Vietnam On My Mind

My feet are itching to go travelling, the destination doesn’t really matter so long as I go somewhere. Too bad I still don’t have leave credits and had to say no when my friends and former office mates invited me to join them on their business trip/vacation in Vietnam. So, the next best thing is to reminisce about my last travel there. 🙂
The first and only time I went to Vietnam was also a business trip, which looking back, was probably the most stressful I had – I was juggling meetings during the day, testings over breaks, and day-to-day operations when I get back to our hotel room so I didn’t really get to do much sight-seeing. But I enjoyed my stay there for the simple reason that the food was just marvelous and the company was great – I went there with our then new hire, Wena, and I was worried at first that we wouldn’t get along, until I realized she was game to try on all the food there is and she was willing to walk for miles every day to explore the city. 
Vietnam used to be a French colony so the architecture and the layout of Ho Chi Minh (or Saigon, if you prefer) is sort of a cross between our own Intramuros and Binondo’s Chinatown. In fact, the side streets through which our taxi would take us on our way from the hotel to the office looks, feels, and smells like Binondo. Except that there are rickshaws on the streets. We didn’t ride on any though, as I kinda think it’s inhumane to do so. 
Given that we only had a week (we arrived on a Sunday afternoon and left on a Saturday morning) which was jampacked with meetings, we didn’t really have time to go around much. But we were able to visit the Ben Tanh market, the Notre Dame Cathedral, Saigon River and the famous Trung Nguyen coffee chain. 
Notre Dame Basilica was constructed in the late 1800’s after the French successfully colonized Saigon, in the former location of a pagoda. All materials for this church was sourced from France and a huge statue of the Virgin Mary stands in front of the main entrance of the cathedral. A little bit of trivia: in 2005, the status was reported to have shed tears down its right cheek. This was denied by the Catholic Church in Vietnam although of course, the crowds still flocked to see this “miracle.”

View from our office roof top
Ben Thanh Market, on the other hand, resembles our own Divisoria, albeit smaller and confined to one huge building. It’s actually the largest in Saigon with its origins traceable back to the 17th century. Obviously, this is a tourist hub as you can buy all sorts of textiles, accessories, souvenirs, and handicrafts. It’s funny though coz Vietnamese, Filipinos and Thai look very much alike and a number of the vendors thought I was Thai! There were so many beautiful, not to mention cheap, stuff there but I had a baggage limit to watch so I limited myself to a couple of bags and kikay kits for my in laws. On a side note, I also spied a lacquered wood and capiz lamp back at the hotel selling for around Php5,000 which I would have bought if only it wasn’t so big. Too bad.
We also spent many mornings eating breakfast at the Trung Nguyen Coffeeshop near the office – it’s the largest coffee maker/distributor/chain in Vietnam and is also expanding globally. I didn’t get to sample their other offerings other than the basic black coffee and their instant coffee mixed so I can’t really judge if it’s good but I must say, I love the pastries and breakfast sets in their shop and I really like the taste of their Irish Creme coffee mix. So on our last day, I hoarded boxes and boxes of coffee – I think my entire luggage was full of coffee boxes. 😛
Post office:
The HSBC building – can you believe this is the tallest building in Saigon?
One vivid memory I have of Vietnam (aside from the mouth-watering cuisine) is the tons of motorcycles cruising the streets – in fact, I would always hesitate to cross the street not because I might get run over by a car, but because there are motorcycles coming from all directions. In fact, from our hotel room, we could watch a big boat ferrying motorcycles across the river.  

I am scared for the woman walking ahead of the motorcycles – what if the lights suddenly turn green and she gets crushed?
The best part about my trip to Vietnam? The food! Really, of all the countries I’ve been to (not that many – I think about seven), Vietnam takes the cake for best cuisine – and I am a bit of a picky eater (although my innate politeness forbids me from saying out loud when I don’t like something).
Normally, I skip room service because the price makes me want to rather starve but here, our entire meal for the week was just a day’s meal in Korea (and only at local eateries in Seoul at that):

Hotel food: pizza, eggs benedict, cereals and cheescake!

Since it was a business trip, we would usually have our lunch at the nearby restos (well, more of carinderia type) but the food is better than all the Vietnamese restos here in the Philippines.

Carinderia Favorite – the best. Our table was usually overflowing with so much food because it was so cheap!

And finally upgraded to a bit of fine dining.  Well, not quite, but the two restos our colleague took us to were among the best and most popular in the city:

Resto # 1 – took a lot of careful street crossing and maneuvering to NOT get hit by motorcycles

Resto # 2 – thankfully, this was a bit far and we had to take a cab to get there; but the food was just pure heaven! That pink jelly thing in the mid photo – it’s not edible. It’s actually the “gasoline” that will be used to heat up our food.
Most of the restos we went to are by reservation only – and it was only after I learned that bit of info that I realized why our office mate kept asking for our agenda – so she can book our dinner dates!  I can’t remember anymore the restos we went to, but if I do, I’d let you know here. I did scribble it in my notes but you know me, I misplaced it as soon as I put it down.
Well, I may not have made it back to Vietnam this year but this country is definitely on my MUST VISIT again. 🙂

* Most of the photos here are grabbed from my friend, since I was too lousy to take shots of my own (was harassed at the time) – except for all the food shots.