Tales from Saigon Pt. 2

I hear the sound of the telephone ringing in my sleep. Must’ve been the reception giving us our requested morning call. Ate overnight subs from Subway; Mind you the Subway here is so bad compared to the ones back home. Perhaps we Malaysians are really spoiled with the choice and flavour in our homeland. Most of the food here tasted too bland for my liking. That’s not to say it’s all bad, we found some good food today (details below).

Boarded the tour bus. We’re going to tour the Mekong river delta, approx. two and a half hours away from the city centre. Pha (the tour guide) was a very affable and gregarious character. Always cracking jokes at every chance he gets. He asked us to call him Phar-away (Pronounced: Far away) which was quite amusing. He spoke with a very thick Vietnamese accent but his English was quite proficient. I had no trouble understanding everything he said.

9.30AM (or so)
We arrived at the Mekong harbour and climbed aboard one of the motorised tour boats. The Mekong river is one of the longest and largest rivers in Asia, originating from the Himalayas in Tibet and snaking through the lust greenery of Myanmar, Thailand, Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam. Faraway said that the Viets nicknamed the river as the River of 9 Dragons as the dragon is a sign of nobility and royalty in historic Vietnam and the river branches out into nine smaller “dragons”

Throughout the very interesting tour, we got to see merchants going out their daily routines on the floating markets. We patronised one of the fruit boats filled with durian, coconuts, jackfruit, rambutan, etc. After snapping a few pictures at the very novel shop, we left it for our next destination munching on sweet local fruits and sipping on fresh coconut water. Our next stop was a local factory of sorts producing rice puff crackers and delicious coconut candy akin to a tougher version of dodol. There was also a bee farm and we sampled tea with the honey and pollen they produce. ONE INTERESTING BIT WAS WHEN I TRIED THE SNAKE WINE. Snake wine has a very intimidating appearance, what with a bunch of coiled snaked soaked in an intense alcohol for God knows how long, some even include a little black scorpion. Talk about freaky eh? It tasted rather nice, when a very strong note of ginseng and was smooth when taken as shots.

Lunch was a mellow affair with a simple rice dish with grilled pork. Nothing spectacular and quite tasteless. The family and I then relaxed for about an hour or so in the hammock area. The hammocks were shaded under tall banana trees. It occurred to me that the life in countryside Vietnam is so laid back and slow paced, that every other store we saw along the road was a coffee shop cum hammock spot. Lepak culture is even more prominent here than back home. The last thing we did on the Mekong Delta tour was sitting in a sampan (gondola) manned, or shall I say, wommaned by ladies wearing long traditional gowns. The boat ride took around half an hour as we snaked through a small canal flanked with small wooden houses. I wondered how the locals handled the mosquito situation here.

Arrived back in Ho Chi Minh City and scoured the streets for some food. We ended up having a meal at this 24Pho restaurant. They told us it was actually a franchised outlet and that there are a few other branches throughout Saigon. The food was surprisingly good and much much tastier than the ones we had in Ben Tanh Market yesterday.

Shopping at Saigon Square. Basically a warehouse wholesale complex with lots of imitation goods. At first I was rather irritated by how rude the people there are. The lack of manners was evident as the Vietnamese folk pushed here and there to get past me without so much of an acknowledgment. Not to mention the environment there was not considered conducive to shop for me. (Please disregard this, I am not a shopper). But in the end I conceded and bought a few things, including a very beautiful travel duffel bag that cost (a discounted price of) 700k VND (approx RM130).

Stopped by a Highlands Coffee outlet for a drink and sandwich. Was recommended to try the banh mi that Highlands serves. Much to our surprise, the food and drinks at the rather upscale looking cafe was very cheap. A decent sandwich+coffee pairing was not even RM9. Walked back to the hotel and noted down the familiar eateries around, e.g. McD, Texas Chicken, Starbucks etc.

Author: Bryan Yap

Food enthusiast, amateur photographer & aspiring revolutionary

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