The Ho Chi Minh City trip was by far the most enjoyable trip that Dear1 and Dear2 have so far. Is it becos we had 3 other friends as companions, or is it becos it was a free and easy tour but becos we went on 2 full day trips with local guides who narrated freely about the culture and life tales of Vietnam, making the experience cheap yet rewarding? Hmm… Or was it the friendliness of the Vietnamese people, or even the fact that Dear2 finds the ‘just cross through the traffic’ exciting yet interesting? Hmm… I guess the cheap shopping and cheap yet not-stingy food in HCMC did play a big part as well. :p
Shopping, yes, let’s talk about shopping in HCMC. Shopping in HCMC can be very fulfilling, mainly becos of the exchange rates and that many big brands are actually manufactured in Vietnam so that u do not need to pay extra for import goods. Here I go…
Exchange Vietnam Dong (VND): Forget about exchanging any VND in Singapore at all. Even from the best money changers in The Arcade, best rate was 1 SGD = 10,000 VND. Not to mention that about half of the money changers here DO NOT have enuff VND to supply. Unlike the usual no-no of exchanging foreign currencies in the country that u visit or at the airport, PLEASE exchange your VND at the HCMC airport. The best rate on the day that we visited HCMC was 1 SGD = 11,433 VND. WOW!!
(Fake) Branded Goods: Yes, like Thailand, there’s A LOT of fake Coach and LV and Gucci, Lacoste and Tommy H and Timberland. But if u just want to flaunt that ‘branded’ bag and ‘branded’ polo tee at your friends, no need to go Thailand and face the increasing unfriendly sales people. Yes, the Vietnamese are soooo friendly people. Like many markets, you HAVE TO bargain 40% of the quoted price. Keep the negotiation atmosphere friendly, cos every dollar savings to us may well be their cost to feed the family for a day, so as long as the price is about what u’re willing pay, ‘let’s all be happy happy’ and close the deal.
Branded Goods: As mentioned, Vietnam is home to production of many branded goods. Dear1 and Dear2 got a Northface 3-layer waterproof jacket at VND 600,000, and waterproof Nike shoes at VND 430,000. Since these are essential for our upcoming Japan trip, taking into consideration walking in the snow, we allocated a sum for these. Afterall, I’m pretty sure that we’ll not see these prices anywhere in Singapore again. And oh, did I mention about the shop that sells extremely cute cats-and-dogs practicals in bright pastel colors? Not too sure what’s the name of the brand, and it might even be imitation of the original, but Dear1 pampered Dear2 with 2 sweet pouches at VND 70,000 each. Thank u Dear1!
Vietnam Souvenirs: If u are those who feel obliged to buy souvenirs for friends and relatives everytime u go on tour, HCMC is a good place to sweep up cheap knick knacks. Embriodered purses, clothe bags, egg shell picture frames, shell mirrors, ornaments in every shape and size and price, surely there’s plenty for u to choose from. Just make sure that your souvenirs dun get stashed away at the back of your friends’ cabinets (again), so get something that they will like.
Food: Eating in HCMC is cheap. Even in places where tourists frequent, u can get a hearty meal at half the price u’ll pay in Singapore. And I’m talking about places where they serve tourists. If u are adventurous enuff, take up a stool along the alley and order whatever the locals are eating (dun ask me what they are eating, cos it’s always hard to ask ‘what’s in this’ when most of the locals [not selling in shops] can’t speak English), I’m pretty sure that the food will still gel with our Asian tongue. And dun worry about hygiene, in the week that Dear1 and Dear2 were there, we absolutely have no problem with the stomach, but of course, please get your 1L bottled water @ VND 8,000 each anywhere, even from roadside stalls.
Reccommendation to Shop: If u have read up enuff about HCMC, Ben Thanh market will not come as as unfamiliar to u. The Ben Thanh day market has a WIDE variety of goods in the sheltered building, and some of the more ‘tourist’ goods gets moved out into the night market when the day market closes at 6pm. A reccommendation will be to stay in District 1 where the Ben Thanh market is, cos almost everything worthwhile to see and do and buy in HCMC is located in District 1.
2 hours flight away, and possbily cheap air tickets cos many airlines fly HCMC now (we flew on Tiger Airways at SGD 200 for return tickets), HCMC may be a nice place to visit now. Do visit HCMC soon, cos Dear2 has a feeling that urbanization and influx of tourism may quickly turn the now friendly and cheap city into one of the familiar cities we’ve seen so often, faced with extreme bad traffic and pollution, of stressful lives and not-so-cheap bargains for tourists anymore.