Good morning! Or, shall I say, "Good Morning Vietnam!" :)
So, Day 2 takes us around HCMC, exploring sites along Dong Khoi Street, namely the Saigon Opera House and the Central Mosque; all these were just some minutes walk up front from where we were staying on Nguyen Thi Minh Khai; while behind our hotel was the War Remnants Musuem on Vo Van Tan.
We started towards Dong Khoi via Pham Ngoc Thach, where we first stopped for morning tea at the Royal Tea House. It was again another quaint and cozy place, and so pretty, with pretty boxed up tea gift packs, and sweet smelling candles on display, I felt like a princess! They had just opened, so I guess the main sales people had not arrived yet, so it was just us and the cute lady who communicated with us via sign and tonal language :)
We continued towards Dong Khoi in a very slow and relaxing manner, taking in the morning air and traffic! I loved this part of HCMC. The buildings and shops were pretty, with renowned hotels such as The Continental, The Caravelle, and The Grand Hotel. Though busy, the ambience was far less chaotic than the bustling part of Ben Thanh, and there are so many nice coffee and tea places to pop in to refresh and recharge.
The first place we popped into was Artsky Gallery. It was the block before the Vincom Centre, and we saw the paintings as we were walking by. We went in, it was a very small place, simple and rustic, but we loved the works! They were by Kha Trung, and it was his sister who greeted us in and started to explain his work to us. And while we were admiring his work and trying to decide which was the best for us to take home, his wife arrived. We decided on a small lacquered work of his, which both his sister and wife assured was from his original painting, and that it was the only piece. So at a comfortable budget for us, we got both an original art piece and lacquer work, both significant marks of Vietnam. The piece we chose was from Kha Trung's Old-Town Series, "Chinatown in District 5 HCMC, in the rain"...
After Artsky, we continued to walk on along Dong Khoi, pictures above. Along the way was, of course, the grand Saigon Opera House...
I was not joking about the humidity being overwhelming. So, we found ourselves inside a coffee shop again, this time it was Caffe Bene, where we had coffee and the kids enjoyed ice cream. Caffe Bene was cool, very modern and attractive, and as usual, the kids are never in short need of the facilities, and they were impressed with the cafe's ordering gadget, which looked like a miniature ufo!
Somehow, throughout our stay in Vietnam, we never actually entered a Trung Nguyen Coffee outlet or Highlands Coffee. Gloria Jeans was just a few steps away from our hotel so that's why we went. But each time we passed a Trung Nguyen, we weren't actually in need yet for a cuppa. We did though have Trung Nguyen coffee in our hotel room as part of the complimentary basket. Like the popular Malay saying, "takde jodoh nak ke Trung Nguyen." But in all the other cafes we went to, we always ordered the Classic Vietnamese Milk Coffee, either hot or iced.
After recharging at Bene, we continued on Dong Khoi till the end, where we saw the beautiful Majestic Hotel and the Saigon River, before turning left towards the statue of Tran Hung Dao. At the Tran Hung Dao Square, we met a sweet little old lady selling cold coconut water @USD1 a piece. So we made a pit stop there to enjoy the coconut water and the boys ran around being boys!
When they got tired of running around the Tran Hung Dao square, the boys got hungry! So we thought we'd go check out Bobby Chinn's place on Le Duan, not realising that it's already been out of operations for a while. This was my oversight, for not checking it out before the fact, even when we were there at the Kumho Asiana Plaza the day before, visiting HRC. Anyhow, we only discovered this when we finally reached the Kumho Asiana Plaza again, after walking a good 20 minutes I would say. So we had actually made our way on Hai Ba Trung, stopping by Dong Du to visit the Central Mosque and just enjoying the sites, before we realised we had to find somewhere else to eat! Had we known sooner, we would have just eaten at Halal @ Saigon. Anyway, I then remembered reading about a cool vegan friendly vegetarian place on Vo Van Tan, where we were going next, to visit the War Remnants Museum. So, we quickly caught a Vinasun taxi at the plaza and off we went towards Prem Bistro.
Prem Bistro was tucked away nicely off Vo Van Tan, so it was very quite and cozy. We were warmly greeted with refreshing ice water and then we ordered quickly. The menus were all creatively handwritten in crafty handmade notebooks. We had noodle soup and the boys had a few rounds of cheese raviolli! And I especially loved the overdose of dill in my soup. We enjoyed the food and the atmosphere at Prem Bistro, very nice :)
We left Prem's around 2pm and walked on towards the War Remnants Museum. It started raining along the way, so we took shelter along the road, at one of the office buildings there. It was fascinating to see how the people carried on in the rain, walking, riding on motorbikes, with raincoats, without much care for the wet. Once the rain subsided, we made it safely to the museum, and the boys were thrilled to see of the combat paraphernalia! I was not too amused, instead I felt a bit daunted and started getting teary when I read the writings and saw the pictures on the walls. So most of the time I just sat on the waiting benches, while the boys explored and read up on the history of the American War in Vietnam, as how the locals see it. There is a room where we can read up on the true history of the war, I didn't go, but my boys did, and they shared the information with me in full detail. Whatever war it is, wherever it is, however it is, I just hate them, especially when outside people come in and busy about with our domestic affairs, causing so much suffering and so many deaths, not to mention all the illegitimate offsprings left behind.
After the War Remnants Museum, we walked back to our hotel and rested. The location of Au Lac Hotel 1 was very convenient for us as it sits quite in the middle of things. We could actually walk to Ben Thanh too, slowly via Pasteur and Le Loi, while enjoying the coffee and artsy shops along there, but the boys just wanted to stay in and they refused to go back to Ben Thanh! So, we left them at the hotel and we 2 went around to enjoy the last bits of HCMC, mainly around Le Loi. But we didn't go back to Ben Thanh either; the first time we were at Ben Thanh, amidst the chaos of vendors grabbing us, tugging and shouting out at us, we did manage to buy the kids each a pair of high cut canvas sneakers, and a few pieces of dry fit Ts for Rostam. That was done quite hastily, as we were finding our way out of the market. We also managed to grab a small cabin size luggage outside the market as we were waiting for the taxi. Shopping in and around Ben Thanh is more for those who are in Vietnam mainly to shop, who have serious bulk shopping in mind, or those looking for longterm wholesale prospects. Else, it would suffice to just pop in, get a feel of the market, and walk back out to calmer waters. We were in Vietnam for what we call our "Enrichment Trip", which we try to do at least every 2 years if not annually. What we aim to achieve is to understand more about the country, the people, their way of life; we learn to appreciate their cultures and traditions, and try uncover a few secret tricks of their trade; and if we in turn have the opportunity to share our knowledge and culture with the people there, especially about Malaysia, that would be a plus point. So, I would say a trip to Ben Thanh is a good form of enrichment, but we wouldn't hang around there for more than an hour, if we didn't have any specific business in mind. So on our last quick browsing around HCMC, Rostam and I just made a quick stop at The House Of Saigon again, and dropped in on a nice book shop we found, The ArtBook. The nice things about book shops is, the people there read, and they have read about Malaysia, and they were happy to meet us :)
That night, we walked back to Vo Van Tan, and had dinner at the Banana Leaf Restaurant. I would say it was a better experience than what we had at Serai Restaurant, in terms of taste and pricing too.
And next will be about our wonderful experience in Da Lat. Do stay tuned for that, as I have lots to share about the "paradise" I found there, and the fun the kids had! xox