12 -The final destination: HCMC again

26.05-28.05.2016

After 4 hours in the bus (and some much-needed sleep) we returned to HCMC bus station. I never arrived in HCMC by bus – so this was actually a first for my now 8th arrival in HCMC. Some might call it an overkill!!!

While Tuan and Thuy tried to find their bike (seeing the amount of bikes there you really cannot afford to forget where you parked it!!!) I started to plan the afternoon. I was supposed to meet Mark, Scott and Lisa for a few beer in the afternoon, and I just wanted to make sure it was still going ahead. At least I got two confirmation. One person, Mark, didn’t feel well enough to make it. It turned out that quite a few people manage to fell sick. It still reminded me to be grateful to have either a good immune system or a stomach that really kills anything that comes near.

Thankfully both managed to find their bikes and we were off again to get me back to the hotel. As it was time for lunch (having no breakfast before) I mentioned that I would like Bun Thit Nuong again, but instead heading straight to Phu Nhuan district to have it there we stopped at a place in a side alley where the dish was advertised. They didn’t sell anything, and covered from the heat it was actually very nice. Well – I really do love the dish.

After getting back to the Ngoc Luis Hotel and bringing my bag into my usual room I had a time to rest a little while, before I got the taxi to the opera. The driver clearly had no idea where the opera house was, even when I showed him a picture, but after a few times in HCMC I managed to give the driver directions when I saw a familiar building, and passing the Notre Dam I successfully navigated the driver to the Opera House. Not sure what it means if a tourist can give directions to the locals!!!!

Scott and Lisa were already waiting, and without waiting we headed to one of the little secrets in District 1 – a little beer hall. Pierre took me here last year, and I really like it. It is actually one large room with tables and chairs, and mainly locals, ordering beer in jars for the expensive price of 24.000 Dong for 2 litres. That is less than € 1. So € 0,50 per litre. It is no Kölsch, but it is beer and it tastes good enough – even with the usual ice in it to keep it cool. It was good to sit down and having a catch up with the two, though apparently they caught something as well, and didn’t feel too well after I left them in Hanoi (maybe after meeting me at night 1 they just missed me too much – I am sure that is the case). It was just great drinking cheap beer, having a nice chat and enjoying the lovely local atmosphere in here. After we finished our second jar we were joined by an elderly Vietnamese man, and of course this meant we needed a third jar. Even though he couldn’t speak English and the combined Vietnamese of the three of us was enough to say cheers, it was still a nice experience. His smile while sitting with us was just contagious. Though after nearly 3 hours in the great bia hall it was time to leave. Scott and I took advantage of the luxurious toilet located between the walls of two buildings (at least it had a ceiling and urinals!!!), though Lisa was advised not to go there. We had to stop next to well-known coffee-house just for her (so typical – the urinals between walls not good enough for a woman!!!).

We headed back to the centre of District 1, where I was hoping to find a nice food places I went to before, but it was raining, and as my companions were very hungry I was pushed into a very tourist looking places (and I stick to this version of the story!!!). Pierre told us later he went there before, and never returned. I didn’t blame him. The decoration of the food was nice, but the taste was, well, average. Though I still suspect that the owner must either own or have shares in an onion farm considering there were more onions than meat in my beef dish. It was one big disappointment. I didn’t dare to take them to the place I had delicious duck tongue, though apparently it would had been the better choice.

Disappointed with the food we somehow managed to get to Le Lai. Scott went off to get more beer, while Lisa and I decided getting a fresh fruit smoothie (it is difficult to say no if you can get a fresh one). So instead of visiting a bar we sat in the park, chatting, drinking and counting the numbers of rats running around. Some of them were big enough to end up on a skewer for dinner for two!!! It was actually nice not to do anything but sitting there. Unfortunately Pierre was unable to join us on short notice, and as Scoot and Lisa were still feeling a bit poor and they flew home the next day it was time to say bye. It was really nice to catch up with them again. And is travel not about meeting great people as well? In this perspective I was very lucky once again during this trip.

After returning to the hotel I decided to go for a little walk and to get another lemon tea (my good night drink), and suddenly I was at the Dim Sum stall just off Phan Din Phung, and it would have been rude not sitting down and getting a portion of the delicious dim sum soup. And is it wrong having one at 23:30??? I think it was the perfect end of the day.

 

The next day I took the chance of a longer time in my bed, and after getting something to drink and eat I met Pierre to head out for a little while. One place I wanted to return to was the grilled chicken food place in District 8. I went there twice last year, so seeing and smelling the roasted chicken was just great. And even after the third time I must say that it was the best chicken I ever had. It was just delicious. During the meal a little girl in dirty cloth came in looking for some money. I never hand out money as a principle, but it was difficult not to feel for her. The big smile when she god a big potion of rice and a chicken we bought for her was a great reward. Considering that District 8 is one of the poorest areas of HCMC, with no tourists coming here, I very doubt it was any scam attempts for tourists – this really seemed to be a girl who was struggling (yes, seeing scams all over the world where kids are used I got unfortunately very cynical).

After lunch we stopped for a coffee, and again it was good to catch up with Pierre, who due to some co-incident was away when I was in HCMC. After coffee he took me to one of his favourite places to have some homemade Banh Flan, a custard like pudding with caramel sauce. I had some in Phan Thiet, and this one was great as well. Without a doubt I really could eat non-stop in Vietnam, wherever you go you find some great food.

But that was the day done with Pierre unfortunately. Like Scott and Lisa he didn’t feel too well. I took the chance to start packing my bag, as it was time to leave Vietnam again the next morning.

