Friday August 4, 2017
Up, packed, and checked out by 7:30am, we sat down to our last homestay breakfast in Hoi An. With the option of having pho soup, quang noodles or banh mi in addition to the usual breakfast options, we all agreed this has been our favourite homestay breakfast this trip.
Sometime during the early morning, Luna had delivered the last few pieces of clothing we had made that needed overnight alterations. It was a relief to get them in time for or departure, but hopefully they fit as we have no chance to alter them anymore… This was one of the few accommodations we had not prepaid for, so we settled our bill before getting picked up by our taxi at 8:15am. For four nights stay with taxi service to and from the airport, we each paid only 750,000 VND ($41.67)!
We arrived at Da Nang airport around 9am, paid 660,000 VND ($36.67) to check in the suitcase we had to buy to carry our purchases, and breezed through their almost non-existent security check. As they had changed the departure gate from what was printed on our boarding classes without announcing it, we nearly missed our 10:15am flight to Ho Chi Minh. Luckily we caught the final boarding call announcement and ran over to the correct gate. The 70 minute flight was uneventful and we arrived in Ho Chi Minh at noon. Unfortunately, we had to wait 30 minutes for our checked bag… I guess we’ve gotten to used to the swiftness of travelling with only carry-on backpacks.
Leaving the airport, I was surprised at how much people were packing onto motorbike taxis. Families piled onto a single bike with seemingly impossible numbers of children and bags. We opted for the safe option and got into a normal taxi car. Driving through Ho Chi Minh, I immediately felt the difference of being in a big city again. It was chaotic and loud, with no apparent organization to the flow of traffic. We seemed to crawl through the city traffic at a snail’s pace before eventually arriving at our AirBnb around 2pm. Our host was waiting for us when we arrived and took us up to our fourth floor apartment.
After dropping off our bags, we set back out for lunch and walked ~25 minutes to Bun Mam Phan Boi Chau. Coming to Ho Chi Minh, we were excited to find Mark Wiens had written a blog post on his favourite dishes in Ho Chi Minh and 25 restaurants to try them at. As we had loved all his recommended restaurants that we had tried in Thailand, we planned to spend our time in Ho Chi Minh seeking out as many of his 25 recommended restaurants as possible.
Bun Mam Phan Boi Chau is a restaurant famous for a noodle soup dish called Bun Mam. Its dark broth is made with fermented fish sauce, tamarind juice, and sugar. Also in the bowl were rice noodles, squid, prawns, pork, and eggplant. Nickol and Steph ordered this dish and I tried some – the broth was a little on the sweet side for my liking, but I liked that the flavours were strong and unique. I ordered the Banh Canh Cua for 55,000 VND ($3.06). Instead of being a noodle soup with a thin broth like usual, the crab flavoured broth was thickened to an almost gravy like consistency. I loved how the broth coated the thick rice noodles completely so there was a ton of flavour with each bite.
After lunch, we decided to check out Ben Thanh Market, conveniently located directly across the restaurant. It was a covered market with stalls selling clothes, bags, jewellery, souvenirs, food, etc. I got two bowls made from coconut shells for 70,000 VND ($3.89). I have a feeling I may change my mind and think they’re tacky when I get home, but they seem like they’ll be cute to throw coins and keys in.
Walking around the food market we were approached by an Australian gentleman saying “Excuse me ladies, HaLong Bay?” Having been approached by so many vendors and salespeople we kept walking, not thinking much of him. But he persisted saying, “Ey Canadians!” And then it clicked! We had met him on our HaLong Bay cruise! What a small world! I cannot believe we bumped into one of the very few people we know in Vietnam, in the food market of Vietnam’s biggest city. After all the fried food we’ve eaten this past week, I was craving some fruit and bought some rambutan, dragon fruit, and mango from a vendor for 110,000 VND ($6.11).
Leaving the market, we stopped by a grocery to store to pick up snacks and a couple of bottles of wine. Travel days always seem to tire us out, so we figured we’d get take out, wine, and snacks and have a girls night in. We were also to tempted to actually spend time in our apartment, as it is so nice and actually has space for us to hang out. Grocery bags in hand, we stopped by a nearby café for iced coffees and to look up dinner restaurant. We pulled up Mark Wiens’ list of restaurant recommendations and decided on Banh Cuon Hai Nam, as it was one of the closest at only a 15 minute taxi ride away. I ordered the dish it is named after, Banh Cuon (steamed rolled rice pancake with shrimp & meat) for 38,000 VND ($2.11). There was such a generous amount of pork, shrimp, and mushroom filling in the rice roll that there may have been more filling than roll. Each bite had so much flavour, it was delicious! They also gave us huge baggies of nuoc cham, the sweet fish sauce. As I love the stuff, I happily doused my entire dish (side lettuce, bean sprouts, fried garlic and all) and ate it with a spoon. It was so, so good, I would say it was one of my favourite dishes in Vietnam so far. I want to go back for more, but with only two more full days in Ho Chi Minh, we already have too little time to eat all the things we want. (On a sadder note, the restaurant forgot to give us Stephanie’s rice dish… so close to a perfect meal!)
Before cracking open the bottles of wine, we got the chores out of the way and did a couple of loads of laundry and showered. At the grocery store we had found a package of Bean Boozled jellybeans. It contained 10 colour pairs in 20 flavours, with a nice and nasty flavour option per pair. For example, white was coconut/ spoiled milk, pink was strawberry banana smoothie or dead fish, orange was peach or barf, brown was chocolate or dog food, yellow was buttered popcorn or rotten egg, speckled yellow was caramel corn or moldly cheese, green was lime or lawn clippings, speckled green was pear or booger, and pink was tutti fruitti or stinky socks.
We played several different games, and the loser of each round had to pick a bean at random. Some of the nasty beans were truly nasty, which made it great fun. We stayed up until almost 3am chatting, playing games, sipping wine, and munching our way through our pile of snacks – ’twas a good night.
750,000 VND ($41.67) – horizon homestay
165,000 VND ($9.17) – my share of checked bag
40,000 VND ($2.22) – my share of taxi
55,000 VND ($3.06) – lunch
110,000 VND ($6.11) – fruit
160,000 VND ($8.89) – wine
40,000 VND ($2.22) – snacks
38,000 VND ($2.11) – dinner
Total = 1,357,000 VND ($75.44)
Running total = $2182