Chimpy Goes To Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City)

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  1. Chimpy
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    Chimpy Gold Member

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    After reading so many entertaining and informative trip reports I thought it was only fair to write one of my own. I am not as articulate as Mangy and I do not drink alcohol like Savy but despite these setbacks I hope that this report will still be of interest to those who read it.

    To start this off a bit of background about the trip. My main objective of this vacation is to visit my brother and his wife who live in Ho Chi Minh City or to those frequent flyers amongst us SGN (I will stick to this format as it is shorter). My brother is the General Manager of KOTO Saigon, this is a not for profit restaurant and vocational training program that is changing the lives of street and disadvantaged youth in Vietnam. He has always worked in or managed 5 star hotels so this is a bit of a change for him. No more heavily discounted or free hotel rooms and suites for me :(. But this is a great charity and helps the youths and I believe the tourism industry in Vietnam.

    I was originally supposed to leave on Friday but now I have to attend a "conference" at the Gold Coast (OOL) on the Saturday so I am now flying to SGN on Sunday morning. At least there was no problem changing my flight. All my flights except the domestic legs were purchased with points, the domestic ones were so heavily discounted it was far easier to just pay for them and save the points for another day. My departure airport is Rockhampton (ROK) and as there is no flight to the Gold Coast the flight is to the Brisbane (BNE) then a rental car for the rest of the trip. For two people it worked out far cheaper to hire a car than catch a train, bus or taxi.

    Enough ramblings let's get this report started.

    My first flight from Rockhampton to Brisbane is on a Qantas Dash 8, they are usually strict with the 7kg hand luggage so I weigh mine before I go. It used to be only 4kg which was ridiculous but at least then it was not weighed. I left from home at eight o'clock as we have a forty minute drive to the airport. It is going to be a long day, my alarm woke me up at the usual time of 3.40am as I had to do a bit of work before I leave. I think it is worth a mention that my wife is only a bit late which is not always the case. This trip we have pretty heavy suitcases as I am taking a few gifts for my brother and the students at Koto. I have books, koala key rings and two cartons of Caramello Koalas, at least being a QP member I have a 32kg allowance.
    I had checked in online so it was pretty smooth once we got to the airport, after dropping our bags off it was off to the Qantas Club for some of their awful coffee. Mrs Chimpy always buys.a cappuccino to take in, half the time the time there is no coffee in the lounge anyway.

    Here is a photo of the Qantas Club lounge in Rockhampton it is only small but as it it only a small airport we are lucky to have one at all.

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    MilePoint in the ROK Lounge

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    Today the airport is a hive of activity, there is a joint military exercise in Central Queensland between Australia and United States at the moment (Exercise Talisman Sabre). Apparently it is the largest joint military exercise undertaken by the Australian Defence Force.

    As some of you might be aware from reading my posts here I quite like my gadgets. For this trip I bought myself a new phone for travel. I needed one that would not cost the earth but still have everything I need while on holiday. After quite a bit of research I thought I would go for an android one. If anyone is after an android phone and do not want or are not sure how to root, flash a new rom or upgrade the software make sure you get at least android 2.2 (Froyo). One of the great things with Froyo is it has in the settings the option to turn the phone into a mobile hot spot. If you are like me who has a Galaxy tab (wifi only) in his/her pocket you can't go wrong. You will also need a local pre paid sim at your destination with a good data plan. My brother has already purchased me a Viettel sim with 3 gb of data for aprox. $9 AUD. That is for a month, which is more than enough. I opened an account with voipbuster yesterday (without buying credits) to use with this phone. The android app is MobileVoip, with this setup using either wifi or a good data plan I can make free calls to Land Line phones in over 30 countries including Australia, the US and Canada. After a few test calls I have found a bit of a lag but as the calls are free I can live with it.
    I have also loaded on my Flight Track Pro, Tripit and Skype. Getting back to the phone, I finally went with the Huawei U8150 Ideos. It cost me $120 AUD for an unlocked one without a contract which I thought was a reasonable price. Another thing to look for in a phone is GPS, this can come in quite handy while traveling overseas.
    I am getting a bit side-tracked which is not a good sign this early in the report so let's get back to it. The plane ended up being about an hour late departing, at least I don't have to catch a connecting flight. The flight was very pleasant. As I boarded the flight attendant said welcome back Mr Chimpy, that is the second flight in a row that I have had a proper welcome, it is getting back to how it used to be. After taking off they came around with refreshments, again this was a pleasant surprise instead of half filling the snack box with a cup of water that is almost impossible to open, without spraying the content over both yourself and the person sitting next to you they had added some extra food eg. a fruit yogurt. There was also a muesli bar and a sultana scone. After the attendants cleared the food it was time to start our decent. It was quite a fast flight as it only took 55 minutes instead of the usual 75.

