December 19, 2016

Plus 1 trip to Vietnam day 4: Monday night lights

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We hung out for a little while in the afternoon, as the weather had turned a little and there was some drizzle.  We finally ventured out of our hotel when the rain stopped, and walked over one block to check out a couple of sights featuring colonial architecture.

The Saigon Central Post Office is one of the most popular sights in the city.  It was built at the end of the 19th Century when Vietnam was a French colony, and is painted in typical pastel yellow like so many other colonial government buildings in Vietnam.  Beautiful design by Marie-Alfred Foulhoux.

Most of the people we saw inside the building were tourists.  Of course there were a few who actually were there to do their business... and a few tourists were there to send postcards to themselves back home.

A few of the old telephone booths have been converted, and now house ATMs...

As we had come a little early and I wanted to snap a few pics just after sunset, we decided to park ourselves at Café de la Poste on the grounds, with views of the main building.  The corresponding building on the other side of the post office houses McDonald's...

I, of course, order myself a cà phê sữa đá... and while away the next hour.

Sunset was at 5:35 p.m., and I figured I'd wait another 15 minutes or so for the sky to go dark... to get that beautiful hue of blue for my background.  Well, I kinda got the blue I wanted while photographing Basilique-Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Saigon, but the rest of the cathedral was a little dark.

Meanwhile, the lights outside the post office just refused to turn on.  I guess they're on a timer and government workers weren't about to adjust it to go with seasonality in sunset...

We took a detour to see the bookshops along Nguyễn Văn Bình, just next to the post office. When we doubled back and started walking to our dinner destination, we realized that by 6:15 p.m., the decorative lights outside the cathedral had been turned on.  Whoa!

We showed up to dinner at Cung Dinh Restaurant in the Rex Hotel Saigon about half an hour early, and were welcomed by the sharp dressed manager.  The restaurant was mostly empty on this Monday night, but all the other customers seemed fairly well-to-do...

Vả trộn xúc bánh đa - this fig salad with shrimp and pork was pretty decent, but for the life of me I couldn't figure out where the figs were...  There was, however, plenty of something that was marinated and soft which was neither shrimp nor pork.

Chả cá Hà Nội - this is about the only dish I remember from my trip to Hanoi 15 years ago, having been sent to Cha Ca La Vong by Lonely Planet... where half the people in the restaurant were tourists armed with the same copy of LP that I was holding...

So I guess this was a more refined version, where diners didn't need to cook the turmeric-marinated fish themselves.  I still love the liberal use of dill and green parts of spring onions, and I mixed in the basil together with the rice vermicelli.  The taste was about what I had expected, and I happily slurp it down.

Gà chiên sốt bưởi - this fried chicken with pomelo sauce was my call, and when it arrived, I was silently uttering a few WTFs...  Hello Kitty commented that it was as if "Korean fried chicken and tonkatsu (とんかつ) had a baby together".  Basically, it's like the Chinese lemon chicken - just with a different citrus in the starch-laden sauce.

Canh cua đồng rau đay - when the English description says "vegetables soup with scum of crabmeat", I just had to order it out of curiosity.  What the hell is "scum of crabmeat", anyway?!

Well... this turned out to be like the soup I had at Princess D'Ân Nam Resort, even though this used jute instead of Malabar spinach, but the intense earthy flavors were the same.  Do Vietnamese people really like their veggies to be this earthy?!  Anyway, the strong earthy flavors - together with the liberal use of white pepper - went some ways to mask the heavy, pungent flavors of the "crab scum".  I still don't know what crab scum is, but I suspect it's what comes out of the crab when one steams them... you know, the pale, fatty stuff what congeals outside.

This was a pretty decent dinner, but it's a shame that there were only two of us and the number of dishes we could try were limited.

Since we started our dinner early, I figured we could go for a walk and have a drink.  So we went to the EON Heli Bar on the 52nd floor of Bitexco Financial Tower.  While tourists can pay VND 200,000 to go up to the Saigon Skydeck on the 49th floor, the better deal is always gonna be paying for a drink or two 3 floors up instead of the admission charge.

The bar is actually located on the same level as the building's helipad, and in fact there's a exit next to where the bartenders are which gets one onto the helipad, but it's closed when the bar is in operation.  There were no longer any tables by the window by the time we arrived, so we found ourselves sitting in front of the staircase which connects the bar on the 52nd floor with the restaurant on the 51st floor - still with good views of the western side of Ho Chi Minh City.

I ordered myself a mojito and took in the views.

We took a casual stroll back to our hotel, and made a short detour at the very end to see if the flood lights in front of the post office had been turned on - and indeed they have!  So I got a few night shots in...

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