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.

Advertisements

Breaking the Year (Part 1)

School break happens in June for us with kids going to school in Singapore (and some other countries as well). And while it should be a normal break where the kids are taken out on road trips and swimming and horse back riding, this year is different. PSLE.

Of course that shouldn’t really stop us from having a proper holiday. It is a shadow of what is to come in a few months and one has to accept it before one can move on. We did our best to squeeze in extra head banging in the first few weeks of the break. We’re not really sure how much it helped, but it is time to put that behind us for a short while. It is time for a break.

 The Crew

Matthew had always been about family. And the closest that we have are his cousins living on the island next door. We packed our bags and took the ferry to Batam and then a speedboat to Bintan. We drop our bags in our rooms at Nirwana Gardens and put our feet up to chill. It probably won’t be enough to cover the stress coming for us until the end of the year, but some is better than none.

The kids had a game of giant chess before we were up in our rooms. Then we hit the pool with the kids in the middle of a downpour. In the end, we couldn’t decide if we got wet in the rain or in the pool. Luckily it was just rain or else lightning would have put a stop to the fun. Everybody seems to be doing their own thing but everybody was having fun so that wasn’t really an issue. We realised that we weren’t the only crazy people there as there were a handful of us enjoying the rain (It’s not something you see much in Singapore, believe me). When the rain stopped, we stepped out of the pool and back into our rooms. We spent the rest of the night on a game of bowling. Let’s just not talk about who won and how. It was a friendly game after all (and those last two gutter balls were intentional). The boys had a go at shooting using airsoft guns. I heard it didn’t go too well.

Check mate
Check mate

Buffet breakfasts were the norm in hotels and resorts and that meant we had an hour or so to fill up before doing any more activities. The younger kids went on to horse back riding while the boys stayed behind to do their own thing. Andrae pretended that he was a sniper and did target shooting with an airsoft rifle while Matthew pretended that he was as good as Hawkeye and did archery on the field right beside rifle shooting. Neither one of them broke any records. After deciding to forego the ATV and buggy riding, the same boys decided to team up and hit the paintball skirmish course. It was father and son versus father and son. After laughing our heads off because of our ridiculous outfits (seriously, flip-flops with full paintball camo and armor don’t go well together). It was the most fun shooting someone else we had. Some of us died more than the others and we finally proved that paintball hurts. We’ve got the bruises to prove it. Nobody did capture the flag so there was no clear winner. What was clear though, was that the dads weren’t as fit as they thought. We were panting halfway through and judging by the way we couldn’t fully take cover on the low barrels shows just how fit our bodies were. There will be round two. Soon.

Paintball took the wind out of us and that was it for Nirwana. We headed back to Batam soon after checking out. Getting to and from the resort was smooth, but it did take close to an hour (one way) and then there was the speedboat (choppy waters, claustrophobic quarters, no seatbelts, yep, that was fun) that took us between Batam and Bintan. Back in Batam, we shopped and we ate. It was so much fun eating that we probably gained more pounds in the shortest span of a two days. Tired but full, we head back to Singapore to lull the last few days before school starts again.

Pilipinas 2017 (Part 2)

For Matthew, having both pairs of grandparents is a blessing. It means that he gets to share different adventures with both of them. After all, not all grandparents are alike. And naturally, Matthew seems to already have gotten the hang of being around his grandparents. He loves them to bits and he can change his character depending on who is around. He is a sly little monster like that.

Kamay ni Hesus Chapel
Kamay ni Hesus Chapel

We asked Mamu and Papu to come with us to Kamay ni Hesus. A church and healing shrine with a fifty foot statue of the risen Christ on top of a hill. The church is located in Lucban, Quezon. It was about a four hour drive from our place in Laguna. The road trip wasn’t exactly exciting apart from the fact that I was driving and was not too familiar with where we were going. Luckily, Papu still remembers most of the roads going to and fro. We had read and heard about the climb to the top of the hill to get to the statue and we were not initially planning on going up the 200 steps. But since we were already there, we figured there was nothing to loose. Papu and Matthew stayed behind and the rest of us climbed the steps, paid our respects and offered our prayers.

We're going up!
We’re going up!

Our dates with Mamu and Papu consisted mostly of eating out and eating out. Which may explain the pounds that we incurred after our holiday. For example, there was Lydia’s lechon which was still one of the best lechons in the Philippines. And then there’s the Italian fusion at Alleggra’s. And let’s not forget the Lucban longganisa that we had when we were at Quezon. The rest of the time we spent shopping. It was not the most creative past time, but it worked for me.

This is Tuding's!

Then there were the times that it was just me and the wife. Oh yes. Those dates were even better. Tuding’s pork chops, Lotsa Pizza, Sio-meow (you know, the Pao that is rumored to be made of cat meat), fishball, goto and the list goes on. That does not even include the knick knack snacks that we got from the grocery. One of the best things in the Philippines is really the food. It really is good. And if you ever had a craving from when you were a child that you missed, chances are that it still exists somewhere in the archipelago.

Still eating ...

It was a shame that we didn’t have as much time as we would have liked. But it is always good to come home and stay with your loved ones. Your parents, especially, miss you a lot and it is always nice to spend some time with them. In this day and age where everyone is busy and we all have our own lives to live, slowing down and coming home really hits the spot.