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SACA Charity Film Premier 2011

The Singapore After-Care Association (SACA) is a voluntary welfare organisation acting as the key agency providing welfare and rehabilitation services for discharged offenders and their families. They hold an annual charity film premier and I am very glad to be part of the event this year. The movie chosen for the premier is The Smurfs and the event was held at The Cathay on 24 August 2011, 7.30pm. The event was fully sold out and the Guest-of-Honour for the night was the Minister of State for the Ministry of Community Development, Youth and Sports, Mdm Halimah Yacob.


The reception area

Wern & I also stayed on for the movie afterwards — The smurfs are really cute! It was a cartoon more from my sisters era but I enjoyed it all the same. It has been a great pleasure working with Eric and Marcus for this event! Thanks guys!

To engage me as an emcee or host for your event, do contact me at juuyeow.com

So You Wanna Be A DJ!

Those following me on twitter would have known that I haven’t been well for the past week or so. I was running a fever in the weekend and had the worst sore throat… ever.

There was a lot of hesitation to whether I wanted to even participate in the open auditions to be a DJ, but eventually I convinced myself that I’ll work my voice out somehow. My body was in a really bad shape, and queueing for over 6 hours in heels really took a toll. (So much, I didn’t even bother taking any photos.)

Auditions went really slowly at first, and by the time it was my turn, each “audition” took only about 2 minutes. There were over 300 hopefuls trying out for 987fm itself, and shortlisting 8 meant that I only had about a 4% chance of being chosen.

But boy am I glad I didn’t give up during the queueing process.

I’ve got through! I’ve been shortlisted in the Top 20 & will be going for the second round of auditions for So You Wanna Be A DJ! Can’t wait, it’s really a huge huge step towards fulfilling my dream of being a radio deejay and frankly, I’m still quite in shock. I can’t deny I’m afraid but excited to see whats ahead, and kinda afraid I get booted out in the first round, but I really should be thankful and happy enough that I got shortlisted in the first place. Motivation boost +100!

Here’s a shoutout to all those who have supported me in my emcee-ing/hosting journey the whole time. To my friends who have shown me concern when I was unwell, to those who encouraged me to go for this audition.

THANK YOU!

 

Also, huge thanks to Wern who came down midway while queueing. Thank you for standing in queue for me so I could take breaks in between, and for holding on when I was pukey and such :)

Panasonic Asia Environmental Journalist

Remember a couple of entries ago, where I posted a youtube video of myself speaking about the little ways we can help the environment? Well, the contest ended on 25 April and I’ve been pretty anxious about the release of the results since then. I’m usually almost always glued to my social media (Facebook, Twitter) but it so happens that Wern brought me out to marina barrage that day to fly a kite for the first time when the results were announced. So imagine my surprise when I checked my updates and I saw these.

 


On Panasonic Asia’s Facebook Fanpage

 


On Twitter

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It was definitely a pleasant surprise and I was certainly overjoyed! It’s still my dream ambition to be a radio deejay/host/emcee and I really see this as an opportunity and large stepping stone to achieving it! Can’t express how much I really love doing events and meeting new people. It’s also really heartwarming to see all the support from my friends and everyone else whom I might not know, so thank you & I really appreciate it!

For now, I’m glad and proud to say I’M A CHANNEL E EJ!

I’ll be meeting the team at Panasonic probably sometime this week or perhaps the next so I’ll keep this space updated! For now, once again, here’s the video that I submitted for the contest!

Lexus Progressive Luxury Experience

I was initially assigned the role of Touchscreen Guide after going through a short casting at the Lexus showroom prior to the event, but halfway through the first day I suddenly took over the role of Emcee/Announcer. Does that say something? :)

Glad to have met all the girls through the 4 day event at Paragon, here are some photos! :)


Sarah, Zoe, Juu

The RX! ♥♥♥


baby loves the mic too!


Both Bobbi Tonelli and Jean Danker from Class 95 came down on the second day to promote the event. Here’s a photo with Jean Danker :)


With the girls


With the Lexus team who made the event possible


Janice & Juu


Jene & Juu (She happens to be my NP Mass Communication senior!)


& the final one with me and the mic.

