Asia Day 2: Hong Kong – Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC)

A great start to the day with some blogging. We then headed down the street restaurant affiliated with the hotel, The Cottage, for our included free “American Breakfast”. Our expectations were low with hotel-included breakfasts, especially, since we risk wasting one of our scarce meals in HK eating non-local food. We were pleasantly surprised by the options we had. Aaron had the poached eggs with bacon and hash brown and I had their breakfast salad. I chose the salad since my diet has been mostly carb-based on this trip so far and I expect this trend will continue, so I will try to incorporate veggies whenever I can. The salad was composed of quiet a number of ingredients – including avocado, bacon, sausage, greens, cherry tomatoes and 2 poached eggs on top. I tried some of Aaron’s hash and it was quite nicely done. I was pleasantly surprised that their bacon was more of the peameal type and not the usual crunchy bacon that I was expecting. I enjoyed breakfast with a cup of English Breakfast Tea, while looking out its floor to ceiling windows into a small park with pink blossoms. 

American breakfast @ The Cottage
American breakfast @ The Cottage

After checking out, we headed over to the International Finance Centre (IFC) to try some dim sum at a Michelin-Starred restaurant, Tim Ho Wan 添好運. It had an awkward location, at the basement level and can be found following the signs to the Airport Express Train from the ground level. It wasn’t difficult to spot as we saw a line in front of the restaurant. Luckily, my friend, arrived earlier than us and was already near the front of the line when we arrived! She said the wait was not too bad – around 20 minutes. Keep in mind this was on the weekend right at lunch time. She told us that while in line, she noticed none of the customers spoke Chinese. As a local, she said this would not be a place she frequented as a local. She recommended the baked pork bun and we also tried a few other staple dimsum dishes like their shrimp dumpling/har gow 蝦餃, shao mai 燒賣, shrimp rolls 蝦腸, as well as their goji berry dessert and “Malaysian cake” 馬拉糕 dessert. I really liked the baked pork bun. The outside had a nice crunch and the filling was quite tasty. And this is coming from someone who is not a big fan of BBQ pork buns. Again, I noticed that the sizes of the dimsum were smaller than the ones I’ve had in Canada. I explained to my friend that the sizes of dimsum (as well as sushi) has increased over the years, especially in Vancouver. Overall the food was not spectacular. It was probably nice to visit it once but I am not sure if I will come back again. 

 Baked pork bun @ Tim Ho Wan
Baked pork bun @ Tim Ho Wan

It was time for a walk after all that food. We strolled around IFC and its surroundings, including Central Pier. Everywhere from the courtyard and the walkways were filled with people sitting around, sometimes in cardboard fortresses, just eating, playing games, chatting with friends and just relaxing. It was also interesting to see that most of these people were women. I later confirmed these were likely foreign domestic workers who gathered on their day off to just hang out. The rest of the week, they are living with their employers and lack the privacy and also the opportunity to socialize with their peers.

We were both getting tired so we walked over Sunny Hills, a “tea shop and bakery” to take a break. Aaron found this place on Foursquare. It was located on a quiet lane in the middle of the busy Central area. As soon as we walked in, we were offered some free Oolong tea and a piece of their pineapple cake, “as a souvenir”. I, then, was very confused because if this was all free, then what is their business model? Eventually I found out that they specialized in Taiwanese souvenirs including teas, tea cups, and of course, pineapple cake. I really loved the atmosphere of this place. It did not feel like I was in the middle of the city as it was nice and quiet. The decor consisted mostly of wood and greens. I overheard another customer say that they felt like they were in Taiwan. I have never been, so I would have to take their word for it. The tea and cake were very nicely presented on a wooden tray. The tea was light and the pineapple cake was very buttery and tasty. What I found different about their cake is that you can actually appreciate real pieces of pineapple inside, which I have never been able to in the past with other pineapple cakes I’ve had, which were more like a paste. I decided to purchase a box of these, even though it was on the pricey side. It was noted on Foursquare that I would definitely need to check out their bathrooms, so I did. It was absolutely worth the visit with its high-tech automated lid-opening, seat-warming, as well as manual extra features, which I did not take the time to explore.

