Saigon Notre-Dame Basilica, Ho Chi Minh City Vietnam

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In the middle of Ho Chi Minh City sits two beautiful structures that are a reminder of the country’s French colonial past – the Saigon Notre-Dame Basilica and the Saigon Central Post Office. This was our last stop in Vietnam before heading back to Kuala Lumpur.

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Named after its much larger and grander counterpart in Paris, the Saigon Notre-Dame Basilica was constructed in the 1800s by the French, with two large belltowers flanking the entrance. It is easily spotted from a distance due to its distinctive red-brick hue. All the materials were brought in from France for the construction. There is a statue of the Virgin Mary just across the road in a small patch of green facting the church.

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And across the road is the Saigon Central Post Office, another colonial building constructed around the same time. It still functions as a regular post office apart from being a popular tourist attraction. It’s pink and white facade, along with arched windows and carvings have a distinctively European feel to them. And guess who designed this building?

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The post office was designed by Gustave Eiffel, the very same guy who created one of the world’s most well-known structures in Paris today – the Eiffel Tower.

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Our stop was very brief as we had to catch lunch and a flight home, so after some snapshots, we were bundled onto the bus again and driven to a nearby Vietnamese restaurant.

We had Egg salad, Vietnamese paper spring rolls, cashew chicken and pho. The rolls were great and filled with shrimp and sliced vegetables, while the cashew chicken was cooked well, tender and had a crispy fried noodle basket to go with it. I had my pho without the herbs and stuff, because they were not really to my taste.

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My verdict on Vietnamese food? I guess I like certain things, but it’s very vege-heavy, which is not something I’m particularly fond of. These days I don’t eat meat as much, but I still don’t like vegetables so much. If I were ever to go vegetarian, I think I’d subsist on fungi and legumes. O-o

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Last view from the bus as we head to the airport.

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Goodbye, Vietnam! It’s been fun:)

River Cruise down the Saigon River

What’s your idea of a romantic dinner date? If you’re looking for a nice, quiet cruise down the river at night with good food and entertainment, then you’d probably pick a river cruise. We hopped onto one of these one night at the Saigon River, which runs right through the heart of Ho Chi Minh City.

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We boarded at a ‘dock’ area, which housed numerous boats that have been converted into floating restaurants – their lights reflecting in the calm surface of the river’s water.

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Our boat was the Dong Duong 25, decorated in the style of a traditional wooden boat, with open windows to allow the salty river air to float in.

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Interior of the double-decker boat restaurant.

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The journey would take 1.5 hours down the Saigon river and back to our original point. We set off at 8pm. While we waited for our food to be served, local performers danced and played music for guests.

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Then it was nom time! For appetisers, we had a squid salad with cucumbers, chilli and various herbs in an orange sweet and sour sauce. The squid was perfectly marinated and was fresh and bouncy to the bite.

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Steamed prawns, which were fat and juicy. My favourite part of having shrimp is the delightfully creamy roe in the head. Mhm!

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Billboards lining the river. They were an odd mix of capitalist advertisements, like ads for beer and products, coupled with propaganda messages calling for national patriotism.

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Deep fried fish with sweet and sour sauce. This was pretty good too, crispy on the outside and tender white fish meat on the inside.

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Tender fried chicken drizzled over with brown sauce.

Halfway through the cruise it started raining really heavily and we had to shut all the windows. The boat started bopping up and down the rough currents. I was kinda worried it would hit something and sink!

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We got back to the dock early (captain must have thought to cut it short coz of weather) but once we docked, it stopped raining -___-

We finished our meal with a nice hotpot in the cold weather.

The cruise would have been great if not for the sudden fierce storm in between, but otherwise it would be a good bet for holidaying couples to try. It can get a bit pricey though at around USD66.

River cruise bookings are available online or onsite. Be sure to check for the best prices!

Enter Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam

Ho Chi Minh City, or Saigon as it is better known to the locals, is the largest city in Vietnam, with a population of over 8mil. It was the centre of administration during the French-colonial era, and later the South Vietnam forces backed by the West. It’s capitalist-oriented past is reflected in the tonnes of touristy shops and establishments, unlike Hanoi which, although under an open economy, strikes me as distinctively ‘rigid’ or ‘spartan’ (Karaoke centres are the only form of entertainment, and most shops close after 9pm). HCMC, however, is like Kuta in Bali – thriving, colourful, bright and never sleeps.

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We arrived at the Tan Son Nhat airport after a two hour flight from Hanoi. Our guide, Mai, immediately hopped onto the bus and took us around the city. It was approaching evening and the roads were full of scooters and bikes returning from rush hour. I saw many more familiar shops like Starbucks, McD, Giordano, etc which were absent in Hanoi.

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Apparently many Malaysians favour coming here, so much so that some signs are in Malay. 🙂

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Mai brought us to a back alley restaurant (I am terribly sorry, but I can’t remember the name at all D:) which had a nice ambience and served fusion Viet/French cuisine.

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Did I mention that every set meal in Vietnam comes with a bottle of glass Coke? Not the can varieties: actual, glass bottle Coke. I don’t see these in KL anymore.

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Deep fried Vietnamese spring rolls. Crunchy and crispy on the outside with soft, juicy vegetables on the inside. If only vegetables taste as good as these, I’d eat them everyday lulz.

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Duck ravioli.

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Vermicelli salad.

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This was like, the bomb. Grilled stuffed squid, topped with fresh, chopped tomatoes. The squid was springy and fresh, stuffed with a combination of herbs and minced meat for different textures. My only lament was that the portion was quite small to be shared among so many of us.:P

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Cauliflower and vegetable stew. This was okay, but not flavourful enough

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Viets seem to love putting pineapple in everything. This was so sweet it was more like  a dessert soup.

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And to finish off, some spongecake topped with soft custard.

It was a great way to start our intro to Ho Chi Minh City – Hanoi’s more party-going sister. More to come!