Can’t deny 48 hours of standing and talking was tiring but I sure had fun!

Surviving Ho Chi Minh (Part 2 – Where To Go)

This is Part 2 of my Surviving Ho Chi Minh Series and it covers the many tourist attractions just so you know which ones to go to. If you’re interested to find out about the essentials/ABCs of the city, click here.

Admittedly, I didn’t get to be very adventurous because I had the time constraint of only 5 days there, and because I went there with my mom. I didn’t do much planning prior to the trip and relied heavily on the travel book + map that I bought. Most websites and travel guides recommend the same places but here’s a breakdown on what’s worth visiting and my experiences there.


The following places are covered in this entry: (Click on them to find out more)
1. Ben Thanh Market
2. Central Post Office
3. Cu Chi Tunnel
4. Dan Sinh Market
5. Dong Khoi
6. Ho Chi Minh Memorial
7. Jade Emperor Pagoda
8. Pham Ngu Lao
9. Saigon Fine Arts Museum
10. Saigon Notre Dame Basilica
11. Saigon Opera House
12. Thuong Xa Tax (Saigon Tax Trade Center)
13. War Remnants Museum

1. Ben Thanh Market

 

Probably the next most popular result after the Cu Chi Tunnel (see below), the Ben Tanh Market is located in the heart of District 1 and is a popular tourist destination. I heard and read a lot about it before my trip there and thus was really excited to go on a huge shopping spree.

The market features an “outer ring” of larger shops mostly selling souvenirs, traditional apparel and a couple of casual apparel. Most of the goods carried are repeated and mass produced. Heading further in, there are rows and rows of puny stores, most of them only measuring 1m x 1m wide. Goods such as shoes, hair accessories, buttons and fabrics are stacked super high to display as many goods as possible in a small area. It’s almost impossible for two people to fit in between the aisles and it can get quite stuffy.

I tried to walk through every corner but it was quite tough to keep track or to actually really look out for something due to the space restraint. I personally felt that it was quite a let down as I didn’t get anything at all. I’ll probably only recommend it if your intention is to look for spices or other dried food products, or if not, fresh ground coffee powder and the cooked food at the food stalls located in the middle of the market.


Mom at one of the entrances of the Ben Thanh Market


Map of 1/4 of the market


The various food stalls located in the middle

Fresh food market located in the other half


Stacks of dried food products can be found in Ben Thanh


Shoes galore!

Good for: Cheap t-shirts, dried foodstuff (shrimps/ spices/ coffee beans), fresh flowers, hats, local delights, replica designer goods, shoes, souvenirs, textiles. There is also a wet market located in the market.

Downside: Exorbitant prices. Large groups of tourists flock in daily and vendors can easily recognise them. Prices can go as high as 5x the original price. They also had no issues with physical contact and I was literally pushed/carried/dragged into a couple of stores just because I made eye contact. But apart from that, I maintain my stand that Viets are very lovely and friendly people.

Cho Ben Thanh Market
Intersection of Ham Nghi, Le Loi and Tran Hung Dao,
District 1, Ho Chi Minh City
Opening Hours: Daily, 6.30a.m. – 6.30p.m.

☛ Back To List

2. Central Post Office

 

Front of the Central Post Office

The Central Post Office is huge and is quite a pretty building but apart from that, there’s really nothing much to do there. However, it is just across the road from the Saigon Notre Dame Basilica so one might as well pop by if they’re in the area.

The interior of the place is pretty grand and looks almost nothing like a post office. Several world clocks plaster and old maps plaster the wall and ceilings. In the middle are several gift shops, where I managed to pick up these cute paperweights. Also managed to grab some free postcards there!

Interior of the Central Post Office

Central Post Office
2 Cong Xa Paris Square, District 1
Ho Chi Minh City
Opening Hours: 7.00a.m. – 8.00p.m.
Admission is free.

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3. Cu Chi Tunnels

 

The famous Cu Chi Tunnels in Vietnam actually have two sites — One in Ben Dinh (The one most people head to) and another one in Ben Duoc. Both of them have widened tunnels for tourists to crawl through but apparently Ben Dinh is more fun with mannequins and a mixture of the “genuine and fake”.

