10 March 2015

Tri-Country Trip: Visiting Vietnam! Hello, Ho Chi Minh City!

(This trip happened last 2013)

I have been wanting to blog religiously about travel and food trips but due to very busy work and personal schedule, I have not been doing that for the past 2 years or so. But I want to change all that this year, especially since I'm paying Google a certain fee every month for space. Food trips are easier to do but travel posts are extra hard because of the amount of time you have to dedicate in selecting photos, detail researching. etc. But here is to hoping it will all change as long as I put my mind and heart to it.

So this late post happened last 2013, first quarter, me and some friends hopped on a plane, ready to conquer our quick 3-country trip-- Vietnam, Cambodia and Thailand.

All of us were very excited! We arrived in our first country of destination, Vietnam, at around 1am or 2am.

Ho Chi Minh City at night was like being in Manila, at Ermita or Malate. Our taxi dropped us near where our hostel was located. It was small, a bit cramped at first sight, but our room was just right in size. And we were 5!  My My Arthouse is strategically located in Pham Ngu Lao which is the center of all things so that was very convenient. And it was really affordable. If I remember correctly, each one of us paid less than Php500/head per night.

After settling in around 3am, we all went out to gran something to bite and the hostel owner warned us not to bring anything with us, meaning our bags, cameras and phones, just our money for food. We got scared a bit and we did just that.

At just around the block, we came upon this temporary food stall where the table and chairs were low and small and my concern was I might break the seat, but I was wrong. It was sturdy enough. Once settled, we ordered a bowl of Pho each and a bottle of Coke.  The first sip of the broth was pure love! The ingredients were fresh and you can taste that while slurping away. We were hungry and all but that quality was the same one I've had in Pho Hoa here in Manila. It was so good! And best of all, I can't believe how cheap our great meal was, all for less than Php60 only. Too bad we did not have our cameras with us so we missed a great shot of us experiencing our first authentic Vietnamese fare in a rustic setting.

Our home for 2 nights. My My Arthouse is a hostel that is frequented by backpackers and we were surprised the next morning when we saw that our group were the only Asians booked in there. 
We were millionaires for a day! 100 USD is equal to around 2 million Vietnamese Dong. So that's how it feels to be a millionaire. 
Streetscapes. A friendly woman selling breads and a portable stall selling spring rolls and meat on skewers. What I regret? Not trying these especially since their prices are very cheap. Oh, I should have!
But I got to try this! My ultimate favorite food in HCMC this time -- Banh Mi sandwiches! They were a revelation and a treat to all of us! We all bought a sandwich or two.
I really could not get enought of this airy sandwich that is so filled to the brim with ingredients. It used a light baguette and spread with pate and slivers of carrots, cucumber and daikon were added together with a lot of meat! Ham, salami, pork slices, the works! 
Here it is! And what's best? Price when converted to Philippine Peso is around 30-35 only. This is simply the best sandwich that I ever had! Up to this date.
These are such cute buildings! So small and economical.
When you tour the city, you will definitely notice that there are lots of motorcycles EVERYWHERE! Better be aware of this because they do come in fast.
First tourist stop of the day is at the Cu Chi Tunnels. Located at the Cu Chi district of Ho Chi Minh City, it took us a 3-hr bus ride to get here. The 70km trip was a long one but to see the Cu Chi tunnels was a plan that cannot be missed. The tunnels are an elaborate system of underground tunnels that were used by the Viet Cong soldiers as hiding spots during the 1960s. 

It is now a war memorial park and a famous tourist destination. Some tunnels were reconstructed to fit Western tourists who are bigger in body size than the average Vietnamese size. 

But before we went there, we stopped at a art factory/store where quality-made ceramics and other art items were displayed and on sale. Here you will see how the workers do the tedious task of piecing together their fragile wares. This was a treat to us visitors because you can see the step-by-step process and on another side, see the beautiful finished products. 

Intricate details you will see here.
Happy to be here!
I would've have loved to take a piece of two but when we asked for the prices, they were sky-high! But that was only right because their pieces were all beautifully made and handcrafted. If you want to buy but is thinking of the hassle in dragging it with you the entire trip, no worries because they do ship anywhere in the world.
With a Malaysian backpacker, Wayne, who's doing a solo trip. We dragged him with us and enjoyed swapping short travel stories.
Finally! We arrived at the Cu Chi Tunnels. But first, a brief account of the history of the place is shared with the visitors. One thing I learned here, the Vietnamese were never conquered by any other countries. They are really proud of this fact, which is something truly remarkable. By the way, the entrance fee is 20 USD.
The Viet Cong were geniuses in the art of camouflage.
This was one of the many tunnels, We tried going in and it was a bit suffocating! Once I got in, I felt claustrophobia set in but you don't have a choice but to continue forward because you cannot get back where you started. Others are already at your back. Good thing, there is an exit every few meters and that's what we done. What a big sigh of relief! I cannot imagine how it was for the people who lived and used the the system. (photo from Wikipedia) 
Snacks are available
Before the guide will conclude the tour, a simple snack made from root crops and tea is shared to all. Basically, to give everyone a taste of what the people before.
We were all tired from all that walking in the jungle. While on our trip back to HCMC, we slept like the dead! And we still have not eaten lunch. So upon arrival, we ate at the first resto that we spotted. Pho 24!

