Friday, September 7, 2018

Cycling Cambodia & Vietnam 2018 D10-11: Cycling In Ho Chi Minh - Of Nuts & Postcards

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Cycling Cambodia & Vietnam 2018 Day 10-11: Cycling Ho Chi Minh - Of Nuts & Postcards
Cambodia & Vietnam Tour
Day 10 & 11: Thursday & Friday, 19th & 20th July 2018 - Ho Chi Minh
This is part of our cycling tour from Phnom Penh (ភ្នំពេញ) in Cambodia to Ho Chi Minh & the Mekong Delta (VietnameseĐồng bằng Sông Cửu Long, "Nine Dragon River Delta") in Vietnam:-
Walk-around Ho Chí Minh:
Total Distance: Not applicable as walking.     |     Level: Easy
Cycling Distance: N.A.
Time : 8:15Am to 3:30pm
Time Taken : 7hrs 15mins (including breakfast, lunch, tea, visits to places of interest, and photo opps).

This is page 10 of a 10-page blog, Click Here To Go To Title Page.
Go to D9 Ho Chi Minh 2      |      Go to Other Days            |          Go to Air Travel >

Route Recommendations :
1. Traffic Directions!
    Vietnam's traffic is left-hand drive, so cycle on the right. Same thing applies when crossing the road, be careful and take note of the direction in which traffic is approaching from! Also do watch our for motor-cyclists who ride contra-traffic.

2. Route & Traffic Conditions  
    Generally the roads were fairly flat, climbs were mainly up and down bridges.
    At the major towns traffic is super-heavy with many motor-cycles. For the uninitiated, crossing junctions can be a nightmare with vehicles coming in from all sides. Rule of thumb is: JUST GO WITH THE FLOW! Move along with the traffic at an easy pace, giving way to other traffic when need be, AND avoid making any sudden swerving. At the rural areas traffic is very much lighter.
    We had two vans ferry us (together with our packed bikes and luggage) up from our hotel to the Saigon Airport (Tan Son Nhat International Airport) at 180k dongs (about RM32) per van.

3. Navigation
    Unless he or she is very familiar with the locals routes, the tour leader should carry a GPS units. It will also be good if another member of the team carry another GPS unit should the leader's one go faulty. Sin together with Robert brought these along and had pre-loaded the Vietnam Maps together with GPS coordinates of our destinations, and tracks between our destinations.
    Alternatively, download the MAPS.ME app together with the relevant country maps. This app can be used offline.  
    We also used Google Maps in Walking Mode for navigation but there is a lag when starting off, so one would have to cycle a bit to get the orientation right. We used this for cycling in and around Phnom Penh and also as a alternative to our GPS units in Vietnam, as Google Maps have more up-to-date roads. Do note that what are shown as roads on the map may turn out to be rough gravel roads or wet, muddy tracks.

4. Weather
At Ho Chi Minh (Hồ Chí Minh) day temperatures averaged 30°C, with morning and evening temperatures averaged 27°C. There were a some short spells of shower.
A useful weather forecast sites is AccuWeather. For more detailed weather, including cloud cover and wind speed, use Weatherspark and Ventusky.

5. Places of Interest
Backpackers Street (Phạm Ngũ Lão(GPS: 10.76876, 106.69351).
Thai Binh Market (Chợ Thái Bình) (GPS: 10.76671, 106.68888).
Ho Chi Minh City Hall (Thành Phố Hồ Chí Minh) (GPS :10.77656, 106.70097).
- Ben Thanh Market (Chợ Bến Thành) (GPS: 10.77191, 106.69834).

6. Food
Day 10:
1. Breakfast: Street food at Thai Binh Market (Chợ Thái Bình(GPS: 10.76671, 106.68888).
2. Lunch: Contemporary fusion Vietnamese food at Ong Tam (Ông Tám) (GPS: 10.77741, 106.69867).
3. Afternoon Tea: Asian iced and hot desserts at Chè Viêt in Asiana Food Town (GPS: 10.76945, 106.6937).
4. Dinner: Phở bò at Pho Quynh (GPS: 10.76746, 106.69062).
Day 11:
1. Breakfast: Street food and Cà phê sữa đá at Asian Kitchen (GPS: 10.76771, 106.69256).
2. Lunch: Wagyu beef Phở bò at Big Bowl (GPS: 10.81593, 106.66416) in Saigon Airport (Tan Son Nhat International Airport).

