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Published: February 21st 2014
On our way to Saigon.
Tired, but happy, Karen and I finally landed in Saigon on Valentine's evening sans luggage. Sometimes a trip teaches you that wits and an occasional washing of essentials in the bathroom basin are all you need to get by. We caught up with Karlie who had gotten to Saigon the day before. We met Karlie in Chefchaouen, Morooco where, on one cold night, we waxed poetic on warm Saigon and the next thing we knew we were all booking passage to the Orient. We cruised down to Lam's Cafe; Our old favorite restaurant on the main drag of Bui Vien. The paths were crowded with revelers from around the world. The street scene in District 1 now surpasses anything I've seen on Bangkok's Khao San road. Outside cafe tables filled with bright young faces all watching the passing parade of pedicabs, taxis, pedestrians, tourists, locals and vendors. Saigon moves non-stop. Everyone has somewhere to go or something to deliver or a service to sell. It is our favorite big city in the world. Its people are kind and engaging. We consider it our second home.
We stayed at the Mini Hau hotel right on Bui Vien 40. ($16/ night) It's
Trying to Stay Awake
Waiting in Hanoi Airport for our Vietnam Air flight to Saigon. Jet lagged but still game.
next door to our old place, the Nhu Lan, which was taken over by a Dutch fellow and his Vietnamese wife and transformed into a 'Boutique' operation called the 'Pink Tulip' ($25/ nite). We love the whole atmosphere on Bui Vien 40. Reminds me of 'Little Italy' on Chicago's south side off 33rd and Wells back in the 50's when every Mom was your Mom and if you got out of line they let you know it fast. Bui Vien is lined with small 15-bed operations that are run and owned by Vietnamese families. Over the past 6 years we've watched babies grow up and pets grow old. It's nice to go to a spot half-way around the world and have locals come up and say that it's good to see you again.
The next day our Saigon friend Truc (pronounced 'Troop'😉 came by to tell us that she had gotten a call from Aeroflot and that our bags had arrived in Saigon from Barcelona via Dubai. Go figure. And so Truc, my personal guardian angel, led me to the airport where I collected the bags and then she brought me home. A day later she gave us a
Karlie, KJ and Truc at Banh Xeo dinner
Truc turned us onto this place on our last trip. Truc knows Vietnamese food and has taken us to some wonderful local eateries.
cell phone because she didn't think we should be traveling without one. She handed the prepaid, pre-charged and programmed to me and left without a word. The only way that Karen and I could ever show enough gratitude would be if Truc had a baby and Karen and I saved the kid's life in a Big Top, circus fire, elephant stampede... "Oh MY GOD, there's a poor little chile trapped in that Clown car! Somebody help PLEASE!" Ain't going to happen. Ever. She's a remarkable person. She refers to herself as a simple girl from the Mekong Delta. Indeed. We met Truc 3 years ago in Danang where she was vacationing with her significant other: Jeff from Boston, Mass but we don't hold it against him. Often.
Things we're noticed since our last trip to Saigon. There are fewer tourists and the vendors have to fight harder to get those that are here. While there are plenty of low-end backpackers filling the $7 hostels the number of middle-aged Europeans here has dwindled dramatically. Prices for rooms and food have not gone up in the past 3 years. In fact, many hotels will deal down if you tell them of
Beautiful pop-up cards ranging in cost from $1.25 to $2.00 each
a competing offer. Transport has increased in cost as fuel prices continue to bit into the local economy. Things are getting tight here. Official exchange rate for US dollars is about 3% less than what a private citizen will pay on the street. This is actually a lower margin than what we encountered in 2011.
We walked the city. Mailed out a few things. Tried a lot of different restaurants. Truc's Bahn Xeo place is still our favorite. This is one helluva town if you like to eat well. Talked with Huong and her friends in the park. There's a long green that runs for a few miles in front of our street. Sometimes we'll buy cart food and eat it on benches under the Mimosa trees while the sun sets. Vietnamese English students will approach us regularly and ask if they can practice their language skills with us. We've met so many wonderful people doing this that we never say no. While we talk the park is alive around us with people playing with their babies. Boys play Hacky Sack and old couples play badminton. Lovers find a quiet place near the park's small lake to hold hands
KJ and Karlie with the Neighborhood Golden Retriever
This is the happiest dog in the world due to all of the backpackers who make it a point to scratch his ears and say good morning
There is a line of small, open air, dance pavilions along the edge of the park. Each specializing in a single discipline. The Waltz, the Samba, the Tango and so many more. Only the best students are allowed to dance inside on the hardwood floors. Small speakers fill the interior spaces with rhythmic music. Colored lights whirl over the dancers' heads. Outside, on the sidewalk, new students practice alone. Drilling themselves silently in step patterns and arm positions. Hoping, one day, to finally be good enough to go inside.
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