PHO 24
Pho24 is also available here in Manila but have not tried it. I noticed that Vietnamese food are filled with healthy greens but very delicious also. The above photos are our orders. We recuperated and enjoyed the cool A/C while eating. It was hot outside so the cool ambiance was a very welcome respite. 
Ready to go for more exploration!
Wayne, our backpacker new friend, shared to us his map which came in handy. Too bad, we bade him goodbye after lunch. 
Mandatory street sign shot!
One of the famous places is the Ben Thanh Market. It's a one-stop shop for dry goods. And other stuff. But, my friend did not have a good retail experience because the coffee that she bought here was much expensive than buying it at coffee shops. Tsk tsk. One good tip, do some major haggling to get the best price. 
Sugar cane juice. So sweet and refreshing!
Random park along the way

Located at the city center, you would not feel that you are in Asia because the design of this cathedral is very European. I read it was because of the French influence Constructed in the 1880s, this majestic landmark will make you take photos of it in so many angles. Too bad we were not able to go inside because it was already closed for the day when we arrived.
Street food time! Saw this vendor in front of the cathedral and I cannot help but try it. It was like a taco. It tasted good, I recall.
Another structure of French influence. This is the largest post office in all of Vietnam and a famous tourist attraction also. When you go inside, you will see how well-maintained the building is. The tiled floor was a beautiful sight. 
One thing that was really sweet with our hostel location was that it was near everything! We just walked a block or two, then we saw this restaurant filled with people so we decided to invite ourselves there also. Open air with al fresco set-up, it was a nice spot to observe the night life of HCMC. There even was a random dancer jiggling to the tune of "Gangnam Style". 
Our generous dinner! They all look the same but they taste different. 
This was my rice portion. I put in all the cloves of garlic. Haha!
Notice all the motorcycles? It was wild when the stoplight turned green. They were all in a hurry. 
Vietnam's coffee is well-known so we could not pass up the night without frequenting a good coffee shop. And this Trung Nguyen Coffee shop was just across the street from where we had dinner so we were still full and we filled up again with the coffee. They also had coffee beans and packs available for take home so that was cool. This is the part where it dawned on my friend that the coffee she bought at Ben Thanh market was way more expensive than the actual coffee shop who produces this coffee. 
Their coffee was potent so drink moderately. But it was so good! We bought a lot for home brewing.
Well, right after coffee. Next on our list of must-do things is to have Saigon beer. And to just hang out and talk about our day's events. The night was so vibrant and alive and we enjoyed our down time. 
Happy folks!
We were all so happy with what we have accomplished for the day. We have been to many places and experienced a bit of the Vietnamese culture.

I want to go back again in the near future because just the thought of the Banh Mi sandwich is enough to make me come back. I will also try to visit Hanoi, Hoi An and Mui Ne next time around. And the cost of living here is so affordable! So tourist-friendly.

If you are in search of an out-of-the-country trip and on a tight budget, Vietnam should be tops on your list.

It was fun, Vietnam! =)


Watch out for my Cambodia (Siem Reap) and Thailand (Bangkok) posts soon! =)

04 March 2015

Pizza Overload at Mad For Pizza

I really liked my pizza experience over at Project Pie and when me and my office mates decided to try Mad For Pizza, whose concept is the same as P.P., I had high standards and equally high expectations from them. 

So we came in lunch time, we were glad that we were one of the first customers so we picked a nice spot for our group. 
Three of us decided to order the Create Your Own Pizza for Php285. We were given a small sheet of paper that is a checklist of the ingredients that you want to be thrown in your dough. I almost checked all. Almost. I chose the Garlic Parmesan dough with their house pizza sauce, which is a red sauce.
If in P.P. you can watch while they make your pizza, here there is a barrier behind the counter so you have to stand there for you to see how they fill the dough with your choices. Which is what we did. I waited for around 10-15mins for my order to cook because it had a lot of toppings. 

Waiting to be baked!
Once it was served, I was amazed! It was way bigger and fuller than P.P.'s so that was so good! You can share it with 2 others. The taste was delicious and very flavorful. Definitely no scrimping on the ingredients. We exchanged slices of our orders so we got to taste what they created and everything was fantastic! We were so full afterwards! If you ask me if its worth it, DEFINITELY!
My order. So filled to the brim. I can hardly finish it. It was so good!
An officemate's order. This I will try next, using white sauce as base because it tasted great too.
We all had a slice of each other's pizza. All the combinations were good.
Me and my masterpiece. 
That chili oil tasted might good with my pizza.
And they do serve alcoholic drinks too.
The staff were very friendly, courteous and accommodating so that made the experience very enjoyable. They volunteer information about their product without waiting for a question especially if they see that you are not sure what to order first. 

A tip that I want to share is that once you ordered your pizza, you can go and see how they prepare it so if in case you want to have additional ingredients, you can say so right away. 

I really enjoyed this! Definitely going back! 



2/F, Il Terrazzo, Tomas Morato corner Scout MadriƱan St. 
South Triangle, Quezon City
FB: Mad For Pizza

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