Dinh does Vietnam - Summer 2014 (part 1)

(I've procrastinated on this post for 2 months (wtf), and as I embark on another trip this Thursday (woohoooo) I shall get this post going before it's too late and I forget everything about the trip haha. Nope.)

Being spontaneous is something that I love, but not something everyone loves, e.g. my mum. So when she decided to let me change my flight back to Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh City to attend my cousin's wedding, and then a detour to Nha Trang for a quick visit, I was like, woah. But what can I do more than say thank you and enjoy the privilege? So here we go.

Day 0 & 1: SIN-SGN

The trip was particularly interesting because of many occasions that I would consider my firsts. I stayed overnight in Changi airport because I don't want to waste $30 cabbing at 4am in the morning (and the risk of oversleeping and missing my flight at 7am.) The Internet did make the 4-hour wait to check-in a lot easier (plus a free/pre-paid meal from McDonald's.) When I arrived at the airport, I was told by my mum to change to formal clothes because I might be heading straight to the wedding after touching down to HCMC, and I was like, okay. #jetsetter #notreally

I was lucky enough to meet with my friend who was working (sleeping) in the airport's transit area and had some Starbucks before boarding the flight. It wasn't long until I touched down to the sunny HCMC (after being robbed of my window seat because some uncle refuses to understand boarding passes, and a lady trying to stand up when the plane was literally heading down towards the runway, causing a little cacophony with the air stewardess), my first visit in 15 years!

Then I was on my way to the wedding (after dropping my stuffs off at the hotel). It was so exciting to finally see the bustling HCMC, and I was being a complete tourist getting amazed at many things, for instance this horse-drawn carriage that is one of the many along a street full of wedding restaurants:

Fairy tale wedding, anyone?

I was a complete mess at the wedding ceremony and reception though, because at that time I hadn't slept in approximately 30 (?) hours - after volunteering at APhO for the whole day, going out for dinner with my friends and heading straight to the airport afterwards, with very little sleep on the plane. I was just looking, smiling, and saying hi. It was nice to see my family and relatives though (lots of which I haven't met/don't remember because I haven't been in the place in like forever.) I also realised that a HCMC/Southern Vietnam wedding is very similar to a Singapore wedding, with everyone coming late, the reception being held at a banquet, bride and groom entering the banquet (in HCMC they have the luxury of being in the aforementioned horse-drawn carriage though, for like 50 metres lol), followed by dancing waiters (who don't smile - in both places), and the hoo-has of performances and speeches and whatnots. It was fun, but I was almost in a coma that I just ate and ate and ate. I don't think I'll hold my wedding this way though, it's just too much tbqh (lbr it's not like I'm gonna get married.)

Fun! (While I was just like, so over this)

After the wedding and some rest at the hotel, my mum and I went out to explore a bit of the central HCMC on foot (with the intention of going to the travel agency.) It was so nice to finally see the famous Dinh Độc Lập (Independence Palace), Nhà Thờ Đức Bà (Saigon Notre-Dame Basilica), among the other tall, metropolitan buildings. It's like a more densely developed version of Hanoi, while still remaining certain things that make it uniquely Vietnam (aka post-colonial French + Buddhist influences + anything that will create a house out of a little hole.)

Traditional x Modern x Me

I didn't really take a lot of pictures, partly because my phone was going to be out of battery (as usual), and partly because I tried to enjoy the moment with my mum, breathing in the (polluted) air and scenery instead of focusing on getting the best snapshots or whatever. But one or two photos don't hurt! We also had an interesting journey to the airline office to make some alterations with regards to our travel plans, and visited and had dinner at a relative's house before moving to our accommodation for the next few days at Water Resources University (because it's free. Who wouldn't want free accommodation lol.)


Mum and I went for a trip to the Southwestern part of Vietnam on a Sinh tour (highly recommended - cheap prices and not bad service.) I believe mum hadn't been to the place as well, so it was quite an interesting first experience I suppose. After a bus ride out of the city into the countryside, we got on a boat that sailed along the river into the different fruit gardens.

 I'm on a boat! #howoriginal.

The trip was mostly for sightseeing and learning a bit about the farming culture of the people there, although I'm sure the gardens were commercialised for tourism, since there were only a few trees of different species each (so the tourists get to see all the different trees I guess) and it's not like those farms that you get to go in and pick the fruits. Nevertheless, it was nice and quiet and serene, and we got a really good lunch. We were sitting with this Vietnamese couple from Hanoi (if I remember correctly) and two guys, one a British educator and one a Thai chef (but the British guy is working in Thailand. I believe they are a couple heh.) There was supposed to be some fruits tasting as well, but the fruits were disappointing. You get what you pay for, I guess.

Look at that fish though. The server actually came and deconstruct the fish for us, before rolling them into fresh spring rolls with vegetables, and you eat by dipping the finished spring rolls into fish sauce. Delicioso!

Pretty river!

Me & my mum.

Mum under a tree

These horses are so poor thing :(. I don't know why horse-drawn carriages are a thing here in Southern Vietnam, but apparently it is and the horses are in really bad conditions. Their eyes are covered so they can only see straight (I believe? But I'm not too sure about that.) and they are here just so we can take a ride for like 5 minutes.

I also had my first gondola ride! It was quite interesting to transfer from the boat that we were on to a smaller gondola ridden by a local woman. The stream was extremely small, which was why we had to ride on the gondolas, which only fit about 4 people each? Again, just another quiet and serene ride along the river that is just so relaxing and refreshing compared to the everyday life.

