Thursday, October 16, 2008

Ho Chi Min City Survival Guide

This is the first time I tag along with J on his business trip - not for the interest in the city... its for the VIP who's travelling together:

I went with the expectation to see watch the prima donna behaviour but much to my surprise, Dr Vivian Balakrishnan is an unbelievably down-to-earth person; he asked no special arrangements for him throughout the trip. i.e. He waited for his table at dinner like all of us and we travelled together in the same coach. Yep, no designated seat for him also.

Let's back to the trip iself:

  • Forget about buying Dong, the vietnamese currency, in Singapore. I stride up and down the money changers at Chane Alley with little luck. I sms-ed my vietnamese colleague who then told me to buy the Dong at the airport which I did. Anyway this is something you could worry less cos the exchange rate at the hotel was even better (and less hassle).

  • Btw, sgd1 = ~11,000 dong. We were all overnight millionaires!

  • If you love bargain hunting, bring lots of Dong to Ben Thanh Market. They accept usd but not to your favour. Ben Thanh Market is the "Chatuchak" in HCMC; now you know what you can find there. If you still do not know what is chatuchak, you probably don't need to visit this place *grin*

    Those stores dotting the circumference of the market are owned and operated by a company, benthanhtsc , whose goods are all "fixed price". No need to bargain but also means that you pay about 10% than if you drive a hard bargain in the smaller store.

    I bought this lightweight waterproof bag at the market for usd20. I love it's retro look.

    There are some tough sellers in certain isles - we were literally mobbed; they will just put the items in your hand and expect you to pay for them. Or simply pull you to their stores. Luckily this only happen at one of the many lanes in market.

  • Traffic rules are non-existence in HCMC. There are motorist riding on the foot path, cars driving against the traffic direction, and zebra crossings where no cars ever bother to stop. To add to all, they are perpetually sounding the horn at one another... so noisy.
    Someone shared this joke with me: The traffic police stopped a driver who crossed the red light. Police asked if he saw the red light, and the driver answered nonchalantly: "I saw the red light but I didn't see you".

    It is complete choas as far as traffic is concern.
    When crossing the road, always keep checking both left and right and walk slowly. As a predestrian, every traffic crossing is an adventure to test your gluts and bravery:-)

  • Massage is good value (aka cheap) in HCMC. The published rate is S$12 for 1 hour. But a poor lady in my group was made to pay $10 in tips before the masseur would let her leave. To me, that's daylight robbery. BTW, this massage parlour is located in our hotel, not those sleazy ones and yet... a lot more work by the authorities if they want to promote tourism.

  • Lacquer ware: If your travel itinerary include a half day city tour, chances are you will be taken to the lacquer ware factory. The price there has been grossly inflated to pay for travel agency's commission but the design and quality is certainly better than those from Ban Thanh Market. This replica of Der Kuss (The Kiss), original work by Gustav Klimt, was spotted at the Lacquerware factory with a price tag of usd300. You can get one for usd100 at the market but the quality is a no-no.

    These are some pix taken at the factory:

    This "double happiness" tray costs usd10 and the word is made with egg shell:

  • Replica of Der Kuss - very nicely crafted:

      • Do not drink the tap water, especially after flooding. By the same token, do not take the ice when drinking at less accomplished F&B outlets. BTW, ice coffee in vietnam is very popular, just make sure you go to an established cafe.

      • Leave your valuables behind before a night out. J's colleague was held up in HCMC before :-o

      • If not for the accompanying little one, I would have tried this local snack... many students were seen munching them. The tour guide said it is rice flour with dried turnips (chai-po) + egg + ???
        Pardon for the blurry pix - it was taken from the coach, behind the window pane.

      • If you have sometime to spare, you should make a trip to cu ci tunnel. This is a great work by the guerillas during the US war. The labyrinth system of tunnel has 3 levels running operation from clothes-making, food to weapons to fight the battles.
      • Another good place that I hear is Ben Nay Restaurants - quote "Located on a tranquille and beautiful island surrounded by 2 small rivers, Ben Nay restaurant offers to tourist a unique buffet combined with show games. Tourist should be very interested and pleased with typical scenery of vietnamese coutryside. During the buffet, they can enjoy the beautiful view of vietnamese countyside life: local girls rowing small boats full with tropical fruits, floating market crowded with local products, boys on buffalow playing on the rice field, traditional musical performance, water puppet and traditional boxing." unquote

      Bevis with his power ranger stunt:

      OK, this has nothing to do with HCMC *grin*

      Have a good time in HCMC!

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