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You can just about find a street food vendor near every busy intersections in Ho Chi Minh City, the set up varies, but more often than not they have these tiny tables and chairs seemingly set up for kids of kindergarten age. If you’re Vietnamese size, these will fit just, and fortunately for myself and Haze, our body size is within range.

street side food vendor outside Ben Thanh market
street side food vendor outside Ben Thanh market

Ben Thanh market is one of those “must-visit” places in Ho Chi Minh City, especially if you feel like getting slaughtered buying touristy or otherwise imitation goods. We went there only because it was almost a decade since I got my fake Nike jerseys there, plus we had rented a scooter so it was rather convenient to do so.

you want spicy? we've got spicy!
you want spicy? we’ve got spicy!

Anyway, there is this little bot chien & ha cao stall situated right outside the market manned by a middle aged lady with a frying pan and a metal small pot on clay stove. Street food is best sampled with the locals, so we made this our spot for afternoon in-between meal snacks.

Bột chiên - fried rice cake
bột chiên – fried rice cake

Bot Chien is the Vietnamese version of fried rice cake (25000 VND). While the base ingredient is similar to our “char kuih kak“, the execution is vastly different. The rice cake is fried together with egg in generous amount of oil, with the surface area all crispy while retaining the inner bits soft.

Soya sauce is then poured over and then topped with shredded green papaya and chopped green onions. If you like it spicy, there’s also chili sauce & sambal that can be added to the whole mix.

This dish was actually pretty good, the various ingredients complement each other well, and best consumed while the rice cakes are still crispy even though soaked in soya sauce. The green papaya also serve to cut through the greasiness of the dish as well, I’d recommend anyone to give this a try.

há cảo - shrimp dumpling
há cảo – shrimp dumpling

Ha Cao, as you may suspect, is the dish of the same name in Cantonese –  shrimp dumplings (25000 VND). You get the shredded greens as well as the sambal, soya sauce and fried shallots ala Vietnamese style, but otherwise they aren’t overly different from the Chinese version. It was still enjoyable, but if I had to choose between the two, bot chien would be my choice.

map to ben thanh market, Saigon

Happy food hunting!

Address:
Phan Bội Châu
Ben Thanh
District 1, Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam
GPS: 10.772582, 106.698676

The most famous Vietnamese dish outside Vietnam is of course, the Vietnamese beef noodle, or pho (pronounce as “fe-eh”). This is likely the first dish most people think about when it comes to Vietnamese food, and for good reasons – it is accessible, delicious, and uses ingredients familiar with most other cuisines.

Pho Cao Van, at District 1, Ho Chi Minh City
Pho Cao Van, at District 1, Ho Chi Minh City

There are in fact, two slightly different types of pho, one originated from Saigon/HCMC, and another from the Hanoi, a distance of over 1100 KM away. While both soup stock utilizes beef & beef bone as a major component, the Southern version also incorporate a stronger presence of aroma from fish sauce. In a way, pho from HCMC is the one you usually get, especially outside Vietnam.

the traditional way is to give you way too much vege
the traditional way is to give you way too much vege

Pho Cao Van at Mac Dinh Chi road, however, is one of the few places that serves traditional Northern style pho at Saigon. At 40,000 VND and above per bowl, it is certainly one of the more expensive pho options out there, but also one of the more “authentic” versions there is.

squeeze the lemon, and dip those tendon in the chili sauce
squeeze the lemon, and dip those tendon in the chili sauce

I ordered a bowl with nothing but beef tendon (partly due to my failure in Vietnamese sign language, but no regrets), accompanied by a huge portion of fresh vegetable in which there is no way you can actually finish. The soup was light yet full of flavor from boiling beef bone over long hours. The tendon, melt in your mouth. It was absolutely lovely and not hard to see why this particular shop gets a steady stream of customers despite being rather shabby in appearance and yet charges a slight premium over others.

map to Pho Cao Van at Ho Chi Minh City

If you’re at Ho Chi Minh City, or anywhere else in Vietnam, you can’t go wrong with a bowl of pho, whichever versions it may be.

Address:
Phở Cao Vân
25 Mạc Đĩnh Chi,
District 1, Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam
GPS10.784681, 106.699296
Hours: 6 am to 10:30 pm

Over the last year end holiday season, we spent quite a few days in Ho Chi Minh City, and I thought it’d be a good opportunity to sample the various street foods this biggest city in Vietnam has to offer and do a bit of introduction to you, so here goes.

Bun Bo Hue 31, at District 1, Ho Chi Minh City
Bun Bo Hue 31, at District 1, Ho Chi Minh City

This was my 10th time to Ho Chi Minh City, but previous 9 were all due to work and happened more than 9 years ago, I was greeted with a rush of nostalgia, so much of the city has changed, yet so much stayed exactly the same as when I first stepped foot here more than a decade ago.