Located further away from the main city than the other attractions, it’s useful to plan exactly when you want to head there (it was 70km away, or about 1.5 hours by car). Most would recommend that you either follow a tour or book a taxi for about 4-5 hours rather than going by the meter. A single tour package offered by the hotel I stayed in (Riverside Hotel Saigon) was valued at USD39/pax, one that I thought was way too high after doing my own research.

Admission tickets are available there at 80,000VD (about SGD $5) and this is inclusive of a

  1. Black & white movie introduction
  2. A local tourguide who spoke your language
  3. Experience to walk 50m in the tunnels
  4. Tapioca and tea “lunch”

I was lucky to get a super humorous guide and he certainly made my visit to the Cu Chi Tunnels one of the highlights of my Vietnam trip. Tourists are usually grouped according to where they come from/the language they speak (actually, most of them came in large groups on tour) but my mom & I happened to join this group of 4 Germans and a couple from Portugal. The other 6 spoke little English, but in the end everyone enjoyed it all the same. I didn’t manage to get the name of my guide, but I have a photo of him so do look out for him if you’re there.


Our guide showing us one of the “ventilation holes” to facilitate air circulation underground. These holes were apparently located every 10m and were camouflaged as termite nests.


Look at the size of one of the entrances to the tunnels! It probably is only slightly larger than a sheet of A4 in real life.


Couldn’t wait to take this photo!


Evidently made for the Viets who are smaller in size, this other guy in my group tried to go all the way in but got stuck at the shoulder area.

I kinda knew what was coming as I read up a lot on the tunnels. The guide showed us the bambo traps, the tiny entrance to the tunnel and went through with us the different “departments” and “secrets” of the tunnels. We also had the chance to crawl through the tunnel, one which I found out was a “fake” after. It is a model created wider and higher than the real tunnel to accommodate the Western tourists, who are naturally larger in size. It is however still not recommended for people with health problems or those who are claustrophobic.


Bamboo traps initially used to trap animals were used in the war because of a shortage of weaponry

Crawling through the 50m long “tunnel”

Shoes worn during the war

I got myself a pair!

I also spotted these sandals the mannequins (shoe-aholic!!!) and asked the guide about them. Won’t it be dangerous for them to not wear covered shoes? I then found out that they were “exclusively-vietcong” and were made entirely out of tyres. They were also for sale in various sizes and I grabbed a pair for 65,000VD (SGD$4.10). Other items such as rice wine, soldier hats and books were also available.

In the middle of the trail, tourists are also given the chance to shoot rounds on the old AK47, M16 and the M60 guns that were seized from the Americans during the war. 10 bullets costs about 15USD.

To end off the tour, we were seated on long benches and were served pieces of tapioca with ground peanuts and sugar dip alongside hot tea. Certainly a great experience for me! The entire tour and travelling time took about 5 hours in total. A must-go in my opinion!

The guns possessed from the Americans


Enjoying our “Lunch”, which came with ticket purchase

Tapioca with Peanut & Sugar Dip

Ben Dinh- Cu Chi War Memorial
Opening Hours: 8.00a.m. – 4.00p.m.

Admission costs 80,000VD (SGD$5)

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4. Dan Sinh Market

 

(Photo credits to aricwithana.com)

I didn’t actually have the chance to visit the Dan Sinh market (by the time I got there it was closed) but it’ll definitely be one of my stops on my next trip there. Still very much communist, products related to the war can be found along the streets (ie. bullet shell keychains, old dog tags etc) but Dan Sinh Market is the dedicated place to get them.

The viets do not see the war in the same way but they know that it’s a money making business. It has been said that this is the place for original Zippos, but as time goes by the “real” war memorabilia are depleting and most of the goods there are now copies. Most shopkeepers would probably have very interesting stories to “back up” the authenticity their items and although most of them might just be a fluke, I’m pretty interested in what they have to say.

(Photo credits to aricwithana.com)

Good for: War-related items — Zippos, helmets, badges, dog tags, uniforms and many others.

Downside: Most, if not all of them are now replicas and have been made to look like a few decades old.