7. Accommodations
 At Ho Chi Minh, we stayed at CK Saigon Central Hotel (GPS: 10.76774, 106.69248), two 3-pax room at USD19 dongs per room per night:
Address: 241/8, Phường Phạm Ngũ Lão, Quận 1, Hồ Chí Minh 700000, Vietnam.
Phone: +84 28 3920 5430

8. Communicating with Each Other
    When travelling in a group it's important to be able to communicate with each other, especially if one got lost from the rest.
    We were offered 4G prepaid sim cards for USD5/= each at the Cambodia-Vietnam immigration crossing at Bavet/Moc Bai; but we declined as we were uncertain of the reliability of the walk-by vendor. At Ho Chi Minh, they are many shops selling 3G & 4G sim cards; but to ensure reliability we got our hotel operator to buy 3G Vietnamobile sim cards for us, there was no need to set up the phone to operate this sim card, it was automatic. The sim card cost 60k dongs (about USD2-60, MYR 10-70) for a validity of two weeks with 2 Gigs of data per day.

9. Communicating with Locals
    The official language in Vietnam it is Vietnamese (Tiếng Việt). Their words are not pronounced the way they are written, click on the Vietnamese words within these blogs for their correct vocal pronunciations.
   Most locals do not speak English. Hotels receptionist do speak some rudimentary English. The staff at Tourists information counters do speak pretty good English. Google Translate is a good app to use for basic conversation with the locals, it also have an audio feature to play the respective words/phrases. In this blog, click on the Vietnamese words for their pronunciations.

10. Curency
In Vietnam, the currency used is the Dong (VND, Vietnamese: đồng). At tourist spots in the larger cities, there is a notoriety of tourists being fleeced, so do be careful. We were fortunate that our tour took us to the smaller towns where the locals were warm, helpful and honest. We were fleeced only once while in Ho Chi Minh (read about that further down).
     
11. Service Your Bicycles & Carry Tools and Spares
    Before leaving on your tour, it will be good to service your bike and bring along some spares like tubes, puncture patches, brake pads and the relevant tools. As many of the roads we muddy or dusty tracks, lubricant oil will come in handy; we also brought along a couple of spare tires.
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PRELUDE

day earlier we had arrived at Ho Chi Minh by bus from My Tho after a morning's fruitful exploration of the smaller town.
Today we went nuts over nuts and also sent some old postcards..... but actually we did much more than that, very much more!
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WALK ABOUT HO CHI MINH
This is a walking tour of some of the places of interest in Ho Chi Minh including a couple of markets and some historical buildings.

Walkng out from our hotel, we saw this Brompton cyclist. Being Brompton owners ourselves we were naturally happy to see a fellow cyclist, I tried to talk to him but he was guarded and did not reply much. Can't blame him though, with my tan pan-Asian look, he probably thought I was a local and he was playing it safe - one shouldn't simply speak to strangers. Pity, we did not have our bikes with us.

Breakfast time at the Thai Binh Market; just about 500 metres from our hotel. The lady in blue on the far right is a local named Angel, a helpful angel who speaks fairly good English and helped us with our food orders to make sure the vendors got it right. Many thanks Angel!

We had this Bun Rieu (Bún Riêu), a spicy noodle that came with roasted pork, fish cake and coagulated pig's blood. It's almost similar to Bun bo Hue (Bún bò Huế) but is cooked with pork instead of beef. It's tasty and the roasted pork was tastily tender. Some of my buddies had Bun thịt nuong (Bún thịt nướng), a dry version with grilled pork too.

For side dishes we had Vietnamese Prawn Fritters (bánh khọt) and also Vietnamese pancake (Bánh xèo). We had had prawn fritters the day before at a slightly up-market restaurant but street food at the markets taste much better among the clatter and cooking aroma of the market.

An interesting dish was this Custard Cream Caramel With Iced Coffee (Cà phê kem flan) served with good, flavourful Vietnamese coffee.

We like the local markets and always make it a point to visit them - the cacophony of the locals and peddlers bargaining a purchase, the sight and aroma of the cooking just gets to us. This uncle was slowly doing his Sugar Cane Grilled Pork Skewera (Mía heo nướng xiên), the wafting smell tempting patrons to stop and buy.

At the wet, fresh food section, fishes were symmetrically laid out in bamboo rattan.....

... a vendor slowly trudging along with a folded timber board table full of wares, looking for a suitable spot to open up the table.

The girls drifted to the clothes section, looking for some nice blouses...

... while one of the cute vendors requested to pose a photo with me.... hahaha... this AhPek old man this have the suave.

