Ho Chi Minh City – Vietnam Motorbike Madness in Saigon

The customs process entering Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, was weird and a little complicated.  First you had to apply online and pay.  Next, you had to show up at the airport on the exact day as your visa approval letter.  At the gate you had to pay again for a stamping fee and submit passport photos, along with another form.  You drop all of this with your passport with the agent, who takes about 20 minutes to file the papers and stick the visa into your passport.  Then you walk to the actual customs gate where they inspect the visa and stamp your passport, taking up an obnoxious 1.5 pages.  But this was the cost to enter, and we were happy to pay it.  This would be our second visit to a Communist stronghold country and we expected to jump through hoops.

Ho Chi Minh City - Vietnam Motorbike Madness in Saigon

Upon exiting the Ho Chi Minh City airport we were barraged with taxi drivers all offering different prices to the Saigon city center.  All the taxis were supposed to be metered but no one offered us a metered rate.  The lowest we found was 200,000 Dong (23,000 Dong to $1 US) which our Airbnb said was an OK price so we went with it.  After leaving the airport the driver said that it was 200,000 plus a 150,000 airport tax.  We had a big argument where he told us to get out and still pay 200,000.  I said “No, you’re trying to cheat us.” But eventually we settled on 300,000, as I didn’t really want to get out.  The driver was happy and we arrived already annoyed.  For the record, the airport tax is 15,000 Dong and the trip on meter costs less than 150,000.  Taxi drivers can really suck sometimes.  They are the first impression travelers sometimes get in a new place and a bad one can start your trip in a bad way.  We got over it; you live and learn.

Lets take this pup for a ride!

Our first stop was for “bahn mi”, the classic Vietnamese sandwich.  It was so nice to get good bread finally and the toppings were amazing.  We walked around the city for awhile, hitting the sites.  The hardest part was avoiding death by motorbike, as they drive very crazily and all over the sidewalks.

In 1976 Saigon’s name was officially changed to Ho Chi Minh City, but many people still call it Saigon today.  We hit many of the attractions including the War Remnants Museum, Saint Paul’s Cathedral, and the Central Post Office which was designed by Gustave Eiffel and built between 1886 and 1891.  We have seen many of Eiffel’s works throughout the world, this one being very similar to the main bus terminal in Santa Cruz, Bolivia.

Ho Chi Minh City - Vietnam Motorbike Madness in Saigon
Saint Paul’s Cathedral
Ho Chi Minh City - Vietnam Motorbike Madness in Saigon
The Ho Chi Minh Post Office.
Colonial Architecture

The Ho Chi Minh City Ben Thanh Market was definitely a must see.  There are hundreds of vendors selling all types of food and souvenirs.  We had our first pho, the classic Vietnamese noodle dish with amazing broth.

Ho Chi Minh City - Vietnam Motorbike Madness in Saigon
Ben Thanh Market

Once the sun went down it was fun to go to Bui Vien Street.  This is backpacker central for Ho Chi Minh with cheap hostels and many bars on the street.  It reminded us a lot of Khao San Road in Bangkok, but a little less wild.  It’s nice to get a 15,000 Dong beer and sit on the street in a plastic chair watching the madness stroll by.

Ho Chi Minh City - Vietnam Motorbike Madness in Saigon

Our friend Flora has a cousin who was a very popular DJ around Saigon called D-Roc.  We went to watch him spin at a fancy nightclub called Qui.  This place was the worst– weird service and an annoying management.  However, the music was great and we hung out for most of the night.  After David’s set was over we went to another club called Lush.  They had several rooms with different types of music.  Their light shows were also very impressive.  They were open until 4 but we headed out before 2 cause we’re not as young as we used to be.  Clubbing is not really our scene but it’s fun once in a while with good friends!

Before leaving Ho Chi Minh City we went on an epic food tour with Flora and David (“D-Roc”).  We tried squid beaks, salt water snails, spice soup with chicken blood, and many other dishes.

Ho Chi Minh City - Vietnam Motorbike Madness in Saigon
Squid beaks and snails!
Ho Chi Minh City - Vietnam Motorbike Madness in Saigon
Vegetarian food was easy to find in Ho Chi Minh!
Ho Chi Minh City - Vietnam Motorbike Madness in Saigon
This soup had a huge chunk of chicken blood.
Ho Chi Minh City - Vietnam Motorbike Madness in Saigon
Dinner with friends!

It was sad to say goodbye to them after such an epic few days, but we were full and our curiosity for Vietnam had increased greatly.  We couldn’t wait to come back and explore more of the county.