    My plane, a QantasLink Dash 8-400.

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    The food.

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    The leg room and Family Guy

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    The seats

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    More soon.
     
  2. Kaanapali
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    Kaanapali Gold Member

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    Thanks Chimpy!
    :) A great and promising start :)
     
  3. Chimpy
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    Chimpy Gold Member

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    After that it was only a matter of picking up the hire car and driving to the Gold Coast. We are staying at the Sheraton Mirage, courtesy of the people hosting the event. I have to say, all the staff we met from the front door to reception could not have been better, I hate to admit it but hotel service in Australia is very hit and miss even in the better hotels. At checkin we were offered a breakfast box in the morning as we had to check out early,breakfast was included in our package. I had to decline, my driving is bad enough without trying to eat breakfast at the same time. We also went down to the function area where we registered and there was lunch for those that wanted it.
    The room was very spacious, the only problem was with the robes, I am about 80kg and I could not get it to cover me in front. The bath was built for two, and there was a notice on it saying that it took eighteen minutes to fill. It only took me fifteen at the most. Across the road via an overpass is The Marina Mirage an upmarket shopping area and next to that is the Palazzo Versace which looks very nice indeed. After exploring the shops and our hotel we went back to the room for a bath and a quick rest before it is time to go out. The theme for the evening is black and white, my black jacket is a bit on the tight side but I can always undo the buttons as soon as I sit down (forever the optimist)
    It is almost time to head down for the " big night", I hope the food was as good as last year in Sydney.

    It was a pleasant evening, but we left early (11pm) as we had a big day in head of us.

    The Lobby of the Sheraton

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    The view from the lobby

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    Our room

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    The Bath

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  4. milchap
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    milchap Gold Member

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    Enjoyed the read and the photos. Thanks Chimpy.
     
  5. JALPak
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    JALPak Gold Member

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    WOW your hand looks like a Chimp's :p
     
  6. sobore
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    sobore Gold Member

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    Nice report. Any idea how long it takes for the bath to fill? :)
     
  7. JALPak
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    JALPak Gold Member

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    you meant as oppose to what it says on the glass? :p
     
  8. Chimpy
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    Chimpy Gold Member

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    The next morning we checked out of the hotel at 5am and drove to the BNE airport. As Mrs Cimpy had only had two glasses of wine the night before we decided that it would probably be safer for her to drive. She does not like my driving much, I don't blame her. We dropped the car back to Hertz without incident apart from almost wiping out the security gate (arm) that was almost too slow lifting up. As it was dark we did not even see it until it was almost through the windscreen. After dropping the keys back we proceeded to the SQ counter. As usual the check-in experience was excellent, we then headed off to the lounge. The lounge was nice and quiet but the food offerings were a bit sparse. As I was taking photographs of the food a man approached me and jokingly asked if they were for the health department. I told him that they were for a trip report on Milepoint and he seemed quite interested, a shame my Milepoint Referral Cards had not arrived yet.

