I've been here for a week now, and I've got to say, I'm enjoying being back in the motherland much more than I expected to. The hotel we're staying at is roomy and clean (well, before we got to it anyway lol)
and pretty much in the middle of the city, about 3 minutes walk to ben thanh markets (one of the biggest indoor markets in Saigon, although prices there are quite dear and lots of places are now 'fixed price' so we won't be shopping there much anymore). Wifi is free at most hotels here.
The food here has been amazing, and amazingly cheap - with the best meal so far being from a restaurant called nha hang ngon (literally 'restaurant yummy') - banh xeo (Vietnamese pancakes), banh beo (Vietnamese rice cakes with shrimp), banh coc (small round rice and turmeric cakes with shrimp topping), rau muon (morning glory), bun thit nuong (grilled pork vermicelli), tamarind mud crab, rice and more, plus two rounds of drinks (including fresh guava juice, fresh coconut, soursop shakes, a beer) for 5 adults and 3 kids for $60! And the atmosphere and service was top notch to boot!
The outside seating area of nha hang ngon. The place gets absolutely packed at night - this is the line to get in.
Rau muon. I was too busy eating to take pictures of anything else lol
The poor waiter kept apologizing about everything even though there was nothing wrong...he even came and cut up our food and when we told him not to worry about it he told us he was scared because some customers were a bit difficult and he couldn't risk getting complaints. We felt terrible for him, knowing how much he would have valued his job. People here, the ones with proper jobs in restaurants or hotels, work all day for 30000-60000 dong - the equivalent to $1.50-$3 a day. And they're the ones doing well. It really puts things into perspective - we complain about having to work for $20 an hour, and really, dealing with a few grumpy customers is nothing like being on your hands and knees scrubbing floors.
And this is in the city. We don't head to the country until next week, and I hear that's where shit gets really bad.
Another terrible thing is that tourists are told not to give money to beggars, because if you give to one person, they swarm to you. Its so difficult, especially with my problem of not being able to say no. We have just been overtipping and letting people keep change. Not much to us, but days wages for them.
In saying all of this, though, I'm a little ashamed to say that in the past couple of days we've been indulging in some shopping - yesterday after dinner, we wandered through a night market, where we picked up everything from kids polos, to rings, toys and dolls, dresses, and leather wallets. Vendors here drive a hard bargain, and even though relative to prices back home, everything is cheap, you still have to bargain as they'll try to charge tourists double or triple the normal price for items.
Yesterday I picked up two cute polka dot pleated dresses for 650000 dong ($16.50 each), bargained down from the asking price of 760000 dong, which was still definitely a rip off as we saw the same dresses a few stalls down for the STARTING price of 250000 each ($12.50, meaning there was still bargaining room). Rationally it's still cheap, but it's annoying how convincing the sales people are when they tell you that it's the lowest price and they're hardly making a profit. I know, when you put it like that I sound really naive, but it's really hard in the moment, really! I also grabbed a full leather wallet, and this gorgeous silver stone ring.
Today, we went for a walk throng Saigon square, another indoor shopping centre/market, where just over $150 got us 10 authentic ( if they're fake, they're really high quality, but I'm pretty sure the authentic stuffs made here anyway) old navy/baby gap girls dresses, 2 girls jumpsuits, 2 pairs of puma shorts, a pair of dress shorts, two pairs of boys baby gap shorts, two baby gap collared shirts, and two really good quality pleated chiffon dresses with matching belts. I haven't got pictures handy but I'm sure you'll see them when I get back!
For now though, here's what I wore today, one of the polka dot dresses from last night, zahara cutout belt, betts sandals, and my new, $2.50 ring.
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