and let him take payment without checking). I felt really bad for such stupidity – especially over something I thought I tried my best to prepare for. But well, as they say, never let bad incidents ruin your trip. So yes, I am the least positive person but I was on my best behavior then.

I just grabbed my first Vietnamese beer – a Huda, some comfort food and another bottle of beer. When I reached that point of acceptance that I can no longer keep self awake by drinking and eating, I decided to take a nap. The owner and crew did not seem to mind. I guess they are used to guests transforming their bar into an interim hostel.


My first calm. 


It was about 6AM when I decided to leave and check some sign of life in my then-dead hostel. Gate was open alright but person on reception was not where he should be but was sleeping on the couch. I sat down in common area nonetheless and waited for him to wake up.


Finally, it was morning.



Little less scary now, I suppose.


Got my room after about 30 minutes of Zombie-waiting. I would only conclude later that day but I was given the room where the owner and her daughter sleep. Could not say whether it was a good or bad thing because I have no point of comparison. In a way, though, it felt good to have ‘met’ and do small talk with that adorable kid (kind of reminded of that girl we met in a hostel in Zambales). She was just busy there watching some shows on her Iphone.

I was lucky to have few hours of shut-eye before doing some semi-aimless wondering. Targeted to see this tourist destination which according to map is close to my hostel. My poor sense of direction, however, was again useful in not making my get-to-destination walking successful that I ended up riding a cab again – despite that traumatic first cab ride just a few hours back. I was lucky though to have found a good one. He even gave me tips on where to get my ride back and even did some sort of tour on places I could pay a visit to.


Just two of many two-wheelers



Are you for real or another scam?






Kiddos’ morning snack



Busy bees



Sell some yellow.



Just like home.


 IMG_0990First stop was at War Remnants Museum. I am no big fan but one of my go-to’s when in another land is a museum just to see a bit of culture. I always, however, end up feeling that I had less time to really absorb what is there to absorb. This visit though was slightly a bit different. There was a point when I felt tired I could no longer really look at the pictures. But it is different from the rest in a sense that I was moved with what I saw. It was awe I typically feel but it is rare that what I see actually moved me.


Hmm “War Remnants Museum” seems much easier than its local name.



“Peace” Lobby



I remember seeing a similar peace pole in Baguio a few years back



Photo struck me simply because I thought we look alike when I was her age.



Hey, miss.



Hey, second miss.


First floor of museum was mainly posters and pictures of various groups in support of peace which to me was heartwarming but I guess what really moved me was the gallery which featured works of war correspondents. Some even included their last photos before they were shot or stepped on a mine. I am no fan of history, more so of wars, but what struck me most was the thought that it is possible for people to inflict pain on one another for whatever sake. Natural tragedies have its painful toll on people but to me, it is a different kind of pain when it was human. To some extent, there is some level of decision-making involved, no matter how blinded and unthought of it was. So there, I ended up taking tons of picture of pictures and at a certain point, found myself almost in tears. Kind of affirmed then a personal belief how powerful pictures can be. The rest of the galleries showcased mostly post-war photos – mainly related to this so-called Agent Orange phenomenon, I suppose.



Souvenir stalls on the building’s side




Cages for humans. Tsk.





If you peep in that hole, this is what you see.



Similar but less shocking



 Those legs.



Worse version of crowd.



Below a series of photos that struck me most. (Captions stolen from the gallery)


Hanoi in 1950s. Blind man and guide. The umbrella and pith-helmet shield against the scorching noon sun.


On May 25, 1954, Robert Capa, photographer for LIFE Magazine was killed when he stepped on a land mine in the Thai Binh region of Northern Indochina



JEAN PERAUD. Tonkin, Vietnam. Dec 01, 1952.
A Vietnames prisoner during the battle of Na San stares at his French captors. French paratroopers were gathering Viet Minh wounded and dead following a victorious counterattack to regain control of a position lost the previous night