    The SQ Lounge in Brisbane

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    MilePoint

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    Food

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  9. Chimpy
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    Chimpy Gold Member

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    It is. :D
     
  10. Chimpy
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    Chimpy Gold Member

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    Our flight was scheduled to depart on time so we made our way down to the departure gate only to find out there was an operational delay of twenty minutes. I think there were some catering issues. As J class passengers we were allowed to board first, at least SQ seem to enforce this most of the time not like some other airlines or my next leg of the journey.On board I had the welcome drink of Citrus Royale (orange and pineapple juice with lime cordial and 7 up). Our push back was only ten minutes late, so we were slowly making up time. Our plane was a A330-300. A nice plane with plenty of legroom especially if you have the front row:).

    Our plane.

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    Not long after take off we were served brunch. I had for starters sliced fresh fruit,

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    Then there was a choice of cereal or yoghurt (no photograph). I had the yoghurt.

    Next was the main. Mrs Chimpy and I both had braised egg noodles with prawns, fish fillet and vegetables.

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    To finish off there was hazelnut and banana anglaise

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    A view of the J class cabin

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    Leg room and more family guy.

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    Before landing there was a snack, I had a warm brioche sandwich with ham salad and potato wedges.

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    Soon after that we landed and only had to wait 2 hours for our next flight.
     
  11. sobore
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    sobore Gold Member

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    No Banana?
     
  12. Chimpy
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    Chimpy Gold Member

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    It is always easy to spend a few hours in Changi, what a great airport. The SQ J lounge in T2 is closed for renovations at the moment so they are using the F class one instead. I will be the last to complain, it was a terrific lounge with a large array of food and drinks. It was a shame that I had eaten so much on the flight. Our plane was running 40 minutes late due to passengers connecting from Jakarta, so this gave us some extra time to enjoy this lounge.

    Inside the F lounge

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    A pond inside the airport.

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    Our plane a 777-200

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    Our food on this plane was book the cook lobster thermidor and a salad with marinated scallops.

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    Our flight arrived only 20 minutes late so we had managed to make up a bit of the time.
     
  13. savydog
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    savydog Gold Member

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    This was a welcome surprise this morning, good to see you did not wait the 2 weeks you were talking about yesterday. I may need to have a week or so off after seeing the SQ flight and lounge again :)
     
  14. wingspan
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    wingspan Silver Member

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    This may be a ridiculous question - but was it just a data sim? Or were you able to make calls as well? My in-laws live in a rural town in the Mekong Delta and I've always just used internet cafes while visiting them because my brother-in-law told me that there would be no sim card that would suit me. But this sounds ideal! 3gb for $9ish? This is prepaid, right?

    I'm enjoying your trip report! Great to see the SQ lounge!
     
  15. Chimpy
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    Chimpy Gold Member

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    Yes I could make calls as well, I went for the Viettel sim (not their red Happy Tomato sim card) . You may need to text "3G ON" to 161 to enable 3G. Then send a text message to 191, write the name of the package you want in the body. As mine was the 200,000 VND for 3gb the text was "MI200" without the quotes. It would of been easier if my brother had my phone when he bought the sim as they will set it up in the store for you.
     
  16. wingspan
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    Fantastic! Thanks for the info. This will definitely make my life easier!
     
  17. Chimpy
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    Chimpy Gold Member

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    As we already had our visa's it was just a matter of a couple of stamps in the passport then off to collect our luggage, then the luggage went through an x-ray and we were out the door. One thing that I was pleasantly surprised with is there was no arrival card to fill out.
    My brother and his wife were waiting outside for us, so then it was just a taxi to his apartment. the taxi ride was just over an hour for aprox. $12 AUD. In Australia they charge half that before it even starts. After such a big day we just went to a coffee shop for a snack then bed.

    The next morning we went out for breakfast and had Pho which is a light, fragrant soup eaten for breakfast and all through the day.

