Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam

7 05 2010

Here I am…the final destination of my four month study abroad exchange (more like a 4 month travel adventure of South East Asia). We have arrived at the famous city of Saigon (now known as Ho Chi Minh City). After years of war, the Vietnamese are nothing short of proud of their heritage and accomplishments…and rightfully so. So before I delve too deep into a history lesson, let me begin by sharing a day by day recount of my time in Vietnam.

On our first day in Vietnam, we arrived in the evening and the weather was beginning to cool down so my friend Bonita and I were looking forward to going to some local markets to do some shopping. Since Vietnam was going to be my last adventure while on exchange, (before my big trip to India), I knew I wanted to do lots of shopping here. As soon as we checked into our hostel (which actually turned out to be like 2-3 star hotel) we immediately headed over to the famous Ben Thanh Market. It was here thatmy friend Bonita and I did some crazy shopping. The stuff was not only cheap but we even stumbled upon some legitimate things (I think this is due to the fact that there are a lot of factories in Vietnam so somehow they create “extra” which is sold on the “black market”). We even found a little stall that was selling real Abercrombie, Pink, Forever21 etc. After our little shopping spree we went on the hunt for some authentic Pho (a famous Vietnamese noodle soup dish). Typically in Toronto, you can get Pho anywhere between $6-10 CAD but in Vietnam we found Pho for barely $2 CAD!

For day two in Vietnam, my friend and I booked a trip to the Mekong Delta river. The tour was suppose to begin at 7:40AM but we didn’t end up getting picked up until almost 8:30AM! My friend said the Vietnamese are known to be typically late (kind of like Indian people lol). On the Mekong Delta tour we began the day by taking a boat to a bunch of tiny little islands (but not beach islands) but islands where people had “factories” and were working. Our first stop was the coconut candy factory. Here we saw people actually squeezing the water from the coconut, heating it, adding a little flavour and then eventually rolling it out onto candy size pieces. There is also rice paper over the coconut candy that is completely edible. At our next stop we watched some people sing some traditional Vietnamese songs and do some Vietnamese dance. Finally we stopped for lunch which was nothing extravagant so I won’t even bother mentioning it. However there was an elephant ear fish (or something by that name) that was supposed to be a Vietnamese speciality so the couple beside us ordered that and it basically turned out to be a massive deep fried fish that you eat with rice paper rolls and some vegetables. After lunch we did some fruit tasting of some exotic fruits such as jackfruit (my favourite since Cambodia) and dragon fruit (kind of tastes like kiwi but is white with black seeds). Here we also some of the biggest durians I have ever seen! Our last stop along the Mekong Delta was a honey tea tasting where I got to poke my finger into a bee hive and try some sweet honey tea.

Day three was what I was most looking forward to…the Cu Chi Tunnels. If you are not familiar with what the Cu Chu Tunnels are, I highly recommend you look it up on Wikipedia. In short, they were underground tunnels that the Vietnamese to use live in and use as an escape route from the Americans during the Vietnam War against the Americans. We watched a short documentary on the Cu Chu Tunnels but we also got to go inside them and see what it felt like to be inside a tiny little tunnel. The feeling was extremely claustrophobic and nerve-racking. The tunnels were made for tiny Vietnamese men but our guide told us that since the end of the war they have made the tunnels slightly bigger so that they would fit “Western size people”. We also saw some of the hand-made weapons that the Vietnamese used during the war and how they produced them. Words cannot even describe what it was like visiting a previous war site where many of the tunnels are still well in-tact. Although this was only a half-day tour, it was probably one of my top five experiences while on exchange. After the tour was over, my friend and I decided to check out some more local markets. We visited some local market (I forget the name but it was nothing special there) but we also went to the indoor Ben Than Market (the previous one we went to was the night market). The indoor Ben Than Market is crazy…shops, stalls, vendors galore! Everyone is selling pretty much the same thing so all prices are negotiable. If you are ever in Vietnam, I would highly recommend that you allocate at least 4-5 hours to visit this market as there is plenty to see and lots to eat as well! On the eve of my last night in Vietnam, I thought I would go to the beauty salons and see what they have to offer. With the intention of just getting a manicure and pedicure, I ended up walking out of there with both along with a bunch of other things and an appointment to get a Japanese hair straightening the next day! Ahhhh lol…

So I woke up 6:30AM the next morning for my 3 hour hair straightening appointment and when I walked out, I was very happy with the results! Now I no longer needed to deal with the extreme humidity in Singapore that always made my hair frizzy and when I came out of the shower, my hair was always straight (no need to blow dry or straighten anymore!)
Anyway, aside from the shopping and the beauty parlour, I would definitely put Vietnam as one of my favourite destinations. Unfortunately I didn’t get a chance to go up to Hanoi (which is suppose to have an incredible landscape) but Ho Chi Minh was a really tourist friendly place with lots of great food, sights and shopping to do/see.

*Note: I apologise for the lack of pictures on this post. This is mainly due to the fact that I had no camera and since I am posting this entry from India, the internet here is so slow that it would take me 2 months to add pictures 😦