Asia, Vietnam

Asia Day 4: HCMC

I guess I still have jet lag because I woke up at 2am last night was unable to sleep again. After a couple of hours, I decided to take the opportunity to catch up on YouTube and watched some videos on Vietnamese basics. After Aaron got up, it was time to get the day started! I’ve been craving Xoi (sticky rice) for breakfast since the beginning of this trip, so I found a shop within walking distance which specializes in this. The restaurant was called Xoi Che Bui Thi Xuan. This name looks intimidating at first but is really just i’s specialities – Xoi (sticky rice) and Che (sweet dessert soup), then the name of the street it is on. The place was full of locals which was always a good sign. I was disappointed to see that they actually did not serve Xoi Bap, which is the sticky rice with sweet corn and mung beans that I wanted. We instead opted for the Xoi Ga (sticky rice with chicken) and Xoi Tron (sticky rice with mushroom, Vietnamese sausages, shredded pork). Aaron also wanted some Goi Cuon (rice wraps) on the side but they ran out so we had Bi Cuon (pork skin rolls) instead. They also ran out of chicken breast so we got a chicken wing instead with our sticky rice. The rice was quite sweet given it’s a savoury dish, but I liked it. The chicken was a braised chicken wing and was delicious as well. The Xoi Tron is very similar to the Chinese sticky rice 糯米雞, which was also very tasty but something I could’ve eaten in HK as well. Next time, I would order the Xoi Ga instead or something with Cha Lua since this is what the locals seem to order.

Xoi Tron @ Xoi Che Bui Thi Xuan
Xoi Tron @ Xoi Che Bui Thi Xuan

Next, we went to find a coffee shop to get some work done. Unfortunately, the one that Aaron wanted to go to has closed down. We ended up wandering around in the heat for a while before we found a nice place, which appeared ok with us sitting and working for a few hours. It was called My Life Coffee. They were spacious and apparently was also a restaurant. Their decor was very modern with good use of wood and greenery. (Apparently this is my thing – flashback to Sunny Hills.) I ordered their green tea matcha latte, which was again over-sweetened. I need to remember to order it with less sugar next time. Aaron had their traditional coffee, hoping it would just come served black, but it came sweetened as well. He ended up ordering a second round with no sugar and enjoyed it a lot more. 

It was already 2pm, so we decided to get some lunch. To our disappointment, the restaurants that Aaron wanted to go to were all closed. Were they taking a siesta possibly? We were both hungry and was by the Ben Thanh Market so went there again. Today, however, was very different. The stall I wanted to try, My Le, which was always packed yesterday, said they were finished for the day. We walked around and there was not as much soliciting. To prove that how chaotic things were from yesterday, we ended up almost sitting at the same place we ate at yesterday, since our memory was a such a blur. I now rely on Aaron’s Swarm to keep track of the places we’ve been to. We ended up feeling defeated and eating at Phuong Van. Aaron had the Bun Bo Hue (Hue style spicy beef noodle soup) and I had the Banh Canh Cua (thick crab soup with thick vietnamese noodles). The food was disappointing. The Bun Bo Hue was nothing special and the Banh Canh’s soup was a lot thicker than I expected – kind of like glue. I am not used to this texture, as the one my aunt makes is less thick. The taste is also not especially memorable. Again I am used to it having more of a seafood taste and accompanied with crab. I am not sure if this is just how they make it here or if I did not pick the right place to eat it. To give them some credit, the pork was tasty. 

Banh Canh Cua @ Phuong Van
Banh Canh Cua @ Phuong Van

We noticed we have yet to do any sightseeing so we headed over to the Saigon Central Post Office. Outside, there were parked tour buses and school buses. Across the street was the Notre Dame Basilica. It definitely had a very European feel. We walked inside and see that it is still a functional post office. Of course, acting as a tourist attraction as well, they also had souvenirs sold throughout. To the side, there are ATMs in stalls. In the centre there were multiple counters, for people to fulfil their postal needs.

Saigon Central Post Office
Saigon Central Post Office

Aaron and I both read that this is a good place to get SIM cards but were told by the post office employees that they do not carry it and we will have to “go outside” to get it. This was unfortunate because that was one of the reasons we wanted to come here. There is still hope, because as we walked around the corner, we found official mobile carrier stores! After a while of discussing the prices and plans, I decided on a plan. Just as we were about to complete the transaction, I was asked for my passport, which I did not have with me. (Actually it turns out I had it in my purse for whatever reason but was not aware of it until later that day *facepalm*.) So I walked out feeling like “Sadness” from Inside Out. I eventually just got a SIM card from an independent vendor for the same price (~$10 CAD) and was promised 3GB with 1200 minutes for calling – remember this.

