I don’t know whether or not “backpacking” is fit to describe the type of my recent trip to Saigon but I believe I was kiapped between being a backpacker and a flashpacker.
For those who have not heard of flashpacking, it is a relatively new segment in the travel industry where it is similar to backpacking, but with a little more budget and some gadgets/light technologies.
While I don’t spent much for my trip like flashpackers would, I didn’t stay in a dorm or hostel like most backpackers do either.
During my 6-day backpacking trip with my best travel companion of all time and the one and only Kathy “Catea” Tan, we moved from one budget hotel to another and had stayed across 4 different budget hotels in total.
For someone who loves sharing thoughts and ideas, I had to bring along my Galaxy Tab for access to email and Facebook.
All budget hostels we had stayed in were equipped with free Wifi, which was really great when we wanted to kill time at night.
For this gadget aspect, I think I’m more of a flashpacker.
Unfortunately the trip to Saigon (otherwise known as Ho Chi Minh City or “the city of motorbikes”) didn’t start off so well for Cat.
Our flight had been rescheduled to depart from 9am to 7am, so we had to wake up at least 3 hours earlier to catch a bus to the airport.
As I stay closer to the airport and since I took a cab, obviously I arrived much earlier. Called Cat in while in the cab, wanting to remind her to remember bringing her passport.
She didn’t pick up.
Maybe she isn’t convenient to answer, I thought.
Came 5am. Called her numerous time and sent her an sms while having my breakfast.
No picking up.
My heart went like PANG PANG PANG, as I was beginning to suspect that Cat had overslept.
Which turned out to be true!
While boarding the plane, I found myself questioning: Is this trip gonna be less siao/fun without Cat? Is she going to board the next flight, or will she forgo the trip?
Before boarding the plan, I left Cat an SMS asking her to board the next flight.
I knew Cat was going to have to make a decision so I tried to just focus on and enjoy the solo moment of my trip to Saigon like how I did when going to China.
The bird-eye view of Saigon from the plane looked significantly different than that of Cambodia:
Of course from a macroscopic level I couldn’t tell whether or not the Saigon city would be more developed than Cambodia – another country which I love to death.
But I knew soon enough I would find out.
Saw bus 152 and immediately hopped on it upon getting out of the airport.
How did I know if bus 152 would take me to where I wanted to go? Well… the power of research!
Met a couple of Malaysians and a Portuguese lady Carolina currently working in Sabah, who were heading to the same location as mine, so I decided to tag along.
At the popular Pham Ngu Lao street where tourists would flock to, Carolina and I went from one hotel to another to ask about the rate.
The more we asked, the more we got to be able to compare and familiarise ourselves with the rates around the backpacker area.
Checked into Kim Hotel instead of the overpriced Hong Hoa Hotel which I had reserved before going.
At Kim Hotel, the cheapest single room cost us USD12. I know there are plenty of hotels with slightly cheaper rates but considering the rate was even cheaper than that of Hong Hoa Hotel (USD18 per/night) and that I was desperate to just drop my luggage and get a quick shower, I happily took the key to the room.
Turned out the room looked pretty decent!
It was the only room on the top (8th) floor, and because there was a huge balcony next to my room, I was constantly greeted with nice winds and breezes.
Took the following photo from the balcony area:
Cat later texted me to say she would arrive at 1pm, so while waiting for her, I chatted with Kim the owner and some backpackers from the EU for quite a bit. Kim was super nice and friendly.
And that’s Kim at the counter in the picture below!
She runs both Kim Hotel and its sister branch Kim Hotel 2 within the vicinity of Pham Ngu Lao.
Got hungry after a while as I only had a light breakfast at the LCCT, so…
And eating in Vietnam had never been any less exciting for me because I am pretty much an explorative person and would just go ahead and try out new stuffs.
One of the best things about travelling with Cat is that both of us particularly LOVE street food.
That thing in the nail probably added favour to the Vietnamese satay that I ordered hahahahah!
I found it amazing how they would use charcoal a lot to cook their food. Since I have a charcoal stove at home, the trip has kinda inspired me to usilise it even more!
Vietnamese coffee is the king! I love the tinge of “smokiness” in the coffee.
After a decent lunch I looked at the time and realised it was only 12 or so (time difference between Vietnam and Malaysia is -1 hour).
Which also means there were two hours to kill before Cat’s arrival.
Being a kiasu Cina (no just kidding I’m not!) and hyper, I quickly went exploring around the streets and shops at the Pham Ngu Lao area and later headed to the famous Ben Thanh Market – an important landmark in the District 1 of Saigon.
Saw a restaurant serving halal Malaysian food and snapped a photo. The two waitstaffs were so friendly they smiled at me and so I told them, “I’m from Malaysia!”
