After flying for thirty-one hours on three different flights to get to Viet Nam, I couldn’t muster the energy and courage to go out and explore the city by myself. The good thing about staying in a hostel is that you get to meet people from all over the world—often traveling on their own too. I hooked up with Julia from Germany and Marcus from Finland to discover the city.
We took a historical tour that included the War Remnants Museum (depressing), the Cu Chi tunnels (used in the War of Independence from France), Notre Dame Cathedral (built by French colonists in the late 1800s) and The Old Post Office. There’s supposed to be an old guy at the post office, who’s worked there for about 40 years, who will write a postcard for you in English or Vietnamese. He wasn’t there.
The French introduced coffee to Viet Nam in the mid-1800s and, since the early 1900s, it has been a major source of income for the country. It’s distinguished from most other coffees as it’s a blend of multiple varieties of beans for flavor and balance. Also different is the way it’s served. A single-serving brewer called a phin is brought to your table where it drips into a cup containing sweetened condensed milk. If you want it cold you get a glass of ice cubes. Drink it before the ice melts!
Meanwhile, you enjoy your pho. Also influenced by the French, its base is traditionally a beef broth (consomme) with rice noodles, meat, and vegetables. Then you can add whatever garnishes you want – Thai basil, lime, chilis, sprouts, green onions, peanuts, hoisin and siracha. Just like the pho we eat at home.
Luckily we were traveling in a van when the rain hit. It’s the worst storm this city has had in recent history—172 millimeters of rain. Cars and motorbikes were breaking down and being washed away. I heard one woman even lost her baby – who somehow floated away …
Day 2: Marcus and I went to the Emperor Jade Pagoda – a Taoist/Buddhist temple built in 1909 by the city’s Cantonese community. It was pretty beautiful. It started to rain again like crazy. Marcus didn’t want to get his hiking boots wet so he got a ride out by a girl on a motorbike. I had my flip flops on so I just rolled my pants. We caught a cab back to the hostel.
Day 3: I went to the zoo by myself. It’s not a great zoo. There were some weird animals there and I actually found it pretty scary. The elephants were just rocking back and forth; there was a monkey out of his cage; a wild cat looked me dead in the eyes.
I went to the Independence Palace (a.k.a. Reunification Palace), built by the French. It was pretty cool.
It started to rain again so I took a cab back to the hostel for only $1.60. BTW, $1,000,000.00 Vietnamese dong are equal to about $60 Canadian. So, I started out this trip as a millionaire!
I decided to eat Korean dinner close to the hostel and the waitress sat down with me to practice her English. I ended my evening, and my three days in Ho Chi Minh City, with a coffee in the highest SkyBar in Vietnam. The waitresses were dressed like flight attendants. Tomorrow I catch an early bus and head to Phnom Penh.