On our walk back home, it was apparent that it is possible to get into a traffic jam as a pedestrian, since a 20 minute walk came closer to 45 minutes. We took that time to appreciate the exterior of the nice and new big shopping centres here. We also walked by Nguyen Hue street, which is a huge walking street. It reminded me of the streets of Paris with its huge walkways and nice green space. Note to self to return here another day, since we had an appointment to go to. 
Our appointment was for something that was much needed, especially after the past few restless nights. I found a spa near our accommodation called Saigon Dep Spa, with pretty good ratings as well as having nice packages. We chose the package with the steam bath, foot soak, body scrub and 60 minute massage. We were first treated with a welcome passion fruit drink, which was delicious and refreshing. Then we were led upstairs to change, then proceeded to the steam room. After around 10 minutes, we came out and had a quick soak and wipe off our feet while drinking tea. Next, we were brought to the massage/treatment room. Like my previous Bali and Costa Rica massages, privacy is thrown out the window, as we were told to undress and lie down the the treatment bed. A layer of plastic-bag like material was placed beneath our bodies in preparation for our salt scrubs. You wouldn’t believe how nice it was to get a scrub, especially when she hit my mosquito bites/eczema spots. I’m pretty sure this much aggravation is not good for either of those conditions but there was no turning back now. As I turned onto my back, quickly became apparent that there will be no drapes. The self-consciousness never wore out so I was unable to reach my ideal “relaxation state”. They tried to play spa music in the background, but more prominent was the Vietnamese open mic/karaoke/performance going on outside on the streets. This is fine with me since it added to the experience. After a quick shower, it was time for the massage! The massage technique was very good, especially with the additional use of hot stones, which I thought would burn me at first but actually felt quite nice – so nice that I fell into a nice slumber and woke up just in time to appreciate the neck and shoulder massage. The experience concluded with very good yogurt (coming from someone who is not a fan of yogurt) as well as some more tea. This was probably one of my favourite spa experiences to date and the total 2 hour session came to only ~$22 CAD before tips! I would highly recommend this if you come to HCMC!

Since I finally got my SIM card, I wanted to touch base with my cousin to plan a time to visit while I am here. To my surprise, he decided to come find me right away! I was more than flustered since he had problems hearing me on the phone, I wasn’t sure why he was asking where we are staying and I was not able to explain where we are since my pronunciation of Vietnamese street names and areas is, well, embarrassing. Remember how I was supposed to have 1200 minutes free? Well that didn’t happen, since my call was cut short and I was told I ran out of credits. I was not surprised at this point though. To give her some credit, maybe it wasn’t a scam and she meant to say 1200 VND (Vietnamese Dong)/minute instead of 1200 minutes? The good thing was incoming calls were free so my cousin was able to call me back. While waiting for him outside our place, I had a good conversation with my neighbour about the unfortunate events over the years that he had to face as a Vietnamese-Chinese. My cousin eventually found us with the help of our friendly Airbnb manager helping to give him directions. At this point, the bliss and relaxation that I have received from the massage has all dissipated. I was not ready to meet my family who I have never communicated with my whole life. I was still in a daze from the massage. I have not prepared all the gifts – only some pineapple cake from HK. I am not well-dressed or groomed since I just came back from the spa, and to top all that, we have almost no Vietnamese cash on hand. My cousin called a cab for us and the entire time, I was staring at the meter go up and up and wondering what I should do if I do not have enough VND to pay. Luckily, my cousin insisted in paying so I breathed a sign of relief. We spent the rest of the evening spending time with my relatives and FaceTiming with my family in Canada. They even ordered some fried noodles for us when they heard we didn’t have dinner yet and gave us a ride back on their motorbikes. It was exciting and scary at the same time.

Today definitely did not go the way we planned. It was full of disappointments and regrets. At the same time, we cannot expect life to always go smoothly and according to how we want it to. At the end of the day, I was able to finally meet my family here in Vietnam and enabled my family back home to have a FaceTime reunion with them after all these years, so this is definitely something to be extremely grateful for.

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