Monthly Update: Saigon, Bangkok, Melbourne – March 2016

Greetings from Melbourne! After a three month road trip across America and two months in Saigon, I am finally back in Australia. I spent a week in Melbourne in late August prior to leaving for America and couldn’t wait to come back again, especially in the summer time. 

It’s been a busy month (sorry I’m a bit late on the update), and having been on three different countries including Vietnam, Thailand and now Australia, I’m well and truly in need of some down time. Here are the notable highlights from the busy month and a half.

Australia Day in Vietnam

I haven’t spent that many Australia Days overseas, but it’s always interesting to see where the Aussies are in whatever city to celebrate Australia Day. In Saigon, there are no shortages of backpacker hostels to visit on Australia Day that would be serving up Vegemite sandwiches and streaming Triple J’s Hottest 100 countdown. I ended up checking out the festivities at Saigon Inn close to the backpacker district, along with another Aussie friend, and to be honest, it was pretty much like staring back into the past; and where I would have been on my first backpacking trip.

lip tattoo

The backpacker life. A Canadian that I met at the Australia Day party at Saigon Inn.

Overall, it was a fun experience, chugging away at a few beers on the rooftop bar and having a laugh at the drunken mayhem that was unfolding throughout the afternoon. It was an afternoon that reinforced that my backpacking party days are well and truly over – for now.

Tet (Lunar New Year)

I experienced my second Tet in Saigon in which I wrote a separate post about. Tet would have to be my favourite time to be in Saigon; the air is cleaner, the temperature is much more bearable and the spirits are high as Saigoneers settle in for the holidays. Basically it’s a two week period of eating and celebrations.

tet ao dai

A woman dressed in a traditional Ao Dai dress

watermelons in vietnam

Watermelons are a popular food item to consume and to gift during Tet. Here, a vendor creatively carves out various designs for customers.

During that time, I also got to head down south briefly to hang out with relatives who I haven’t seen for over a decade and soak up the holiday vibe there.

flower street tet vietnam

Nguyen Hue walking street is transformed into a flower street, with many flower installations and fixtures for locals to pose for photos in front of.

Wandering around Saigon – Cholon and district 4

I didn’t venture out beyond District 1 and 3 often this season. Between those districts, there are more places to eat and explore than you could poke a stick at. However, I did explore Cholon (Saigon’s Chinatown) during the week leading up to Tet. My friend, James sent me a detailed wandering map of where to go, which was a great resource.

Cholon has a history, rooted in trade, so for me the only thing worth seeing is the Binh Tay Market, the main market. It’s not like the usual tourist trap of Ben Thanh market in District 1. Instead, most things are sold in bulk for retailers, so vendors don’t care much for tourists who wander slowly. There are all types of weird and wonderful things that are sold in the market, but what I like to do is watch the delivery people with their motorbikes loaded up with products that push the limits of physics and zip in and out of traffic.

motorbik delivery man

A mattress delivery man in Cholon testing the limits of his bike capacity.

I also went wandering around in District 4 with my friend, Sarah from Somewhere in Saigon. Sarah’s an expat who has been living in Saigon for the past three years with her family and leads photography and general tours for those who want to explore the lesser known areas of Saigon, such as the various alleyways and markets.

Photography can be a lonely hobby, but being able to share your passion with somebody who is equally as passionate about Vietnam, food and photography is an added bonus. Check out Sarah’s custom tours if you’re ever in Saigon.

fried pastry in vietnam

A local woman selling a fried pastry called giò cháo quẩy.

