Monday, July 6, 2015

From Pho to Balut in Ho Chi Minh

Once again braving Air Asia, I left Thailand behind and headed for Vietnam. A long and narrow country, it lends itself to a fairly straightforward itinerary and I planned to cover it all starting in the south and going north until one of us cried uncle (spoiler alert: Vietnam kicked my ass). I ventured around town on my own, visiting historical landmarks and ducking into air conditioned buildings as often as possible, but on the 2nd night I booked a guided foodie tour with XO Tours and left the planning to professionals. I was also told to expect insane street traffic and seas of motorbikes, but having already encountered similar sights in other parts of SE Asia, I wasn't too overwhelmed and adapted to the "just walk, the bikes will go around you" mentality for crossing the streets (theory does NOT apply to buses!). It did feel a bit uncomfortable being an American in Vietnam, but it was really educational to visit all the museums and get the local perspective on the war that never should have been. This introduction would have been quite depressing if not for all the amazingly good street food and fun tour guides!

First meal in Vietnam absolutely had to be Pho, and getting a bowl at Pho 2000
where Bill Clinton had dined in '00 was ultimately a fantastic choice. 

Mariamman Hindu Temple in the traditionally colorful style

Numerous sculptures fill up the local city park and as I wandered around
enjoying the shade, a local woman on a lunch break called me over for a chat
and gave me great instructions for what to see/do while in her town.

Though not architecturally unique or beautiful, the Reunification Palace is 
filled with stories and is soaked in history. Originally called Independence Palace
it was renamed after the North won and all the treaty negotiations were completed. 
This rug lies on the floor housing the many meeting and reception rooms.

Unique artifacts and decorations reside on the floor where the President's 
personal chambers used to be.

The underground war rooms still contain surveillance relics of the past 

Even the shooting range is still intact

If you wander the grounds of the palace you'll find both the fighter plane that 
bombed the palace as well as the tank that finally crashed through the gates
at the end of the war.

The Saigon Central Post office is a lovely building to visit and it features
a number of tables where you can sit and compose your letters. 
I made sure to send a batch of postcards from here.

Lovely rice art for sale at one of the many many MANY gift shops.

I didn't go inside, but the Opera House or the Municipal Theater is a lovely 
building in the nicer part of town and is surrounded by some pretty fancy stores.

Nha Tho Duc Ba, or the Notre Dame Cathedral was closed by the time I got there, 
but I peeked in the windows and decided I'm not missing too much. 

I was picked up for my foodie tour by a girl on a Vespa and as we took off into 
traffic I juggled my need to not fall off with my desire to take pictures. This is 
not a parking lot, this is a view behind me as we waited for the light to turn green.

Quickly zooming past a night market. It's so hot in the day time that people 
prefer to buy things after the sun has gone down.

"Chicken sushi" she says...but really, all this is about to land on a table top grill.

Our group at the beginning of the night with our first bowl of beef soup (not pho). 
As you can tell we're already a bit sweaty, but eager to set out!

Yay for not dying in that crazy traffic!

Fried scallops with lots of basil and yummy sauces. So far so good!

After a few beers, and after some heckling and smack talk from the Aussies across
the table, I agreed to try balut (fertilized egg). while it looks freakier than it tastes
it's still not delicious and I wouldn't be sad if I never had one ever again. 

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