In Northern China people famously joke that Southern China's Cantonese people will eat anything that flies, except a plane; anything that swims, except a submarine, and anything that has legs, except the table. The same joke could be applied to the Vietnamese. We could have feasted on dog meat in Hanoi, but decided not to. Feeling like we had missed an opportunity to taste some truly exotic food, I vowed to try something I had never eaten before in Saigon... and I got the opportunity not once, but twice...
We arrived in Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City) on Wednesday evening on a Pacific Airlines flight from Da Nang. After checking into our hotel, Miss Loi's Guesthouse in Co Giang, we took a xe om to a restaurant that could apparently aid in my quest for dodgy food: Bo Tung Xeo Restaurant. We were not disappointed. The menu included field rat, snake, cricket, scorpion, worms, goat's penis etc. To start off safely, we first of all ordered the house speciality, Vietnamese barbecue: marinated beef which you grill on a small barbecue at your table. It was delicious! Next, we were feeling couragous. We ordered a soup with snake and lemongrass, as
well as two grilled field rats. The snake proved quite a challenge to eat: the meat was chewy and quite tasteless, and the snake's little bones didn't help either. Feeling rather stuffed, we started looking less and less forward to the rats which were still supposed to come. We were lucky: unfortunately the restaurant had run out of rats for the evening! We decided to return another day to try some more adventurous dishes.
Thursday was our hard-core sight-seeing day, and we managed to tick off quite a lot of things on our "to see" list. First of all, we went to the Reunification Palace, the palace of the president of South Vietnam before Saigon surrendered to the Communists in 1975. Unfortunately the palace was being renovated, so we couldn't enter the grounds. Next, we visited the nearby War Remnants Museum, which documents the atrocities committed during the Vietnam War. It was gruesome, brutal, gory, lurid, depressing, and yet I wouldn't have missed it for the world. It is the most comprehensive exhibition of Vietnam War photography I've ever seen. Surprisingly, the portrayed version of history was not as one-sided as I had expected it to be. While clearly
anti-American, the museum does not try to hide the war crimes committed by the Viet Cong. It just focusses more on the crimes committed by American and South Vietnamese soldiers. After the War Remnants Museum, and some lunch and shopping to help lift our spirits, we visited the History Museum. The museum gives an interesting insight into Vietnam's history, from several thousand years ago up to the present. Being in need of some fresh air after visiting two museums, we next took a long motorcycle ride to the Cholon part of Saigon, where we visited the Quan Am Pagoda, Phuoc An Hoi Quan Pagoda, and Thien Hau Pagoda. While the first two were worth a visit, I found the latter far too touristic and lacking in atmosphere. After a long day, we had seen enough for a while, and went back to relax for the rest of the evening.
On Friday, we started off our day by going to the Museum of Ho Chi Minh City. The museum is housed in a very nice building, and has displays and artefacts from the various periods of the Communist struggle for power in Vietnam. Most interesting for me where declarations in
French in which the communist revolutionaries tried to reassure the French inhabitants of Saigon about their peaceful goals. Next, I tried to buy some cheap shirts in Saigon's many boutiques. Everything was so small that I couldn't even button up the shirts I tried on. It just shows how tiny the average Vietnamese person is! Needless to say, I didn't buy anything... Afterwards Phil went back to the hotel, while I went to explore the Jade Emperor Pagoda and the Giac Lam Pagoda, with the latter being my favourite in Saigon, despite the fact that it is a long motorcycle ride out of town.
In the evening, we decided to go back to the restaurant where we had tasted snake on our first evening in Saigon for some more exotic grub. This time we barbecued some beef and wild boar at our table, before digging into a nice portion of scorpions! We got 4 huge scorpions (around 10 cm long) which we were supposed to devour in their entirety, save the tip of the tail. The claws and legs were rather crunchy, but the beasts' main bodies were surprisingly juicy and tasty!
Unfortunately, we had to catch a
flight to Hong Kong very early in the morning on Saturday. I've come to greatly appreciate Vietnam, from the motorcycle-mayhem on the road in Saigon to the beauty of the Cham ruins at My Son. I hope to come back very soon to spend some more time here!
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