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Back To Where It All Began

Ho Chi Minh City 8 years on

overcast 29 °C

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The Central Post Office, Ho Chi Minh city

Yes, Ho Chi Minh City aka Saigon was where all the backpacking story began. Eight years ago, I stepped my foot on the soil of this country that was full of mystery yet never short of history that would surely lure those who were curious and adventurous to be here to experience by oneself by exploring and finding out about the facts, culture and life of the Vietnamese. At that time when I started, the low cost airline or budget airline company which has gained its ground and notoriety with budget travellers over the last 10 years was yet to start its flight to Ho Chi Minh city. So, I actually travelled to Ho Chi Minh city from Phnom Penh by the coach that time, which can be said the most easy among the long distance bus travel within the Mekong or Indochina region. Why this was easy? Well, depending on where you headed to, some destination could even take up to 16 hours or more but as for me, the longest journey without accommodation overnight was the journey from Vientiane to Savannakhet in Laos and onwards to Hue,Vietnam through the Dansavanh/Lao Bao border checkpoint. Its good to be back to Ho Chi Minh city to rekindle the past memories which would always stay in the mind, heart and soul. It was also the Phnom Penh/ Ho Chi Minh backpacking travel in which I started my travel blog ironically. As a beginner, I was not good at it as I had no knowledge of how a blog should indeed be written due to lack of guidance and also poor research on materials on how this should be done upfront. Its true that one doesn't need to be a writer to pen a blog but it would be handful to get some tips on what are the contents in a blog which could capture good level of readership. I must admit that even until today, after 8 years of indulging in blog writing, there are still much to learn and improved on. There were really some travel stories that derived much interests from readers while some stories may not. But to be very frank, I still find it kind of difficult to understand why some stories would have high level of readership while some may not though I believe that there were some form of elements which could have contributed to this phenomena. All I could say to myself was that, I do not have any interests in any of the things mentioned about persons, businesses or places nor do I try to promote any of these stakeholders either. The fact is, whatever being written were purely due to what I had experienced when I travelled and how I feel and about each and every of these travel experience. There were only encounters with people I met, places I stay, food that I ate and places I visited which were being written to keep such precious memories for the rest of my life without being forgotten, Photos were good to keep such wonderful memories but if the stories were written, these great memories would even be more meaningful and more informative in which what transpired could be shared beyond the photos.

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Notre Dame Cathedral

When I reached Ho Chi Minh city from Phnom Penh, the bus stopped right at the Pham Ngu Lao street, the iconic street for the backpackers community and should or worth a stroll for even those not within the budget travel category. Pham Ngu Lao street does not only offers affordable accommodation, it also offers some affordable and nice vietnamese food at the restaurants and bars which even scattered on the small lanes of this backpacking street, souvenir shops as well as affordable drinking joints. Its a mix of everything in one which surely be very convenient for those who seek assurance on such comfort travel but at the same time it doesn't hurt one's pocket. So, this is where why Pham Ngu Lao street was well-liked by backpackers of all ages because it has everything under one roof. It was not only Pham Ngu Lao street that enjoys the popularity among backpacker travellers but the adjacent streets also get to ride on such enormous popularity including De Tham street, Bui Vien street as well as Quang Dao street. Some changes noted at this backpacking area was notably the well decorated interior and exterior of some restaurants and guesthouse or hotels which were rather scarce 8 years ago. Those days, the shops and hostels or guesthouses were with much humble presentations but 8 years on, things had changed as expectations from guests and travellers had also changed due to several reasons including increasing number of travellers who came from different background. Previously, backpackers consisted mainly young people who were on gap year of fresh graduates from all over the world but things had changed today with even those with family and children would also love to be part of the interesting backpacking community. I stayed at one of the guesthouse along De Tham street when I 1st travelled to Saigon and the rates was only USD10 for a decent small room but good enough for a solo backpacker traveller. There were also curfew issues those days as guests may be locked out of the guesthouse after certain hours. But at the place I stayed, the owner was kind enough to let his guests to roam late at night with guests who returned late finding access door being locked out may just need to knock hard enough to get the attention from the sleeping person on-duty to opened up the main door. Today, there no longer have such issue I believed as some hotels have different access from its lobby with bell boy cum security guarding this access point. The park along Pham Ngu Lao street was also said to have recaptured schoolboy memories with teenagers and adults playing outdoor games there and today these group of youth still seen playing the same game just like 8 years ago.One thing that remained much unchanged in Ho Chi Minh city is the traffic which is always busy, hectic and notorious. But even one who is new to this city of motorbikes, it should not be of much an issue crossing the roads in the city as motorists know well enough how to managed their directions should they be confronted with you in any situations. The rule of thumb is know the directions you are heading to and not to change your mind after deciding that it was the right time to move. As I have mentioned before about traffic in Vietnam, though this country is much less advanced than its neighbours within the same region, it has one of the most organised traffic and good road condition and system which can be much admired and respected.

