Sunday August 6th, 2017
With not much on our agenda in Ho Chi Minh besides eat, we treated ourselves to a second morning without an alarm and slept in until ~11am. We woke up to pouring rain, so we slowly got ready and snacked on some fruits. By 1pm, the skies had cleared and it was sunny and over 30 degrees out. We were a little disappointed to find it so hot, as the last two days were so comfortable with the temperature only in the mid-high 20s. Oh well, better than rain! The girls liked the Bun Mam we had the first day so much, we decided to go back to Bun Mam Phan Boi Chau. I had loved the noodles too, but wanted to save stomach space to try something different later. So instead, I got the Goi Cuon Tom Thit (prawn and pork salad rolls) and got two good sized rolls for 24,000 VND ($1.33).
Feeling energized and in a mood to bargain, we decided to give the Ben Thanh Market across the street a second chance. When we had gone the first time, we didn’t put too much effort into finding the right stall to bargain at. The Vietnamese do not seem as outwardly friendly as the Thai, so it can be rather exhausting to try and strike a deal. Today we did rather well. Nickol and Pauline bought some t shirts, Steph bought a wallet, and I bought 1kg of rambutan for 30,000 VND ($1.67). Together we bargained down the price of stick-on silicone bras and nipple covers by buying a bunch. It may seem like a strange purchase, but these are normally so expensive in North America! I got two bras and three covers for only 300,000 VND ($16.67).
After shopping, we all felt the need for one last Vietnamese coffee. We searched up Trung Nguyen Coffee, a coffee shop recommended to us by our AirBnb host, and were pleased to find it was only a five minute walk away. I got an iced Vietnamese coffee for 45,000 VND ($2.50). It was very good and strong. Man, am I going to miss these coffees!
When we finally left around 5pm, we were happy to find the temperature had dropped to a comfortable 29 degrees. We walked around, looking in the various stores and shops. I bought some green mango for 50,000 VND ($2.78). Ho Chi Minh is a very interesting city, with so much to look at as you wander around. The city is so large, I feel like we barely scraped the surface. I would come back again for the food scene alone. There are street vendors and restaurants on every corner and street, busy at all hours of the day and night with people eating tasty looking dishes. Although the city seems a bit old and dirty (we saw multiple fat rats all over), it didn’t bother me too much. It was so busy with countless people just going about their day, indifferent to the grunge around them, that it was easy to let it go.
After exploring the area around Ben Thanh Market, we went home to drop off bags, do laundry, and pack. Just before 8pm, we took an uber to Banh Canh Cua Tran Khao Chan. Another Mark Wiens restaurant recommendation, this restaurant was supposed to be good for its Banh Canh Cua, a noodle dish with a thick, crab broth. Although his blog post stated the restaurant closed at 9:30, we arrived to find it closed… Too hungry to try and seek out another specific restaurant, we decided to just look up a restaurant close by. We ended up at Cuc Gach Quan, a five minute walk away. Occupying a converted tube house, the restaurant was almost hidden away. We would have walked past if the doorman didn’t ask us what we were looking for. The inside was decorated with many homey touches, so you almost felt like you were dining at someone’s home in their dining room.
Looking around at the other tables, the dishes seemed on the smaller side, like at a tapas style restaurant. We shared:
Homemade tofu with egg steamed, served with seafood and passion sauce – 120,000 VND ($6.67). It was served in four hollowed out passion fruit shells with little pieces of shrimp and squid on top of the tofu at the bottom of the shell. The tofu was soft, smooth, and creamy. The sweet passion fruit sauce had shredded carrot, onions, and passionfruit seeds, which added a nice, surprising crunch.
Banana salad with clams – 95,000 VND ($5.28). I was surprised to find the clams were raw, but they were juicy and very tasty. The dressing was sweet, sour, and slightly spicy with tastes of lemongrass, mint, and ginger. In addiction to the banana blossoms, there was shredded carrot, onions, and sesame seeds.
Rice steamed with salt and peanuts – 80,000 VND ($4.44). The peanuts were served on the side, crushed, and were sweet, salty, and very tasty on the rice. I was surprised how much I enjoyed the combination – it was so simple, but so good! I think I may start doing that at home.
Sour soup with fish – 100,000 VND ($5.56). The soup came in a large bowl with big pieces of tomato, okra, pineapples, bean sprouts, and two other vegetables I couldn’t identify. There were also two large fish filets, with flesh that was moist and tender. The broth itself was slightly sweet and citrusy, so was not too sour which was nice.
Pork stewed with egg in a claypot – 100,000 VND ($5.56). This dish came with three big hunks of pork belly and two eggs. The pork was melt in your mouth tender and the eggs were surprisingly delicious. They must have been boiled in the sauce for quite some time, as the curry flavour had penetrated all the way to the yolk. I don’t even generally like eggs and they were one of my dishes of the meal!
La lot cuon bo (pawn leaf beef rolls) – 80,000 VND ($4.44). This is a dish I have been wanting to try since we arrived in Vietnam, as it is a traditional dish frequently listed as a ‘must try’ dish. I liked that it had a charred flavour from being grilled, but found the leaf a little too bitter for my liking. The beef inside was nothing special, but the dipping sauce was interesting as it tasted like fermented fish. It was interesting, but probably my least favourite dish of the meal.
River fish stewed in a claypot – 95,000 VND ($5.28). This dish came with two thick fish filets in a thick, sweet, peppery sauce. The fish was just barely cooked so it was not dry at all, and so tender and moist. The sauce was delicious and made the dish one of my favourites of the meal!
Noodles sautéed with seafood – 120,000 VND ($6.67). Surprisingly, there were more shrimp, clams, squid and veggies than noodles! The sauce was light, which balanced out the strong flavours from the other dishes in the meal.
The total came to 860,000 VND ($47.78), not bad considering we were at a more upscale tapas style restaurant. Although initially disappointed our original dinner plan fell through, it was rather serendipitous we ended up at a nicer restaurant for our last night in Ho Chi Minh. The food and atmosphere were both great and it was a nice way to cap off a great two weeks in Vietnam.
We finished dinner around 10pm and quickly rushed to get a taxi to Pocpoc Beer Garden. We had walked past it last night and were amazed at the scene before us. It was a large open-air beer garden with a live DJ playing loud music on a good sound system, bright strobe lights and LED billboards, carbon dioxide smoke machines, and tables filled with locals. Unfortunately we weren’t dressed appropriately last night, so decided to come back tonight.
When we arrived, we were pleased to find it just as busy on a Sunday night as Saturday. There were cheap beers, ciders, mixed drinks, as well as people ordering bar food and huge punch-sized bowls of fresh fruit (never seen that at a bar before). Many locals came over to talk to us and ask where we were from. They were all friendly, but the bar also had so much security we never felt unsafe. It was a really cool, laid-back venue, perfect for hanging out with friends, and probably one of my favourite bars I’ve ever been to. My only regret is that the music was so good but they didn’t have a dance floor!
24,000 VND ($1.33) – brunch
30,000 VND ($1.67) – rambutan
300,000 VND ($16.67) – stick on bras/ nipple covers
45,000 VND ($2.50) – coffee
50,000 VND ($2.78) – mango
215,000 VND ($11.94) – dinner
135,000 VND ($7.50) – pocpoc
100,000 VND ($5.56) – my share of taxis for the day
Total = 899,000 VND ($49.94)
Running total = $2247.77