Cho Dan Sinh
104 Ð Yersin Pham Ngu Lao
District 1, Ho Chi Minh City
Opening Hours: 7.00a.m. – 6.00p.m.

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5. Dong Khoi

 

I stayed in the Riverside Hotel Saigon during my stay there and it was located in the Dong Khoi district. It’s the more “uptown” area and walking distance to shops like Levi’s and even Shunji Matsuo Hair Salon. There is also local chain Ipa-nima, which sells handmade beaded bags and pouches popular with local celebrities. Gucci and Louis Vuitton outlets can also be found nearby.

Along Dong Khoi, you can also find “Lucky Plaza”. If you’re looking for gifts to bring back, just make a trip there and your problems are more or less settled. The locals are also extremely helpful, and will even offer to deliver the goods to your hotel if you stay nearby.

Lucky Plaza — Great for souvenirs!

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6. Ho Chi Minh History Museum (The Museum of Vietnamese History)

 

 

Located just beside the Saigon Zoo & Botanical Garden, the area was flooded with young primary school kids even though I was there on a Sunday. I made the mistake of heading there slightly past noon (see tip right at the bottom of this entry) and had to wait until 1.30pm for the ticketing offices to open again.

No ticket purchase is required for locals but entrance for foreigners are priced at 15,000VD (SGD$0.95). Do also note that Photography Passes are needed if you are interested to take photographs of the artifacts within the exhibition area. These passes are priced at 32,000VD (SGD$2).

There is an extensive range of exhibits there and some of them range to as early as 2879BC. One that really caught my attention was the Mummy of Mrs Tran Thj Hieu. She died in 1869, they found her tomb in the 19th century and the actual preserved body is on display there!

Tickets are priced at 15,000 VD (SGD$0.95)

Map & main gate of the Museum of Vietnamese History

These are actually earrings! Ouch!

Ho Chi Minh History Museum
2 Nguyen Binh Khiem Street,
District 1, Ho Chi Minh City
Opening Hours: 8.00a.m. – 11.00a.m. & 1.30p.m. – 5.00p.m.
Closed on Monday
www.baotanglichsuvn.com

Admission costs 15,000VD (SGD$0.95);
Photography permit costs 32,000VD (SGD$2)

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7. Jade Emperor Pagoda

 

Also known as the Chua Ngoc Hong or the Phuoc Hai Tu, it was built by the Cantonese community (which is also why the staff behind the temple counters spoke the dialect!) Made famous by its paper mache statues, the temple houses various rooms and statues of deities with different themes. Do check out the wood carvings depicting the ten levels of hell and the various other wall deco!

Entrance of the Jade Pagoda Temple

Lady selling incense at the entrance


Sparrows, tortoises and fishes are also sold at the entrance of the temple for worshippers to “Fang Sheng” or release, a popular ritual amongst Buddhists.


Cute lil birds!


Inside the temple…


The smell of incense and joss sticks fill the air


“Ventilation”

Jade Emperor Pagoda
73 Mai Thi Luu Street
Ho Chi Minh City

Entry to the temple is free.

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8. Pham Ngu Lao (Backpackers Area)

 

Can’t stop talking about this place! Littered with cheap hostels and hotels, this area is perfect for a backpacker or anyone on holiday. Rooms go as low as USD$25 per night and are still equipped with the usual essentials such as hot water, shower and satellite tv! Check out Beautiful Saigon 2 Hotel or Elios Hotel!

Along the same street are also cheap bars and cafes, many of them heavily Australian influenced. Great nightlife in the area and it is relatively safe. Shops selling apparel, souvenirs, war propaganda posters, salons and internet cafes are also easily accessible.


The streets of Pham Ngu Lao.

War propaganda posters make pretty good gifts in my opinion! Most of them are replicas, but some shops (such as this one) sell the original full sized posters for a fairly reasonable price!


In Cafe La Vang

I mentioned I made a friend in Part 1 and she’s working at Lam Cafe in the area!Hana is super friendly and good at English, plus she’s been to Singapore three times and loves it here so we clicked really well. That girl treated us to our last dinner in Vietnam when we went back to the cafe for the awesome & cheap food. Can’t wait to visit HCM again!


