A weekend filled with cultural discoveries and a quiet week at home in Saigon. On this Freaky Friday, we will take you on a tour to the Independence Palace, we will explain how grocery shopping is in HCMC and we will introduce you to Vietnamese humor.
1. Visiting the Independence Palace
This must-visit tourist attraction in Ho Chi Minh City went through many changes during the history of Vietnam. From its construction to its name, this historical building is now a vast site of 12.000 hectares which surrounds four main streets : Nam Ky Khoi Nghia Street, Huyen Tran Cong Chua Street, Nguyen Thi Minh Khai Street and Nguyen Du Street.
Chapter 1 – First built in the XIXth century by a French architect Hermite, it was named Dinh Norodom (“Palais Norodom”, “Norodom Palace”). The first brick was placed by the Admiral De Lagrandière in 1863. The building became home of the French colonial government where many political meetings and events occured.
Chapter 2 – After the defeat Dien Bien Phu and Genève 1954 agreement, the Palace was handed back to Vietnam which renamed it the Independence Palace. However, it got entirely destroyed when bombed by two pilots. The reconstruction was completed in 1966 by the architect Ngo Viet Thu. This piece of art was entirely based on an harmonious combination of Chinese characters : the building’s overall structure is shaped in a “T”. It is a rendering of an ancient ideogram which means “good fortune”.
Chapter 3 – The iconic Reunification Palace made its name in global history in 1975. This is when a tank belonging to the North Vietnamese Army crashed through its main gate symbolizing the end of the Vietnam War.
Visit the Palace “Dinh Doc Lap” for only 30.000 VND every day from 7.30-11am & 1-4pm. The motorbike parking is located just next to the main entrance and ticket office on Nam Ky Khoi Nghia Street. Free guided tours are available in English, French, Japanese and Chinese.
Check out the video of my visit at the Reunification Palace. Also subscribe to our channel to never miss a new video.
2. Grocery shopping in Saigon
Even though eating out is widely available and fairly cheap in Vietnam, once in a while it is appreciated to cook/bake your own food. You have two options : get your ingredients at one of the many markets in HCMC (Ben Tanh, Bin Tay…) or go grocery shopping at Co Op Mart.
This supermarket looks quite similar to a western food shop with aisles of food and different household items. However, the attitude of shoppers is a bit different than what I was used to. People are jammed into aisles, they push each other without a word.
I have also experienced a man with his daughter pass in front of me at the cashier to offer her a new toy. When it would be considered as rude in Western countries, especially in the U.S., my reaction was just to smile and let him make his daughter happy since this culture difference should not affect my French temper. The customer service of store assistants is great. Just a few minutes after showing a picture of measuring cups on my phone, I was already handed one.
Food in general is really cheap at Co Op Mart. You can easily find items Western peeps are used to such as pasta, cookies, yogurts, cheese, eggs, vegetables and fruits.
Note that food is often cheaper at markets, however if at an outdoor wet market, fruits, vegetables, meats and seafood are exposed to motorbike exhausts and other bacteria Westerners are not used to. For convenience, some small stores can be found throughout the city at Vinmart, City Mart, Circle K, Shop & Go or Lotte Mart (Korean chain), Big C (Thai chain).
I usually prefer Co Op Mart because it supports local producers and barely provides imported products which are usually more expensive. However if you are looking for Western-style food items, make sure to visit Phuong Ha on Ham Nghi for Western food items and utensils, Annam Gourmet Market on Hai Ba Trung for European food, U.S. Mart for Western food or An Phu Supermarket for both local and international brands.
Refer to this list of the supermarkets in Saigon.
3. Humor of Vietnamese people
After having spent over a month in Saigon, meeting with Vietnamese people at bar events or chatting with our roommate Apple and our maid Thu, I have a good experience now of what they talk about and how they act. I have to admit that they are funny people.
Whether they would make fun of you (the parking guardian at Steve’s coworking space calls him « FBI 1 » because of his American hat) or they would turn a situation into a joke, most Vietnamese people know how to smile and joke around. Thu the other day implied that I should not eat the food from the restaurant, but I should eat Steve instead if you see what I mean. Apple would make fun of delivery drivers who could not find our house located in a small alleyway calling them idiots.
One day, after getting my take away food at a restaurant, a young boy with a blue uniform (one of the shop guards) was seating on my motorbike looking at himself in the bike mirror trying to either squeeze a pimple or remove something out of his face. Surprised at first, I could not stop laughing and I tried to make him feel/hear my presence. When he finally saw me trying to access my bike, he fled from it and pretended nothing happened what made me laugh even more.
I have witnessed a lot of people who are certainly not rich. However, they keep on smiling and are happy to help you out. The other day at a small restaurant, an older man with one tooth left in his mouth saw my « Je parle française » shirt and started speaking French to me. I could tell that I made his day since he kept on coming back and when handing the bill, he told me the total amount in French.
Online discoveries of this week
- FUNNY – Cocovoit. This new French web-series is particularly funny to me because I use to car-pool when studying in France. One of the most environment friendly, socialization friendly and money saver friendly mean of transport across France. Sharing your car is such a great experience, however it can become odd when at least of person on board just makes the entire car feel awkward. Enjoy this episode named “Who farted?” (only in French).
- NOTEWORTHY – Échappées Belles, Les sourires du Vietnam. Long known as a travel documentary channel, Echapées Belles went this time to beautiful Vietnam to capture its smiles and outstanding landscapes. From Hue to Hoi An, the presentater makes a point of showing us how the South of Vietnam is the economical food-basket of the nation thanks to its numerous paddy fields, its beaches and its omnipresent water. Video in French.
- NOTEWORTHY – What to expect when you date a French expat. Find all the good tips about how it’s like to date a French expat : from knowing their personality between off-limit subjects and pointless debates to getting used to their old-school romantic manners. When Steve started dating me, I was a French expat living in the U.S. Not sure what made him fall : the sexy French accent or the my way of wearing his Philly hat ?