Best Kind of Lost

Best Kind of Lost

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It was beginning to look a lot like…

by Noelle
December 16 – 20

 

…every other SE Asian city we’ve seen before.

You thought I was going to say Christmas, didn’t you?

Alas, no. And that, my friends, was a major lament of this time of our travels. And it wasn’t for lack of trying. There were gaudy Santa Clauses outside of major shopping streets (strangely, many wielding saxophones), shiny ribbon-wrapped buildings and snowmen smiling from the windows of restaurants. But our hearts just weren’t in the holiday spirit. Without the constant television ads reminding you of the approaching buying season, the Pandora Christmas radio station, the Home Alone reruns on ABC family or even snow, it was hard to feel like Christmas was just around the corner.

Festive efforts.

Festive efforts.

Storefronts crowded with holiday cheer for sale.

Storefronts crowded with holiday cheer for sale.

I became an Christmas decoration photo addict.

I became a Christmas decoration photo addict. You have to admit – this one’s pretty cool.

But seriously, what's with the saxophones?

But seriously, what’s with the saxophone-playing Santas?

So perhaps it was this ache for home that put a blight on our time in Ho Chi Minh City, the largest city in Vietnam and formerly officially (and currently unofficially) called Saigon. Not without merits (more delicious street food, lots of old trees and spacious parks and the same friendly smiles we’ve seen throughout the country), this city just failed to engage us the way Hanoi did. This city seemed to lack some of the authenticity of the former, with its large boulevards and modern buildings.

Street Scene

Street scene

Street Scenes 2 copy

The popular shopping boulevard, Dong Khoi 

A walk along the murky waterfront.

A walk along the murky waterfront.

Stopping in one of the many parks. All full of strange workout equipment which we saw being used frequently, but never correctly. Dave tried to demonstrate proper form when he could.

Stopping in one of the many parks. All full of strange workout equipment which we saw being used frequently, but never correctly. Dave tried to demonstrate proper form when he could.

And this ham. Who demanded I take her photo and struck a hilarious 'tude pose. Duck face is universal folks.

And this ham. Who demanded I take her photo and struck a hilarious ‘tude pose. Duck face is universal, folks.

There is still the remaining evidence of the ancient history of the place, but with the constant juxtaposition against impressive high-rises or upscale boutiques, it’s easy to overlook.

You can shop at Chanel...

You can shop at Chanel…

and turn the corner for a hair cut at the street-side barber.

…and turn the corner for a hair cut at the street-side barber.

#confused

old meets new

However, not to be outdone in the motorbike category, Ho Chi Minh boasted an entire microcosm of a world on 2 wheels. Used as living rooms, bedrooms, social meeting places and fashion platforms, motorbikes are used to move full families, animals and goods from place to place. It was amazing.

'rybody who's 'nybody has one

‘rybody who’s ‘nybody rides in this town.

Perfecting the art of bike balance.

Perfecting the art of bike balance.

Caution: High Load

Caution: High Load

Rocking the latest fashions.

Rocking the latest fashions.

It's 2 pm. So you know, it's nap time.

It’s 2 pm. So you know, it’s nap time.

This guy's just showing off.

This guy’s just showing off.

Something also much more prevalent in this metropolitan city was the phenomena of the female pajama. Women wear these colorful matching sets all day long. In my constricting waistbands, I was constantly jealous – methinks I’ll start a new American trend come May. Watch out Michael Kors. I’m taking black yoga plants to a whole new level.

#christmasjammies

#christmasjammies

Not to be outdone, men forwent shoes and shirts whenever possible, making for a less than sanitary-inspiring dining experience, but when in Rome…

Not to be outdone, men forewent shoes and shirts whenever possible, making for a less than sanitary-inspiring dining experience, but when in Rome…

As I mentioned, while we missed Hanoi’s Old Quarter ease of street food every few steps, we were not hard pressed to find tasty pho, fresh spring rolls or banh mis as we walked the Saigon streets (and oh, we walked. And walked.).

Dave became an expert at sidewalk negotiations. Even when we had no clue what we were bargaining for.

Dave became an expert at sidewalk negotiations. Even when we had no clue what we were bargaining for.

The popular SE Asian dessert, Chè, was everywhere. Made with beans or rice, or...something...it's delicious. And rain or shine, this guy was the friendliest vendor in Saigon.

The popular SE Asian dessert, chè, was everywhere. Made with beans or rice, or…something…it’s delicious. And rain or shine, this guy was the friendliest vendor in Saigon.

We started each morning at our second favorite pho establishment of the trip (we haven’t forgotten you Pho Gia Truyen). Cozying up at tiny tables, we discovered the brilliance of adding an egg to our noodle soups, and upped the ante with peppers and chili sauce until our noses were running and our lips burning.

We're getting SO good at Pho!

Nailed it. We’re getting SO. GOOD. at pho!

Our (sometimes twice) daily stop. Where everybody knows our name. Okay, well, at least we're pretty sure they maybe sometimes recognized us.

Our (sometimes twice) daily stop. Where everybody knows our name. Okay, well, at least we’re pretty sure they maybe sometimes recognized us.

And of course, we made the imperative pilgrimage to the famous Lunch Lady. Known for her dedication to creating mouthwatering broths and serving a different soup every day, we made not one, but two trips across town (like really, really far) to try what turned out to be a succulent seafood soup (with a bit too fishy broth) on Thursday and the even more alluring pho bo on Friday. While I wouldn’t say either quite lived up to the hype, it was still tasty, and the crowd was mainly local, so we enjoyed the experience. We followed one more of good old Tony Bourdain’s recommendations and hiked out to Banh Xeo 46 for a late lunch of their oversized namesakes.