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Cruising through the canal at Mekong Delta

I was approached by a middle aged cyclo man somewhere around Quang Dao street when I went for a walk around the backpacking area after settling down at the guesthouse at De Tham street. It has now become scarce to find this 3-wheeled vehicle on the road in Ho Chi Minh city. At that time, scams by the cyclo drivers were not common and hardly being an issue with travellers who seek to experience some form of distinctive city tour adventure that cyclo travel may offers. At least, not that I had read of at that time. Nevertheless, that scam was what I was hit with when I decided to hire that middle aged cyclo man to go for a 1 day city tour which of course include several important tourist spots including the Notre Dame Cathedral, Central Post Office, Reunification Palace, Ben Thanh market, Binh Tay market, pagodas and temples. The scam that I encountered with that cyclo man including patronising expensive restaurant for lunch and to pay for his portion, to pay for repair of "puncture" tyre in between the city tour, short of the places promised to visit and creating commotion in front of crowd by saying that that was not being the agreed tour rate when indeed it was after taking into consideration of the lunch, cost of "puncture" repair and places being missed. In the end, I was lucky that I went through such scam without major issue though it was a very 1st backpacking experience. He refused to accept the fee unless I pay wht he demanded. The very thing that saved the day was the mentioned on police and immediately that scare such scammer off. He did say that he wanted to report to the police because I never fulfil the contract to pay him what has been promised but it was indeed him who try to cheat me off. So I told him immediately please show me the nearest police station and he needed to come with me as well but that was the turning point as he began to tone it down and became less arrogant because he knew he was fighting a losing battle. I know this happened anywhere and not easy to flush scammers out but I think surely things could be improved with good governance from the police and cooperations from every parties including having a tourists police at some points within the backpacking area for easy management on issues and bring this scammers to justice to clamp them down for good. In fact during the course of my backpacking travel in Vietnam, I had experience few of these issues which had indeed hurt the general good feelings about Vietnam. It is hoped that things would changed or even had changed today. I was not quite sure about this but rule of thumb is to avoid touts, xe om or motorbike men on the prowl on unsuspicious travellers and anything that may seemed too good to be true. Motorbike tour can be a very interesting form of travel within the Ho Chi Minh city as I did engaged one back in those days and its easy for you to get from one place to another without the stress on traffic congestion and being herded into a group of strangers for a city tour by the travel company. I did not encountered unpleasant experience with xe om driver when I engaged one 8 years ago. My travel down memory lane of Ho Chi Minh city today were mainly by walking, bus and taxi with the fare being quite reasonable and acceptable. The airport bus from Tan Son Nhat airport only charged VND 5,000 and another VND 5,000 for big luggage. Its easy and very affordable. The bus dropped passengers at the bus terminal situated opposite from Ben Thanh market. I did asked for the taxi fare from the counter at the airport and was quoted at VND230,000, which was still affordable though not as low as that of the bus fare. From Ben Thanh market terminal, there is a bus service to Cho Binh Tay or Binh Tay market with a fee of VND5,000 for 1 way. I took the bus on the opposite direction, from Binh Tay market to Ben Thanh market, which proven to be easy and comfortable. The taxi fare may costs up to VND 250,000 when it gets sandwiched in traffic congestion. Taxi fare in Ho Chi Minh city starts at VND 11,000 but I noticed that there was one that started with VND13,000 instead.

