Local Life, Ho Chi Minh City
One thing you have to do when in Saigon is to try some of the marvelous local foods. It may be a modern city, but there are lots of very local and authentic eating places scattered all over the city. Wander around and if something looks good, have a bite to eat.
Fondest memory: Though precariously clutching the seat of my driver’s motorcycle, I felt finally free: of Saigon’s grime and sweat that masked my own skin but more importantly of the disappointment of ill-conceived expectations that Vietnam had not lived up to. This two-month tour of Southeast Asia had originally stemmed from the desire to experience first hand what all the fuss was about Vietnam. Laos and Cambodia were initially afterthoughts.
What was never anticipated was just how much the easygoing nature of travel in Laos would influence how I initially perceived Vietnam. Perhaps if our first port of call had been Saigon, things would have been different but after two carefree weeks in Laos, we were dropped on the doorstep of what seemed at the time, a very unfriendly Hanoi. It wasn’t until two weeks into the Vietnamese segment of our trip that we finally began to enjoy it. Things were not perfect in Hoi An and Na Trang but the nine-day TET induced stint in Hanoi finally became just an interesting memory rather than something we could not wait to escape from.
But it was in Saigon that it all came together. Oddly enough, it is perhaps the least interesting city in Vietnam with regard to sights. But what it lacks in this department, it more than makes up for with a fantastic array of foods and more importantly, a friendly population that has grown up with a burgeoning tourist trade and hence knows how to treat it without appearing self-conscious. It does not take long to see that the south of the country has been in the tourist business longer and this trickles down to the locals as well. The people are more used to foreigners and are more welcoming. (continued below in Fondest Memory)
One such local had placed me on the back of this motorcycle I now clung to. He was an older man and certainly wiser for the years. He had spent some time in the States and his English was quite good. We had innocently enough stopped by a local bia hoi place on a busy Saigon street corner. It had become our favorite spot to watch life in the big city go by. The evenings were hot and muggy and even I gave in to the local practice of putting blocks of ice in my beer glass, making an already watery brew even more so. But with heat like this, it may be for the better to dilute alcohol if not the flavor of such things. Our new friend was a great conversationalist and we enjoyed hearing about his travels in the US as well as what Saigon had gone through since the end of the war.
I had been trying to find a dish from a Vietnamese restaurant I had been going to for over twenty years back in the States, but had had no luck in finding it. I produced a menu from this place I had carried the entire trip and asked him if he knew where we could find it. With a bit of thought, he said he would find out and took off. He returned five minutes later on the back of a motorcycle and explained that I was to go with the driver, as he knew where it was. I was a bit skeptical but desperate for this meal so I took the chance. I hopped on and was soon whizzing through the crowded streets, the wind, cooling my sweat-dampened T-shirt, blowing away my worries too. It felt great but all too short as we quickly arrived at our destination. (concluded below in Fondest Memory)
It was one of these temporary street food stalls that exist only from late afternoon until the food runs out. And they did in fact have bun thit nuong, the tasty barbecued pork dish I had sought for weeks now. My driver did the ordering and I was happy to get a very local price for the prized take away. He then whisked me back to the beer joint just as quickly. I tired to pay for the ride but he explained it was already taken care of. Our new friend had hired him to take me on this little food adventure.
I had my booty, but it was all in plastic bags with no utensils to eat it with. Our buddy took care of that too, asking the proprietors of the bia hoi hangout to bring out plates and chop sticks. We dug in with full gusto. It was just what we had been looking for and our obvious enthusiasm had him glowing over his accomplishment. We bought the next round of beers and thanked him heartily, but it was time for him to head home. And stuffed, it was time for us as well. We saw him one other time at our rendezvous point but he was with friends and we had made a few new ones too that evening, so we never spoke. But we exchanged smiles. And this is what I will most fondly remember about my time in Vietnam, someone going out of their way to make my stay that much better. His smile and, of course, the wind blowing the grime and sweat from my face. Free, finally free.
My eighth visit to Saigon was from April 23-26, 1965. I stayed in the Dong Khanh Hotel again, and I remember that I went swimming several times at an outdoor pool that belonged to a formerly very suave French colonial club, now not so suave and exclusive but still very nice.
I also saw some films at various Vietnamese cinemas where I was often the only non-Asian person in the audience. The films were quite multi-lingual affairs. The dialogues were all dubbed into French, but in the case of musical films the singing was left in the original Spanish or English. There were Vietnamese subtitles and sometimes also Chinese titles that were projected with a slide projector or filmstrip projector (remember those?) off to the side of the main screen. So the Vietnamese subtitles appeared automatically, but someone had to change the Chinese titles by hand to fit the dialogues.
Apparently most of the people in the audience understood French, because I noticed that they laughed at the funny parts even before the titles appeared.
