[Ho Chi Minh] ~ A taste of typical

For what is routine to locals could be memories to a stranger. – 04.17.14

While first day was spent visiting most of tourist destinations, decided to spend my second day in Ho Chi Minh trying to feel more of its local vibe. I spent a lot of hours walking and with no specific place to go to, I made most of those floating, vague items on my travel bucket list this year just take over.


During kick-off of my aimless wandering for that day, there was just this impulsive decision to grab some food at a random local eatery in one of the side streets. There are lots of options in the menu but settled with something light yet which I thought to be Vietnamese – hence, classic spring rolls.


 Was not intending to take his picture but this guy could be one of those uniformed taxi drivers just walking around the area, waiting for passengers. Not sure whether a scam, but must always be wary of taking parked cabs



Mmm choices. But opted for something light.



That dip was surprisingly good – tasted like vinegar with slight hint of fish sauce.


To burn calories (well, not really, because I just really wanted to keep walking), I spent next few minutes (or was that almost an hour?) going nowhere. I remember some sense of pride in me being able to cross those streets with those motorcycles passing by. It was then I realized how grateful I am for my training as a commuter in Manila.  It was also then that I thought that if you are scared you might get hit by these vehicles, the ones driving it are as equally scared of hitting you. Who would want to hit a person, right? Quite instinctive to humans, I guess.


Walking destination-less and testing my street-crossing skills



Be not scared.


My feet unknowingly led me to this market that I have been reading about online.This Ben Thanh market seemed more famous as a night market but that does not dispel the fact that it remains a lively place even when sun is out. A place to shop for souvenirs (though not the cheapest ones as this is clearly a place where tourists flock), what I specially like about it are its many food and beverage stalls. Quite interesting that while it is a tourist destination, I kind of sensed how this is a place where locals get their quick food fix. For some reason, it reminded me a lot of Greenhills in Manila where vendors form such a bonded community, rather than a bunch of competitive business people . Odd – but that was what came to mind.


Hmm. I did not get that phrase. Was that their kind of vision as a group of vendors?



Love those lamps.



Fun how there are these many finds but less crowd.




Maybe their version of brunch.


I wanted to try food but lacked decisiveness in choosing which made me end up getting an iced brewed coffee. It turned to be too strong I almost forgot about my belief that coffee makes me sleepy.


You are one dangerous dose of caffeine, baby.



One of the least popular.



At the back






Was I in Thailand now?



Morning walk






With those pile of shoes, business seems doing good



This is one confused establishment.



One of the more popular cafes in the city.


When I got tired of the market and ended up just buying what I feel to be quite creative (?) but a tad unreasonably priced tiny metal handcraft, I went on with my un-itinerary. And as one of the items in my travel to-do list is to get a haircut, I decided to walk around scouting for any salon that is not so expensive yet a place where I could get a ‘decent’ haircut – definition of which vague to me as I had no particular style in mind. The plan was to get into a salon, look at photos of hairstyle options and then choose right there and then.

I was on the brink of giving up because I felt I was right at the commercial though not pricey district but could still not find that place when at just the right time, I saw this well-lit salon at the ground floor of the hotel. I initially hesitated because I thought it would be expensive as it is seemingly in partnership with a hotel. Fortunately, as I was after a few steps away from the place, my eye caught this ad that flagged their service cost.

So just a quick backstory to that haircut plan – prior to arrival in Ho Chi Minh, I did not intend to really get a haircut. On my first day though, I had a chance to do some Google and found this lone article of a traveler getting her haircut there. She recounted it as a positive experience as it involved a fairly long head massage and even one on the shoulder. Did not really care much about the latter, but I have always had this fascination of people (yes, even stranger salon attendants at that! ) shampooing my hair so I thought, yep, that one I have to do in this city!

What I especially appreciate is that upon entering the place, I did not get those ‘what-are-you-doing-here-foreigner’ look. Well, it must be partly because I could pass as a local. Nonetheless, even when I started speaking– the receptionist did not even give me this “are you kidding?” look. I was asked to sit down and in less than 5, was getting my hair shampooed. And boy, as early as that point, I felt that the amount I was about to pay for (200,00 Vietnamese dong or roughly 400 Philippine pesos) was already worth it.

