2015 Ho Chi Minh City Grad Trip: Day 1 Cheated, Interaction and Heaven

After probably a pretty short flight we have finally arrived in the land of Saigon, a place that could be said was once was ravaged by war, causing thousands of casualty and also many suffering, perhaps it could also be said as the place full of heritage French Cultures. It was ages ago when Saigon or now known as Ho Chi Minh City used to be a French colony, although years have come and gone, there is still a scent of French that you can see from their daily lives and architecture. For example, one of their famous meals locally, the baguette, which is one of their street food, it can be said as a fusion where the east meets the west. They use freshly baked bread and the ingredients contain some meat and vegetables, it is usually very cheap, sold in the carts push around on the streets by locals usually around 10,000 to 20,000 Dong which is around 0.60 to 1.20 SGD. Alright, back to my revisit of the day, clearing customs at the airport was probably the longest crap ever and it definitely shows the efficiency of their government if they want to improve in the Hospitality sector. Although there were different queues for groups like the Locals and ASEAN passport holders, despite us being ASEAN members it didn’t really helped much, probably aided by some westerns in my queue also, it is quite obvious right? Often when I am clearing the custom overseas, I try to be as polite as I can, with thank you and good morning but their face still sucks. This is probably one of the time where I am really glad to be a Singaporean, I have never ever had to wait more than 5 mins to clear the customs, probably why we do not even have priority queue for Biz Class passenger in Changi Airport.

Yea, this is the part where we sort of get cheated, first of all, my friend Joel wanted to get a phone card, which he says that he can’t survive without internet access. We got quoted for 300,000 Dong which I think is awfully expensive since we are only going to be here for 6 days. Although I have to say that internet access to us now is embedded in our daily lives,  moreover it is extremely useful when abroad, you could get the map to guide you, tweet and use Instagram……It was a joke man, right after he paid 300,000 dong and the person changing the SIM Card for him, I found another stall selling probably about 30% cheaper J. Next, right after we exit the restricted area in the airport, there was a counter displaying a Taxi Sign, I thought that was some official counter where you pay for the taxi ride. I show them my hotel booking and they quote me the price, after paying for it we were escorted out and there was this driver waiting for us, sensing that we probably gotten “cheated” there is nothing we could do. On my Departure, we actually save about 100,000 by opting for a similar car but just a taxi on the street.  Despite the car being old it was actually comfortable and big enough for our baggage and zooming through the heaps of crazy traffic, 90% motorbikes, we were at Saigon Paragon Hotel our home for the trip.IMG_1453
Similar to the name the hotel was quite grand as the Paragon in Singapore, we were greeted by the smiles of polite and humbled Vietnamese staff, first by the bell boy who carried our baggage and then the pretty receptionist. It was my first interaction with the locals and they appear to me as very polite and full of courtesy, if you do not know you might regard them as super lacking of confidence. As we arrived way early of the check in time, they told us to get a seat in their lobby and serve us a welcome drink which was some lemongrass juice I guess while I hand over my credit card to them for the deposit. About 10 mins or so my room was ready. After washing up, it’s time to fill our stomach, we were full of aspiration to try out some “authentic” Vietnamese food, but the situation and hygiene of their streets really deters us a lot. We settle on a restaurant recommended by CitiPrestige Concierge, Nha Hong Ngon a well known restaurant which is set in a renovated opium factory, full of colonial style and French scent. This place is famous for its dessert also although a hint of hard to find, partially because it’s my first time here also. After walking for quite some time (walking in the wrong direction for 15 mins) we finally reached the place, the atmosphere was nice and prices are averagely around 10 SGD per dishes. The Highlight for us was this awfully good grilled chicken, that really, it’s making me drool now also. Although looks like Satay right? But it’s really good and it cost about 2.40SGD each so really worth it.
 
Some of our lesson first lessons in Vietnam includes learning how to cross the streets, holy crap I am serious that the traffic is that mad over there, before you can count from 1 – 5 you will definitely hear a horn sound over there and none of the cars give a damn to red lights actually, but amazingly there are no accidents in Vietnam there just managed to miss each other and travel at their constant speed. After some tries we definitely know that the trick here is to have the balls man, I mean the guts, just cross the road with confidence and you will be fine, although you might get some horn but nothing more. At the end of the trip we were certified crossers. Some of the places we visited today includes the super yellow Post Office we also glance through the famous Cathedral.
The post office was full of shops selling local stuff such as souvenirs and also the famed Vietnam coffee, frankly if you want to get the barrel coffee, this is the only place to get! and it is hefty too. Most of the people here are tourists with lots of westerners, HAHA due to language barriers westerns are a good bet for us to have our group shot taken.  Despite serving more as a place to see stuff, this building remain a working post office and I really love this old style phone booth they had inside the building with clock showing different time zone, at first I thought that it was just a normal phone booth but some of them inside are actually ATM Machine, says about blocking when keying your Password!!!
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With the heat bearing down on us, we decide to head to this Shopping center called Vincom, we went to Highlands Coffee, enjoying some aircon and also trying out some Vietnamese Coffee. The Coffee here was powerful, like really strong and thick, it definitely makes us awake. This was a great day, having a good chat with friends, enjoying our lives and disregarding the time.
  
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We went to the supermarket to grab some stuff for our stay and actually I find that supermarket is a good place to buy souvenirs back actually cheap and really unique stuff. Hey come on, the BEER are going for like 50 CENTS SGD, it will be some great night at the hotel. Something really special and funny happen before we could enter the supermarket, really I bet that most of us have not heard of it in our entire lives, we were ask to go to this counter where they will secure our bags before going into the supermarket. This appears to be the norm throughout my stay in HCMC, sometimes they paste a long strip of scotch tape over our bag and this time they use a cable tie to lock the zips. Super funny man.  Durian Cappuccino? Wonder how does it taste?
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Now, the heaven part. Opposite our hotel there was like this message shop, me and Joel were interested. I am quite skeptically after reading about many scams that happens in such establishment so we went back to the hotel to put down our things first. To play safe, I brought exactly the amount down only and I went totally safe mode on, no watches, no phone and I went down wearing slippers. We opt for the 90 mins full body message and it only cost 27 SGD, talk about that in Singapore. This was the best from this trip. They served us hot tea before we were brought us to the second level, the place was dark and music was played, it contain several beds along the wall and a curtain separating the bed, guys and girls share the same room but it was dark that you really feel like you are alone. We changed out of our clothes and lie down. They start by some messaging which begins from top to bottom and front to back. For the Full body message, it includes cucumber on the face, say about that, refreshing cold slices on your face. Lives were perfect before I end of today with a dinner at The Refinery, which I will cover in a separate post, Stay Tuned !
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