I have had lots of amazing food in the past few days. I got a Vietnamese coffee for the first time. It’s good but I’m really not a coffee connoisseur so it just tastes like nice coffee.
I got this coffee at a very cute boutique cafe and I hit my head on a hanging light in this coffee shop. Granted the light was pretty low, but it’s been a little strange being taller than most people here. My friend who is Vietnamese-American (parents moved to US right before the war) is working here and said poverty and the effects of the war stunted growth for poor Vietnamese people.
I really like Saigon. I think it’s a pretty liveable place. I know people like to point out the ways it’s lacking compared to Western big cities, but Huong (friend I went to CSU with) was pointing out that it’s about as hectic as NYC but here you can walk at night and feel safe. It also has really nice coffee shops with free Wi-Fi (a big plus for a millennial), tons of restaurants and street food vendors, it’s fairly walkable (that’s maybe a bit more subjective, I know some travelers don’t like walking here), and it really does come to life in the night. The buildings all flash their bright signs, the people all line the streets at the small tables eating food or having coffee, I like seeing all the young people on their scooters laughing and zipping by. I also have to note that the girls around here dress so nicely.
I met up with Huong on Saturday and we ate lunch at this place called Propaganda. It was a pretty fancy place compared to where I’ve been eating and we shared crab spring rolls, fish fried rolls, and a sour and spicy fish soup. It was all super tasty.
We dove straight into the meal, so this picture is of partially demolished food.
Dessert was great too, she had this banana dish and I had coconut ice cream.
Then we went for some coffee in this seven story apartment complex that has all these businesses in it. It had a cute little view which we enjoyed from the AC inside.
We had a really nice time catching up, talking about CSU, talking about traveling. One thing of the things we talked about is Trump. Her dad works for the foreign affairs and said with Trump administration, about 10,000 Vietnamese people living in the US are expected to be deported. Also that the US is not really being seen as the place to go to anymore but Canada and Australia are more viable options.
We also talked about how Western places like Vietnam, Thailand, and Cambodia are becoming because of tourism. Particularly she talked about businesses like Starbucks coming and taking away a lot of the local business from the Vietnamese coffee shops. Starbucks, in particular, was protested in Vietnam because Vietnamese coffee is such a staple but they still came and it’s pretty common to see a Starbucks on every other block even though they’ve only been here a year.
On the topic of Western tourists, I’ve noticed a trend with some of the white travelers here and how they treat Vietnamese people. This didn’t really happen in Bali where my fellow traveler friends hung out with the locals and were chatty to the locals. But I’ve noticed that, at least with some of the white travelers I’ve hung out around with, they don’t say hi in either English or Vietnamese at restaurants, they just kinda enter restaurants. They don’t really smile at the staff and don’t say thank you in either English or Vietnamese. It’s somewhat minor, but if you can imagine someone just sitting down without greeting or smiling at the staff in a restaurant in Colorado and then not saying thank you for your food, it’d probably be a tiny bit strange.
I was watching these two travelers in a moderately upscale French bakery on Sunday. Without asking, they grabbed a pastry out of one of the worker’s hand (who was behind the work counter) and placed it in their bag. The staffer seemed really annoyed by it. I’ve been with a couple of travelers who, instead of just calling over the waiter, get out of their seat and go behind the counter or will follow the waiter to the kitchen to ask for something. You can tell the staffers are a bit taken aback but really are trying to be accommodating and do whatever it is that the traveler is asking for.
I know my white traveler friends have joked that the staffers only address me when we go out because I’m Asian and I know that’s pretty true, but I also think a pretty big part is that fact I’m often the only one who even says thank you when the food arrives. We went to dinner at this smaller restaurant that looked family run and a person, who I’m assuming was the grandma, was serving everyone juice and giving the widest happiest grandma-kind of grin and trying to talk to us at the table and everyone was ignoring her. It was kind of bewildering to me because she was adorable and seemed so happy to see a young group of people here and my fellow travelers didn’t even seem to notice.
I don’t really blame the travelers, I would hope they aren’t being intentionally rude. I know the language barrier makes it harder and there are times of sensory overload but it’s just something I’ve noticed.
