This week saw the end of our trip in Vietnam- the most aesthetically pleasing place I have visited in my twenty-five years. Like many ‘backpackers’ (I use that word with reluctance), we booked an Open Bus ticket, which hits up a bunch of spots throughout the country. We travelled from South to North, starting in Ho Chi Minh City (or Saigon, as the cool kids seem to still be calling it) and this blog post began after taking bus number four. In keeping with the trend, the bus flopped my sunburnt body from side to side whilst I battled sleep to drink in as much of what could be seen out my window as possible. Each bus challenged my ‘how many photos is too many to take on a bus’ question.
Our gaggle of six had mixed reviews about Ho Chi Minh. Crowded and overrun with motorbikes, the biggest city in Vietnam could easily be seen as exactly this- just another city. To me it seemed pleasantly green and not quite the smog bubble I’d expected.
For tourists on our first night in the city, we found what we needed- a good meal followed by a ‘beer tower’. This consisted of three litres of beer in a portable tower like keg, which was brought to our table and grazed on until it was empty just a short time later. Like most tourists, we marvelled at the cheapness of everything, ordering far more than we needed in both food and drink…since we could of course.
By day in Ho Chi Minh we were as touristy, exploring things that the nice lady in our hostel had circled on our hostel map. Her directions back to the hostel were second to none: “You go lep, you go rye…you see our hostel.” She had recommended we visit the food market (no encouragement needed) and the Vietnam War museum, which was a much more intense experience than anticipated, including some creepy lifelike waxworks of prisoners, which seemed to sneak up on me at the most unsuspecting times. The museum also boasted a cool collection of US Army war plane remnants, as well as a harrowing collection of photography.
The food market was a nice change of pace and housed an abundance of culinary delights, and each of our six sniffed their way around to find themselves something satisfying for lunch. The fussy eater of the group spent most of his time trying to explain that he wanted just a plain American Hotdog to the vendor who had every topping imaginable on offer to his picky customer.
“No mayonnaise.”… “Ah…Extra mayonnaise?”
While it doesn’t look like much, the market stretched way back, with plenty of rows to be explored. It was at this market that I saw my first typical Vietnamese dish (although I didn’t eat it on this particular occasion) of Pho Noodles. My palette welcomed this beef broth with noodles and coriander upon first and second try, but the popularity of Pho in Vietnam meant it appeared in front of me at almost every meal. I’d be happy for it to remain a fond memory that I never have to eat again.
That evening we enjoyed a street BBQ, a delicious (although sometimes dodgy on the aul tum) and common perk of Asian dining. We ambitiously ordered all the skewers they had to offer, including lots of mini fish on skewers, chicken heart and some ostrich. None of the dishes were labelled when they came to the table, so it was a lucky dip (an anxiety provoking one for our fussy eater, who accidentally enjoyed a chicken heart before discovering its true identity). While most of the meats were skewered on run of the mill wooden skewers, one or two of our meats had a sugar cane pushed through their centre, giving an added dimension of yumminess.
As Ho Chi Minh was such a flying visit, this night was to be our last and of course we were eager to find where it was all happening. We never did quite find what we were looking for, instead stumbling across lots of bars with similar music, pricey alcohol and scantily clad waitresses touting for business. In the end we happened upon some hole in the wall bar where things quickly picked up after some boogying took place. We were joined by an extremely friendly group of locals, who we still can’t decide were looking for late night business or not. Despite our over-zealous friends, a good night was had and as often appears on an amusing Asian outing, a translation to top it off.
As we dragged ourselves home at 4am we remembered our 7am rise just three hours later-to board the first of our many bus journeys in Vietnam.
At least one member of our group had returned early, but although he had had the foresight and sense to do this, it seemed removing his bum-bag had become too much for him. This humbling sight met my eyes as I was settling down to sleep and reminded me of the glamour of hostel living which had only just begun…