Thankfully, part of the latter includes what Saigon has to offer when it comes to the rich variety of local cuisine.

Bún bò Huế
Bún bò Huế- spicy beef and vermicelli soup

We start off the introduction with Bún bò Huế. 

While Vietnamese pho gets all the attention, bun bo, in a way, is one that I find more interesting. Originated from Hue, a former capital city of Vietnam situated somewhere in the middle geographically, bun bo has a spicy soup base made from boiled beef shank, chunks of oxtail, and even pig’s knuckles, which gives it a sweeter flavor and a bit more kick.

Like most Vietnamese noodle soup, it also comes with a generous portion of vegetable on the side, including sliced banana blossom, green onion, bean sprout, cilantro, and more. Squeeze a slice of lime, and add some fresh green chili in the soup and you’re good to go. The vermicelli used is also usually the round & thick type, which I think is perfect for this application, simply beautiful and absolutely delicious.

spicy beef and vermicelli soup
spicy beef and vermicelli soup

I had my bowl at Bun Bo Hue 31 near the middle of the city, a shop frequent mostly by the locals with staffs who spoke almost no English. To order, you can simply point to the menu, or use the phone as a translator. Give it a try when you’re in Vietnam.

Bun Bo Hue 31 map

Address:
Bun Bo Hue 31
P. Q.1, 31 Mạc Đĩnh Chi, Đa Kao,
District 1, Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam
GPS10.784853, 106.699163
Tel: +84 8 3827 7257
Hours: 6 am to 9 pm

Quite a few moons ago we went to do one of the more touristy things you can do in Selangor – firefly watching at Kuala Selangor.

To be honest, it was my first time doing that, and I had our Singaporean friends Angus & his girlfriend to thank for this experience. Funnily, the attractions closest to us are some that we often never bother to visit.

Firefly watching at Kuala Selangor
Firefly watching at Kuala Selangor

The tour is fairly simple, you arrive at around sunset, pay some RM 30 or so, put on your life jacket and hop on the boat. D’Tour is just one of the many operations that offers similar services.

The boat then take us along Selangor River to the area where the fireflies gather. It was quite a sight to see, the trees by the river were packed with fireflies that seems to blink in sync, like a single colored x’mas tree. Quite neat, and no, we didn’t get too many mosquito bites.

It was quite fun and anyone should at least try this once. The whole journey lasted around an hour or so.

Address:
D Tours Kuala Selangor
No 1. Jalan Bagan Sungai Yu,
Pasir Penambang, 45000 Kuala Selangor
GPS: 3.351486, 101.249347
Tel: 019-263 9123/017-639 5017

Kuang Wah Seafood Restaurant, Kuala Selangor
Kuang Wah Seafood Restaurant, Kuala Selangor

After the tour, it was seafood time, naturally.

This part of Kuala Selangor has quite a few seafood restaurants in operation, and many of them are seemingly packed on every weekends. We hop onto the one right next to D Tour – Kuang Wah Seafood Restaurant.

The set up is a carbon copy of many Malaysian seafood outfits – with plastic tables & chairs, and a wall of aquarium and fiber glass containers full with assortment of live seafood for your picking. The prices are also clearly stated.

deep fried mantis prawn, lala with superior soup, drunken live prawn
deep fried mantis prawn, lala with superior soup, drunken live prawn

For the four of us, we started with deep fried mantis shrimp with chili and salt (RM 30). The meat was firm and rather flavorful, a good start.

Then it was lala in superior soup (RM 15). The soup was more spicy than superior, but does tick the checkbox somewhat.

Drunken prawn came in a clay pot (RM 30), and had some mushroom, green onion, and plenty of ginger strips in a soup base that I can’t stop drinking. It was quite awesome, and you can also definitely tell the freshness of the prawns by how sticky the skin is to the meat.

steamed 7-star garoupa, Sg. friends & Haze
steamed 7-star garoupa, Sg. friends & Haze

Our main dish was the steamed seven-star garoupa fish. We chose the simplest of preparation method to enjoy the natural flavor of the seafood, and it proved to be good decision. The meat was smooth and sweet, with the superior soya sauce complimenting the fish meat perfectly.

receipt at Kuang Wah Seafood RestaurantOverall it was a pretty good dinner, our friends from Singapore certainly did not complain. I’d say that Kuang Wah offers very good value for money as well. The dinner came to be only RM 132 to feed four hungry adults, with each of us having a fresh coconut (RM 4.50 each) as well.