Here’s our food from that night. It’s northern style food and was delicious.
The next day I went to Ben Thahn, a massive market where you haggle for everything. I didn’t stay long because I’m not big into shopping and I’m terrible at haggling.
Here’s the French bakery I was at. I got a croissant, this vegetable roll, and a caramel walnut pastry.
I didn’t care for the veggie roll thing which had this melted sweet cheese in the center. The croissant was best, I think it was about on par with the ones I had in Paris.
Then I went to the Southern Vietnamese Women Museum and it was pretty small but interesting. It talked about the women’s clothes throughout history and women’s involvement in the army, prisons, resistance, etc.
I was the only one in the museum at the time and there’s no descriptive signs telling you about the things so it’s hard to get in-depth information from it sadly.
Then, because it’s super hot and I walk to get most everywhere, I stopped for bingsu which is a Korean ice dish. Basically think of very finely shaved ice with fruit on top.
I got a motorbike taxi one day to the Saigon Centre which is a huuuuge shopping mall. And by huge, I mean four stories tall and two stories underneath absolutely packed with everything you could ever need.
And I couldn’t afford most of it since it’s shops like Coach, Adidas, and Armani so I went to the top and took in the view from the roof.
In the basement levels, it’s pretty much all food and it all looks soooo good. I’m way more interested in spending my money on food here than on any kind of material thing.
I had this really good pho from Pho Le. It was in a local district and I walked there and almost didn’t make it to the place. I’ve done pretty good so far in terms of walking and not getting too overwhelmed by the crowds but it was packed in this area. I started to feel claustrophobic and I don’t ever get claustrophobic. My nerves wanted me to hail an Uber and go back to the hostel but I knew I was only one block away.
Then got a banh mi from this cart tucked away in a dark alley off one of the main tourist streets. It had lot of Google reviews, it’s just a bit harder to find since it’s just a cart. It’s these two women who are busily cooking the meat right there and building the sandwiches lightning fast because there’s always a line of people.
Yeah it was good! The meat had a lemongrass taste and it was sweet and savory and very fresh.
I’ve had tons of different drinks and desserts, like ice cream, but they aren’t anything special albeit being delicious.
Yeah I feel like I could live in a place like Saigon. It’s a bit dirty, smelly, but I don’t think it’d be much different from some city like NYC (although I’ve never been there so take it with a grain of salt). And I really like the fact that I can walk to most everywhere I would want to go.
One of the make or break things about this city is whether or not you can handle the traffic. I can, I picked up on the nonverbal language pretty quickly and have no stress crossing the packed roundabouts or the five lane streets. It’s all about eye contact, timing, and trusting yourself and the drivers. But it’s not for everyone and I can understand that. I should clarify that I’m talking about walking here. I haven’t driven a motorbike and wouldn’t drive one. I like riding on the backs of them though. Huong showed me around a bit of the city on her scooter and Uber motortaxis are just as reliable as Ubers in the U.S.
One of the best points about the city (which you could probably guess based on how much I talk about it) is the food. So much food and a lot of it is made with fresh fruits, seafood, meats, veggies! I blew my planned budget but it was all pretty much going to food and that’s worth it to me.
Would I actually live here though? I don’t think so. I really have grown to like the city but if I were to move to a place in Asia, I’d want to move somewhere where I could practice my Chinese. Chinese is like a second language here (actually Mai, Harry, and I had a short bit of conversation in Mandarin) but obviously Vietnamese culture and language are a priority here.
I did walk by what seemed to be a small block of Chinese centric shops. There was a cart that had 油条 (youtiao, like a Chinese churro) and I was tempted to buy one but figured I’d have plenty of time to do that when I actually get to China.
It does solidify that I want to move to a bigger city though. One that has a lot of variety, walkable distances, and a fast-paced beat to it.
My next stop is Hong Kong. I’ve heard lots about Hong Kong from fellow travelers, so I’m excited to start making my way north. My host family in Jiujiang will be away for Spring Festival, so I will have the place to myself for the days I’ll be there. I’m actually looking forward to that since it’s by far the most personal part of the trip. It’ll also be nice to have a space for myself for a few days.