Hana & I


My mom ordered Seafood spaghetti and the portion was huge! That for 45,000VD (SGD$2.80)!

Lam Cafe/Hello Saigon Bar
175, District 1 (Quan 1), District 1
Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam

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9. Saigon Fine Arts Museum

 

I love the colonial exterior of this museum (actually most of the buildings in Ho Chi Minh City are really pretty!) and I loved how all the glass panels had coloured mosaic and every window had rusty grills. There’s also a courtyard in the centre of the building and the basement also acts as a space for many local independent artists to display their work. An old pulley lift stands stationary in the middle of the stairwell when you walk in.


The Saigon Fine Arts Museum

Tickets to the Fine Arts Museum

There are a total of 3 levels open to public, the first floor featuring changing exhibits and paintings from local and international artists. The second floor displays the permanent collection of the museum’s contemporary art pieces and sculptures. The third floor houses work from the earlier times, so expect to see lots of old vases, statues and sculptures.

An artpiece on level 2

I really enjoyed the place but the Hanoi version is apparently much, much better. Can’t wait to visit the latter!

Saigon Fine Arts Museum
97A Pho Duc Chinh Street,
District 1, Ho Chi Minh City (Near Ben Thanh Market)
Opening Hours: 9.00a.m. – 5.00p.m.
Closed on Monday
Admission: 10,000VD (SGD$0.65)

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10. Saigon Notre Dame Basilica

 

The Catholic church is another pretty sight located along Ngo Duc Ke Street. The Catholic community is actually the second largest in Southeast Asia and this particular church in Ho Chi Minh was actually made to mirror the Notre Dame de Paris.

Now the oldest church in Ho Chi Minh, it’s bright orange tiles and bright gates still make it a really pretty sight and wonderful backdrop in photographs! I would really like to have entered the church and attended mass, so it might be useful to head there before dinner at about 5.30p.m.!


Closeup of the clock tower

There is also a statue of the the Virgin Mary in front of the cathedral and it attracted a large number of spectators in 2005 when it supposedly shed a single tear.

Saigon Notre Dame Cathedral Basilica
Cong Xa Paris Square, District 1
Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam

Daily 8.00a.m. – 11.00a.m. & 3.00p.m. – 4.00p.m.
(Mass) Mon – Sat 5.30a.m. & 5.00p.m.

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11. Saigon Opera House (Ho Chi Minh City Ballet Symphony Orchestra and Opera)

 

The Opera House looks really modern and is located just beside Continental Hotel Saigon and across from Louis Vuitton. Paid recitals, plays and ballets are held there on a regular basis so it might be useful to check on the programme schedule if you want to experience a show there. The ticketing staff there could not speak English but pamphlets were readily available.

Seating plan. The opera house can hold up to 1,800 audience at one time.

3 Phan Van Dat, Ward Ben Nghe,
District 1, Ho Chi Minh City
www.hbso.org.vn
Box Office 8.00a.m. – 8.00p.m. (Performance Days)
8.00a.m. – 5.30p.m. (Monday – Saturday)

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12. Thuong Xa Tax (Saigon Tax Trade Center)

 

Strategically located just opposite the popular Rex Hotel, This air conditioned “mall” looks just like any department store in Singapore. It has a similar concept to our Isetan/BHG, but instead of a common cashier, the individual stores are actually independent and handle their own sales. Shopping there also felt a lot “safer”.

Housing four storeys of shopping, things sold aren’t particularly “Vietnamese” but are of really reasonable prices. My mom managed to snag a few pairs of well-fitting jeans at about 400,000VD (SGD $25) each and I got a pair of denim shorts for 150,000VD (SGD $9.40).

I also managed to try Highlands Coffee there (which is almost an equivalent of Starbucks in Singapore) and it was pretty good! Thought I’ll order my usual Caramel Macchiato just so I could make a fair comparison. Their espresso does taste sharper and stronger, but my drink was overall too sweet for my liking. It came with a really nice butter biscuit though! A really nice touch.

Good for: Perfumes and accessories from international brands (L’Occitane, Guess, Calvin Klein, Rayban), Electronic appliances, Male and female apparel and shoes, souvenirs.