Sunny Hills - a quiet retreat within a busy city.
Sunny Hills – a quiet retreat within a busy city.

We decided to head off to an actual coffee shop next and stopped in a Starbucks. The menu and prices here were definitely shocking, with nothing I saw that was under $5 Canadian. It is only when we compare a worldwide franchise that we are able to appreciate the inflated prices of Hong Kong. (Well that, and the cocktails from last night.) We were also limited to a 30 minute wifi session, with a code that only works on one device at a time. Oh, how spoiled I realized we were in Canada. Of note: I forgot to mention that we were actually given a local cell phone with unlimited calling and data while we were checked-in with our hotel previously. It is quite handy and is not an unusual practice here in Hong Kong, it seems. 
We have not forgotten about Yat Lok from last night. We were determined to eat that half goose. There was surprisingly no line up when we arrived at this Michelin-Starred restaurant. We were quickly seated and ordered the half goose with some rice and veggies on the side. Again, service here was fast. The amount of goose looked overwhelming at first but we were able to finish all our food without feeling too stuffed. I am disappointed to report that generally, the goose tasted not too differently than the usual BBQ duck that I love to eat. There were specific parts that I had, which had a slightly different texture and taste but it was subtle. I did enjoy how their plum sauce actually tasted like plum and had some texture to it. Overall, good to try once but next time if I come, I would probably just try the goose with noodles and not pay 5 times the price for the novelty of eating half a goose or the fact that it was Michelin-starred.

Roast goose @ Yat Lok Restaurant. Photo credits: Aaron.
Roast goose @ Yat Lok Restaurant. Photo credits: Aaron.

And this wraps up our HK adventures. Our transport to the airport was again very smooth and I am very impressed with their express train/shuttle system. We decided to fly with VietJet Air given their discounted prices, although I have heard mixed reviews. I was also told there was could be surprise “live shows” on these flights with the flight attendants performing in bikinis but I guess our flight was not one of those special flights. After 2.5 hours, we landed in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, A.K.A. HCMC, or previously known as Saigon! This is a very exciting part of my journey as I explore the city where my parents grew up. Travel tip: a visa is required for travel to Vietnam and we have done this previously in Canada. I see there are booths for landing visas but according to the embassy website, these are only for very special circumstances. 
As if we didn’t learn from our mistakes in Bali, Aaron purchased a overpriced SIM card at the booth right outside immigration. The mistake was apparent even as we exited customs to see a lot more booths with lower prices. We later find out at the actual mobile company retailer In the city that we paid 4 times the actual price, but this is the price you pay for convenience. I was already skeptical of the agent at the airport as he tried really hard to sell us the card of another mobile company, which had supposedly inferior reception based on prior research. We later found out that he also lied about the terms of this card (he said it was only supposed to be unlimited for 2 weeks, but in reality it was 7GB for 1 month). He emphasized it only lasted 1 month in order to convince us to get the other card. I am glad I was firm in not getting a second SIM card until we reached the city. 
We decided to Uber to our accommodation given it was half the price of a taxi. Despite the fact that our driver did not speak any English, we got to our place smoothly. It was then, we realized that we are staying in the heart of party central at HCMC as we were welcomed with bright lights and loud music. We quickly settled down in our cute dwelling, then headed off for a late night snack at Pho Quynh. This 24 hour pho joint is apparently where we can get “THE best pho restaurant in HCMC” according to Tripadvisor. Aaron had the rare beef with brisket pho, whereas I got the rare beef with beef balls one. It definitely did not disappoint! We really need to make this noodle-place-as-our-first-stop a thing on this trip. The service was amazingly fast, the soup very tasty, the size manageable and the noodles somehow different than the ones we’ve had in Canada. To be honest, I am not a pho person. I dislike the “soapy” taste of the noodles. When I go to Vietnamese restaurants, I usually order the Bun Bo Hue as I much prefer the noodles (and of course the broth). With our noodles, we had some refreshing Saigon Beer and all that was only $8 CND (and it is already on the pricier side, apparently)!

Pho tai bo vien @ Pho Quynh
Pho tai bo vien @ Pho Quynh

I apologize this post was quite long. Hope you enjoyed it! Join me tomorrow for some more Saigon adventures!

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