My mum is getting used to me taking selfies on our trip.

After the trip we got on the bus back to HCMC and had a seafood dinner celebrating my aunt's birthday - my first seafood dinner out of the many that I had on the trip! It was nice to reunite with the extended family aka the people that I actually know (lol) and just had some great food and beer and conversations (granted that I'm not much of a converser. It was still nice nonetheless.) Had McDonald's ice creams and durians for supper (such unhealthy lol.)

Day 3: the scare

The day started quite dramatically with a health scare from my mum that led to her having to go to the hospital for checkup. While that was being taken care of, I had hủ tiếu nam vang (noodle. Yup.) for breakfast and cà phê sữa đá vỉa hè (sidewalk iced coffee) which was literally the best coffee I've had in like foreverrrrr (sorry Starbucks.) I initially wanted to take the motorbike and just drive around exploring HCMC, but I was worried for mum and was also extremely lazy, so I just lazed around for the whole morning watching shows and enjoying the aircon (it's friggin' hot outside.)

Mum came back and everything seems fine now, so we headed for lunch at a nearby place and ate bánh canh chân giò (another type of noddle-ish thing & pig's thighs. I think.) After that we went back to chill a bit more before heading out to shopppp.

I've always wanted to see the shops in HCMC because there are so many comparisons between how shopkeepers in Hanoi are stuck up and rude, and shopkeepers in HCMC are nicer and have better service and bla bla. Boy were those comparisons wrong! I mean maybe it's just our bad luck, or that we were not used to the shopping style in HCMC (do people just know what they want and decide after like 1 minute of browsing? Because that is not how my mum rolls lol), or whatever, but anyway the shopkeepers in Saigon Square are just impatient and not nice. They weren't really rude, just that I could feel the attitude when we took a bit longer to decide or when we were bargaining with them. Idk, but I just didn't really enjoy the experience. I did find some nice things though, but I only bought a pair of trusty slippers, since my Havaianas were giving me the worst abrasions :(. I also got this cute little tank top that says SAI GON (one of the main objectives of my trip) and made use of my naive-looking face (and personality) to bargain for half the price. Being blur is not always bad!

Yay rainbow monkeys!

We went for the second seafood dinner with my mum's friend and her students at a restaurant next to the Saigon River. It was nice of course, but eating crabs is wayyy to hectic #fortunateproblemstohave. Had coffee at the atas (but not really) Trung Nguyên Coffee behind Diamond Plaza (at first I was so excited that we'd actually get to go inside Diamond Plaza (excited for a mall - how Singaporean am I?) then I realised that the coffee shop is behind the mall, like whyyyy :(.

Day 4: Yellow Rubber Duck & SGN-CXR

My fourth day in HCMC started super early (6am!) because I was determined to meet a good friend of mine who happened to be travelling to HCMC for the week as well, and I had no time because we left for Nha Trang in the early afternoon. The morning started with me driving around the crazy HCMC traffic (it was so crowded at like 6.15am - imagine what it'll be like at 8am) to find his hostel (Google Maps is seriously the best travel companion), then both of us driving around looking for cơm tấm (broken rice with pork ribs), because why would you come to HCMC and not eat cơm tấm? I didn't think it'd be too hard to find a breakfast place at 6.45am, but apparently it is. So we finally found a sidewalk place, and it was not bad!

Downie & cơm

After the breakfast I was supposed to go back to mum so we can go and see the Yellow Rubber Duck aka Con Vịt, but mum called me and said that I should just go by myself because the drive would be too long and mum was afraid that we'd miss our flight later to Nha Trang. So I embarked on the journey with Downie and Google Maps to find the Yellow Rubber Duck. And behold, there it was!

I'm not sure why I was so excited to see this rubber duck, but it was worth it lol. Plus this area is super modern and beautiful, so it was nice to travel all the way to see that.

Had drinks at NYDC. Not my favourite - the drinks were too sweet and just not that refreshing. Plus they are expensive.

After seeing the majestic duck, I dropped my friend off and went back. Mum and I decided to have McDonald's for lunch haha, coz you need to eat McDonald's everywhere you go. They actually had a drive-thru for motorcycles, which I found pretty amazing, and we ordered the McRoyals which is basically a burger with Australian beef patties. They were not bad! I really wanted to try the McPork though and I actually thought that there would be a McDonald's opening in Hanoi soon but apparently there wasn't any :(. Maybe next time!

Then in the afternoon, my mum and I dropped our stuffs off at my relatives' place before flying off to Nha Trang for more adventures! We stayed at my mum's friends' place, and the short conversations make me realise how different the way people from the North and people from the South talk, think, and prioritise. Just a random observation I guess.

Soon after we headed off to the famous Nha Trang beach just for a little bit of sightseeing because apparently the water is already cold.


 Hotels galore!

After the beach we went for the third seafood dinner in a row (told you I ate a lot of seafood lol) which was very nice except for the constant amount of beggars approaching us to sell random things. Like... I felt bad because they were really poor, but it wouldn't be the best thing for them if we gave them money also. Who knew where the money was going to?

Anyway, I shall continue my travel journal in another part very soon! I didn't realise that I did so many things and had so much to write about. Yay at least my summer holiday was spent well I guess. Stay tuned!

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