If I was at Kuala Selangor again, I’d certainly not minding coming back to this particular restaurant again.

map to Kuang Wah seafood, Kuala Selangor

Address:
Restoran Kuang Wah
No 1A, Jalan Bagan Sungai Yu,
45000, Pasir Penambang,
Kuala Selangor, Malaysia
GPS3.351753, 101.249370
Tel03-3289 6719

Earlier in the year, one of my colleagues sent out an email to the whole department mooting the idea of a group hike to Gunung Kinabalu, the highest peak in Borneo and South East Asia, I immediately msg Haze to check on her interest, and a few months later in late July 2016, we found ourselves at the foothill of the sleeping giant.

Kinabalu Park entrance & Pondok Timpohon, our starting point
Kinabalu Park entrance & Timpohon Gate, our starting point 9:40 am

First, let’s talk about the mountain and what one should prepare if you have the intention to scale all of 4096 meter. Here’s the check list of equipment that will be extremely helpful:

  • hiking stick(s), preferably a pair. This will aid in providing traction as well as relieve to the impact to your knees, especially on descent
  • water bottles or water bladder. It’s going to be a very long hike, you’ll need hydration, at least 2-3 litre
  • cloths for cold weather. Temperature at summit can be as low as a few Celsius, factoring in wind chill and you’re in for a treat. We find the down jacket from UNIQLO quite good for this application as it is very compact. You are also advised to bring at least a pair of long pants and maybe long john
  • snacks, packed lunch is provided with the package, but some condensed calorie such as chocolate or energy bar is helpful
  • hiking lamp or torch light. Head lamp is helpful as you may need to have your hands free for hiking stick or ropes on 2nd day ascent that starts at 2:30 am
  • hat & sunscreen. You’d want to protect yourself from getting sun burnt
  • gloves. Preferably 2 pairs just in case they get wet, doesn’t need to be very thick, you need them to protect your hands while grabbing the ropes, and also not have your fingers get too cold near summit
  • poncho/umbrella. Just in case it rains on you
  • extra change of cloths. It is a two day hike and it also may rain
  • ibuprofen. Taking 600 mg ibuprofen every 8 hours is shown to reduce incident of altitude sickness
  • a small first aid supply. Plasters, some bandages can be helpful

While these supplies are important, you are also advised to get it as light as possible. They get heavier and heavier every step you climb up, you can also hire porter to carry everything for you at a rate of RM 10 or so per KG (both up & down)

first stop was Pondok Kandis
first stop was Pondok Kandis 10:04 am

Secondly, you’re going to be needing some training. If you’re not already an avid hiker, you’re gonna need to get some practise hike before the Mount Kinabalu ordeal.

Many hikers used to go to Batu Caves to walk those stairs before Kinabalu hike, but whoever is now in charged of that public property seems to not be letting anyone do that anymore. Next best thing is going to places like Kiara Hills or Bukit Tabur if you’re near KL, or even better, Penang Hill. We did those places once each with quite a few gym sessions to get ready, and at the end wished that we had done more practise hikes.

Pondok Ubah 10:30 am
Pondok Ubah, 10:30 am

You can’t climb Kinabalu Mountain like you do with other hills. Permit and hiking guide are required for every climber. For that we signed up Amazing Borneo Tours. The package we got was as follow:

  • RM 1250 for Malaysian, RM 1630 for non-Malaysian inclusive of GST
  • includes 1 breakfast, 2 lunches, 1 dinner & 1 supper
  • 1 night accommodation at Laban Rata
  • return transfer from KK to Kinabalu Park, and Kinabalu Park to Timpohon Gate
  • mountain guide, climbing insurance, permit, & certificate

Haze and myself actually ended up renting a car and drove to Kinabalu Park ourselves since we had planned to stay at Kundasang after the climb while others in our group made used of the KK hotel transfer. I wonder if we could have gotten a slightly cheaper rate if we had stated that earlier.

Pondok Lowii 11:13 am, Pondok Mempening 12:21 am
Pondok Lowii 11:13 am, Pondok Mempening, 12:21 am

The journey from Kota Kinabalu starts at around 6am from the hotel. It takes some 2 hours or so to get to the main entrance of Kinabalu Park. We then got paperwork for climbing permit sorted out and collected our pre-packed lunch in paper bag.

Our group was then ferried to the Timpohon Gate (elevation 1866 m)to start our climb at around 9:33am.

Pondok Layang-Layang, 1:11 pm
Pondok Layang-Layang, 1:11 pm

The aim for first day is to get to Laban Rata (elevation 3272 m), which is about a 6 km hike of 1400 meter in elevation. Along the way there are quite a number of shelters, or Pondok. The shelters aren’t really equal in distance or elevation between one another, but provides a good place to catch your breath.