At 5pm Thuy was waiting outside to pick me up. Not for dinner yet, but to help me buying something the last-minute (as usual). I saw so many hotels with the little coffee pots and the little cups, and I wanted one as well. So off we went to a few places where me might find one. The first place was not successful, but crossing the street into a mall I got what I was looking for. However, after buying it we faced a little problem. It rained a little bit when we arrived, but now it turned into a downpour. No way I was getting out there in that rain. So instead, the two of us joined the other customers sitting down wherever possible and waiting for the rain to stop. After 30 minutes it got a little bit lighter, and equipped with a poncho we somehow managed to pick up the bike and head to a restaurant to meet Thai, Thuy 2 and Tuan.

I cannot actually remember what the name of the restaurant was – it was a little chain of restaurants I saw throughout HCMC. The main focus is fish, so dinner consisted of various seafood, fish a hotpot. And it was good – not that I expected anything else by now. So far I was not disappointed once. And not surprisingly it was a lovely evening with good food, lovely people and a a lot of laughs.

Unfortunately Thuy 2 had to leave us for work, so the four remaining were on the bike again to get something to drink. The first cafe they wanted to stop was just about to close, and while getting through District 1 we saw an interesting looking cafe – so we stopped. The Chai Cafe No.2 is on Nguyen Dinh Chieu and the only way to describe this place is, well, it is cool. It looks a bit more normal a the entrance area with the counter to order, but getting up via the small staircase you get to the first floor – and this one is just great. It is very retro, with an old TV, and old radio, interesting looking chairs and sofas, you very own cat roaming around. This is the kind of place I really like. Apparently they have live music here from time to time as well. The coffee was normal, it really is the atmosphere that makes the place special. It was nice to sit here for a while, enjoying the rest of the evening with my friends. Finding such a place instead of visiting a touristy coffee-house or a bar is so much better. A great place to end the night here – and kind of finishing the trip.

And then it was time to go back to the hotel, and saying goodbye to them. Seeing them was one of the reason I came back to Vietnam (instead of going to Borneo – this has to wait for another trip!!!), and it was good to spend more time with them again. But saying goodbye was still not the easiest thing to do. At the time I was not sure when I was seeing them again.

But before heading back to my room Robert, the son of the owner of the hotel, was waiting at the food place next to the hotel with a few of his friends I met during my last trip. And just like last time I joined them for a few beer and some food. Initially it was planned to meet earlier for dinner, but had to delay our catch up. It was nonetheless nice, catching up, drinking beer, and for the very last time enjoying more of the delicious food. Like the previous trip, it was a great way to end the night.

 

The next morning I met Pierre once more, and instead of taking the taxi (which cost around 80.000 Dong) we walked to the nearby bus stop, and took the new express bus to the airport for 25.000 Dong. The bus was actually a good option, with A/C and after a quick journey it stopped outside the international terminal. Check-in was fast, but queuing for security was hard work – as it reminded me that Vietnamese really do not understand how to queue, and members of a larger group only stopped trying to force their way past me when I said a little bit louder “Oi Chua oi”. Well – they didn’t expect a silly foreigner to say something in Vietnamese. But apparently I say Oh My God rather often, so Thai thought it would be funny to teach me the Vietnamese version. It helped at airport.

Having time before the flight I tried the Pho after security, and while it is three times the price than on the street, for an airport the price was actually ok. So if you forgot to get a Banh Mi, eating Pho upstairs at the food court is not a bad option.

And then it was really time – boarding the plane and this great trip really was over. I know all good things come to an end. Still, it doesn’t make it any better. And with a tear in my eyes the plane departed and I had one last look at HCMC, before heading back home.

 

I had another lovely time in HCMC, meeting some friends again, having a drink and catching up. I don’t know why, but I always love my stay in HCMC.
It was a fitting end to an amazing 3 1/2 weeks in Vietnam.  I had some very memorable experiences during the 3 1/2 weeks: experiencing how welcoming, helpful and kind the people of Vietnam are; seeing some of the most beautiful scenery you can imagine; meeting people who share the same love for travelling and the this wonderful country; being welcomed to someones home as a guest of the family, and not as a tourist; the smell, taste and sights the country has to offer. It was just wonderful – special even. I loved every single minute.

It just reminded me again how the country makes me feel – happy! And when you walk around with a big grin, locals will react you the same way – smiling at you, waving,  maybe happy that you are happy. I love this positive attitude that you will not find everywhere.And that is why the people are one of the main reason why I love this country so much.

Some people visit Vietnam once, and will never return, maybe they ticked a box, or didn’t like it. And I can understand it. Others, however,  cannot just leave the country completely – it gets under their skin. At least this happened to me. The world a is a big place, and there are still a lot of places I want to explore. But I also know how happy I am when in Vietnam – and that leaving the country got more and more difficult (including during my short fourth trip in September).  So I can only hope that I will still have the chance to return to that country more often, maybe experiencing different bits again.  But for now I can only hope that it will not take too long before I can return….

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Recommendation:

  • For something different try to find the bia hall place on Thi Sach in District 1, near the opera house.
  • HCMC hs some great little cafes throughout the city. The Chai Cafe No.2 is on Nguyen Dinh Chieu is a great example. So it really is worth it to keep an eye open for some of these unique places
  • And try to explore more of HCMC than just the main centre of District 1. HCMC has far more to offer, and getting out is a rewarding experience
  • The food court at the airport offers some nice pho – so if you are after a last-minute snack – try it here.

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