But then I was there for a haircut so that had to happen, right? I could not find any style in the catalogue so I just told the stylist that I wanted layers – demonstrating layers on my hair. I told him I still wanted it long though so in case it was a failure, it would be easy to fix it way back home  (of course though, I did not tell him about the latter). But since happy surprises happen, cut turned out better than expected. It seemed to pay off that stylist was dead serious about his job (maybe craft to him?) that he was not the usual chatty stylist. Well, it must be a culture thing that in the Philippines, well, at least for the salons I usually visit, they tend to make small talk as they cut your hair.


Hair being shampooed better than spa and massages



Getting prepped.



I was happy with this haircut that I even requested for a photo with the stylist. Funny though how salon crew who took the picture took a body shot


Post self-pampering was again battle with heat as I walked my way back to my hostel’s area. As if a formula for this wander, whenever feet got tired from walking, I would just stop wherever to rest and people-watch.

First stop again at the park where I decided to find some shade. If I remember right, it was the same park across the Reunification Palace. I sat down in one of the benches but for some reason, I noticed some strangers looking at me and instinct told me that I might not be safe there so I got up and did more walking. Spotted a playground nearby where I felt I could be a bit safe (thinking about it now, I don’t even know where that thought came from). It was a deserted park at that time of day except a group of three kids who seem to be working on a school project. To them, I may have been a weirdo who was just sitting in one of the swings beside them – doing nothing.


Some locals maybe finding refuge from the heat too



Pirated Converse



Lonely playground on a weekday



Definitely not gonna fit in those houses



Aha. So this is where you do your school work huh?



A wall high enough for kiddos


It was about noon by then and it was unbearably hot that I sat down as soon as  I spotted a seemingly good place to have beer. Not only was the place a decent one, I also scored free beer! I don’t usually check in via FourSquare but for some reason did at that time and voila, I luckily got a free beer for that check-in. These little things indeed make up for my trip boohoos.


This makes more sense, Starbucks.



Interesting cafe.. 



… and interesting house cocktail too!



Even a Facebook like merits a free beer!



Hello, stranger. (Oops sorry for stealing your face)



Could have bought one if only I knew that mine would be broken a few hours later



Was tempted to get in. (“Boba”, by the way, is stupid in Filipino)


Downing those two bottles bought me sufficient time to a bit ‘plan’ my day ahead. It was so then that I knew I wanted to check another to-do in my travel list – which is to watch a movie! Upon doing some quick check on nearest movie theaters, chose one seemingly small-scale cinema. My lack of scale skills of course did not give me advantage of estimating whether that is walking distance or not. Usually though, I could have opted to walk nonetheless but laziness (or maybe beer) kicked in that I decided to dispel all fear and take a cab (yes, my first taxi ride in that city was that traumatic). It turned out to be a good decision because the place was not so ‘walkable’ after all.

As I was purchasing my ticket, there was this funny moment at the counter when I was told that movie I chose to watch at that particular screening (Rio 2) is dubbed in Vietname with no English subtitles. It took less than 5 seconds for that to sink in and I impulsively said “that’s okay”. I was thinking that it was a bit of a challenging experience – just a bit as the film I was about to watch an animated one so I thought not much thinking would be required.

I had more than enough time prior to screening to ‘explore’ the two-floor building. I may have felt quite dizzy that there was this funny moment when I almost got into a male restroom!

There were few people in the cinema so I had few ‘victims’ at that time as I sat there waiting for the door to open. I was planning to buy popcorn (because it was detailed in the to-do item) but I was too bored with the options I did not even try.

What I initially thought to be not-so-challenging turned out, well, challenging (how creative can we get with words, Teng?). While it is animated, I had a hard time actually enjoying and even getting the plot of the film! While there are scenes that the rest of the audience was laughing at, I was silently laughing – not at the scene but at myself for not being able to understand. Expectedly, it was only those slapstick comedy scenes that I was able to join the mini-mob’s sentiment. Either culprit is that lack of full understanding or those bottles of beer, but I was so sleepy most of the time. Kudos to self though for not dozing off – partly due to that visually engaging soccer scene towards latter part of the film.


So destination was Galaxy



Un-creative snack options



Great policy! But then again, what are the odds of amount being misprinted?



Still Row K!



Did these two skip class?


It was about late afternoon when the movie ended so I thought I could do more walking back to my hostel. Intrigued by the many restaurants in my hostel’s area since day 1, decided to finally grab a real meal. I did not know whether that was Vietnamese but tried something closest to a Vermicelli bowl. After which, spent the rest of my favorite time of day trying out another beer – that which has my favorite number times three!


A bit off town.