9:00am - We left the market and started heading for Old French Quarters of Ho Chin Minh; half way there a bright orange building with dark red outlines stopped us in our tracks! It was a Indian temple called the Subramaniam Swamy Indian Temple. We were just so surprised to see such a temple in this predominantly Buddhist city. As of 2011, there were about 2,000 people of Indian origin settled in Vietnam, mainly in SaigonThe Cham people (remnants of the Champa Kingdom) of central Vietnam share a long history with India.

Inside, there were several altars dedicated to Indian gods and deities; there were only a few people inside and we did not see any Indians.

En route, we decided to give the market a pass, we will come to it on the way back as we would be doing a fair bit of shopping, no point carrying heavy stuff while we visited some of the other places. Near the Independence Palace, we saw this pretty Vietnamese lass carrying fresh coconuts on a tote stick. She asked us if we would like some coconuts; intrigued by her unique way of vending we happily got some. We even took turns to posed photos of ourselves carrying her wares.
It was only after we left that we realized that we had been charged 50k dongs (about RM10) per coconut, which is three times more than the price back home. Hah! We had been charmed by her bubbly approach and had been truly & happily fleeced! But fortunately it was not something exorbitant.

The girls at the Ho Chi Minh City Hall
Also known as the Saigon City Hall or Hôtel de Ville de Saïgon, it was built in 1902-1908 in a French colonial style for the then city of Saigon. It was renamed after 1975 as Ho Chi Minh City People's Committee. The building was the former Hôtel de Ville de Saïgon. 

While at the park opposite the City Hall, Sin was happily doing a dap pose with several Vietnamese Children. It was their unique salute to Uncle Ho (as Ho Chi Minh is affectionately referred to by his countrymen).

Nearby is the Saigon Opera HouseBuilt in 1897 by French architect Eugène Ferret as the Opėra de Saigon, the 800 seat building was used as the home of the Lower House assembly of South Vietnam after 1956. It was not until 1975 that it was again used as a theatre, and restored in 1995. Its architectural style is influenced by the flamboyant style of the French Third Republic, with the facade shaped like the Petit Palais which was built in the same year in France.

We spent more time at the Notre Dame Cathedral of Saigon, admiring it's unique red architecture. Established by French colonists who initially named it Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Saïgon, the cathedral was constructed between 1863 and 1880. It has two bell towers, reaching a height of 58 meters (190 feet). All building materials were imported from France. The outside wall of the cathedral was built with bricks from Toulouse. As the contractor did not use coated concrete, these bricks have retained their bright red color until today.

In 1959, Bishop Joseph Pham Van Thien ordered a statue of the Virgin Mary made with granite in Rome and installed at the front courtyard, thus the cathedral was from then on called Notre-Dame CathedralDuring October 2005, the statue was reported to have shed tears from the right cheek, attracting thousands of people and forcing authorities to stop traffic around the Cathedral.

Nearby is a wall with etched photos of the cathedral from its early days.

Close up of a sephia photo of the cathedral, probably from the early twentieth centruy.

Our next destination was the Saigon Central Post Office
The building was constructed when Vietnam was part of French Indochina in the late 19th century an has with GothicRenaissance and French influences.

Inside are two painted maps that were created just after the post office was built, the first one located on the left side of the building is a map of Southern Vietnam and Cambodia titled Lignes telegraphiques du Sud Vietnam et Cambodge 1892 which translates to "Telegraphic lines of Southern Vietnam and Cambodia 1892". The second map of greater Saigon is titled Saigon et ses environs 1892 that translates as "Saigon and its surroundings 1892".

The counter at the centre should interests philatelist as it sells old Vietnamese stamps. On sale too are many postcards with designs of old Vietnam and it's people. The above shows a tribal woman with an unique hat.

Me? I got a couple of linen postcards featuring colourful Hmong tribal people to send back to my darling back home. This shows the front of one of the post card; I won't show the back which contains the sweet nothings that this old love boy had written. It's private.... heh... heh!

The girls doing happy butterfly jumps at the front.

It was not only the old buildings that attracted us, I kind of like this one too, with it's french windows and clam shell awnings seen at Hotel Continental Saigon.

12:15pm - Tummies are calling out again and for lunch we stopped at Mr. Ong's (Ông Tám) which served contemporary Vietnamese food like this rice vermicelli noodles (bún gạo) served with grilled pork sausage (Nem Nướng). They seemed to be wrapped in some kind of leaf, but I could not make them out.