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Binh Tay Market

Ben Thanh market is a market that offers huge varieties of consumer goods as well as authentic vietnamese food. The price of goods were said to be quite expensive over at Ben Thanh market and a good bargaining skills is a must to get good and value for money items. The last time when I was here, I just took a brief stroll inside but this trip I get to walk inside the market and spent some time doing some shopping as well as to sample the ever popular and delicious "pho ga" (soup noodle with chicken), fresh prawn spring roll and fresh coffee. There were also many shopkeepers dealing with great vietnamese coffee beans and packed coffees at Ben Thanh market of whom some even offer to have customers to try out the different kind of coffees that offer different taste. The night market over at Ben Thanh market was still there together with the seafood stalls in between the night market traders. This night market attracted good number of vistors and bargaining is also a must as prices of items were being inflated just as those inside Ben Thanh market. Just a short walk from Ben Thanh market and across the road, Saigon Square 1 also offers wide number of consumer items, mainly on textiles with prices considered much better than the former. The environment inside Saigon Square 1 was much well organised, clean and comfortable. I think Saigon Square 1 was still not existed 8 years ago and with this new shopping addition, Ho Chi Minh city now offers a great place for those looking for affordable yet offering quality items for a value for money shopping experience. There is another version of Saigon Square which is the Saigon Square 2, which is way farther from the backpacking tourist spot but a taxi to get to here shouldn't be much of a problem. It offers similar items and prices as Saigon Square 1 but worth a visit and get some value for money items from here as well. There are also now few shopping malls sprucing up within Ho Chi Minh city and if you have such time to spend on buying things, a visit may help to keep you occupied. Diamond Plaza is one of the upmarket shopping mall within easy rich from the tourist spot in Dong Khoi area where Notre Dame Cathedral, The Central Post Office and Reunification Palace were located.

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Ben Thanh Market

Sightseeing shouldn't be missed out while travelling or in Ho Chi Minh city. Though I had been or visited to some of these great city sights during previous travel, this memory lane trip down the road yet again brought me to the interesting and iconic sights of Ho Chi Minh city within the Dong Khoi area. When I visited the last time, I did not managed to get an interior view of the Notre Dame Cathedral but today, this trip provide an opportunity to have a view inside the cathedral. The exterior structure of the Notre Dame Cathedral was very much impressive though the interior may not be as "european" as compared to those I witnessed when I travel to Kontum such as the wooden cathedral, which has very nice interior and exterior with european touch. The adjacent Central Post Office offers another interesting and marvellous sightseeing experience with its unique exterior building design and distinctive clock tower with the middle of the post office building. The exterior design were equally impressive with world map on 2 sides of the wall on the left and right together with several clock on each side indicating the time of several countries on display. There were also souvenir sections on the left and right of the building at the main entrance in which some items sold at affordable price. My previous visit I did not managed to get inside the post office and today, its good to be able to revisit and get to see what the post office has to offer as well. A further walk up to check out Reunification Palace did not produced much of a difference as I did not get to explore the place just like when I last visited. Hopefully, there will be another visit that will enable me to check out the history of this palace.

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A bowl of Pho Ga (Chicken Soup Noodle) at Ben Thanh Market

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Vietnamese iced milk coffee

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Vietnamese fresh spring roll with prawn

