Monday, May 23, 2011

Day 1, Part 2 - Arrival in Ho Chi Minh City

The flight from Taipei to Ho Chi Minh City took about 3 hours. Even though I had a good amount of sleep on the last flight, I still dozed off on this flight. There's something about airplanes that makes me sleepy...

The flight was nowhere near booked and I managed to get the whole emergency exit row to myself. I usually like to take the aisle seat so I don't have to deal with leaping over other passengers to get to the bathroom, but this time, I took the window seat so I could actually look out the window and scope out the landscape. Flying Into HCMC, I saw murky brown or mossy green water wherever there were lakes, ponds, canals, and any other water sources. It just reminded me of all my friends' words of advice for this trip - "Don't drink the water"

It was nice to see the the land from the perspective above the clouds, and actually see the shape of the cloud casting a huge shadow over a huge chunk of the land. Being on the ground, you rarely, if ever, get to see when a cloud's shade starts and ends.

I also noticed that the airplane experienced turbulence every time it flew through the clouds. Maybe it was due to the change in temperature or density of the air? It's been a while since I've taken an earth science class...

Upon arrival at the airport, we passed through customs without too much trouble. The officials didn't ask us for a proof of return, probably since we were traveling as a family. My dad was a little nervous about coming back here. He was born in Vietnam and the last time he was here, he fled with one of his brothers to America (after one year in Malaysia) due to the Vietnam War. I'm sure it will be a culture shock for him, but hopefully he will recognize places and reconnect.

Hailing a taxi at the airport took forever. We were pretty cautious about choosing the right taxi since some of the travel guidebooks warned of sketchy taxi drivers who would work with certain hotels and "unknowingly" take you to the wrong hotel or convince you that the hotel you booked was dodgy or unsanitary and that you should book a room at their hotel... We finally found a "Venisun" taxi cab to District 1 in HCMC for about 6-7 USD.

My friends warned me about all the traffic in HCMC, but I finally got to witness the chaos of it all. Almost everyone drives a motorcycle or moped. The roads are filled with these vehicles, along with buses, taxis, and the occasional cyclo. There don't seem to be many road laws to follow as there are rarely any stoplights and people are driving from all directions. There are also a ton of turnarounds scattered throughout the city, which makes for even more interesting traffic action.

Being a pedestrian among all these drivers is stressful. I feel like they risk their lives numerous times a day just trying to cross the street as the motorcycles zoom past them from all directions. It's sort of exciting but also scary. The best thing to do is just walk slowly so that the drivers can dodge you. I suggest walking slowly, but also consistently so that you will remain predictable, and the drivers can avoid you.

My family had trouble all day with the currency conversion here. Due to extreme inflation over the years in the country, 1 USD equals roughly 20,000 Vietnamese Dong. Imagine buying something that was 1,000,000 Dong...It's actually just $50 USD... Except 1,000,000 Dong can buy you so much more than $50 USD worth of stuff since everything is so cheap here!

It is uber-humid here, but I expected it. There was no rain today, even though it's monsoon season. Hopefully there will be clear skies throughout my trip.

Walking around an open market, I noticed a man taking a break from the sweltering humidity underneath his business.

A collection of Vietnamese Beers in a supermarket - probably one of the safest things to drink here, and about 50 cents a can! Hooray!

Dinner - Bun Bo Hue - Hot and Spice Hue style noodle soup with sliced pork tenderloin, sliced beef brisket, and Vietnamese pork sausage, garnished with white onions, green onions, and cilantro. A decent bowl of noodles, although I thought the soup base was not seasoned enough. Instead of the usual bean sprouts and mint leaves that I'm used to being offered at restaurants in Westminster, CA, they brought out banana flowers, which served as an excellent garnish.

Dinner - Stuffed Snails with Meat - This dish was very good. It consisted of minced snail meat, mixed with mushrooms and pork. Sugar Cane was added so that the meat could be pulled out of the shell easily. The meat was soft but chewy, and blended well with the bitter taste of the mint leaves and the sweet/salty flavor of fish sauce.


  1. Wonderful. I miss Sai Gon!

    They finally have a couple of traffic lights, but it's difficult to enforce. Everyone takes naps, even those in corporate and pssh. I got my stomach ache when I came BACK from Vietnam and had American Fast food.

    Look up Golden Smile - Spa if you're looking for a good massage.

    And ride a mo-ped late at night. Probably one of the most amazing feelings in the world. Sit by the smelly river and have hotpot. Viet Nam love.

    And for 20 bucks, you can go clubbing with local celebrities, but the cops usually bust the parties looking for prostitutes and drug dealers.

    Pay attention to the youth. They make up a majority of the population - a lot of hope, progress and innocence. They are the ones to make everything better.

    And if you want to buy souvenirs - check out the Post Office, the prices are low without having to haggle. Seriously.

  2. thanks for the advice Chris. Enjoying every moment here in Vietnam right now.