Downside: Items can get overpriced. This is where the lady wanted to charge me 200,000VD (SGD$12.50) for a wood carving I bought at 50,000 (SGD$3) elsewhere. Daily electronics such as irons and hairdryers are cheap, but bigger items such as DSLRs are more expensive so do research/know your prices before buying!

Thuong Xa Tax (Saigon Tax Trade Center)
135 Nguyen Hue
Ho Chi Minh City
Daily 9.00a.m. – 9.30p.m.
www.thuongxatax.com.vn

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13. War Remnants Museum

 

An eye opener for me really. I expected the usual, judging by the large tanks and fighter planes located in the courtyard. I took my fair share of photos before heading into this enclosed area where I found out about the Prisoners of War and the conditions of the prisons during the war. Check out some of the photos…

The War Remnants Museum, formally known as the very controversial, Museum of American War Crimes before 1993


Tickets and brochures!


Tanks, fighter planes and empty bombshells fill the entire courtyard


Beside the main building stands an exhibition where people can learn about the prison conditions during the war


The torture methods were inhuman and hard to digest, some of the images were pretty graphic


The infamous Tiger Cages used to hold the prisoners of war. Up to 3-4 of them were held captive in the cages not bigger than 1.5m x 2.5m.


Other exhibits such as used bullets, bombs and wrecked metal from fighter planes are also displayed.

We then headed into the building and learnt about some of the activities during the war and about Agent Orange. I’ve never felt so overwhelmed in such a long time, there were great photos and artifacts on display that say so much with so little. I never knew the effects of the dioxin was still affecting the people of Vietnam today. My mom and I really left the place with a heavy heart but we certainly learnt a lot and are much more aware of things now.

 

War Remnants Museum

28 Ð Vo Van Tan Street
District 3, Ho Chi Minh City
Opening Hours: 07.30a.m. – 12.00nn & 1.30p.m. – 5.00p.m.
Admission: 15,000VD (SGD $0.95)

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Tip: Basically important things to note are that many museums do not open on Mondays and many places take lunch breaks so opening hours usually only resume at about 1.30pm. Try to schedule your own lunches around the opening hours so you don’t make a wasted trip or waste any unnecessary time!

Most of the places listed here are located within District 1 and other information regarding these places can easily be googled. This is not meant to be a list of the places to go when you head to vietnam, but for the purpose of you to decide which you might be more interested to visit based on my experience. Below is a list of other places of interest you might want to check out.

Markets: Ben Thanh, Dan Sinh, Tan Dinh, Saigon Square

Shopping Malls: Diamond Department Store, Eden Mall, Parkson Plaza, Saigon Centre, Vincom Centre & Zen Plaza

This post sure took me eons to write, but I’m glad I did it and I’m really dying to go back there now. If there is anything you’ll like to add, or anything you might want to share with me, feel free to just leave me a comment! Thanks for reading! Hope you enjoyed it :)

Surviving Ho Chi Minh (Part 1 – Essentials)

Instead of doing the conventional “What I did on Day 1” kind of post, I decided to take a different approach this time. I’ve learnt a lot through this trip to Ho Chi Minh, many things that I wish people had told me before I actually got there. So here I am, with as much as my mind can remember just so you know what to look out for.

Part 1 features the essential things useful to note before even making a trip there, I’m thinking Part 2 will probably cover the various tourist attractions and places to go. Hope this is beneficial to some and interesting to all! :)

Currency


The currency used is the Vietnam Dong (VD), or simply called “Dong”. I used an estimate of about 16,000VD:SGD1 for easy counting, and numbers on price tags can easily go up into millions so do take note and be careful not to get cheated. It’s handy to have a calculator around (to haggle or to count).

The viets will also usually quote in USD when they can tell you’re a tourist. It’s widely used there but I’ve read online about how one can get the most out of the currency exchange by changing the Singapore dollar into USD before changing it to the Dong. Too much hassle? You decide.

They have HSBC and ANZ outlets and ATMs are readily available. In fact, as long as theres a logo on the machine that tallies with your card, that does it (Cirrus/ Plus). The ATMs have a max withdrawal amount of 2,000,000VD each time and charge a 30,000VD processing fee.

