Thursday, March 22, 2007
Our first and last stop in Vietnam was Saigon (or Ho Chi Minh City). We got in really late (seemingly, all flights in and out of Saigon occur between 1 and 6:30 in the morning), so I had arranged with our hostel back in January for us to get picked up at the airport. Of course, when we arrived at the airport, our pick up was nowhere to be seen. When we called the hotel, we were told that I had failed to confirm (which my email account totally disproves!) and that we should just get a taxi to the hotel. We then had to join the large mob of other hot, tired, and disgruntled arriving passengers for one of the few available taxis (which were all gleefully charging ridiculous prices) and it was completely my fault.
After that inauspicious beginning, however, everything--aside from the extremely irritating tendency of everyone in Saigon to charge us Happy New Year tax--went really well. Despite not picking us up at the airport, the staff at our hostel was really nice, and our room was clean and cool and had lots of English TV. We visited the War Remnants Museum, the Museum of Ho Chi Minh City, Reunification Palace, the post office (doesn't sound touristy but it was actually pretty cool), the Notre Dame Cathedral, wandered around checking out Lunar New Year celebrations, and wandered and shopped at the large, indoor Benh Thanh Market. We ate amazingly well...incredible fruits and smoothies, pho, spring rolls, bun, other things I never learned the name of. The fruit--fruit plates, juices, shakes, and smoothies--was my favorite. Just about every restaurant and tons of street stalls and carts had big displays of fresh mangos, coconuts, pomelos, pineapples, bananas, dragonfruit, strawberries, and watermelon. The absolute best tasting thing I had was some mango juice at Benh Thanh Market. The food section in the market has a ton of stalls and counters selling all kinds of food and drinks...you just sit down on one of the little stools and point at things. Will, of course, refused to get anything and then drank almost all of my mango juice (you can just see the edge of his face and his hand holding the juice in the picture), something I had to try really hard not to get angry about. We also ate pho at a restaurant that Bill Clinton once went to. All four walls featured huge pictures of Bill beaming over a big bowl of pho...very exciting. Will liked their pho much he had to have two giant servings. While waiting for the Museum of Ho Chi Minh City to open (most things in Saigon are closed for an hour or two around lunchtime), we bought nuoc mia (sugar cane juice) from a little old woman with a cart on the sidewalk. She forced sticks of sugar cane through a little press, then handed us plastic bags with the resulting juice and some ice. It was delish. We sat on some random steps across from the museum and watched random other foreigners try to figure out that the museum was closed. We also had a really good lunch at Quan An Ngon, a restaurant recommended to us many times over. It's pretty cool--the restaurant is set up into different stations and you can wander around and see cooks preparing different dishes. We sat with other Americans--married doctors on vacation--who were very nice and fun to talk to. The woman had a jellyfish sting on her arm exactly like the one on my finger (which today, March 23rd, is still red and angry), only much bigger. Saigon was a lot like Phnom Penh, extremely backpacker-ful, very friendly, and overflowing with motorcycles. Crossing the street is done in the same way too...slowly and deliberately right out into the traffic, trying not to make any sudden moves so that the motorcycles can go around you. There are few traffic lights in the entire city, and seemingly even fewer traffic laws, so the whole thing can be pretty harrowing. Will made it especially so, by religiously avoiding the crosswalks (which are marginally safer since lots of people gather to cross in them).