Coffee is synonym with Vietnam and travel to Ho Chi Minh city would never be complete without a sip of a cup of aromatic vietnamese coffee. There are now many coffee houses within Ho Chi Minh city and I did managed to get some taste on some varieties of vietnamese coffees including the one at Highland Coffee, Phuc Long Coffee and Phuc Long Coffee. Highland Cofee indeed offers some very tasty and aromatic coffee which is very unique to itself or even to Vietnam. As for food, definitely the "pho" shouldn't be missed out while travelling in Vietnam. Even the hotel's breakfast that offers free breakfast also produce great "pho" that is unbeatable in taste, aroma and its add-ons. Pho 2000 opposite Ben Thanh market where former US President was said to have dine at also offers good authentic pho and many tourists seen here dining at the unassuming outlet. The original outlet in which Bill Clinton dine at may not be located at this one where it was on 1st floor of the Coffee Bean Tea & Leaf outlet. "Banh Mii" or french bread with omelette, salad and add-on stuffings also worth a try and should not be missed out. Such bread vendors are now getting lesser though its nice to still see them around today. Other vietnamese food worth a try include the rice noodle salad that comes with rice noodle, grilled pork, deep fry spring rolls and plenty of vegetables all mix together and eat with special sweet chilly dipping. I feel happy that I was able to come back to Ho Chi Minh city today though I still missed out some places that I wanted to visit but the rekindling of old memories was just well too overwhelmed and would provide another version of great memories both in writing as well as through photos.

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Tan Son Nhat International Airport Bus to Ben Thanh Station

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The Ben Thanh Bus Station opposite Ben Thanh Market

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Traffic on the road of Ho Chi Minh City

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Pham Ngu Lao Street, HCM City

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A bowl of Pho Ga for lunch at Ben Thanh Market

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A food vendor at Ben Thanh Market

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The general view of Ben Thanh Market interior

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A coffee vendor at Ben Thanh Market

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A vendor at Ben Thanh Market

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This coffee vendor was kind enough to prepare various coffee for tasting before purchase

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A pack of vietnamese coffee powder that comes with coffee filter at Ben Thanh Market

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Ben Thanh Night Market

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A bottle of Bia Saigon @ Ben Thanh Night Market

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HOT POT DINNER AT BEN THANH NIGHT MARKET
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A food seller carrying his items on the head along De Tham Street

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Highland Coffee outlet at the corner of Pham Ngu Lao and De Tham Street

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Enjoying a cup of hot vietnamese coffee at Highland Coffee

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Shopping at Saigon Square 2, HCM City

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Vendors at Saigon Square 2

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Dinner at Wrap & Roll, De Tham Street

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A bottle of Bia Saigon @ Wrap & Roll, De Tham Street outlet

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A vietnamese rice noddle salad at Wrap & Roll (Must try in Vietnam)

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Banh Beo which is a Hue (Central Vietnam) specialty

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De Tham Street at night

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The guesthouse I stayed 8 years ago for USD10 a night at De Tham Street

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Pham Ngu Lao Street at night

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A bar at Pham Ngu Lao Street

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The roundabout at Ben Thanh Market with Bitexco Financial Tower on its background at night

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Banh Mi for breakfast at HCM City

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Pho Ga for breakfast

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Notre Dame Cathedral on a walkabout trip@ HCM City

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Notre Dame Cathedral

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The interior of Notre Dame Cathedral

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The Central Post Office, HCM City

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The Central Post Office

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The interior of Central Post Office

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The Reunification Palace

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Binh Tay Market

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The interior of Binh Tay Market

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Diamond Plaza, HCMC City

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The bus stop for the Cholon-Ben Thanh route

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Lunch at Pho 2000, Ben Thanh (Bill Clinton was here before)

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The interior of Pho 2000

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A bowl of Pho Ga at Pho 2000

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A good glass of ice cold vietnamese coffee at Pho 2000

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A photo of Bill Clinton dining at Pho 2000

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Pho 2000 offer something different Banh Mi with chicken curry

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Shopping at Saigon Square 1 adjacent to Ben Thanh Market

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A walkabout around Quang Dau & Bui Vien Street

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A shop at Pham Ngu Lao Street

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Banh Mi vendor at Bui Vient Street, HCM City

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Dinner at Mon Hue Restaurant, De Tham Street

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A bowl of vietnamese rice noodle with baby clamp and salted fish (Hue specialty)

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Enjoying Banh Xeo at Mon Hue

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A cup of vietnamese coffee at Phuc Long, HCM City

Posted by kidd27 07:15 Archived in Vietnam

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