 

Flight



I booked my air tickets via Jetstar.com and got them at SGD$174/pax. The best time to go is supposedly from December to March when it’s cooler, but I wouldn’t worry too much, considering the temperature is very much the same as it is here in Singapore. Tiger Airways probably offers cheaper tickets so if you’re looking for a cheap getaway, Ho Chi Minh might be it!

 

Food


Food is readily available and easy to find as long as you’re willing to eat from roadside stalls. I think Singaporeans would be the happiest there for most Cafes and Restaurants are super reasonably priced. Food is really cheap there (it is about SGD$1.25 for a bowl of pho) and so is booze! Their local brew, 333 (prounounced ba-ba-ba) is smooth, not too sweet and is available at only 16,000VD (SGD$1) a can!

Some of the must-tries/local favourites are Banh Mi (Baguette stuffed with meat, onions and lots of veggies), Pho Bo (Beef rice noodles), Cha Gio (Deep fried spring rolls with shrimp and glass noodles) and Banh Xeo (Stuffed crepes).


Roadside hawker along the streets of Pham Ngu Lao


What I bought from her stall. Beef with penne ( It tasted more like the Chinese carrot cake for some reason…)


Crispy Crepes


Char Gio & Bánh Tráng (The deep fried and non deep fried versions respectively)


Pho Bo (Beef Rice Noodles)


Drinks


UnripeGreen Mangoes at 25,000VD/kg (~SGD $1.60)


Any idea what fruit this is? I think it’s honeydew.


Ba-Ba-Ba

 

Lodging


I stayed at the Riverside Hotel Saigon (just across from the Saigon River and near the Dong Khoi district at USD$59/night) and only made my booking via phone the night before. There are many choices around and they range from backpackers places to the more atas ones (Majestic Hotel/ Rex Hotel/Hotel Continental). Prices range from as cheap as USD $7 a night in a hostel to USD $300++ for one in Rex.

I was skeptical about staying in a place that cost anything below USD$30, but it’s after being in HCM that i realised it’s really okay. I really really enjoyed my time in Pham Ngu Lao, or where they call the backpackers area, and hostels and mini hotels literally flood the area. I’ll gladly pick any and stay there! Plus there are so many around, you can just take your pick upon arriving there instead of making a booking in advance.


“A/C, Hot Water, Internet, Cable TV Rooms. Price from USD 15. Yes, we have a lift.” One of the witty banners at the entrance of a backpackers hostel in Pham Ngu Lao


You can easily spot these small hotels on basically every street in the area. In this photo alone, Hotel Hana and Century Hotel


The more “expensive” hotels in Dong Khoi, Grand Hotel


Hotel Continental Saigon


The famous Rex Hotel (with the rotating crown at the top!)

 

Shopping/Souvenirs


There are the typical luxury brands (Gucci, Louis Vuitton, Chanel) and then there are others (Giordano, Bossini, MOF, O.P.I., Levi’s & even Shunji Matsuo!).

I found it hard to buy anything in the first few days, but one thing I heard from many is to custom-make outfits there. I had an evening maxi dress tailored for USD60 (about SGD $76) and my mom actually made a 3-piece working suit for USD$110 (about SGD $139)!

One can also choose to buy antiques or war memorabilia but be alert as many of them are now replicas. You can easily find old rusted dog tags, badges and watches. I also saw a couple of shops carrying old working film cameras! (A Rolleiflex went for about USD$250)


Replica branded goods are also all around…

There are countless souvenirs to choose from as the Viets are really talented at crafts — Purses made out of old drink cans, rice hats, leather goods and cheap shawls. One that I really liked (and bought) was this “Miss Vietnam” wood statue.

It looks fairly expensive but I got mine at only 50,000VD (SGD$3.20)! I’ve got a long story to accompany this one, but to cut it short, first lady wanted to sell it to me at 400,000VD (SGD $25), second lady wanted to sell it to me at 200,000VD (SGD$12.50). I told her I wanted it at 50,000VD and proceeded to walk away but I got my price in the end! It’s really always useful to know the approx price of stuff & always haggle! (I happened to read online that the statue costs only about USD $3~5 the night before)

More recommendations of places to shop at in Part 2!