HUYNH THANH MY. Mekong Delta,Vietnam, 1965.
The woman had her hands tied was submerged repeatedly as soldier interrogated her. They sought information about the local guerilla forces. She was later imprisoned
HENRI HUET. Bong Son Binh Dinh, Vietnam, 1966.
A Vietnames mother and her children are framed by the legs of a soldier from the US 1ST Cavalry Division 
BUI DINH TUY. Ho Chi Minh trail, 1966.
A woman soldier of North Vietnamese Army carrying an ammunition crate wades through a river along the Ho Chi Minh supply trail. The markings on the crate are in English. 
HUYNH THANH MY, Mekong Dela, Vietnam, 1965.
A South Vietnamese soldier and a row of dead comrades from his Ranger battalion, laid out on a paddy dike, awaiting evacuation by helicoper.
Loc Thuong, Vietnam, 1966.
Pulitzer Price-winning photographer Kyoichi Sawada presents a print to the women and children shown in his dramatic Pulitzer Price winning photo


KYOICHI SAWADA. Quy Nhan, Vietnam, 1965.
Pulitzer Prize-winning photograph. A Vietnamese mother and her children wade across a river to escape bombs from a US air strike 


 OLIVER NOONAN, Mekong Delta, 1969.

South Vietnamese troops move single file along dikes during an early morning patrol through the rice lands of Long An province


KYOICHI SAWADA, Hue, Vietnam, 1968.
Two Vietnamese bodies and a crumpled cart lie in the path of a tank. Another one lies behind the wreckage of a Jeep in the military camp adjacent to theImperial city of Hue, during the height of the Tet offensive battle 
A woman selling prawns suddenly fell down by tray bullet, next to her was her surprising husband. Dakao, 1968.
Tell the whole world what they did with my daughter. At Can Tho hospital in 1966. 
Foetus malformations at Tu Du maternity hospital. Ho Chi Minh City.
Hung, 37 years old, a worsening paralysis akin to cerebral palsy or Parkinson’s disease has left him almost speechless, with his older son Hao whose face looks like as Hung’s childhood. They were sitting in front of prawn farm where the spot of dead forest that pictured in 1976. But Hung was died in 2008 without avail for the struggle of his illness
All seemingly harmless.
  Just so I remember I was there.

It was about noon when I decided I should go to next stop which is another tourist destination (I forgot to say that I intended to have on day filled with tourist-y stuff and then the rest, going more local). I did not know though (or maybe forgot) that Reunification Palace (more known to locals as Independence Palace) was closed during lunch.
On my way to palace, randomly saw this stall in front of a school. I did little research on food to try but I thought I could grab some stomach fill so I just picked whatever seemed interesting. There was quite a remarkable moment there when I found myself a new ‘friend’ – a little man who was maybe having his quick lunch there, maybe in between classes.

I ended up then looking for a place where I could sit down. Luckily, there was a café nearby which gave me chance to crossout another to-do – which is to try ca phe sua da which is Vietnamese iced coffee with milk.


A school, I suppose?



Street ‘stall’ that intrigued me.



So – what is this? I remember it tasting like some semi-brittle plastic with some veggies.



Sausages always safe, though.



My lunch buddy.




Because I needed a place where I could sit.


IMG_0990Visit to palace mainly a series of checks on halls where meetings, functions and most critical country decisions are made. What are most interesting to me though are the place’ recreation rooms, especially that small theater. It was not easy to spot but managed to go to this room where they do project the films (now I start to wonder what that room is called). Last stop at the palace is at this deck where I willingly obliged to this tourism-related survey. (Yes, maybe partly due to guilt because I am a researcher).





Palace in zoom-out



I love that green.



And then, some yellow.


                    IMG_0790    IMG_0791

Reminded me why I wanted something that could zoom in better.



Face the window.






View from inside.






Those reds I like.




Leads to where that comes from.



Where that comes from.



On ground (?)




Game room with not much game-y feel.



Someone’s daydreaming


IMG_0990Post-palace, walked my way to Notre Dame Cathedral and nearby Post Office where I was temporarily trapped because it started to heavily rain. I was not able to go inside the cathedral so no to tradition of making-a-wish-when-visiting-a-church-for-the-first-time’. There was however this memory of a couple having their pre-nuptial photos taken with church in background. Made me think again of this ‘luck’ witnessing wedding, or this time, wedding-related stuff, during my first visits to churches (this happened in Palawan, Dumaguete and Seoul!)