Mui Ne

Despite Saigon’s proximity to the sea, I don’t eat much seafood unless if I am right at the source. That’ why when I visit Mui Ne on the coast all that I ate was seafood – for breakfast, lunch and dinner. The last time I was in Mui Ne, I failed miserably at finding the White Sand Dunes; so this time around, I was determined to find them. After a half hour ride on a motorbike and getting fried by the sun, we found them, only to be underwhelmed by the size as well as the number of all terrain vehicles zipping up and down the dunes. I’ve pretty much given up on finding cool things to do in Vietnam unless if they are completely off the map.

mui ne seafood market

Several plates of boiled crabs. A small portion of the breakfast onslaught of seafood.

vietnamese sand dunes

Checking out the Red Dunes in Mui Ne

Weird Foods – Snake and Dessert Pizza

February wasn’t without its fair share of weird foods, and two items stood out the most. When I visited my cousin, I was asked if I wanted to eat anything in particular. Jokingly said “No dog meat please.” So when I arrived, there was a plate of unusual looking meat. It didn’t look like dog meat, so I had a little nibble. Void of much meat, flavour and more chewy than anything, with a heavy lemongrass flavour that it was fried in – it must have been snake! The last time I had snake, it wasn’t great then and it wasn’t great now. I’m not sure what pleasure the Vietnamese get out of eating snake?

snake meat vietnam

Can you recognise that it’s snake?

When in Vietnam, I can count on one hand the times that I’ve eaten non Vietnamese food, however one of those occasions was pizza. When asking around, everybody who I spoke to said that 4P’s was the place to go. Thinking it would be an authentic Italian place and despite its ridiculous name, 4P’s is in fact a Japanese run establishment. Anyway, we manage to secure a dinner booking for 9pm on a Tuesday evening and although the pizzas were of outstanding quality, it was the dessert pizza that blew my mind. I’ll let the photo below do the talking.

pizza in ho chi minh city

Dessert Pizza from 4P’s

Bangkok

I’ve lost count of how many times that I’ve flown into Bangkok during the past three years – possibly six times? The city has become a place that aids in the transition back into the “first world”. It has all of the amenities of a modern city: malls, air conditioning and clothing stores that stock western sizes. It also has a great street food scene, delicious markets and also a grunginess about it that is a reminder that you’re in SE Asia.

boat noodles

Boat Noodles from Rua Thong restaurant in Bangkok. Portion sizes are small but they’re so cheap, you can easily gobble down at least three bowls.

While in Bangkok, I stayed with my friends, Marion and Tim. Being massive foodies, they took me for an onslaught of food and wine that my body wasn’t used to and took its toll the few final days there. Apart from great Thai food, there’s a delicious Japanese food scene and the shopping mall food courts are next level.

Melbourne

I’ve been staying with my friends, Lizzie and M.J who I met in Utila and ended up traveling together to Ecuador and Peru. Well, the weather in Melbourne the past week has been amazing and as a result, I’ve been doing a lot of outdoors activities such as hiking around the Dandenong region as well as cycling around the Yarra River. The city of Melbourne has transformed itself into a bicycle friendly city and it’s invigorating to see so many people riding or walking and running in the morning and afternoons.

The real reason though as to why I’m here is to find full time employment. Things run at a slower pace here in Melbourne versus Sydney in terms of work availability, so it’s been a test of patience and persistence.

Bangkok food market

A huge market feast – for two people at Khlong Lat Mayom market.

Where to next?

I don’t have any long travel plans for 2016. You could say that my reasons for travel have changed considerably with every mile that I travelled since last year and that I have a hunger to slow the f*ck down. I feel that 2016 will be the year to explore more of my own backyard and Melbourne seems to be a place that has been calling out to me over the past few years. There’s a thriving food scene and nightlife in Melbourne, and some of my close Sydney friends have moved down here. Another reason is the demise of the Sydney nightlife which has become a huge contributing factor in deciding to come south of the border.

saigon

Hanging out with my cousin and her family

I haven’t confirmed anything in terms of employment, but my options are wide open. Why not become a full time travel blogger you say? Well – full time traveling is not a glamorous lifestyle and in all honesty, is a huge distraction when you’re trying to enjoy your time in the one place. That’s the reason why you haven’t seen me push other products or services like some of the full time bloggers out there in order to stay on the road for the sake of it. I’ve been content with my decisions and reasons for travel to not, but that’s a story for another time.

How’s was your February? Anything exciting planned for the coming month?


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