10. HCMC has me back – again!!!

21.05. – 23.05.2016

Without any delay I saw the by now familiar view from the air when I once again arrived in HCMC – for the 7th time to be precise. Getting out of the terminal (strangely they only ever check your luggage and ticket when getting out of the domestic terminal) was straight forward and once again I was standing outside the terminal, ready to enter the mayhem HCMC has to offer.

Unfortunately I had a little issue – I relied too much on technology and had the address of my hotel on a Facebook message – but for some reason I suddenly could not connect to Facebook. It worked fine before leaving Hanoi, but not anymore. It turned out that Facebook was blocked for a while – apparently something to do with some demonstration in central Vietnam about the mass killing of millions of fish. The lack of information and concerns of the future of the income of millions of people caused it.

Cursing my stupidity not to write down the address it did only take a few minute and Pierre sent me the address to my phone. Equipped with the address I got a Vinasun taxi straight away, and this time the driver didn’t need any help to drop me off Ngoc Luis Hotel in the lovely non-touristy district of Phu Nhuan. Since my last visit I really fell in love with the area, and it was my obvious choice again this time.

Unfortunately my room from last time was not available, so it was the 4th floor for me this time. Still, the room was nice as last time. Unfortunately the hotel is no longer, which is really a shame, as I liked the place.

After the usual refreshment I was out to walk through some little alleys to be on the side road where the market is. Obviously, at 2pm the market was gone, but along the road you can still find a few street food stalls. On the corner with Phan Dinh Phung I saw a little stall selling the south Vietnam version of Bun Cha – Bun Thit Nuong. Bun noodles, spring rolls, grilled meat and my favourite sauce – the special fish sauce. Add a fresh mango smoothie and you have a great lunch. And it was only 45.000 Dong – less than €2. You just have to love Vietnam.

After the delicious lunch I just went for a little stroll, crossed the bridge over the canal and saw a lovely cafe – on Hoang Sa. It had a lovely interior, with very comfortable chairs and a nice view of the canal. I enjoyed a cafe sua da as well as a fruit juice – relaxing, taking in the world going past outside.

My belly happy with the food and drink choice so far I headed back to the hotel for a well deserved break – staying out late again the last two nights might not have been the best ideas. It seemed I really needed the sleep as I didn’t even heard the phone ringing. Well, after waking up I realised that I missed a few calls from Pierre. As a result I was told too late that he went already with his mum to a nearby restaurant. Not wasting any time I headed down Truong Sa to Phat Cat BBQ, owned by a Canadian to meet Pierre, his mum and one of his friend with his wife. I must say it was good to see Pierre again – it never gets boring with him. Some say he is quite the character – I might say it is an understatement. It was a nice evening with good company and good food – nice BBQ ribs with fries. Not really Vietnamese – though the spices used for the delicious ribs were Vietnamese…

As Pierre and his mum were off to Vun Atu the next morning the night was not too long, so I decided to head to District 1 for a few drinks. Yes, I wanted to go to the touristy area. I had some good memories of my stay there during my first trip, and a few beers on Bui Vien sounded like a good idea. And I must admit – it was. Stopping at some of the bars I celebrated NYE 2014/2015, and this area is such a difference to any other place in Vietnam. You can find the usual bia hoi places along the street, touristy food places, nice little bbq and bars and clubs. For a nice night out it is a great place. And I enjoyed my couple of hours there – and even got a late night Banh Mi. I know – shame on me. I enjoyed the touristy area. I admit it..

However, the downside was that I only arrived at the hotel again after 1am – and I had to give the son of the owner Robert a quick call so somebody could let me in again. It is no problem to stay out late in D1, but staying away from D1 hotels and guesthouses lock the door – as the owner would like to sleep as well. Thankfully Robert’s father was no angry or upset, but I was welcomed with the usual smile from him.

 

The next morning I took advantage of a day without plan – and slept in. I never feel guilty sleeping in at home – in fact I love it. But for some very strange reason i always feel guilty when on holiday – as I might miss something. But not today.

After noon I finally managed to get out to find some food and to do something that really sounds depressing. I decided I had to study a little bit. After this trip a year-long course started for me in preparation of exams I will sit in 2017. And to make sure I do not look an idiot (sorry – trying not to look even more like an idiot) I wanted to do some pre-reading.

The plan was to visit the cafe from yesterday – it had such a lovely atmosphere, and the seat was comfortable – and it had tables. Perfect place to study. On the way I came across a little food stall where I a noodle soup that was not a Pho. The girl serving the food was a bit surprised to see a foreigner sitting down. But they seem to be happy that I enjoyed the lovely food – simple, cheap and delicious.

After lunch I crossed the bridge over the canal once again but to my horror I realised that the cafe was busy – no seats available. So I followed Hoang Sa, enjoying exploring the neighbourhood until I found a cafe that had a lovely little courtyard with lots of green. It looked nice, so I decided it was a good place for a few ca fe sua das and juice to study for a couple of hours. Well – I can tell now learning about German tax laws in Vietnam is not something I would describe as fun – I would actually called it the opposite. But it had to be done. I think the staff saw my desperation and made sure  I had always something to drink in front of me. Their friendly and attentive service made the horror of studying during my holiday more bearable.