And also one of the better Bánh mì around with very crispy skin filled with delicious pork slices and greens.

Just opposite the market is a small park called Quach Thi Trang Square, within is a bust of Quách Thị TrangDuring the protests against the anti-Buddhist policies of the Ngô Đình Diệm administration gathered pace in 1963, Diên Hồng Square became a popular venue for dissent. Events took a turn for the worse on 25 August 1963, when 15-year-old Quách Thị Trang was shot dead by police while taking part in a student demonstration there.

We are back at Ben Thanh Market, now for some serious shopping!
This is a large marketplace in central Hồ Chí Minh City. The market is one of the earliest surviving structures in Saigon and is an important symbol of the city. The market was developed from informal markets created by early 17th century street vendors grouping together near the Saigon River, and was formally established by the French colonial powers after taking over the Gia Định Citadel (Citadel of Saigonin 1859 . It was destroyed by fire in 1870 and rebuilt to become Saigon's largest market. In 1912 the market was moved to a new building and called the New Bến Thành Market to distinguish over its predecessor. The building was renovated in 1985.
Outside it looked like a quite, formal government building.....

..... but inside it was a hive of activity, with many shops selling local handicrafts, textiles, áo dài and souvenirs, as well as local cuisine. Many tourists throng to this market to find whatever they are looking for to take back home.... and THAT INCLUDED US!
First we bought some of those Vietnamese sleeping bags liners; these were more expensive than the ones I got at Hoi An's night market, but they were definitely thicker and of better quality. My buddies also got some colourful cloth wallets/bags as souvenirs for their loved ones.

Next was an important task for me, to buy ten kilos of the famed Vietnamese cashew nuts for my wifey back home. She have given explicit instructions to get the bigger and unbroken nuts; so off we went hunting around the market, one must not disappoint one's better half so as to be able to go for more cycling tours.... yah?
I sent back this photo of me pointing at a bag of cashew nuts, asking "Sure you want me to buy four kilos, looks like a lot. It will kill my back carrying that!" Actually I was pulling a fast one, that bag was ten kilos😅. Still almost half of that is a heavy load to carry.
We managed to find a stall operated by two friendly sisters who gave us a good bargain and vacuum packed them into smaller packs of 500gms each in zip-lock bags.
Note: these shops give a better deal than those fixed prices items sold by the Government controlled stalls.

3:00pm - It was back to Backpackers Street for the task of shifting hotel. We had to move  from Saigon 237 Hotel to another of their associate hotel. They have a large group coming in who will need the whole hotel. We will have to make way for this large group, despite us having confirmed our bookings for two nights and paying a deposit days earlier when we left.
Well, this type of things do happen in Vietnam.... sigh! Fortunately the other hotel, CK Saigon Central Hotel, was just down a side lane. We rewarded ourselves to some refreshing iced and hot desserts at Chè Viêt in Asiana Food Town. The one above had cincau, lotus seed, boiled taro chunks.

A few hours it was foodie time again (yes, yes, we did eat a fair bit while in Vietnam). This time its dinner at Pho Quynh, located just round the corner from our hotel. They are reputed to serve the best Phở bò in Ho Chi Minh and rightfully so as their soup was tasty and served with the freshest beef together with some beef balls.

And this shop served theirs with hot chilli oil and semi-pickled garlic. I love those garlic, still crunchy hard but with less pungency due to the pickling ...I whacked a fair bit and I will worry about my garlic breathe later.

We managed to meet up with Jin, a Malaysian friend, who just flew in with his wife for a quick business trip in the city. Cheers Jin!
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Good morning Vietnam! That's the view of the side lane on which our hotel is located, a cosy and typical lane in Ho Chi Minh. While the rest of the gang went off to the markets again, I stayed in with an upset tummy. Our too much eating had finally caught up with me!

The hotel arranged for a couple of vans to send us up to Saigon Airport. We checked in our stuff and adjourned to the Big Bowl Restaurant for a big bowl of Wagyu Beef Pho.
Eat again? Yup, I will suffer the consequence later, hahaha...

And it's:
GOODBYE VIETNAM!
WE HOPE TO BE BACK AGAIN SOON!

TẠM BIỆT VIỆT NAM!

(For more photos of Day 10Click Here)
(For more photos of Day 11Click Here)
This is page 10 of a 10-page blog, Click Here To Go To Title Page.
Go to D9 Ho Chin Minh 2    |    Go to Other Days            |          Go to Air Travel >

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