Bill had been talking about it for a while, and we all agreed - the Singapore Home Brew Club needed to do a road trip. We needed to explore. Vietnam was chosen as our destination; it is exotic, the food is great, there are lots of small breweries there and it is inexpensive. Beer could be had for as little as about 20 cents USD a glass. Ho Chi Minh City (formerly, and still referred to by locals as, Saigon) was reported to have at least 10 micro or pub breweries. Bill arranged for the choice of two hotels – one nice, touristy, and downtown, the other, less expensive, local style and out towards the edge of town. Bill & I stayed in the later, so as to be more local style (no, not because we are cheap). Our hotel was in an interesting neighborhood about a 30 minutes walk from town centre. Our rooms were large and comfortable and had a refrigerator. And unfortunately for us the lobby and entire front of the building was being renovated. This meant several things for us; one – that there was sand and cement everywhere and there really was no front desk, two – that the crew all parked their motor scooters in the lobby (or what there was of it), and three – that every day (Sunday included) the construction crew started work (mostly with hammers) at 7:00 am. Did I mention the interesting neighborhood ?
Each morning Bill & I were out the door by 8:00 and off to have our coffee (and then Tea). We chose a busy thoroughfare where we could watch, with great interest, the passing motorists. About 90 percent of all vehicles that we saw were two wheeled, about 5 percent were three wheeled machines fabricated from old motorbikes and carts and the rest were car or the occasional truck. Saigon is a city of about 10 million people, that means there are a lot of motor bikes on the road. The motor bikes usually had more than one person on them (often three and sometimes even more – the maximum I saw was five) And the things that you saw people carrying between them on their motor bikes was truly astounding. A partial list includes, Truck windshields, a sheet of glass, a desk, sheets of plywood, a lawn mower, office chairs (to go with the desk no doubt), multiple children, 30 foot lengths of pipe, bundles of rebar, three bags of scorpions, and (my personal favorite) another motor bike (a Honda 50). Yeah, another motor bike in between two ladies on a motor bike of the same size.
And even more amazing was watching people cross the street. They literally just stepped out into traffic (sometimes without even looking) and maneuver across the road while the motor bikes and busses swirled around them like water around an island in a steam. Well, a moving island. I tried it several time (without anything like the calm and bravado that the locals had) and managed not to get hit except once. I got hit as I stepped off the sidewalk (after looking both ways) by a woman who had just zipped out of a driveway and was going against traffic. Lucky for both of us she was not going very fast or carrying a sheet of glass.
After a leisurely coffee and tea it was time to walk in to meet the others and go for a beer (or two) and then search out lunch. After lunch we had exploring to do and brew pubs to find. There are also in Saigon small beer spots called Bia Ho’i where beer from one of the local large breweries is sold. The Bia Ho’i prices were geared more to the local consumer (about 20 cents a glass). The beer there was better than the average mass marketed bottled lager but not anything special. The attraction for us was the local flavor and the good pricing. Our goal was 12 breweries and at least two Bia Ho’I in three days, I know it seems a bit lofty but we felt we were up to the task. Afternoons of walking and exploring left us thirsty and hungry. Evenings brought dinner of Vietnamese food at one of the many great local food courts and an array of delicious and sometimes unusual dishes. The oddest dishes we tried were pregnant fish and Balut (nearly developed duck still in the egg). Don’t think about it just eat it, and if your lucky you can use the beak as a tooth pick.
Recommended things to do and places to see should you be lucky enough to find yourself in Saigon; Hoa Vien Brewery, Nguyen Du Brewery, any of the many Bia Ho’i places, Sao Dong food court, Bia Tu’o’i Pacific (excellent food upstairs), take a death defying ride on the back of a motor bike taxi, and stop in at any local coffee shop, preferably on the side of a busy thoroughfare.