Gone to Saigon for Poh

We arrived at the Tan Son Nhat International Airport on a sunny Wednesday afternoon. This was a short trip that Mum had planned when she realised that we needed to de-stress. Deciding on the destination and the dates had been quick, but it was reasonably well planned. Our itinerary was composed mainly of finding good places to eat, followed by sights to see with other tourists (we did our own tour) and lastly, we said there was no need to go shopping except for a few souvenirs.

We crashed at the Silverland Jolie Hotel & Spa in Ho Chi Minh and right off the bat, we knew we would feel at home there. The lobby wasn’t big, but the high ceiling made it feel airy. The French vibe was there although you can’t really say that it is truly authentic (very good effort though). The staff were all friendly and they were all smiles too. To top it off, we arrived just in time for tea. As we were waiting for our room, I managed to get my taste of local Vietnam coffee and I fell in love. After our afternoon tea (or in my case, coffee), we were ushered into our room. I wasn’t expecting the room to be big, considering the size of the lobby, and it wasn’t. Even though it’s smaller than some of the hotels that we stayed at before, it was a cosy little nook with a king size bed and a hot tub. We were told that they had bumped us up to a suite for the duration of our stay. Cool.

A night in Saigon
A night in Saigon

We rested for a while and took out my crudely detailed map of where we could go. In my map it looked like all the places we were planning to go to were all nearby but we decided to hit Ben Thanh Market first. Being the great navigator that I am, I kept my fingers crossed that I was actually walking us in the right direction. Well, I was, for 90% of the time. For the other 10% I had to rely on Google maps and the portable WiFi that I rented from Changi Recommends before we left for Saigon. Since this is not a review of the Changi Recommends portable WiFi, let me just say that it is a handy thing to have to keep you connected when you need to. For about 5 SGD a day, I had unlimited Internet access for up to six devices while we were in Saigon. There are terms and conditions and such, so it may end up different for each country and for the duration of your stay. Overall, it was cost effective and useful for our trip. Especially since I had to rely on Maps to navigate the city (which was pretty cool). The highlight of the night was Ben Thah Market Food Centre where we had our first taste of Vietnam food. The tasty dinner was enough to make me and the wife happy. Matthew, on the other hand was in his moody self once more and was trying his best to keep the dark clouds over our heads. Unfortunately for him, when our tummies are happy it is quite difficult to keep us down for long. We ended the night by burning the fat we took in by walking back to our hotel.

Book Street.
Book Street.

Breakfast at the hotel went great the next morning. I got my Vietnam coffee fix first thing and chowed down on some excellent Asian fusion buffet. We took to the streets of Saigon once again in comfy clothes. We were already expecting the weather to be hot and humid so we had prepared our gear just for the occasion. We did the tourist thing on the second day which had been an adventure with a few surprises along the way. We walked by Nguyen Van Binh while finding our way towards the Saigon Central Post Office. While we didn’t buy any books from this lovely book street, it was a beautiful place to be in (even if you just want to chill) with bookstores and books left and right and just the right amount of refreshments in between. We reached the Central Post Office and it was a very interesting building in itself. Beautifully preserved and fully functional, it felt nice just to be there (heat and sweat and all). Within the halls of the post office are remnants of the olden days with telephone booths that dial in to specific countries, postal services to cater to any of your postal needs, and of course, souvenir shops. Matthew finally had a blast. Across the street is the Notre Dame Cathedral, which is another architectural wonder in the fast growing city of Ho Chi Minh. Unfortunately during our visit, it was being renovated and no visitors are allowed. Sigh. Trudging along, we managed to make our way to the Reunification Palace (gotta’ love Google Maps). We had a peek into history here and as much as there are similarities in the décor and feel of the Reunification Palace, it still made an impression that says “Vietnam”. The palace is huge. Walking through its halls lets you see the life of Vietnam’s highest ranking political figures during the war and through the end of it. It was a great way to end our sight seeing. We wanted to do more, but the heat and exhaustion of the day caught up with us and we made our way back to the hotel (should be back in time for high tea, of course). Our third day turned to a shopping spree when we found the malls and the decent prices of pretty little things. That is to say, we were lugging an extra bag by the time we were on our way home.

Souvenir shopping.
Souvenir shopping.

What we found most interesting (and strangely enjoyable) is dodging motorcycles and cars as you cross the streets of Saigon. They are literally everywhere. They are on the road, on the sidewalk, heck even in places where there is no pavement. Surprisingly, we survived the streets of Ho Chi Minh without a scratch on any of us. That should be something that can be ticked off a bucket list. The rest of our trip involved enjoying local Vietnam food. And while we may not have taken the more adventurous route of eating from side street vendors (it was kind of difficult when you have a picky eater travelling along with you), we hoped that the places we ate at were authentic enough. Either way, we did enjoy a great deal of eating in and around Saigon. So much so that we even had some instant Pho taken back home. What was really neat was that the food in Saigon cost considerably less and taste considerably better than what you can get in Singapore. Must have something to do with all the herbs and spices that they put in their dishes.

 

We aren’t food critiques, but we love our food. And after our visit to Ho Chi Minh, we love our Poh. And not just Poh. Saigon is a great place to be when you want to eat. We had a sample of Banh beo (water fern cake), Banh nam (rectangular dumpling) and Banh bot loc (chewy tapioca dumpling). I can’t really say what was in them, but they were great appetizers. The Bun bo Hue, while not Poh, is a flavourful soup dish made primarily with vermicelli and beef. Like Poh though, the Bun bo is filled to the brim with vegetables and other spices while still having a generous portion of meat. The broth was rich, the noodles were firm and the beef was tender. There isn’t really anything to say about it from a normal person’s point of view except that you can’t go wrong getting this dish when you are in Saigon. Then we had Banh Mi, which, after some research told me that it was the Vietnamese word for bread. More specifically, baguette. Hoping to cut down on some of the fat that we were ingesting, we decided to get the grilled chicken variety from a local street stall. One thing to remember about Banh Mi, and bread in general, is that they always taste better when toasted. We tried some Banh ram Hue, which was like deep fried cake. Some Banh canh, which is another soup dish with thicker Vietnamese noodles. And then there was this fried chicken with minced chicken meat inside of it served with fried rice. I can’t remember the name, but it was good. And of course, you can’t leave Vietnam without having a taste of Poh. There were all sorts of Poh and we tried a number of them from different restaurants all the way until we were back at the airport. Yes, you can say we came to Vietnam for the food and you wouldn’t be too far off from the truth. Up there where the food is good, tasty and cheap, we wouldn’t mind going back just to eat some more Poh.

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