Picking up where we left off last time (Pre-Vietnam (part 1)), the driver took us from the airport to our hotel, Saigon Domaine Luxury Residences.
Let me make a comment here about how finding the right accommodations for us wasn’t as easy as it used to be when I only traveled with Kassandra. I had to take into consideration things I never really had to think about before like, where will everyone sleep? The Saigon Domaine had the space we needed as it was more of a 3-bedroom apartment than a basic hotel room. Unfortunately, the trade off for getting a spacious place to stay is that it was a bit far from where we wanted to spend our time. More on that later.
After checking in, we explored our apartment, divvied up the rooms, and settled in. The boys immediately turned on the TV and started watching cartoons. Apparently it has been so long that we have had a TV that they were willing to sit through cartoons in Vietnamese just to have the thrill of flipping channels. Our first night in, being tired, we just got room service for dinner and then off to bed we went.
The next morning, Christmas morning, we had our first breakfast at the hotel in a nice little area outside with a buffet. It was decent enough. Let me be frank – the buffet had pork bacon and sausage. We were sold.
After breakfast, we took our first trip into the city. Now, as I mentioned, Saigon Domaine is bit outside of the city, but the hotel offers a free bus (30 minute trip) or speed boat (15 minute trip) shuttle into town every few hours. We decided to head into town on the speed boat. Here’s a few pictures of us waiting for the boat.
The younger boys were a little nervous on the boat at first, but they soon enjoyed it.
We didn’t really have a specific place in mind once we got off the boat, we just wanted to get a feel for the place and maybe buy a few snacks for the hotel. It didn’t take long for us to realize that it would be best to have some Vietnamese dongs with us. Yes, many places seemed to be willing to take US dollars, but all the prices were in dong, so it just seemed easier.
That’s when the mental math got crazy. 1 USD = 22,421.52 VND but then when spending, it felt better to additionally convert that number to dirhams. I don’t know why. Maybe because it feels like I am spending less if I think in dirhams than dollars. Like dirhams don’t really count in the same way that dollars do. Ridiculous, I know. So basically every transaction went something like this in my head, 200,000 dongs = ~$9.00 dollars = ~33 dirhams.
We spent that first afternoon walking around in the heat. Nothing screams Christmas like 91°F (33°C) weather, right? We did a little shopping bought wallets for the boys so we wouldn’t have to keep watching them fumble around with wads of dong. Then we headed back to the hotel to shower off the humidity. For dinner, we dined at a local restaurant near the hotel. Nothing to write home about, but the food was decent, and I was happy with the price of 700,000 dongs = $31 dollars = 115 dirhams total for the 6 of us.
The next day, we ventured into town for just a little while to get snacks and drinks. Otherwise, we stayed near the hotel area. We bought some laundry detergent to wash clothes. Our room had a washer and dryer that looked like it was from the 80s, but it worked well enough. Kassandra managed to get a manicure at local place across from the hotel for only 40,000 dong = $1.79 dollars = 6.50 dirhams. I love that she is brave enough to venture out and try things like this.
For dinner, we ate at the hotel. It was one of our most expensive dinners in Vietnam, but seeing as how it was a night-after Christmas, Christmas dinner, we decided to splurge. It was supposed to be a grand buffet. The food was tasty, but not plentiful. There were awkwardly long amounts of time from when we (and yes, it was mostly just us as there was only one other family dining) ate all the food and when they would bring out more.
The next day, we attended Saigon Culinary cooking school. A member from the company came and picked us up from the boat drop off point. First, we stopped at the Ben Thanh market to look at the various food ingredients.
Then they took us to the school where we made shrimp spring rolls, pork omelets, chicken pho, and pineapple boats.
It was fun doing an activity together as a family along with two other families. In my opinion, the food wasn’t as good as the cooking class we attending in Thailand, but it really just about the experience anyway.
At the end, they gave us all a certificate of completion and a book of recipes. They also gave the younger boys little piggy banks as a gift. The staff at the cooking school were very friendly and did a good job keeping us all involved.
After the cooking class, we took a taxi back to the Ben Thanh market to do a little shopping. Kassandra got two pairs of Converse. I got a Michael Kors purse, and the boys all got Samsonite backpacks. I have to assume that everything we got are knockoffs of the originals, but they all seem to be quality knockoffs, so we were pleased.
After the market, we attempted to find port for the Hydrofoil (like a ferry) because we needed to purchase tickets for our trip in two days. After much walking around and many attempts to ask directions, we eventually gave up. Nobody seemed to understand what we were asking, or they kept leading us to the wrong place. We later found out that the port may have moved in the last few months. Maybe this is why people kept giving us directions to the wrong spot. Since we were closer to the bus shuttle pickup spot, we decided to take the bus back to the hotel. Unfortunately we were not entirely sure where the bus pickup spot was at since we had always just taken the speed boat from the hotel. At this point, we were all exhausted, hot, sweaty, and a bit grumpy. After more walking around and disagreeing about where to go, we finally found the bus pickup spot but found out we had missed the bus by ten minutes. So, we ended up walking another 15 minutes to the boat pickup spot and waiting an hour for the boat. As we were walking to the boat, Kassandra says to me, “well, this is starting to feel like one of our typical vacations.” This was her joking way to refer to all the times that she and I spend walking around lost on vacations. Guess a vacation really can’t be a vacation unless we do that a few times.
After we got back to the hotel and freshened up, we decided to take the boat back to town for dinner. Nobody was thrilled with this idea. We were all exhausted, but we managed to pull ourselves together with the promise of an American style BBQ restaurant. I know that sounds a little silly to travel to Vietnam and crave BBQ, but keep in mind that we don’t get things like this in Al Ain. The restaurant, Quan Ut Ut, was only about a 10-15 minute walk from the speedboat drop off location. It was in an odd location mixed in with lots of tiny local food shops with lots of people milling about on the streets. But, once we walked into the restaurant, it felt like a completely different country. Everything on the menu sounded great. Again, lots of pork. Clark still remembers this meal as his favorite on the trip.
After dinner, we headed back to the hotel (on the boat again). It was nice getting to see the city from the river at night. It had a different flair to it.
As soon as we got to the hotel, we all crashed. It had been such a fun, but long day. Why are vacations always so exhausting?