Literally beside the cathedral is the post office which also housed various several souvenir shops. Am kind of thankful to that as I was forced to stay there longer than planned because it was raining that kind of rain I cannot ‘compete’ with. When there was downgrade to drizzle, I started walking, aiming for Opera House. I asked a lady vendor who told me this good news that I just had to walk straight along this Dong Khoi Street. On my way to Opera House found this gem of a bookstore where I bought those posters that I was curious about since I saw in the museum (but not yet curious enough to buy). Called TRI (To Read Intellectually), it carried posters and coasters from many kinds of films. I was quite in happy panic that I was given this list of options in a binder.


Too much pink, lady!



In a frame are old and new.



Both towering.



 Followed this boy’s lead.



I was trying to recall then what “chubul” means. Sounded like a Korean word I encountered somewhere.



 While this “BFF” just reminded me of a crazy friend



This is what the boy was trying to capture.



Another pre-nup shoot! 



Tourist flock to the post office.




 And where tourists are, souvenir stalls too. 



 No use really but I was fond of those cards.






 Should be “Bulag, Pipi, Bingi” (Blind, Mute, Deaf)



There’s something hypnotic with that conical hat.



 Interesting ceiling details



All sweaty (and badly ‘tanned’) 




Feet selfie.






 Bookstores are love.



 There you are, Opera House.



Lady’s smile is priceless.


I got hungry from all the walking (well, aside from fact that I have not eaten anything decent all day) that when I saw this familiar word “pho” in a restaurant, didn’t hesitate a bit to go inside. Nothing spectacular that I secretly wished they do have this Vermicelli bowl – which I am not certain whether a unique Viet dish.




Nothing extraordinary yummy but what the – got to try some typical.

Went back to hostel via this motorbike xe om where I think I again was charged higher than should be. I felt bad for a moment then appeased myself with this mantra to not let mishaps ruin what could be an epic trip.



Scared on a high scale but managed to capture!


IMG_0990It was my favorite time of day when I found my spot and had my first bottle of Saigon Beer (the red one first) along Beer Street. There were plastic chairs the previous night but it was a different set-up that day when they laid out tarps for people to sit on. It was plan to try every kind of beer and with little confidence, think that self can actually discern difference. Next I tried was this light version – the green one – and because I wanted to try different places too – found this spot in one of the ‘inuman’ near my hostel. Downed my second bottle there while this little girl eats her evening snack as if I don’t exist. Busied myself staring and being all interested at whereabouts of this dog called Y (if I remember correctly Jang in Vietnamese) that I was taking his photos and locals then started fondly talking to me “oh you took his picture”. Even the other tourists on this table started this small talk about my mobile phone.

Determined to try all these kinds of beer while keeping sanity, went back to Beer Street strip and joined this mob of people in one stall selling apparently the world’s cheapest beer at 8,000 dong (Php16) per mug.


My temporary roommate and a temporary hostel resident.




Now, I wonder whether those clocks are working.



 Spent some quick reminiscing of my early morning waiting time at this spot.



View from spot.






 Oh, banh.



 Half-human, half-pork.



Exponential growth  of beer enthusiasts after my quick evening walk.




Second bottle a lighter version. (What is up with that hand gesture. Looked like “tsaaaraaan”)




Why so sad, Y?



World’s cheapest!



 Gaad. I really envy those who can drink while eating.


Some basic travel tips: 

Cebu Pacific flies to Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam daily at 10 in the evening.

To get to hotel, I feel it is best to have hotel pick-up service arranged if possible, especially if coming in at odd time of day. Otherwise, take a cab. Do not see me as an example. (:-D)

Best way to get around the city is walking, but only feel confident that can cross the streets with those motorbikes. Otherwise, take a cab but beware of those parked on streets, especially those near tourist places. Uniformed taxi drivers could also approach you to offer a ride. Best always to flag a cab and one operated by Vinasun or Mai Linh.

I had no such experience but vendors frequently warn of pickpockets especially in the backpacking district.

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