Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City)

So, Sam and I have a new pact. Of course, this happened post the trip to Saigon. But it’s a good note to start with. My trips to home always have Singapore plugged in. Because that is home too. Going forward, Sam and I will do one South Asian city at a time for each of these trips. A year which takes away close ones tends to bring the ones still around , closer. Also, I am writing this down to make this as legit as I can. 🙂

Saigon is straight out of chaos theory. Too many people. Too many bikes. Too few traffic lights. Street carts selling all sorts of wares. I loved it. There is a home-like sense of familiarity here. And an old world charm. Both traits that I miss significantly in American cities.

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The city at a glance!

With Sam in the mix, hostels were ruled out. That was non-negotiable. She is a creature of comfort and extremely risk averse. That we have survived close to two decades of knowing each other and liking each other is commendable. 🙂 We stayed at this airbnb instead, called Christina’s Mothership. Super comfy and surprisingly trendy, compared to the neighborhood!

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Common area at Christina’s

We had two days in HCM. Memory has not retained an hour by hour view of the city, but counting some of the highlights here.

We started off with pho (obviously!). Found this place called Pho 2000, which is famous because Bill Clinton had pho here. Walked from there to the Ben Thanh market to pick knick knacks. You get the nicest wood carved stuff all over Ho Chi Minh! But one must haggle like a boss. For starters, I had no point of reference. So, I did what any other self-respecting Indian would do. Kept my haggling price point at half the quoted price. I can’t remember if that worked well, but I do remember that I paid a little more than I should have at some places. In summary, the stuff I bought here – amazing! 🙂 We also picked  traditional Vietnamese hats here (because one must in Vietnam).

Took a rickshaw to the Reunification Palace (aka Independence Palace). And almost got conned, before Sam schooled the rickshaw guy and we walked away. The palace is not super impressive; you need about an hour to walk through. A pretty big landmark in the city though, since this was where the Vietnam war ended in 1975, when North Vietnamese tanks crashed into the palace. Our favorite bit here was the huge walk-in closet the queen had!

From the palace, we started walking to the War Remnants Museum – a must visit. On the way, found a Milk bar with the best cold coffee ever! I am noting it down, in case I ever go back to HCM. Vietnamese coffee is splendid! And I have a soft spot for cold coffee done right. This place got it so right, I have no words! A big plus; the ambience was amazing too.

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Going back to the museum. This museum based on Vietnam War photographs and artifacts, is a tale you must know. Heart rending and unbelievable. I have read three books on the war after coming back. And the only question these books and museum don’t answer is ‘Why?’.  The epithet ‘Leader of the free world’ is cringe-worthy. What was achieved by killing and disabling millions of Vietnamese civilians is beyond me. A must visit to understand what irrational fear is capable of, specially amidst people with power. Now you can choose to argue either way, but this war is a one way street, where American usage of power and chemical weapons was completely unwarranted. There is an orange colored room in this museum, which only talks about the impact of Agent Orange, a particularly toxic chemical weapon used on Vietnamese folks. You have to see it to believe the scale of the genocide.

I remember it rained when we got out of the museum. We found a quiet corner, sipped on our beers and watched the bikes whiz by. Something about pouring rain and the humdrum of traffic, that brings you back to the present.

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Spent the evening grabbing a drink at the backpacker district. That place is a bit shabby – bit being an understatement. Yet, it is quite an interesting place for people watching. We ended the night with the best kind of foot massage! Massages in HCM are to die for, and super cheap. Highly highly recommend this.

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Backpacker District in HCM

We went to the Mekong delta next day. Didn’t have enough time to make it to the floating market, but this was a good day nonetheless. Drank snake wine (and survived), bought Royal Jelly (which cures EVERYthing!), ate fish of the good and the bad kind and came back in time to see more of the city! 🙂 Obviously, if you have more time, shoot for the floating market and spend a couple of days there.

The Post Office in HCM is gorgeous. A super pretty yellow building which caught my camera’s fancy. We walked around the city center. Notre Dame Cathedral is beautiful too. Tried another good looking coffee shop called M2C Coffee. Excellent coffee again. Bought these super cute pop-up cards for everyone. You should too, if you are in the city. Quite intricate and nicer than a postcard.

And then came the favorite part of our trip (my trip?). The food tour with Vietnamese locals on bikes (because why not!). Jack and John were our tour guides. Sam’s guide Jack didn’t know a word of English to her increasing frustration and my amusement! Anyway, John and Jack did a stand up job with the food tour. We were immediately zipped out of District 9 (because touristy) and taken to more local parts of the city. The menu (spread across various part of the city) consisted of sugary sticky rice, rice crisps with veggies, fish noodle soup (awesome!), do re mon cakes and Vietnamese pizza (again, amazing!). Absolutely loved it!

On my way out, I did pick up a box of Kopi Luwak. For the uninitiated, it is the coffee extracted from an animal’s feces; also the most expensive coffee in the world! I duly gifted it to a dear one. I don’t think she was pleased. It is hard to please people nowadays *eye roll*.

In summary, brilliant two days. Definitely recommend at least a weekend here.

 

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