The Ben Thanh Market:
Wasn’t my personal favourite as I find markets like this in Cambodia and Thailand even more promising and interesting.
Things at the Ben Thanh Market are not cheap as it is a tourist spot and it becomes such a bore to have to keep bargaining with them with a language barrier.
The good thing being – laozi’s bargaining skill has improved tremendously leh!!!
Afterwards, I wanted to drop by the nearest shopping centre to get a deodorant but did not come across any.
And shopping centres are unlike what we have in Malaysia or even Cambodia, where you can find smaller stalls such as a pharmacy, a bakery, etc, within the building.
So I gave up the idea and instead wandered about the streets around the Ben Thanh Market.
A lady selling ketayap-like dessert food caught my attention and naturally I went forward to gao-guan with her.
Definitely one of the many Vietnamese snacks worth putting into your mouth.
At about 2pm I started waiting for Cat at the hotel lobby while surfing the net. Since she would touch down at 1pm in Saigon I reckoned by 2pm she should reach the hotel.
Wait wait wait… Came 2.35pm, but Cat was still nowhere to be seen.
Out of curiosity, I went out to the main street to check her out just in case she was lost. The moment I reached the junction to the main road, I immediately saw a drained Cat searching helplessly for our hotel.
She didn’t notice me as I stood right in front of her. I quickly came to an understanding that tiredness had eaten away her focus.
I waved at her.
And when she finally saw me, I saw her heave a huge sigh of relief. “I have been searching high and low for the hotel!” she complained.
Cat looked a little miserable here as we were heading to the floor we stayed at.
Since we had cancelled our initial plan to travel to Danang on the second day due to time constrained, Cat and I were busy planning our schedules for the next two days.
And we decided to sign up for a 2-day trip to My Tho and Can Tho – respectively 2 .5 and 5 hours away from Saigon.
Some shallow people just have to make fun of us staying together. OOI, IS YOUR MIND LIKE THE SIZE OF A JAMBU OF WHAT AH?
I have lots of respect for Cat and if holidaying/staying together has to be about doing the “nasty” things, I kinda feel sorry for them people lo seriously…
Anyway back to topic. Since we were only departing in the next morning, we pretty much just spent the rest of the day hanging around the streets within the vicinity.
Cat bough her first Vietnamese food and she really liked it.
Came across a stall selling pudding but unbeknown to us, they didn’t just serve the pudding alone. They would pour the pudding (in a plastic container) into a convenience cup before adding some ice and Vietnamese coffee onto it.
Another must-try local dessert at the Pham Ngu Lao area!
Was a little drunk after gulping down a can of 333 Beer empty-stomached. That coffee pudding came in really handy though!
Mr. Definite pulling a Vietnamese:
Buey paisehly cam-whored in the hustle and bustle of the Saigon city:
BTW I mentioned that Saigon (or Ho Chi Minh city) is otherwise called the city of motorbikes.
This is because the whole of Saigon has a population of about 10 million and for every 2 persons there is 1 motorcycle! So you can imagine the volume of motorcycles you will see in just Saigon alone.
However since most people were riding at reasonable speeds, the traffic was in fact not as scary as that in China.
Look at the crazy irregularity of height across the row of buildings:
Afterwards, we found ourselves indulging in the local Tau Fu Fa (soy custard), and our verdict, after eating, was that it pretty much trumped any Tau Fu Fa we had tried in our own country!
Reasons being 1) level of sweetness was just right; 2) it came with what I suspect to be Santan-like gravy, which made the Tau Fu Fa very, very smooth; and 3) on top of the smoothness, there were these things that looked kinda like sago that gave us the textural surprises as we chewed.
Vietnamese Tau Fu Fa made me a happy man!
To tell you a secret… For several nights in a row after our trip to My Tho and Can Tho, we could not resist but to revisit the Tau Fu Fa stall!
In the evening of the first day, we went to watch the traditional Vietnamese puppet show on water.
Although I didn’t quite find it my thing, I was super impressed by how well people behind the curtain interjected personalities into the puppet characters!
Later that evening we went for a ridiculously costly dinner cruise along the Saigoin river. Food was bad and served really slowly, and cultural performances on the boat were not very interesting either.
Two cups of cheap wine cost us as much as our hotel room per night. It was such a shame and blatant rip-off.
Nevertheless I took a couple of pictures of the Saigon night scenes from the boat and surprising found this shot really pretty:
But that certainly didn’t do the horrible dinner cruise any justice lor!
Smiled for the camera…
and that would mark our very first and last time on the boat. Bye, we don’t miss ya!
Part 2 of my Vietnamese trip to come soonest! In the next entry, I will blog about our 2-day trip in My Tho and Ca Tho and our new friends.