1. Ticket to Ciné Van Hoa
2. Ciné Van Hoa
3. Sidewalk in front of Ciné Van Hoa
4. Flyer advertising a Spanish film (dubbed into French) at Cinè Van Hoa
5. Women with fruit baskets near Ciné Van Hoa
Next: To Saigon by Piper Apache, back by Caribou
The first thing you will notice in HCMC is the road traffic, particularly the motor bike.
Once you get used to the noise, the horn beeping and the roar of motors you will then take notice of the participants and notice the multiple passengers. Regularly you will see 4 persons on a bike, usually a family of 2 adults and 2 children. In fact my wife claims see saw a young mother on the back of a bike feeding her 3 month old child during a peak traffic period.
We were on the lookout for 5 on a bike but did not see it whilst we were in the city.
Here are 2 signs of recent Saigon's ID:
- The Continental Hotel, dating from the turn of the 19th century, scenery of a lot of scenes of the famous Graham Greene's novel The Quiet American, a real classic of the city, in spite of the awful renovation made in 1989 by "Saigon Tourist".
- Women in the classical vietnamese dress, U don't see these too often, just in few special occasions...
You will find many strange local fruits here: lychee, papaya, jackfruit?
But the weirdest of them all was the DURIAN, a very large fruti, the size of a football ball, all covered with sharp spikes. It is said to be the tastiest of all (I didn? try it) but it smells like hell!! Once U open it, the smell is so disgusting that is even forbidden in public places like hotels, planes, buses? it is said it would be imposible to remain in a, let?s say, bus all the traject after one of these durians has been opened inside?
To many of us, life in Vietnam can be considered quite tough. But local people are contented with simple life and needs.
This is one regular scene where some elderly people will enjoy good cup of brewed coffee and interact with pals at near by coffee joint.
I wasn’t too use to the low plastic chair and table at first. But I’m kind of getting used to after a few days.
The entire five days in Vietnam was blackout-free except for one night when I was watching the television in the hotel room and the next thing I know...Pooped! Eh, Hello? Who turned off the lights?
If you are wondering, the electric sockets are standard European or American types. So you don't have to buy special adaptors like in Australia or in China. Inversely, if you're from these two countries and you're visiting Vietnam...
A small number of Muslims exist in Vietnam, and are mainly found in South central Vietnam, the Mekong Delta, and by the Cambodian border. Islam was introduced to Vietnam in the 7th century via Arab traders and later blended with local customs and religion. Islam is now mostly practiced by the Cham population of Vietnam, although there is a strong Hindu influence in their practice. Today, there are several mosques in metropolitan Saigon.
The Saigon Central Mosque was built by South Indian Muslim in 1935.
Fondest memory: 66 Dong Du, District 1, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam
We booked with Innoviet Travel Company a two days mekong delta tour including a home stay. It was an amazing and unforgetable experience.
We were a small group of 4 plus Thang our guide.
We stayed on a island near Tra On. The couple we stayed with were very friendly and in the evening we prepared dinner together. It was a wonderful evening!
The next day we visited the floating market and on the market in Tra On we bought the ingredients for lunch. On the market we were the only tourists! The second day for lunch we stayed with another family. We also prepared the food together. Their home was more modern then the one the night before.
The tour was more expensive than other tours like with Singh Cafe but the money was definitely well spend!
Fondest memory: Innoviet Travel Company,
158 Bui Vien, District 1, Ho Chi Minh City
My favourite thing to do during this holiday was to EAT and try out as many vietnamese dishes as possible,
Don't worry about gaining weight, most dishes are light and easy to digest!
The famous COFFEE is also a must when you are in Vietnam, my favourite was Iced-Coffee with lots of sugar! Though I am not a coffee drinker at all, I liked it!
Fondest memory: My best memory of Saigon was meeting my mother's family. It was my first visit since we left Vietnam 1972. All my relatives only remembered me as a child, and I was treated like one, too.
I have wonderful relatives and hope to visit them soon again!
Most people in Vietnam are doing their own business, be it a small restaurant, a fruit selling cart, even a souvenirs shop.
These people were not as willing to work during the working-for-government period in the '80.
Click here for more information.
Although is a busy city witha lot of motorbikes, the atmosphere in HCMC during evening can be very relax.
There are lots of small gardens and small parks in HCMC. Every evening, after work perhaps, you can see a lot of people.. old and young gather in these park to exercise.
The Cong Vien Van Hoe park near the reunification palace has some facilities for exercises and for kids. There is a small park near Pham Ngu Lao also. But beware, these parks are where the fraud find their targets.
Strolling aimlessly in Ho Chi Minh City is what I like doing. After a while, if you are tired, you can take a cyclo anywhere with a fixed price, asking the rider to take you for one hour or half an hour. There are a lot of cyclo riders speaking English so make sure you find an English speaker who can be your guide as well.
Fondest memory: I miss the food, smiles of people, Ao Dai dress...