A temple I have read online too! If forgot the name though.



Reminded me of scenes outside Manila churches too



Those foreigners interestingly on tutor sessions with local students. (Yes, I did stalk and eavesdrop for a while there).



Happy tummy!



Happier tummy / beer belly 😀


Went back to hostel for a quick shut-down afterwards then off I went looking for that bar in town where they had live music. I was there really early though that the only people in the bar were members of the crew. I just asked when the band would start playing then off I was back at my area. When I came across this bar where I drank my noon beer earlier, I thought I could get another bottle. And no, no free beer this time as that freebie only comes with first check-in.

The minute I sat down, I liked the fact that there was a fellow solo female traveler on the table in front of me. When she left though, I think some prostitution action was happening. I didn’t mean to be judgmental but girl was initially a lurking vendor parading in front of us customers then after a while, she was seated with one.


Reminded me of “selfie”


Fellow solo traveler!



Intrigued by this trio as old man seemingly third-wheeling



Tsk. Is this what I think this is?


When drinking abroad, I make it a point to not drink more than one bottle of beer in a place so after one, I left. I spotted another banh store (by then, I was officially a fan of that sandwich) and got my fix (an addict?).


Banh love!


Came back to that bar I checked earlier and boy, it transformed into some kind of chaos. Apparently, it was their anniversary. But then again, I had no point of comparison whether that turn-out was unusual or not. I decided still to have that expensive beer – it was so expensive I had to use my credit card because I did not want to spend my remaining cash. Well, at least they did serve free peanuts.

I was given this spot on the second floor where most of performers hang out too. It was quite disturbing to stand beside girls in those skimpy clothes and half-naked men. I decided then to focus on thought that I was just trying to get some live music.

Band was all-Filipino so there were moments of pride. I however expected a less show band type of performance. Their set was pretty fast but I stayed on a bit to make most of what I had to pay for and partly a bit because I was curious too. I could initially tolerate this game of couples popping balloons but that fire-dancing onstage sealed the deal. For some reason, I think that kind of ‘act only acceptable on beaches (yes, I may have associated it to Boracay). It was funny how that time, I was having thoughts of fire catching on some cloth onstage and the entire place burning up.


Whoa. How can I forget name of both band and place? Place maybe called Seventeen Saloon

(just had to Google :D)



‘Game’ couples



Odd. This is odd.



Funny though how rest of the crew beside me was teasing their co-member. An inside joke, maybe?



View from the top, my spot



Barrel tables



Roving two-wheeled store



Another night of beer and Indian sits



Beer Street zombies represent


Went back to Beer Street which was again crowded that night. I read online too that the bar I went to the previous night had live music on Thursdays so I went for a revisit. True enough, an acoustic performer there was. I didn’t immediately discern it but when he started speaking in English and when he greeted a group of Filipinos on a table, I confirmed that he is indeed a Filipino. I was like, whoa, two bars I visited that night and both performers were Filipino. I am not a patriot but somehow, there is some pride to that. Or maybe just a feeling of a happy coincidence.

I was not able to take stalker photos but two Filipinas were seated in front of me who asked whether I am Filipina. I am not a fan of meeting new people when traveling solo but I have always felt amused how people just could sense your ‘identity’ (badly put) when you’re in a foreign land. They may have sensed my ‘distance’ that we did not really talk until they came to me again to say goodbye.

Had small talk with performer also afterwards. I am usually not a fan of these kinds of conversations and I tend to shut down or filter. Essentially, it was talk about other places where Filipino performers are. Good that he was distracted when this drunk guy took his guitar parked at the then abandoned stage. What followed was some kind of preaching on this guy who was so drunk he seemed to be losing his keys or something. He kept on saying how one should drink responsibly and that we Filipinos should be brave enough to stand up to these other guys who feel they could just do whatever they want just because they are drunk. He makes sense, yes, but I was not in the mood for some righteousness that as soon as I felt I have had enough memories for the day, I just finished my beer and left. Could not afford to be lectured on too, right?


This lady surely having fun and enjoying his music



Such a “kiti-kiti” (restless) musician



First thought that girl was with him. Turned out a fellow solo traveler too!



Snapshot of Beer Street before I called it a day.


Price list (those of what I remember! 😀 Gaad I suck at this!)

Beer costs around VND 3,000 – 10,000 which is  less than a dollar.

Haircut at VND 200,000 or about 10 USD

Movie at VND 70,000 or a bit less USD 3.5

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