thisisanexperiment. no, really. it is.


Posted in Interest, Life by thisisanexperiment on September 14, 2010

The problem with reaching HCMC at 4am in the morning is…that it’s 4am in the morning. Nothing is opened and the city is, for the most parts I believe, asleep.

We trooped back to our HCMC hostel (my my art house) but since we couldn’t check in, we could only wait for daylight to break as we tried to catch some shut eye while lying on the table/chairs. Daybreak came, we washed up a little, and then set out on our last day in Vietnam.

Our last day was designated street food day (since at least we’d only suffer traveller’s diarrhoea either on the plane back or in the comforts of our own home). We put that to practice. Breakfast was some soupy pho noodles from a stall snuggled right in the alley leading to our hostel, near the main road. It was cheap and tasty, served with innards of course, and lots of vegetables on the side. Good healthy start to the day.

Then, we rushed off to Sinh tourist to catch our guided tour to Cuchi tunnels on the outskirts of HCMC. You might be thinking of trying to get there by yourself, but it’s near impossible to do so (they only allow visitors via guided tour) and not advisable because your tour guide will be able to give you a good informative session on all the secret hideouts and wonders of the tunnels.

In all honesty, we probably over-estimated ourselves and our ability to withstand the claustrophobic back-bending walk through the tunnel. It’s definitely something you need to do when you’re young-ish and healthy. And I thought the tombs in Egypt were difficult, these are harder!

We only made it 40metres through the tunnels, before the sheer lack of space in there was too much. Also, because you literally have to bend down to walk through it, your face WILL be in someone’s butt. Try not to eat anything that will cause flatulence, and try to walk behind (and in front of) someone you actually like. That said, Cuchi tunnels is the one thing you MUST visit when in HCMC. It’s quite amazing to see all the (direly) clever contraptions of the Vietnamese. They are very resilient, I will say. A good history lesson, it is.

After the tunnels, we hopped on the bus back to the city. The Cuchi tunnels tour will take you half a day; we reached HCMC at about 3pm or so. After negotiating bike rentals (I believe it was USD7 per bike for a day), we set off to find the elusive Quan Nam Giao restaurant for lunch. We failed and decided to make for the Reunification Palace before it closed. Some street snacks and coconut juice were grabbed as reinforcements before we died of hunger.

Warning: their coconuts do not come with a spoon for you to carve out and savour the flesh. BUT, if you really want to have a go at it, you can do it cavemen style (like we did) and try using bits of the coconut as a primitive spoon, or better yet, trying cracking the coconut apart with your bare hands or against the wall, and then eating the flesh off the inside of the shell. You probably shouldn’t try to do that while hiding at a trashbin, behind a pillar, at the palace though. Probably.

The Reunification Palace is essentially where the last pivotal moment in Vietnam’s civil war occurred. Armed with ‘Lonely Planet’ as our guide, we toured the grounds. To be quite honest, after Cuchi tunnels, the palace came up a little short. It was nice to see the old stomping ground of the former Vietnamese President (like his reception room, offices, etc), but all the rooms are basically cordoned off so besides taking a gander, it’s not very engaging. The guys will probably find the tour of his underground shelter and command center a tad more interesting though.

Starved, we headed to Ben Thanh market (which also took a while to find). Ben Thanh is going to be where you do your shopping for coffee beans (I bought weasel coffee that I still haven’t tried), those little Vietnamese coffee contraptions, and well, if you are my mom, you would ask me to buy cashew nuts. Do not ask me why.

In all honesty, after going to the Russian Market in Cambodia, and Chatuchak in Bangkok, I don’t find Ben Thanh market particularly interesting or exotic. I guess once you’ve seen them once, you’ve seen them all, with the exception of Chatuchak. Ben Thanh is really more of an eye-opener for the Western traveller, or Asian traveller who hasn’t been to markets like these before.

So after making our aromatic purchases, we headed straight to the food section. Have you ever had crab meat noodles? Neither have I, so we tried it at what appeared to be a very popular stall (i.e, lots of people must = good stuff). It was good and although deceptive, it is quite filling. They use fresh crab meat too; you can taste it. Well worth a try.

We wanted to explore more of the streets opposite Ben Thanh, but sadly it started pouring and we, being not of the umbrella-toting sort, were forced to retreat indoors to Pho 24 for some dessert and more Vietnamese coffee. The rain eventually stopped and we were able to explore the area. Typical goods are sold such as Teeshirts and such, of which we bought some. Nothing much otherwise, it seemed.

So we decided to give one last attempt at that elusive Quan Nam Giao restaurant. We rode, we walked in one direction, then back in the other direction. On the way, we stumbled across a roadside stall selling noodles, offering shelter under a makeshift canopy. The noodles soup consists of innards, even pig’s blood and is just a tinge spicy, but really the perfect hot piping thing to have in rainy weather. As usual, it’s served with lots of vegetables.

Later, we finally realised why we couldn’t find the restaurant although we were on the right road. Quan Nam Giao is not located just along the main road. Instead, it in snuggled deeper in one of the alleys by the road. A small sign is present, to signal you in the right direction; the sign is easy to miss, so keep your eyes peeled.

Quan Nam Giao serves ‘Hue’ cuisine; you can find their address and menu offerings here. We ordered a mish-mash of food- soup noodles again, some fried oysters (or something I can’t remember) thats served with a crispy side. The fried oysters were pretty tasty, but the soup noodles were nothing special, I felt.

After that, we headed back to our hostel for a night’s rest (although not after squeezing in some time for drinks etc). We arranged for a cab driver to pick us up for our transfer to the airport (via our hostel owner) and ended our Vietnam trip with more good Vietnamese coffee and breakfast, and then some very expensive and very bad Viet coffee at the airport (you are warned). All in all, Vietnam was a good trip; hope to go back soon and hit up some of its other destinations (:

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