Some Miracles and Millions in Vietnam


(It was a pleasant surprise arriving in Ho Chi Minh City. I have not encountered the travel advice that going there would make me a millionaire in a foreign land, at least for a few days. Haha! That’s because the currency exchange rate was incredibly unbelievable, like 1:400. So imagine the cash that I brought for our entire stay and had them changed to Vietnamese dong. The bills were thick! 😀 )

My story about this trip would revolve around the very idea that it is extremely affordable for a tourist to eat in this country. It felt weird paying for a meal that is worth five digits. If I compute the price against my country’s currency, that is inexpensive. We compared eating at street stalls, fast food, and mid-price restaurants. Even the restaurants were not costly at all. What’s best was that for every food outlet you go to, vegetables were on the menu. We noticed that Vietnamese people are heavy vegetable consumers. It was a good thing for a vegetarian like myself. I was so delighted to see that even their very few fast-food chains had fresh vegetable sidings. That is unusual in my country as vegetables are usually pricey. Oh, and have I mentioned that we came to Ho Chi Minh at a time when the first-ever McDonald’s Vietnam opened? So the queue was long, but we managed to get in for some afternoon sundae because it was hot. (That time, we were told, and it was apparent also, that there were only three fast food outlets: the newly opened McDonald’s, Burger King, and Jollibee!!!)

Notice the vegetable side dishes. This is not like the Jollibee in the Philippines, where it all began.

Around Ho Chi Minh, one would see nice malls, flea markets (especially at night), gadgets districts, and wet markets. We visited these and were able to buy little souvenirs. We just could not buy a new mobile phone in one of the gadget stores even if we wanted to because they were mostly in Chinese characters. I bought a cute watch at a flea market instead.

Aside from shopping and eating, we toured the War Remnants Museum which displayed real warplanes, choppers, and tanks on their grounds. When you go inside, the displays are quite graphic with all the photos vividly showing war scenarios at their worst. There were also ammunition and weapons in the showroom. There was so much history in that place. Not to mention propaganda, too. The bottom line is, in war, everybody loses.

First time to see an actual war tank.

To brush aside the heaviness of the museum ambiance, we went to the Saigon Zoo. We still saw a different kind of heavy— the elephants and hippos that abounded. The entrance tickets, as expected, were not expensive at all. So we roamed and spent part of the afternoon at the zoo/park.

Reminds me of Henrietta Hippo of the New Zoo Revue fame.
There were many elephants in the zoo and this one is the friendliest of all, so I took its pic.

Vietnam is famous for its coffee. My husband is known for his dependence on coffee. What a perfect match! So we went and tried at The Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf there one afternoon. Then to cap the evening, we went to the famous Trung Nguyen coffee house.

The drip coffee that Vietnam is famous for.
I opted for the iced chocolate.

My love for banh mi — that crisp french bread that clutches fresh juicy vegetables, scrambled egg, and dressing — became intense as I tried the street side vendor that sells what is to be the best banh mi ever. Too bad I couldn’t find the photo of it.

We met our long-time friend from church who now teaches English in Ho Chi Minh. She used to be an engineer for an international clothing brand in the Philippines. As a treat for us, we had dinner at a well-known crab restaurant called Quan 49. We ate rice, vegetable sidings, and of course, the garlic crab. And as expected, that meal was superb and yet inexpensive, especially I did not pay for it. Haha!

What’s missing in this blog are photos from our Pho 2000 lunch. When former U.S. President Bill Clinton visited Vietnam, he dined at the same pho place, so it sort of became a popular destination in Ho Chi Minh. For those who do not know yet, pho is the Vietnamese savory noodle soup made from beef stock, but sometimes chicken or seafood stock, with fresh bean sprouts, mint leaves, and other vegetables. After our lunch at Pho 2000, we headed to the nearby wet market called Ben Thanh Market.

If this post is more about inexpensive and yet great food, that’s because Ho Chi Minh as a city offers just about that in abundance. The attractions are good, yes. The people are friendly even if English is not often used in daily conversation. But what stood out are the healthy dishes I am glad we tried even on vacation. Because we’d normally eat anything on a holiday regardless of whether it’s healthy or not. As a matter of fact, I could not believe that my husband finished a hefty serving of the vegetable pancake all by himself. He is not even fond of vegetables huh! This “miracle” and the “millions” I had in Vietnam were one for the books. Oh, and the other miracle was that I survived the swarms of motorcycles on Ho Chi Minh’s streets. It was a test of visual acuity and speed.

Pardon the blur. This is the huge vegetable pancake that my husband finished. It was all veggies inside partnered with sweet-savory fish sauce!
A collage of what we had at Jollibee… That was a vegetable soup. Even the banh mi was not fast food-like.
While walking in the city one night after dinner, we saw this free show at the park. We stayed for a while even if we could not comprehend the language. The lights were just dazzling.
Even the coffee beans have a heart.
At one of the malls in Ho Chi Minh.
At a Vietnamese flea market one busy evening.