Wednesday, 18 September 2013

A Date in Saigon - 21 Aug 2013

I don't have a burning desire to visit Vietnam. But I've acquired a taste for Vietnamese coffee so when the opportunity arose, I went with my husband on his short business trip to Ho Chi Minh City recently. It's a great excuse for just the two of us to get away from our work (at least for me) and daily routine. If I were to wait for the 'right time' when nothing else is scheduled, probably I may not go away with him again until my kids are in college!

Maybe "the road to success is paved in coffee" is not an exaggeration. 

Coffee drinking is indeed a culture in Vietnam. You can see coffee cafes everywhere, mainly homegrown brands (Trung Nguyen, Highlands coffee chains) and more recently even Starbucks; kiosks with a few small stools in front of houses or shops; and mobile vendors, moving from place to place with a simple, small basket of flask and cups. 

The Vietnamese drip coffee tastes better with ice cos it's very concentrated and comes with the sweetened condensed milk. I still prefer the non-traditional Vietnamese espresso than the drip coffee.

Even if you're not a coffee lover, HCMC is still good. It's at least 30 years behind Bangkok, so culturally it's more interesting and colourful. I had a wonderful time watching the informal street vending and sidewalk life, admiring the colonial architecture as well as the long, narrow tube houses, enjoying fantastic food with so much fresh herbs and veggies, shopping and haggling prices at the Ben Thanh market, visiting museums, etc. 

I went to Mekong Delta when my husband had to work. It was a full day tour from 8am to 5.30pm, about 1.5 hours by bus to My Tho, followed by rides in a motor boat and a rowboat along the canals as well as a donkey cart ride. The tour included lunch and visits to rice paper making & several others. I joined a reputable local tour agent, The Sinh Tourist and paid only RM30 for this full day tour! Unbelievable. The guide was knowledgeable, and I met many other tourists from all over that I didn't mind the fact that I was on my own.

Truly HCMC is a feast to your eyes and tastebuds and at very affordable prices too. Besides the usual suspect - the beef Pho noodle, I like a Hue's royal dish of stir fried baby clams served with lotsa mint leaves and black sesame rice crackers and Banh Xeo, a kinda savoury pancake with mung bean. I notice that the Vietnamese cuisine uses almost NO dairy and NO wheat flour, which is good news to many of us who have allergies of them. Whenever you eat out in Vietnam, there's always a side dish of raw veggies to go with your main dish. I could recognise some of them like fresh sprouts, mint, basil, chillies, jalapenos but the surprises are shredded banana flower and curly water spinach or kangkong stems!! They really waste nothing!!

Our home experiment of rice paper rolls

Back at home, I'm on a mission to introduce some Vietnamese food to the boys. At first, I was a bit skeptical whether they can accept the bland, oil-less rice paper rolls. We're even more skeptical whether we could wrap them without tearing the wet paper. I must say that the quality of rice papers was very good indeed. We've almost 99% success. 

These were some of our homemade rice paper rolls. I made the dipping sauce using the famous Vietnamese fish sauce and sugar, lime, water, garlic and cili padi. Selecting a good fish sauce is just like picking out a bottle of wine, you need a lesson on how to select from the different brands of fish sauce. Next, I am going to try the Vietnamese pancake, Banh Xeo with my boys!

Crossing the roads is a highlight of visiting any Vietnamese city. People will advise you to keep walking, and above all, don't change your mind! The sheer volume of motorbikes, rickshaws, bicycles, cars, buses etc from both directions is absolutely life-threatening. Walk carefully but purposefully into the flow, and it always works. 

Going against the flow? The organised chaos of the road traffic in HCMC.

No, this is not a Middle-Eastern's head covering for women. This is a typical head cover for the locals, to protect themselves from the UV rays of the hot summer and face mask for the dust pollution.

Yet, crossing the roads is not the only leap-of-faith act. There's other danger lurking in the city. Should you consider a family holiday in Vietnam?? Do your research.

Cycling home after school....

When we returned home, we're pleased to find out that all was well on the domestic front. My brother was a great sitter. The boys have a terrific time of freedom with him. It was like a vacation for them too!

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