5 Nights in #Saigon

In December, our time share resort sent us a final reminder to use our points carried over from last year by February 2015 or let them burn. We had to choose from a handful countries, each country requiring a different number of points per night. Without much thinking needed, we decided to stay a longer time at a neighbouring country as it required less points per night. We booked for a 6-night stay in Saigon (Ho Chi Minh), Vietnam.

I'm not sure why, but I find countries like these, fascinating (and cheaper compared to travelling to Japan, the US or Europe!).

We left for our trip four days after Chinese New Year. I used my AirAsia BIG points to purchase our return air fare and only had to pay RM280 for the two of us. We were quite lucky that I booked the tickets on that particular day as it cost almost RM1,000 more when I checked the day before.

A week before our trip, we decided to visit Halong Bay since we were already going to be in Vietnam. The local flights there cost us RM2,000! The closest airport to Halong Bay is Hai Phong Airport which is 1.5 hours drive away from Halong Bay and 2 hours flight away from Saigon.

Day 1 Our flight was at 6am so we arrived in Saigon at 8.30am. There, we took an airport taxi to our hotel in District 1 which cost about RM30. As hubby has always brought his work with him on all our trips, I decided that this trip would not require us to move around too much. After checking in, we only left to hunt for lunch at 3.30pm. I read that we could get halal food at  Nguyen An Ninh street which is now known as Malaysian Street, 20 minutes walk from our hotel.

We took a leisurely walk passing through wide roads, motorcycles waiting at corners to give tourists a ride, vendors selling tour packages and souvenirs on walkways, quaint European looking buildings and LOTS of motorcycles.

We learned quickly that at junctions with no traffic lights, just walk ahead. Bikes and cars will usually just maneuver around you without batting an eyelash. There is much honking here but no menace.





Just before Malaysia Street, we stumbled upon Ben Thanth market, a much bigger version of the Malaysian Central Market.

 

We stepped into the market to see what they had to offer- they had fresh fruits, food, souvenirs, lots of clothes and accessories. I didn't realize what a shopping haven Saigon is! I'm not much of a shopper but I could learn to be one since there really isn't much else to do in the city besides the usual tourist attractions which I planned to avoid.

In the market, and at some of the tailors located around the area, you can have suit tailored in a day, at a fraction of the price you would pay at home.

What is a trip to Vietnam without having a bowl of Beef Pho (RM15)






Above: The Ben Thanth market opens at 8.30am and closes at 5.00pm, the night market starts opening their stalls after that

Above: Saigon Opera House

Below: The View of the Saigon river from our hotel's poolside 




We didn't want to stay out too late on our first day, so we watched as the city lights switch on as the evening turned to night from our hotel poolside.  (It gets dark after 6pm)






DAY 2 The next day, I went out to find us breakfast (something not provided in the time share programme, unfortunately). Lucky Plaza where a supermarket is located, was just around the corner and I was greeted by dancing lions. The Chinese New Year tradition, that is. I felt blessed!



You can buy almost everything in the supermarket except bread so I settled for cornflakes, biscuits, cheese and milk which came to RM50. (Ouch!)

In the afternoon, we left for a walk around the District 1, deciding that we should start shopping today (what a tough job, right? :) )


We didn't find anything really uniquely Vietnamese so we went for coffee at the sidewalk, instead. Simply divine! Note the cute tables and chairs all street vendors use.




Our RM5 street coffee


Day 3 On the third day in Saigon, we thought we should venture outside District 1, as it seemed that most of the shops in District 1 catered to a more affluent crowd, as most hotels are situated here.

I read that Market An Dong in District 5 offered more, at better prices so we asked the taxi to take us there. Oh, speaking of taxis, you get a feedback coupon from the taxi company agent (who are located where taxis wait) each time you take a taxi from them which is quite interesting. We only used two taxi companies- Mai Linh and Vinasun. Most drivers don't speak English, so we usually just showed the street names on our phone or on maps.

Anyways, back to Market An Dong. When we arrived in District 5, the taxi driver asked us to get out at some fruit stalls. We asked where the Market was and he said we were there. We were so confused. All we saw was a huge building behind the fruit stalls (which had its doors closed).



As it was still Chinese New Year (the Vietmamese have 8 days off during this period), most of the shops around the area were also closed. We found a mall near the fruit stalls and asked the security guard where the elusive Market An Dong was and they answered that they didn't know. 

So we walked some more and found a travel agency whoses staff drew a map (we were not far) but somehow drew the wrong street to turn into. While walking there, an elderly couple noticed how confused we looked with the drawing in our hands and pointed out a building across the street which turned out to be the closed building we saw when we first arrived. What an idiot the taxi driver was, dropping us in front of the closed mall and charging us RM30 for the trip (always use the meter, by the way).

