Back in chaotic Saigon...

I never thought that I would be in Vietnam again, after less than a year in that country. My previous trip to Vietnam in December 2008 had brought me to some of the more famous places - Ho Chi Minh City, Hanoi, Halong Bay and Sapa. All the cities were different in their own ways, but one thing remained the same - the food was amazing.

So, when the opportunity arose in August 2009 to be in Ho Chi Minh City again, or better known as Saigon by the locals, I looked forward to the food there. The crowd - not so much. You see, Saigon is huge and chaotic. It is loud with lots of motorcycles buzzing by. There are markets and sidewalks cafe where you can literally smell the traffic. But all this gave Saigon an electrifying energy that I have not found elsewhere.

Vietnamese food

We did not eat as much as our previous trip, but enough to satisfy us and remind us of all the great food in Vietnam, and Saigon in particular. Here are some of the food that we had.

This is one of the must have food in Vietname - grilled pork with broken rice. The rice are smaller than the normal rice you normally have, and hence the name "broken". The texture is different, softer, maybe. I have not found broken rice in Vietnamese restaurants in Singapore.

We had banh can which was mini-cupcakes (or maybe it was like pancakes) made of rice flour, coconut milk and turmeric and topped with shrimp and green onion. The shop was a little out of the way at Nguyen Ainh Chinh Street, but the food was good and different from what we had before.

There was an amazing road side food stall near the General Post Office (GPO) and the Notre Dame Cathedral. We went there on our first visit to the city, and had been missing it ever since! They served grilled pork ribs, chicken wings, chicken noodles and many others. Ordering food was a challenge as they did not speak English, but they did have two menus - one in Vietnamese and another in English. So, when we decided on the food we wanted, we matched the position to the Vietnamese menu and pointed to order!

On another day, we had dinner at this posh restaurant called Com Nieu Sai Gon at Ho Xuan Huong Street in District 3. While the price was higher than your typical Vietnamese restaurant, the variety and quality of food, as well as the atmosphere of the restaurant more than made up for it. They served this claypot crispy rice where they broke the claypot right in front of you, with the claypot being thrown from one end of the restaurant to another end.

Never missed having Vietnamese Coffee when you're in Vietnam! We had this in a Trung Nguyen cafe which is ubiquitous in the city (and probably around the country). For a detailed instruction on how to make that cup of Vietnamese coffee, check out their website here.

There are also many shops selling ice cream around the city, like Kem Bach Dang. There are usually many flavours in the menu, ranging from the typical flavours like chocolate and strawberry, to the uniquely Asian flavours like coconut, taro and durian. I simply loved the one that came with a coconut, and filled with coconut ice-cream topped with strawberries, longan and other fruits.

Sights and Sounds of Saigon

As this was our second trip to the city, we started visiting more of the not so typically tourists spots around the town.  We went to the Jade Emperor Pagoda which was a temple built by the Cantonese community. The temple was small, and looked like a typical Chinese temple that may find in Malaysia. Unfortunately, we weren't too impressed with the temple and it was a little far off from the city to warrant another visit.

We couldn't help but snap a few photos of the Notre Dame Cathedral when we walked past by the area. We wanted to go inside the cathedral but it was unfortunately closed by the time we got there. In front of the cathedral was a statue of the Virgin Mary. The small little park around the statue was a popular hanging out spot for the locals at night.

We decided to visit the History Museum, one of the many museums in the city. The exhibition was based on a chronological order with selections of sculptures, ceramics, cannons, photographs, coins, costumes and many others. The museum was not air-conditioned for the most parts, and the presentation was not world-class (I was not sure if the artifacts would actually last long in the museum!) but it did provide a detailed story of the Vietnamese history.

Before leaving Vietnam, we stopped by Ben Thanh Market to picked up some souvenirs and snacks to bring home. Some of the more interesting snacks are the dried jack fruits and lotus seed. The market was also filled with small shops selling clothes, food, fruits and lots of souvenirs.




Apart from touring around Ho Chi Minh City, we also went to Mekong Delta. But that would be for another post.

Whether you call it by the new name Ho Chi Minh City (like I used to), or HCMC in short, or the old name Saigon as the locals do (which I know call it as I was influenced by my Vietnamese friends), the city has lots of activities that will fill up your time, no matter how many times you've been there. Whether you prefer to immerse yourself in the crowd, or find a quiet spot in a cafe, the chaotic Saigon have lots to offer.

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