After more than an hour I gave up, my will broken. So I walked back along the canal – feeling the freedom again. There is a reason why I do like Phu Nhuan district is the canal, the lovely houses, the cafes, the whole atmosphere. This is such a difference to the HCMC most tourists will only ever see. On my way back I decided to stop again at the lovely cafe – just to realise that I was sitting in a smoking area. It is a shame, as I enjoyed it there yesterday, but I finished my drink very fast to escape the smell of cigarettes. I found out later that there is another room to the left for non-smokers. It is nice, but I found the seats in the smoking section more comfortable. It is also a nice place to sit outside in the evening when it is not boiling hot.

I headed back to the hotel for a deserved break in my room. Yes, eating, drinking coffee, walking and studying is exhausting.

In the evening it was time to meet friends again. Tuan picked me up at the hotel, and once again I was sitting on the back of his bike, joining the crazy traffic I just love. We met Thuy on the way and headed to their choice of restaurant. I always trust them to bring me somewhere nice. And they did not disappoint again. We arrived at a restaurant in District 13 – Hoa Loc Vuong. It is a located directly at one of the arms of Saigon river, with plenty of seats – and it felt like being far away from busy HCMC with a lovely atmosphere. The only slight downside is that you will hear a few planes per hour preparing for landing at HCMC airport – but I think it is not a big deal.

Here we were joined by Thuy’s brother Thai and his wife Thuy (yep – doesn’t make life much easier having two Thuys with you!!!). I met the two last year for the karaoke night, and it was great to be back with all four once again. It was a lovely evening with quite a bit beer and lots of food – grilled meat, salad, sea food, spring rolls, and the main being a hot-pot. And all tasted so good. So overall, it was once a agin a great dinner.

Though it didn’t end here. The plan was going to a place for a healthy desert. Though with a slight change – instead of me riding on the back of a bike it was my time experience riding a bike through HCMC. Thuy must have drawn the short straw as she was sitting behind me. I think it went well , and after getting used on a quieter road we soon joined a busy dual carriageway – and even here it went well (though they seem to be a bit confused that I was checking the mirror and looking over my shoulder when changing lanes!!!). Unfortunately at one point we lost the other two bikes – and I had the pleasure to turn at two round abouts. Anyone from the UK knows that this is actually straight forward – you give way to traffic inside the round about, and you can easily get off. Forget that system when in Vietnam. There is only rule – there is none. You just find a gap and join. Cars and buses are always right. And bike passes you left, right, in front or behind you. A busy round about is the best example how the traffic in Vietnam works – and how chaotic it is. Well – you either join or you lose. So I followed the Vietnamese example and used any gaps between bikes, cars and busses to turn – not sure Thuy was too impressed when I saw a gap between two buses and accelerated between them. I can happily report though that no one was injured – except of my pride when I heard someone behind me screaming for a second!!!

In the end we found the others sitting at a stall selling fruit juices and bowl of fruit salads – next to a busy road. Again – it was so typical HCMC for me. The salad with yoghurt was actually nice, and it was a nice end of the great night out. On the way to the hotel I mentioned that I need my daily bottle of green tea (the brand O is together with ca fe sua da, lemon juice and bia hoi my addiciton when in Vietnam). Finding a little shop took a little detoru, but on the way we passed a temple near the hotel full of lanterns and light along the canal. There was some kinf of celebration during the week, hence the decoration. It looked absolute lovely.  Yes – it was good to be back in HCMC.

 

The next morning Thuy picked me up for breakfast. I did what I always do when in HCMC and get asked what I want to eat – tell them to surprise me. So we went back to place we visited a restaurant they showed me during my first stay in HCMC – Tay Ho in D1. THey serve absolute lovely Banh Cuon, and once again it was great to have breakfast here. They actually have a room with A/C on the first floor if it is too warm downstairs. I am really not surprised that the place is always busy with locals when I am here.

After the food we enjoyed a coffee in a cafe overlooking the busy round about at Cau Tran Khan Du bridge, which leads to D1. Sitting outside on the second floor offer s a nice view over the cray traffic, a very interesting place.

However, around noon it was time to get ready for the next part of my journey. Thuy’s sister-in-law (Thuy 2) invited all of us to visit her family in Phan Thiet. This is an offer you should never decline, so it was planned to go there for three nights – experiencing another homestay.

Getting my little bag (the big one stayed behind) Tuan picked me up at the hotel and we headed to the bus station. Due to a collapsed rail bridge outside of HCMC (the captain of a barge seemingly thought it would be a good idea to hit it!!!) and the disruption of the rail service it was decided to take the bus to Phan Thiet. Travelling by bus in Vietnam is not something highly recommended, but the locals might know better. Soon enough we arrived at the bus station, tickets were bought and I was for only a second time I was in a bus with little sleeping coffins – off to another place in Vietnam, I have never been before.

 

Even though I have been to HCMC a few times now, I still enjoy it every time. It is good to see my friends, but I think HCMC is much more interesting what many people think. Most only visit D1, but there is so much more to see. This is why I love staying in the local areas like Phu Nhuan, wandering around. Of course it helps if friends can show you around. And because of  both – I am always happy to return to HCMC.

 

Recommendation:

  • Head out of D1 to see more what HCMC has to offer
  • Even though planes fly over it, heading out to the restaurant in D13 might offer something different. I have been there twice now, and every time the food was nice, the service is good, and the setting along the river is nice. Plus, it is full with locals only
  • Try Bun Thit Nuong. I prefer Bun Cha, but the southern version of it with grilled meat is delicious

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