Miss Saigon

Trip Start Apr 08, 2010
Trip End Jul 08, 2010

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Flag of Vietnam  ,
Thursday, June 17, 2010

We arrived in Ho Chi Minh City* at night. My first thought was, "There's a lot of neon." My second was, "What's with all the motorbikes?" I had heard that the city was teeming with them, but Renu and I could not believe it when we were told that the city has 10 million people and 5 million motorbikes. As you can see from the photos, they're everywhere.

At first glance, Saigon (as the locals still call it) is utter chaos, whether the traffic, markets or sidewalks, but we quickly began to see a method to the madness. Let's start with the traffic. The hordes of motorbikes clog up the streets and do whatever they want while the cars honk and come within inches of the bikes. No matter how close to collision, everyone slows down enough to allow all the crisscrossing vehicles to pass unscathed. All that traffic makes crossing the street a bit of an adventure. You could easily spend all day waiting at an intersection (only a slight exaggeration), as there never seems to be a lull in the traffic. We soon learned from the locals to start walking, trusting that the speeding vehicles will avoid hitting you. It's slightly insane but fun in a twisted way...and definitely works. I did have one brush with disaster when I stepped off the curb looking the wrong way -- after all our travels I have no clue which side is right -- and nearly got drilled by a motorbike. Although a bit maddened by it at times, Renu and I loved the chaotic vibrance of Saigon.

Our first stop after the hotel was the nearby Ben Thanh market for some pho (traditional noodle soup), spring rolls and Saigon beer. We were off to a good start. The next day began at 8am with a walk through the market to learn about local produce and seafood before our morning cooking class at the Saigon Culinary Art Center. We made, and more importantly ate, summer rolls, a fish soup, braised chicken and ginger rice. So much fun. There will definitely be some Vietnamese cooking going down in the M/J household. Now we just need to find a place to live...details, details.

The rest of the day, we walked around and did some shopping, but not before chowing down on some banh mi. For the uninitiated, banh mi literally means "bread", usually a French baguette style, and refers to the following divine concoction on such bread: 3 types of pork (barbecued pork, pork roll and pate), pickled vegetables, cilantro, mayonnaise and hot sauce or chilies. To say that Renu and I are obsessed would be a gross understatement. For all of you living in New York, Baoguette is my personal favorite. We finished off the day with some 2-for-1 drinks at the Sheraton's rooftop bar. We definitely enjoy those (the drinks or the rooftop bars? the answer is yes).

Now, we're sitting in the domestic terminal waiting for our flight to Hanoi. A few closing thoughts: 1. Lines are something of a nebulous concept here. People jump back and forth trying to game the system, only to make it worse for themselves and everyone else. That pretty much sums up the traffic situation as well.  Pushing and a lack of personal space are also quite standard.  2. The weather was mercifully cooler than our last few stops. It's all relative because it was still well into the 80s. 3. The Vietnamese language uses the Latin alphabet, albeit with a host of accent marks. Therefore, we can read the words but have no idea what they mean or how to pronounce them. 4. We both really like Saigon. If we were forced to live in any one Asian city, Saigon would be the top choice. Beyond our fondness for this city, we realize more and more that we are big fans of cities in general. We only had to travel around the world to figure out what we already knew!

*Here's my usual history/fun fact report (I'm nothing if not gimmicky): The city was formerly known as Saigon and served as the capital of French Cochinchina and later that of the Southern Vietnamese Republic before being renamed Ho Chi Minh City following the Vietnam War. It's very much the commercial heart of Vietnam and more cosmopolitan than Hanoi, the capital. 
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lamama on

I feel very emotional about Vietnam since i was so present for the war.
It is wonderful to see such a vibrant, thriving and clean city.

Raj on

I learned something new today. I never knew that Vietnamese use Latin alphabets.

Brian DeLeeuw on

Sam, I'm going to have to argue with Baoguette. What about Nicky's on 2nd St.? Close runner-up are the two Hanco's branches in Brooklyn, as well as Num Pang near Union Square (OK, that last one is technically Cambodian, but the sandwiches ain't that different...).

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