We ate well, readers.

Lunch Lady kicking butt, taking names.

Lunch Lady kicking butt, taking names.

Bahn Xeo lunch stop.

Banh xeo lunch stop.

The man of the hour.

The man of the hour.

We regularly found ourselves complimenting our food stops with liquid goodness. From tasty, dense Vietnamese coffee and refreshing fruit sihn tos (shakes) to sweet sugar cane juice, we could be found sitting on small plastic chairs all over the city, smacking our still-cooling-from-breakfast-pho lips.

Passionfruit and strawberry smoothie from our favorite fruit stand.

Passionfruit and strawberry sihn to from our favorite fruit stand.

The ever-present sugarcane juice. Sweet, but super refreshing on a hot day (which is every day).

The ever-present sugarcane juice. Sweet, but super refreshing on a hot day (which is every day).

Cambodian filter coffee, served with a glass of jasmine tea, used to dilute the diesel-fuel like consistency of the local coffee.

Vietnamese filter coffee, served with a glass of jasmine tea, used to dilute the diesel-fuel like consistency of the local coffee. The traditional Vietnamese style of serving would call for sweet condensed milk poured over ice, but we like our coffee hot, and thick-dairy-product-free, so we settled for the dark roast, black.

And can we talk one minute about the absolute BRILLIANCE of the “take away” beverage method of this country? Cradled in a plastic sack, you can walk without getting your hand wet from condensation. Additional  materials contributed toward littering (an expected method of trash disposal here) and earth’s environmental deterioration (since recycling has yet to become an encouraged practice in Vietnam)? Perhaps. But comfy for your hand? Absolutely.

I shall call it: Drinkozy.

And I shall call it: Drinkozy.

Oh, and of course, our old friend – local beer. Here, it often comes in the frothy forms of Saigon (green, red or special) or Biere Larue – and commonly on ice.

The iced beer phenomena is presumed to be for two reasons…to help pace the heavy drinking crowd and the lack of refrigeration at most pop-up-style restaurants.

The iced beer phenomenon is presumed to be for two reasons…1) to help pace the heavy drinking crowd and 2) to keep the beverage cool despite the lack of refrigeration at most pop-up-style restaurants.

Traversing by foot the city is relatively easy, but tiresome, as the temps were regularly 80+ during the day (EDITOR’S NOTE: Insert “Dave sweats a lot” joke here.). But we did our duty and hit up several of the beautiful (and not so much so) buildings for which Ho Chi Minh is flocked to.

The Central Post Office (designed by none other than Gustave Eiffel, of tower fame) was a sight to see. , the Gothic-styled Saigon Central Post Office began its life in 1886 and remains one of the country's most celebrated structures. Inside, beneath a long, domed roof, walls decorated with French colonial maps flank a portrait of Ho Chi Minh, while the elaborate tiled floors complete the refined look.

The Gothic-style Central Post Office (designed by none other than Gustave Eiffel, of Tower fame), built in 1886, was a sight to see. (EDITOR’S NOTE: Had we known about the notable architect of the place before visiting, we might have stayed even longer to admire… eh, who am I kidding? We weren’t spending more than 5 minutes in the lobby regardless.)

The inside of the Post Office showcases a long, domed roof and tiled floors, with a portrait of Ho Chi Minh at the center of attention.

The inside of the Post Office showcases a long, domed roof and tiled floors, with a portrait of Ho Chi Minh at the center of attention.

Opposite the post office is the equally impressive neo-Romanesque Notre-Dame cathedral, built by French colonialists in 1863.

Opposite the post office is the equally impressive neo-Romanesque Notre Dame cathedral, built by French colonialists in 1863.

The less-than-impressive-looking Reunification Palace.

While the building is less than impressive, the Reunification Palace has an important history. This is where the first North Vietnamese tanks crashed through the gates during the Vietnam War, resulting in Saigon’s official surrender.

Ben Thahn Market

With over 3000 stalls, District 1’s Ben Thanh Market is overwhelming. We spent a total of 10 minutes strolling through the aisles before making a clean escape.

The Opera House

Built in 1897, the Saigon Opera House is another example of French Colonial architecture found throughout Vietnam.

Day and Night in the backpacker district of the city where we spent our evenings.

Day and night in the backpacker district of the city where we spent our evenings.

Alas, after a few days in this overwhelmingly bland, hot and Christmas-spirit-lacking city, and with only a few days left on our visa, we made the incredibly brilliant audible to forgo the rest of our time in the capital and head out to Vietnam’s largest island – Phu Quoc (GIVE ME LINCOLN PARK ZOO LIGHTS OR GIVE ME DEATH! Or beach. Let’s go with beach.).

But before we fled, we had an unexpected run-in with our friends Sandy, Emily and Jacob who we’d met in Hanoi. Spotting Dave dashing through the streets in the rain to retrieve our laundry (I mean, it didn’t make sense for BOTH of us to go), we were reunited for some drinks and the best bahn mi we’d had yet. Excellent send-off. Now let’s get beachy.

Fresh off the cart.

Fresh off the cart.

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1 notes

  1. A Proper Vietnamese Send-Off, Served Sandy-Side Up | Best Kind of Lost reblogged this and added:

    […] great escape from the bustling noise of Ho Chi Minh City came in the form of an (thankfully uneventful) overnight bus and ridiculously choppy ferry ride […]