Honky Tonk Masquerade (Joe Ely)

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A country that is full of charm, in spite of its mind boggling traffic system that exists only in the minds of their citizens. Calm faced motorists left and right, front and back, press their horns like there’s no tomorrow and weave in and out of each others’ way with such fluidity that you somehow wish to see an accident happen to justify the craziness. I lost count of how many times our taxi faced head on traffic only for collisions to be averted by last minute swerves of the vehicles.

I have to hand it to the Vietnamese. They are true masters on the road.

We arrived at the quiet and impressive Tan Son Nhat Airport before being overwhelmed by the noise level the moment the exit doors opened. Thankfully our driver was already waiting and we were whisked away in his van to Tan My Dinh 2 Hotel, one of the latest additions to Ho Chi Minh’s list of hotels. A very welcoming modern hotel with friendly and helpful staff, located about 10 minutes walk from Ben Thanh Market. Needless to say, it became our favourite hangout throughout our stay when it came to shopping and food.

The things you can get at the market are aplenty although mainly catered for the female species. Jarrod and I had to make do with ‘manly’ purchases of hats with military insignia, watches and bags. Actually, the bag I bought was meant more for storing Fadelinah’s haul rather than my own. Things over there are dirt cheap, so I can’t really blame her. At times, barganing became ridiculous when it was only a matter of a dollar or two of our own currency. We got some stuff for Ooyah as usual which we found too cute to resist, like little ao dais and non la.

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Halal food it seems is a rarity in Ho Chi Minh. We had brought a list of 5 eateries that cater to Muslims and managed to only find 1, that too while we were lost looking for an entirely different restaurant. How disappointing it was to step into Bon Mua Four Seasons Halal restaurant to see that it was almost vacant and manned by staff who seemed rather uninterested in serving us. As if the heat in Ho Chi Minh wasn’t bad enough, the place’s furnace-like atmosphere made it more unbearable. We were out of there soon enough.

Our plan to visit most of the tourist spots in Ho Chi Minh proved futile due to our over-zealous shopping, our only stop was the War Remnants Museum; a showcase of artifacts and relics from the Vietnam War, including graphic images of atrocities dealt and torture instruments used by the Americans, French and Chinese on the Vietnamese. The ones that spooked me out are deformed babies preserved in formalin and a statue of a Vietnamese prisoner visible only through a peep hole as one walks through Con Dao Jail.

The highlight of our trip would be sampling the various versions of coffee places like Phuc Long CoffeeTrung Nguyen Coffee and Highlands Coffee had to offer. It was unanimous, Phuc Long’s is our favourite and we basically bought every one of their products to bring back to Singapore. Trung Nguyen’s was just too sweet and Highlands’ was too similar to Starbucks. And yes, we bought 4 bags full of the much sought-after Weasel Coffee beans. I don’t care if they were crapped out by weasels, the aroma of the roasted beans are heavenly. I can’t wait to put them through the grinder soon. And let’s not forget about those French baguettes, so crisp and flaky. Hhmmm …

On our last day in Ho Chi Minh, our remaining Dongs and US dollars were exchanged for great finds at both modern shopping centres and old school wholesaler outlets; the latter taking much of our time as Fadelinah and Geetha got themselves a few customised sandals. We ended the night by going for a hair and facial wash cum massage. The girls loved it though I couldn’t really say that I enjoyed the experience. It felt ticklish having long fingernails running all over my face.

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Travelling in Ho Chi Minh is actually quite cheap. Most of their taxi companies use meters, though a few bad apples rig theirs to escalate rapidly leading to triple the usual amount charged. Trips using Mai Linh taxis within District 1 usually cost around S$2 and S$9 to the airport. Crossing their roads is a highly unnerving affair, forget about traffic lights and zebra crossings, nobody adheres to them. The motorists will just go around you if you walk in a steady and constant speed. It took us a while to master the technique.

As with any holiday trips, there are bound to be some hiccups along the way. For this particular trip, quite a few especially after THAT meal at a restaurant highly-recommended by Lonely Planet. Never again will we trust any of their recommendations.

“Dear Mr Voodoo Waiter, please lift your curse so that we’ll be able to return to Ho Chi Minh soon. You’re in no way incompetent and we really think you’re good looking … in a Planet of The Apes kind of way.”

Seriously, we love Vietnam and can’t wait to return, especially since we’ve missed out on further exploration due to limited time. Plans are already under way for a longer trip covering Ho Chi Minh and other parts of Vietnam.

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~ by blackcadillac73 on March 27, 2008.

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