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Street Food Heaven – Penang, Malaysia

georgetown
Shophouses in Georgetown, Penang, Malaysia

Georgetown, Penang, Malaysia

Georgetown, Penang, Malaysia
Buddhist ceremony in Georgetown

Penang, Malaysia had been on our bucket list since before we even knew what country it was in (😳embarrassing)!  One sleepy afternoon years ago, we were watching Anthony Bourdain on “Parts Unknown” stuff his face at Line Clear in Georgetown and decided then and there that any trip to Asia would have to include Penang.  After all, it was street food heaven right? We had five nights planned!  We decided to stay at the Tipsy Tiger Party Hostel because everyone on the backpacker trail was talking about it.  The price was kind of high at 40 Ringgit for a dorm bed but included was free breakfast, all-day coffee and water, and two strong drinks at the bar.  The bar area closes at 11 after the nightly beer pong tournament then everyone goes on a pub crawl down the street to Love Lane where you can continue the party as late as your heart desires.

most popular new hostel in malaysia
Tipsy Tiger Party Hostel
Tipsy Tiger Hostel Party
The Bar At Tipsy Tiger
love lane party street
Love Lane – Party Street Penang

The Tispy Tiger was a good time but after two nights of craziness we were ready for something more chill.  Our second accommodation, The Frame Guesthouse, a very zen/minimalist place with cedar ceilings and antique stairways.  We really liked our private room here and stayed for three nights enjoying the AC and waterfall showers.

Malaysia-139
The Frame lobby — a minimalist hostel in an old framemaker’s shop

The highlight of Penang for us was the street food.  Every corner had different stuff and you could really experience the fusion of Malay, Chinese, and Indian cuisines.  We tried to eat as much as possible, always opting for fourth and sometimes fifth meal.  It was a hard life.  Most of the food vendors have a few tables where you can sit and eat, and most require you to buy a bevarage- beer, soda or fresh-squeezed juice- if you use the table.  It really was a street food heaven.  Here are our favorites!

street food heaven
Laksa noodles- get in my belly
street food heaven
Pohpiah – like a large spring roll stuffed with tofu, veggies, and chili sauce!
street food heaven
Biggest Indian Meal Ever!
street food heaven
Obama Vegetarian Spring Rolls from Red Garden Food Paradise
street food heaven
Fermented pork belly noodles
street food heaven
Cendol – Icy Bean Dessert
street food heaven
More laksa bowls, yum!
penang food
Banana Leaf Indian
vegan food malaysia
In a healthy turn of events, we got vegan food from Wholey Wonder.  Yum!  The unicorn “cheesecake” is naturally-colored from the different superfruits in the layers.  So awesome!

One of the best places to eat is the famous Red Garden Food Paradise.  They usually have some singers and dancers in the center stage and around the edges there are so many different food vendors selling dishes from all over the world.  It has a very classic feel with red plastic chairs and happy families sharing tables stacked with food.  It’s always busy and opens at 6pm nightly.

red garden food stalls
Red Garden

My favorite late night spot was the 24-hour joint Line Clear.  Always a line and barely a menu, they kind of yell “What do you want?” when you get to the front then they slop it on a plate with rice and you get a scoop of sauce from each of the curries.  The food they sell is called nasi kandar, which pretty much means “country rice.”  It’s simple and everything you ever wanted after having a few beers on Love Lane.  Street Food Heaven indeed!

line clear nasi kandar
Line Clean 24hr Nasi Kandar.  Surprisingly they even had some vegetarian options for Carrie!

24 hour nasi kandar

Georgetown is unique in Asia because it largely avoided the bombings of World War II and the following wars.  Only a few bombs were dropped there so the old architecture has remained, giving the city a whole lot of character.   The only negative is the lack of sidewalks; you basically just walk along the side of the road and hope you don’t get clobbered by a drunk, texting motorbiker.  There was a lot of unique street art, most memorable of which were the cartoon wire sculptures depicting life in Penang throughout the years.

Georgetown Street Art
Georgetown Street Art
Georgetown Street Art
Georgetown Street Art
Georgetown Street Art
Georgetown Street Art
Georgetown Street Art
Georgetown Street Art

Georgetown Street Art

Georgetown Street Art

Georgetown Street Art

Georgetown Street Art

As in the rest of Malaysia, the mishmash of cultures and religious blends peacefully and beautifully in Penang.  So, I’ll leave you with a sunset over the downtown mosque and Hindu temple.

Georgetown, Penang, Malaysia
Masjid Kapitan Keling Mosque in Georgetown

Georgetown, Penang, Malaysia

Georgetown, Penang, Malaysia
Sri Mahamariamman Hindu Temple in Georgetown
Georgetown, Penang, Malaysia
Georgetown, Penang, Malaysia

 

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