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    After that it was off to the Koto training centre to meet the students and give them their gifts. That morning two of the four classes were going on a field trip for a few days and they were extremely excited.

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    After spending a few hours here including lunch we caught a bus into the city.
    I have been to several countries in the world where state that they have the worst traffic conditions in the world including Bangkok, but they have nothing on this place.

    Here is a warning from the US Department Of State.

    This is not an exaggeration, but getting back to the bus ride. The local bus only slows down at a bus stop it does not actually stop. As it gets close the back door opens and the "conductor" reaches out and grabs your arm and drags you onto the bus. There is not much difference when you want to get off, he does not exactly fling you out but you are certainly assisted. It was an experience, I can see why there are never many tourists on these buses.

    Crossing the road is also another experience that you often hear about but you actually have to try it to have any idea what it is like. Ho Chi Minh City has about 3 million motor cycles, picture this many coming down a street and you have no hope of crossing. You wait until there are no buses, cars, or trucks coming as they can not stop or swerve then you take the "leap of faith". It is just a matter of stepping out into the sea of motor cycles. As long as you remain calm and keep a constant speed, don't try to rush across or change direction you are safe. They will drive on either side of you. At one busy road an elderly Vietnamese lady crossed with us, she was holding onto my wife's arm for safety. At some of the busy intersections there are tourist police who will help tourists navigate the crossings. Motor cycles never seem to stop, they drive on the footpath up one way streets and go through red lights. They also carry large loads. We saw one with a fridge on the back and another with a washing machine.

    This is a quiet side street.

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  18. travelingmore
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    travelingmore Gold Member

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    Way to go, Chimpy! I am enjoying your report postings - thanks.
     
  19. Chimpy
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    Chimpy Gold Member

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    Ben Thanh Market also known as Central Market is a market that seems to sell everything. At the front near the main entrance there are lots of knockoff brand-name clothes, and as you get further in there is a number of small souvenir stands. Toward the back of the market there are a few small cafes serving local cuisine or coffee and fruit drinks including sugar cane juice. On the last day we had a very nice lunch here and Mrs Chimpy picked up some nice lacquerware.

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    After exploring the city for the remainder of the day we went to a restaurant called Nha Hang Ngon. It is an interesting concept. The owner has picked the cities best food hawkers and put them under one roof. You get the best dishes from Vietnam at great prices.I am not sure what some of the things were but they were all delicious.

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  20. Chimpy
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    Chimpy Gold Member

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    To finish the evening off we went for some ice cream.

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  21. savydog
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    Yes I got to go there in June, those little cubes are really tender beef and spiced perfectly :)

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  22. Chimpy
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    Chimpy Gold Member

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    The next day we were booked on a two day, one night cruise on the Mekong River. The mini bus picked us up at about 8.45am for the 3 hour drive to Can Tho. There was so little leg room in the van that I had to sit sideways. When we got to the boat I could hardly stand up. Mrs Chimpy (legs on the left) could fit her legs in but she is almost a foot shorter than me :)

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    On the boat we were given a nice welcome drink and some cold towels, then were shown to our cabin.

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  23. spesalvi

    spesalvi Gold Member

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    Nha Hang Mgon is one of Bourdain's face restaurants that he frequented and mentioned often on his shows.
     
  24. Chimpy
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    Chimpy Gold Member

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    Soon after we started cruising lunch was served.

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    First we had pumpkin soup, it was made with just pumpkin and milk with a bit of seasoning.

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    After the soup came some spring rolls which had a filling made of coconut milk, pineapple, onion and banana.

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    Then some prawns that had been boiled in coconut milk

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    Next was catfish, stir-fried bok choy with garlic and rice

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    And last but not least was some fruit (mangosteen and rambutans).

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  25. spesalvi

    spesalvi Gold Member

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    those springrolls look tasty, I never tasted that particular kind before just the usual meat/shrimp and veggies one.
     

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