Saturday, June 9, 2012

Exploring Vietnam: Day 2: Ho Chi Minh City

We started our morning off early in Ho Chi Minh City. The Bich Duyen Hotel serves a free breakfast, so we shuffled downstairs to see what was available. 

 Pineapple juice! Boom!

 And delicious Vietnamese dark roast coffee with sweetened condensed milk- ca phe sua.

The bananas in Vietnam are significantly smaller than the conventional grocery store ones we see here in the US, and even the green ones taste quite ripe!

 Bahn mi (only refers to the bread, not the sandwich, like many American Vietnamese-food aficionados believe) with thick strawberry preserves and eggs with veggies!

After breakfast, we grabbed a map and headed off in search of adventure. 

First stop- Ben Thanh Market. You can find pretty much anything your heart desires here- clothes, linens, coffee, groceries, prepared food, flowers, shoes, jewelry, souvenirs- for cheap, but prepare to bargain- vendors will quote shoppers (especially Western-looking ones) up to double the actual price- bring your smile and start knocking down the price. Fun tip- it's considered rude for men to bargain in Vietnam- ladies only! 


Fresh seafood!

Shapely gams. 

Mangosteen! One of the more expensive fruits in Vietnam, but well worth it! Inside, you'll find citrus-like sections of a sweet, banana-y/ berry-ish white fruit!

Another beauty- dragon fruit. I ate this all over Vietnam- it seems to be a national favorite. The rhine, when cut, is an extraordinary fuchsia color, which conceals sweet, mild, white meat with tiny edible black seeds.

The market was a blast and definitely a sight to be seen, but a bit overwhelming (coming from someone who navigates Manhattan and Brooklyn on a daily basis). Prepare for some aggressive (albeit friendly) vending- you will be approached by EVERY vendor you walk past, and even some you don't.  

As the temperatures rose, we sought shelter in the shade of nearby park.

Just two cool kids, keeping cool... 

With some frosty liquid caffeine! Ca phe sua da (or nau da if you're up north). Vietnamese coffee, sweetened condensed milk and ice, served with a pot of lotus tea.

Mama likey.

We sipped on our sweet and strong frosty drinks while slowing our internal clocks down a bit and taking in some of the beautiful sculptures dotting the park.

After we had cooled down (as much as you can in the steamy Saigon heat), we continued to wander.

We found our way to the quite beautiful Saigon Central Post Office.

We picked up some stamps and (mildly overpriced) postcards to send notes home!

Joe sends some love home from Vietnam!

While filling out postcards, two very friendly Japanese tourists from Osaka approached me and asked if they could have their picture taken with me. Who knew I'd be one of the sights in Vietnam?

From Saigon with love.

Across the street, there's a beautiful cathedral. I've heard on certain days you can visit, but it seemed locked up tight when we passed by.

With much more of the city to see, we moved on!

Next stop- Reunification Palace (aka- where the Vietnam War ended).

Breathtakingly beautiful architecture, steeped in history. AND- free restrooms (with toilet paper)! What's not to love?

We chowed down at a nearby restaurant that was honestly a bit forgettable, touristy and over-priced but had decent food and icy-cold air conditioning!

Fried noodles for me!

And a beef curry soup with bread for Joe!

I had read that the War Remnants Museum was a must visit. I can honestly say that I agree wholeheartedly. 

The first floor contains a collection of world-wide outreach and response to the war. Keep in mind that this museum speaks to the Vietnamese experience of the American War (as it's referred to there), just as American museums present our perspective of worldwide events.

Things get a bit more intense on the second floor. Rooms dedicated to war crimes, the affect of dioxin (the US's chemical weapon of choice at the time- used to create Agent Orange) and the widespread devastation are filled with some of the most horrific and chilling images I've ever seen. I am forever changed for having seen some of those pictures. This babble-mouthed journalist has absolutely no words to describe them. I have a new appreciation and respectful acquiescence of ignorance of the true horror that everyone involved in the American-Vietnamese war experienced. 

For obvious reasons, I am not sharing graphic images in this post. Below are some of the more poignant images that stuck with me. I am actively searching for photo credits, as they were not clearly displayed at the museum.

Outside the museum there are several tanks, airplanes and helicopters- US and Vietnamese- relics of an unbelievable past. 

Go. It is heartbreaking. It is emotional. It is difficult for anyone to bear; for this American, it was particularly tough, but I'm very, very grateful to have seen a new perspective on such an historic event. It is only by confronting the past that we can move into a brighter future.

We went back to the hotel after the museum for showers- I hit a cheap spa down the block for an hour massage, a 40 min foot massage, mani and pedi for $20 (including tip). True. Story.

We finished up the night with some pretty bangin' pho from Quan Pho Quynh

And maybe I had an iced coffee after dark...

Joe found his inner tiger...

Pho, or as I affectionately call it, "pho me???" (because I ALWAYS want to eat it) is a Vietnamese noodle soup served with a variety of add-ins and condiments. So. Freaking. Delicious. I could easily have eaten it every day, but I had to put a limit on myself- there are so many delicious dishes to try, and I only had two weeks!


-Several attractions close for lunch. Check schedules ahead of time and plan to eat your lunch at the same time, or wait around for an hour and a half. :)

-Finding bathrooms in foreign cities can be quite the challenge. Most, if not all, of the main museums/ attractions offer bathrooms. Admission to these attractions range from $1-$1.50 USD/pp. It's worth it. They're quite interesting, and the brief bit of shade/ AC and a moderately clean bathrooms will lift your spirits immensely!

-Bring your own TP and soap/ sanitizer. Always.

In case you missed it, see also:

Exploring Vietnam Day 1: The Long Haul