What a lucky girl I am: as part of my husband’s birthday gift for me, he ‘kidnapped’ me to a secret destination – beginning in the early morning of August 17th (which happened to be the Indonesian Independence Day!) until evening of August 20th, just a day after my actual birthday which was on the 19th. It’s not until we arrived at the airport that my husband told me that we’re going to Ho Chi Minh City! We’ve never been to Viet Nam so it was fun and interesting! Very economical too – even as we’re treating ourselves into the lap of luxury for this special occasion.
The flight was smooth and short (only 2 hours from Hong Kong). The apparently new airport was pleasant and bright. The weather in Ho Chi Minh City turned out to be slightly nicer than Hong Kong. While it was hot, it was quite breezy and wasn’t so humid. The weather forecast predicted a rain storm in the afternoon – but there was no sign of it!
Here we are sitting like a royal couple in the hotel’s limousine, picking us up from the airport. Such a rare luxury! After checking in to our hotel, the Park Hyatt Saigon – a real treat – we then had lunch in a very local, small restaurant not too far from the hotel which turned out to specialize in shark fins and bird nests that we don’t eat. We had an okay crabmeat soup with corn and asparagus and quite a tasty fried noodle with seafood. I also had a lotus seed drink which was nice. We’re surprised at how cheap our lunch was!
It begins… Day 1
After lunch, we explored our surrounding a bit. I love the old colonial buildings in the Ho Chi Minh City. I found this one to be particularly charming.
Day 1.1 [Left Page]
We browsed some silk shops and found one that we liked. We have a traditional Vietnamese Ao Dai made for me to wear on my birthday! It’s all silk and unbelievably cheap! It would be ready the next day too! Then we decided to enjoy ‘the lap of luxury’ that is our hotel:
Day 1.1 [Right Page]
Dinner was at the famous Temple Club Restaurant – it actually reminded me of the Batavia Café in Jakarta a bit. We had a nice dinner but I didn’t take any photos of the food as we wanted to focus on the moment and just enjoying it all. We did take a couple of pics afterward though! Through it all I wasn’t aware at all about a (failed) surprise that’s supposed to greet me there!
Day 1.2 [Left Page]
The delayed surprise finally happened later when we’re back in our hotel. My husband has ‘shipped’ a dear friend of mine that I met during an Artist Residency in Vermont last year who lives in Ha Noi to Viet Nam for my birthday!!! How so very thoughtful and sweet of him! So my friend Thu arrived very late because her flight was badly delayed. We had a blast catching up and she had her late meal in our room.
Day 1.2 [Right Page]
The next day we explored the city together. If it wasn’t for the extreme heat, we could sometimes told ourselves that we were in Paris! Look at the buildings! My husband had to borrow my Muji hat to protect his sun-sensitive head and I think he looked adorable in it and the color happened to match his outfit perfectly too!
Day 2.1 [Left Page]
Day 2.2 [Right Page]
This is the Ben Thanh Market, housed in one of the surviving oldest colonial buildings in the Ho Chi Minh City. It was so hot even inside – it took us a while to sort of get used to it. Most of the handicraft items there looked familiar to me, a cross between Indonesian and Chinese. But we did get something that I have never seen somewhere else before: a nice salad bowl made out of bamboo and it was quite cheap too. I also bought some ‘oleh-oleh’ for my folks. ‘Oleh-oleh’ is gifts you hand to people when you’re back from traveling, usually something typical of the place you visited. I’m most happy with my purchase of some spicy ‘juhi’ there! ‘Juhi’ (pronounced joo-hee) is my favoritest snack ever; it’s a dried, rolled then grilled cuttlefish. Very yummy!
Day 2.3 [Left Page]
We had lunch in one of the food stalls in the market. It was yummy and very cheap!
Day 2.3 [Right Page]
After dropping our shopping bags off at our hotel room, we continued on exploring the city. It reminded me a lot of the old Jakarta of my childhood. So, oddly, I felt somewhat nostalgic which was quite interesting. We sought to visit the Viet Nam Art Museum – which was not far from the Ben Thanh Market we visited earlier that day. It was such an impressive and charming old mansion.
Day 2.4 [Left Page]
We’re not allowed to take photos of the displayed artwork but it was fine to take photos of the surrounding. We loved the open area surrounding the court yard. It was such a grand mansion! We later found out that it used to be an apartment building, each floor was occupied by a number of different members of what looked like a big, affluent Vietnamese family.
Day 2.4 [Right Page]
Day 2.5 [Left Page]
From there we browsed some shops and got some more inexpensive silk things for the girls and myself. Thu got herself a very pretty pair of earrings. Then we dropped by the Silk Diva to get my Ao Dai. It was ready but needed some adjustments. I noticed that the craftsmanship is not so good, but I guess I get what I (my husband, to be exact) pay for since it’s unbelievably cheap. From a distance, you can’t really tell though and I really love the style: the combination of flowing tunic and flare pants makes the Ao Dai elegant and feminine without sacrificing freedom of movement and comfort. And it was entirely made with silk! Oh!
Here are some silly pics of me during the fitting which Thu has snapped with her camera:
Day 2.5 [Right Page]
As Thu was leaving for Ha Noi that evening, we had dinner early. She’s been telling us about a specialty of Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City) called Banh Xeo. She have had some in Ha Noi but the best of Banh Xeo is to be had in Saigon. So we got her to ask the hotel concierge about the best Banh Xeo restaurant in town and we promptly went there! It was a curious dish, like a folded pizza eaten wrapped in various choices of leaves. We noticed how Vietnamese love to wrap everything in a leaf for their food! There were so many choices of Banh Xeo and we settled on a traditional seafood and a ‘fusion’ seaweed ones. It was quite tasty but our favorite was the toasted rice cake with prawns and veggies. The skin was crispy and the inside is melting soft and hot. Very yummy!
Day 2.6 [Left Page]
Day 2.6 [Right Page]
After dinner, we said goodbye to Thu who went straight to the airport back to Ha Noi that night. We took a cab back to our hotel but decided to be dropped a bit way off and strolled a bit before finally sat down to have some drink in a charming outdoor bar called Q, by the Opera House. So Paris-like! Again, the pricing was very wallet-friendly! So ended our first two days in Ho Chi Minh City!