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Published: June 29th 2016
I can't seem to get enough of this soup.
A few days in Vietnam and I think I have a serious Pho Bo addiction.
Why the hell is this soup so delicious?! Maybe it’s the massive quantities of monosodium glutamate they put in it?
Damn it, I should have known if it tastes too good to be true, then it probably is.
My attempts to wean myself off Pho fail miserably. Instead, I find shops that offer MSG-free Pho thereby allowing me to continue my little habit undisrupted. I proudly sit with the other soup junkies in impossibly tiny chairs hunched over gigantic bowls, slurping up the goodness, only making eye contact if deemed necessary.
So far Vietnam has been a refreshing dream. When I crossed over the Cambodian border I experienced a kind of reverse culture shock because everything was far more civilized and orderly here, the traffic, albeit chaotic, obeys all stoplights and idles patiently at intersections. Food is prepared out on the streets under brightly coloured umbrellas, with enticing food smells mixing in that distinctive city odour. Women in pyjamas and pointy hats bend at the waist and sweep the sidewalks outside their shops, and there are no piles of rubbish
Street Meat BBQ
My favourite thing about travel is trying the food offered by street vendors. I was no disappointed in HCMC.
or general filth to gingerly step over.
My two star hotel wasn’t exactly stunning, more like utilitarian, but at only $39 a night I was thrilled it had a clean bed, decent water pressure, and easy access to the downtown area which is a mishmash of skyscrapers and mom n' pop businesses stacked under crumbly apartments.
I did a walkabout in District 1 to get my bearings, peeking down alleyways and backstreets hoping to catch a glimpse of ordinary Ho Chi Minh life. All I see is stray cats and drying laundry. I go as far as comfortably possible before I turn back.
As I attempt to cross the street, I suddenly realize have a scooter tsunami bearing down on me. I’ve been told I need to step off the curb and commit without faltering and they will all go around me. And they do. I couldn’t have been more travel proud in that very moment.
It was short lived though as the next crossing I hesitated for no more than a nanosecond and I found myself stranded in the middle of a roundabout. This is going to need practice.
Church in the middle
Right in the centre of the city is this catholic church. As we walked by you could hear choir practice.
of the coolest things about travelling is experiencing things you haven’t before. For me Asia was a carnival of sights and sounds with Ho Chi Minh City being that old wooden rickety rollercoaster at the end. Like a scary thrill. As I wander around, I'm observing a younger population on scooters all driven by a future of flashy commercialism, even though there is a constant reminder of communism on the red banners that hang along every boulevard. The older Vietnamese seem harder, less enthusiastic.
I met a chain-smoking bicycle taxi driver who entices me into going for a tour. Although he was very thorough in his history lessons with acceptable broken English, I found it super awkward being slow-glided through chaotic traffic as he yells into my ear. Equally unnerving were the glitzy high-end shops like Dior and Bentley that seem to go for city blocks. I remember having the same shocked mortification when I saw the McDonalds restaurant at the Kremlin. It just seems so wrong.
Never a shopper, I get more from traveling by visiting museums or palatial palaces, or war memorials. So that's what I do. And in between the touristy stuff, I
Life in the big city
Everyone is doing something, everyone has somewhere they need to be.
stroll the city green spaces. I'm surprised by the amount of seniors doing calisthenics and exercising feverishly, this city seems to be in a constant ebb of forward motion, and heaven help you if you don’t get with the program. You are going to get mowed over.
Speaking of getting mowed over, the scooter culture here is enticingly terrifying. I saw whole families of five including the family dog occupying one scooter. Couriers weave through traffic carrying everything from baggies of tropical fish to towers of foam cushions. Some of their balancing acts are circus worthy.
If I were to stay here, I'd dare to hire my own scooter because I'm becoming irresponsibly convinced I could master this insane traffic. Good thing I leave tomorrow.
On my last night in HCMC, I found a recommended restaurant near the pub street and was seated next to a group of guys who all looked like tattooed overstays. They were yelling their conversations, so they had to be Americans. I ate delicious goi cuon which was diced pork with fragrant vegetables rolled up in rice paper and sipping a local beer while trying not to listen as several of them
This makes sense, traveling like this through the streets of HCMC
announce their plans for debaucheries later. They all leave but two of the older men stayed behind to chat me up. As soon as they figured out I was solo, they were yolo. Salvador Dali and Martin Sheen (not their real names but probable doppelgangers) took me for a little tour of duty around the bar district, although they said it was pretty tame this early in the night. The streets were overflowing with taxis and scooters, bleary eyed expats, and shady locals lurking. The bar girls and boys make beelines for us in an effort to lure us into their dens.
We finally pick one and go in. Over the blaring 90's music, the boys pepper me with questions about my life but are unfairly allusive when I ask what they are doing here in Vietnam. The rest of their group rendezvous with us later, and tequila shots start flying...and so do the tongues, as they relish a few Sudan and Afghan stories on me. At this point I sus this crew are special forces. Nothing was ever verbally confirmed though. I nurse my one blue drink with the fancy straw in a corner while I watch them
Nightife in HCMC
The whole place comes alive at night, bars and casinos, cabarets and restaurants. A little seedy but still worth seeing.
all perform, they yell and arm wrestle and pound back pony neck beers that kept our table wet. Bar girls in tiny sailor costumes flit in and out trying to get their attention. It's all sensory overload.
Just after midnight, I excuse myself because of my early flight in the morning. I yell explain that I am going to an island for some serious beach 'downtime' prior to returning to my life in Canada. My crew roger that.
Salvador escorts me out of the bar to make sure I get into a legitimate taxi, and I end up handing over eighteen times more Dong than I should to a driver that smiles so big at me, I get creeped out and flee the taxi before I realize what I've done.
Next stop, Phu Quoc island
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