Old “war-time” badges


Old “war-time” dogtags (would you dare buy them?)


Replica antique watches


Old watch faces


Real baby crocodiles as keychains


The signature rice hats and handpainted souvenirs


Old film cameras

 

People



The Viets are really helpful and friendly and I’m proud to say that I made a friend there! (More on that in Part 2). Most of them in the touristy areas do speak basic English and we bumped into a few that speak Cantonese.

We probably also saw a Caucasian for every 5 Viets and most of them spoke basic Vietnamese so it was pretty interesting.

I asked a lot of people for directions and most of them were really helpful. A couple of them also kept asking me to be careful (because I was slinging my DSLR) and I got that so much I eventually decided to hang it around my neck and hold it where ever I went.

 

Traffic


Traffic is probably what I heard most about before I left. The two wheelers reign the roads. The streets are flooded with more motorcycles than cars, and the sound of horns flood the roads. They almost don’t use signal lights or give way to each other (that’s what the horns are for) and some parts of the town do not even have road markings/dividers. There are no pedestrian crossings, just stripe markings on the floor at the junctions.

Embarrassingly, crossing the road took quite a while at the start. We kept hesitating. Soon though, we started just shadowing locals and taking the first step. Cars give way more than motorcycles do, but if you still find it tough then just do what we did — follow someone and soon you’ll get the hang of it.

 

Transport


(The starting fare is actually 4,900VD/SGD$0.30; my mom and I mistook it for 49,000VD/SGD$3 the whole time. Would you blame us? $0.30?!)

As mentioned above, motorcycles are the main form of transport in Ho Chi Minh and both cars and bikes can be easily rented. I don’t recommend that though, as traffic is VERY different from Singapore. I witnessed an accident on my short trip there (A pregnant lady got knocked unconscious) and it is apparently a common sight.

Cabs are readily available and most of them are air conditioned. Some cabbies understand English, most don’t. It’s always handy to have a map with you so you can point out where the places are. (Attempting to pronounce it doesn’t work. Tested & Proven – Hahaha) Make sure you tell them to go by the meter (never assume they will just because they have one in their cabs). Word of caution, different companies have different charges and these differ GREATLY. My mom & I lost quite a fair bit of money on taxis and here’s where it’s going to be slightly lengthier.

Tip #1. Read the meter properly.

Look at the number on the meter and multiply it by 1,000VD. The decimal point can be a little off throwing and on three occasions we paid 10x more than we ought to (of course, the driver just happily accepted the cash). We travelled mostly within the area and most of our taxi fares cost about 35,000VD (about SGD$2.20) on average.

Tip #2. Check your change.

After arriving at your destination, always check your change. Some cabbies try to pull a fast one but leaving out a couple of notes and only slowly give it to you one-by-one when you just sit there and wait for it (and actually show that you bother about it).

Tip #3. Always only board a “legit” taxi.

When I left the war remnants museum, I was swiftly “escorted” out and had the taxi door open for me. Everything happened so quickly I didn’t even have a chance to notice what car I was on. It was only when the meter started jumping when I noted something amiss. I was on a “private” cab (meaning just a normal car, with no toplight) and the fare just kept increasing every 10 seconds or so. The total fare amounted to about 135,000VD (SGD$9.10), but probably would have only cost about 16,000VD (SGD$1) or so on a normal cab.

*Extra tip from Ryan: Both Vinasun and Mai Linh are safe taxis to take.

 


The very similar looking “Comfort” cab we took from the airport to our hotel.

And that’s all (a lengthy one, no doubt) I’ve to share so far. I’ve honestly got a whole lot more to talk about but these are what I feel are the “essentials”.

My mom and I got ripped off a lot during this trip, but we paid the price only because we actually felt it was “reasonable” or still “cheap”. It’s only after asking around or buying the item again for the “real” price did we find out -.- It’s a lot about trial and error and with the cost of living there, we understood that people had to work really hard to make a living. Honestly, paying 3 times the price of something still seemed reasonable to us at that point of time…

Should there be anything else regarding Ho Chi Minh that you’re curious about and would like to ask, leave a comment down below! :)