Pondok Villosa, 2:36 pm
Pondok Villosa, 2:36 pm

The shelters from Timpohon to Laban Rata (with our time of arrival):

  • Pondok Kandis, 1981 meter, 10:04 am
  • Pondok Ubah, 2081 meter, 10:30 am
  • Pondok Lowii, 1167 meter,  11:13 am
  • Pondok Mempening, 2515 meter, 12: 21 pm
  • Pondok Layang-Layang, 2702 meter, 1:03 pm (this is also where we had our lunch)
  • Pondok Villosa, 2960 meter, 2: 36 pm
  • Pondok Paka, 3080 meter, 3:21 pm

.. and finally – Laban Rata, 3272 meter, 4:18 pm

Pondok Paka, 3:21 pm
Pondok Paka, 3:21 pm

We actually split into two groups about half way with another group being a little faster. Our time posted is quite of quite a leisure pace with a lot of rest at the shelters, and some stops in between as well. Dinner at Laban Rata is served at 4:30 pm so we actually got there just in time.

we reached Raban Rata at 4:18 pm
we reached Laban Rata at 4:18 pm; food, sleeping place!

Dinner is buffet style and there’s plenty of food to go around. There’s also a small shop at the restaurant that offers bottled water, snacks, and even beer, at a price that’s quite a bit more expensive than in the city. A 1.5 litre of water was some RM 15 (or maybe a bit more), but I bet most of us won’t want to carry anyone’s 1.5 kg worth of anything up there for RM 15.

After dinner it’s a good idea to get some sleep before the 2nd day’s hike. Hostel style bunk bed is all you get, and we’re lucky to have a room with 6 beds for our group to enjoy our very own snoring symphony.

getting ready for summit try, 2:30 am
getting ready for summit try, 2:30 am

We woke up at 1:30 am for 2nd day’s hike. Buffet style supper is provided and we ate as much as we could in our sleepy state to get ready for the summit try.

Temperature at Laban Rata is already pretty cold at maybe 12-15 Celsius, so we put on our cold weather cloths and lights. I left a climbing stick in the room and to carry only one since I wanted to have a free hand for grabbing the climbing rope along the route.

by 4:53 am we reached KM 8.0, the last stop
by 4:53 am we reached KM 8.0, the last stop

The climb to summit is pretty different from the first day’s trail. It is a lot steeper and generally more hazardous, there are parts where you’ll need to grab hold of the climbing rope to help yourself up. It is also potentially more slippery when wet as some areas are just rock face without any steps or wide path like the first day.

To give you an idea of the difference in gradient, first day we hiked 6 km for 1400 meter in elevation, the second day it was 2.5 km for 822 meter. It is that much steeper.

reached the summit at about 5:45 am for sunrise
reached the summit at about 5:45 am for sunrise

We started the climb at 2:30 am and reached the summit just over 3 hours later. It was a gruelling hike as I was already quite tired from previous day’s climb. There are a couple stations for resting, and we also took a few stops closer to summit whenever we felt tired. It got really cold and windy, we had to took cover behind some boulders while resting.

Haze unfortunately decided to turn back some 10 minutes into the climb as she was showing signs of altitude sickness with very elevated heart rate. Ian had decided to stay back (as per planned) as he had made the summit a year ago. Thank you Ian!

Poul near the summit
Poul near the summit

Low’s Peak is quite a small are and gets rather crowded. We waited for our turn to take the all important I AM HERE ON TOP OF Mt. KINABALU pictures, stayed another half hour or so admiring the view before slowly making our way down.

there are areas where ropes are required
there are areas where ropes are required

The view going back down to Laban Rata was breath taking. You could see the whole of Kundasang and plenty of cloud around.

the view on the way down was breathtaking
the view on the way down was breathtaking 

The evidence from 2015’s earthquake was also very apparent. There were boulders the size of cars littered by the slope along the newly created path after the previous one was destroyed. Lives were lost during that day.

result of the earthquake, look at the size of this fallen boulder
result of the earthquake, look at the size of this fallen boulder

It was about 9:30 am when we reached Laban Rata, just good timing for another round of breakfast. All these walking really does work up your appetite, and it is a good idea to eat as much as possible to replenish all those spent calories. We then took a bit of rest before heading back down by around 10:15 am.

at this check point you also find the highest toilet in all of South East Asia
at this check point you also find the highest toilet in all of South East Asia

The journey down, was not nearly as demanding in a cardiovascular sense, was very punishing to our joints. My right knee (which suffered MCL injury before) started acting up about 70% down. Thankfully those hiking sticks provided some relieves.

Most coincidentally, we also met with an intern, Vinod who worked at our department a year ago. Hello!

we met with an ex-intern on the way down, also look at the porter!
we met with an ex-intern on the way down, also look at the porter!

Climbing Kinabalu Mountain was quite an experience, and one that I hope that we can do it again next year!

By the way, our pre-discussed contingency plan before climbing was that if anyone couldn’t make it, Ian was going to stay with the person, and if Ian was that person, I was going to stay with him. The reason being he had done it before, and I was the person who has more opportunity to try it again. You may not need to use this plan like we did, but it’s a good idea to have one.