Below: An Dong Market which is supposed to be where you buy fashion goods in bulk (more suitable for wholesale buyers)


Feeling slightly disappointed, we took a taxi back to our district showing him the address of a restaurant we wanted to try. This taxi driver was really kind and when we arrived right in front of the said address, we found out that it was now a leather store. He asked if we wanted to go somewhere else but since we were already so close to Malaysia street, we said it was ok, we would walk.


We stopped to grab a snack on the way to dinner


Spring rolls, another must in Vietnam. Their seafood and vegetables are really fresh.

Sour prawn soup.


The cheapest coffee we found in District 1 (Malaysia street)- only RM3!


Lovely art and book shops line Le Loi street. Tous Les Jour is located nearby and that is where bread can be found.

 Photo credit: Thingswedid

 The beautiful sight of the Municipal building on the way back to the hotel

A hotel with gorgeous gold feathers and lights at its entrance.

Day 4 We flew to Hai Phong airport the next morning and reached at 10.00am where our arranged transport was waiting for us to take us to City Bay Palace Hotel. Our return trip by car cost us 840.000VND/each way and this was arranged with the hotel.

Sidenote: At the airport, while waiting in line at the gate, we found that the locals do not really know how to queue and squeezing in front of you is no strange phenomenon. They can also get out of queue to sit down for awhile and resume their position in the queue a few minutes later as if it was a normal thing to do.

We were allowed to check in immediately and the hotel helped to book a 4-hour boat tour on Halong Bay which cost us USD30 each which included the return taxi trip, a boat ride, a visit to the caves and a bamboo boat ride.

We freshened up, had lunch at the hotel restaurant downstairs and waited for the taxi to pick up to bring us to where the boats were moored about 20 minutes drive away.

 These passengers were waiting for their lunch on the boat.


Fruits, sir?







There are no coins in Dong so notes are thrown in the wishing well.

 Inside the Dau Go cave

Sidenote: When booking tours, it is safer to book from the hotel or directly from agents at Halong Bay. Always ask for a receipt. Sure, both parties mark up their prices like crazy but there it is better than getting scammed like a Taiwanese tourist in our tour group. He had paid for lunch on the boat, a cave visit and a bamboo boat ride but got nothing.


The view from our room.



There is not much to do in Halong Bay except to go on the boat ride around the bay so the next morning was spent strolling around our hotel. We even visited a grand looking mall but nothing can beat Malaysian malls. There were hardly any patrons and despite the building looking huge from the outside, there were very few shops inside.








DAY 5 Our ride came to pick us up at 2.30pm sharp back to Hai Phong airport for our 7.50pm flight. When we reached the Jet Star counter, we were informed that our flight was cancelled due to bad weather. They communicated this via email so people who do not have internet access when travelling won't get notified till you reach the airport.

They had a solution though. A van would take us to Hanoi airport 2.5 hours away.

When we arrived, the counter informed us that we had missed the 8.30pm flight in Hanoi. We found it ridiculous that they would put us a on that flight knowing that the drive would take 2.5 hours to get there from Hai Phong.

Without too much hassle, they put us on the next flight at 10.30pm. We reached just past midnight but our adventure didn't stop there.

When we went to airport taxi stand, there were multiple queues and we were ushered by one of the coupon giving guys to get into a particular taxi after much pushing and shoving. At the same time, another guy hastily sat next to the taxi driver and shoved his phone to him asking him to get directions from his friend while I was wildly waving our coupon in front of the taxi man. He told us to wait.

15 minutes into the ride, hubby and I were getting anxious. Is this some elaborate robbing scheme?
Hubby decided to ask the taxi driver if we were going to our hotel first. Only then did it dawn on the driver that the guy in front had no relation to us. He then said he would drop us off first.

When we arrived at the hotel, he wanted to charge us the full fare and we protested as we had to share the taxi with a stranger. Thankfully, the hotel concierge helped intervene and said we should only pay half.

DAY 6 We had one day left the next day to shop and shop we did! We arrived at Ban Thant market just as they were closing but one stall attended to us. Hubby bought lots of t-shirts while I got 2 shirts for my dad.

The night market was unfolding outside and we bought souvenirs, a bag, and more clothes for ourselves, family and close friends. They were not exactly cheap cheap but they were all right. An average purchase costs nothing less than RM20. Vendors are super aggressive there and make it difficult for you to just ask for a price without them insisting that we cannot leave their stall without purchasing something as it is bad luck to them.



Above: Food stalls bustling with patrons. Alas not for Muslim patrons.






A vendor who looks just like my friend, Trina

The tailor who altered hubby's jeans in 30 minutes charging only USD1


The vendor who kindly agreed to take hubby's slacks which were too small. He took hubby's slacks and exchanged it with one from his stall as the stall we bought it from in Ben Thanth market was already closed and we were leaving the next day.

All in all, we had a pleasant trip. If you love shopping, this is the place to go (better if our RM value goes up though. We really felt the pinch). Halong Bay is nice but really there is nothing there except its scenic rock formations.



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